Our Duty to Those Who Serve Us
Blue Service
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Romans 13:1-5, Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 22:35-40, Leviticus 19:18

SUMMARY: Christians have a duty to serve First Responders in our community. This duty goes beyond basic respect and occasional prayer. Police Officers, Sheriff’s Deputies, Firefighters and Emergency Medical Care Providers are doing good in our community. They are modern Good Samaritans and we owe them our support, encouragement and care. All of these things lay the groundwork for us to be more effective witnesses to the Gospel among these servants in our community.

COMMUNITY GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDE:
1. Have you ever had the opportunity to get to know a First Responder? What did you learn about their job? Is it a job you would want to do?
2. Consider Romans 13:1-5 and Luke 10:25-37. What is the difference between Paul’s instruction to the Romans concerning “authorities” and the command of Jesus to “love your neighbor?”
3. How will you seek to love as your neighbor the First Responders you encounter?


FULL SERMON NOTES

I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you a message from God’s Word in conjunction with our recognition of our local police officers, sheriff’s deputies, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel. It is a great honor to do so while wearing the uniform of the department I serve as Chaplain and reserve police officer.

I believe that it pleases God for us to recognize and honor our first responders. They serve us by performing the duties prescribed by their positions and they often go beyond what they are required to do. The concept of duty, the tasks and functions they are sworn to perform, is what drew many of them to law enforcement or emergency services. I had the opportunity to ask some of our local first responders what duty means to them. Take a look at their responses.

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These men and women have committed themselves to a standard of service, a consistent response that they live up to day in and day out. There is no room in what they do for half-measures. When lives are on the line, they must fulfill their duties whether they feel like it or not. They are often required to walk away from a meal only moments after it’s placed on the table, or to go out in the cold or rain because we need them. They face genuine peril because we live in a fallen world and someone has to stand between polite society and the dark and terrible things that happen to real people every day.
As Christians, we have a duty of our own. If we are to serve our Lord with integrity, we will have to find a way to obey the commands and instructions in his Word even when it’s not convenient. And this morning I want us to examine God’s Word and what it has to say to us as Christians living in this community about how we are to respond to our first responders. I believe a Biblical case can be made that:
Christians have a duty to care for first responders.
I’d like to begin our study of God’s Word this morning by examining together a passage from Paul’s letter to the Christian Church at Rome. Christians in this first century church had a difficult relationship with the Roman government. By professing Christ as the supreme authority in their lives, they were living in active rebellion against Caesar. Those who lived under the authority of the Rome were required by law to offer their first allegiance to Caesar and to affirm this allegiance explicitly if asked. The verbal assent, “Hail Caesar!” was expected from individuals and crowds whenever in the presence of the Emperor. But Roman Christians rightly insisted that their first allegiance was to Christ.

Verses 1-5 of Romans, chapter 13 is the passage that many point to as a guide for our Christian response to law enforcement personnel and other public servants. Let’s consider the words God inspired his servant to write to the Church at Rome.

Romans 13:1-5

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

At least some of the members of the church who received Paul’s letter had been treated harshly and unfairly by Roman soldiers and other agents of the Roman government. There was a growing resentment among Roman Christians toward the ruling government and its representatives. We know that Paul was not suggesting that the Roman Christians sacrifice their principles and claim allegiance to Caesar over Christ. In fact it is likely that Paul himself had already been imprisoned and beaten by Roman authorities for preaching the Gospel.
Paul was cautioning against rebellion for the sake of rebellion. He wanted Christians to know that it does not honor God when his people rebel against secular authorities in all things just because of disagreement in one area. He also wanted Roman Christians to preserve the relationships through which they might see individual soldiers and government representatives come to faith in Christ. Though times have changed, this passage has clear application today.
We should always respect and pray for our first responders.
But I don’t think we can stop there. While these principles are still relevant, I would like to suggest that there is more that God’s Word has to tell us about our duty to the first responders in our community in this modern day. There are few comparisons between Roman soldiers in Paul’s day and our local police, sheriff’s deputies and fire and emergency medical personnel. We do not live in a police state or under a dictatorship where law enforcement serves to silence dissent. Our first responders are, in the truest sense, public servants. They have specific duties that conform to the needs of our community.
We are free to complain about our government and even the manner in which our first responders carry out their duties, though it is my opinion that we do so more than is merited. People like to complain about the police. I’m sure other agencies and services get their share, but I regularly see the officers I work with struggle with the knowledge that a member of the public called our department and told the most outrageous lie about their actions. Obviously there needs to be a procedure for handling and investigating complaints, but it’s hard to hear a complaint when you know you did your best and followed the rules. One of the most toxic things we can experience is to work hard for what is right only to hear someone talk about us as if we intentionally did wrong. This is an area where our first responders really need our prayers.
Let’s look together at another passage of scripture that serves as a guide for our response to those who serve our good and perform their duty in our community. In the 10th chapter of Luke we find a familiar Bible story about a Good Samaritan.
I’ll begin reading in verse 25 of Luke, chapter 10.
Luke 10:25-37
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The story of the Good Samaritan is so well known in our modern world that there are organizations with names like Samaritan’s Purse. There are even laws in some States protecting citizens and some first responders from liability when helping others that are referred to as Good Samaritan laws. The Samaritan in this story is a strong and admirable character.
We tend to think of Jesus’ story only as an admonition to do as the Samaritan did. But the actions of the Samaritan are not the main point Jesus was making in response to the Expert in the Law, who would also have been called a Sadducee. Jesus was challenging the one who questioned him and challenges us all to think differently about our obligation before God to, “love our neighbor.” The Sadducee wanted Jesus to narrow the definition of this primary obligation. To love another person as much as we love ourselves is a high standard for most people; even if they don’t want to see themselves as self-loving. This love of one’s neighbor is a standard set in the Old Testament that Jesus reemphasized on more than one occasion.
It’s easy for us to be critical of the Sadducee in this instance, but the defining characteristic of the sect of Judaism to which he belonged was rigid adherence to the Old Testament law. He wanted to make sure he was following the law to the letter. We have traditionally assumed that he wanted to limit his obligation to the bear minimum necessary to say he obeyed the law; and the scripture tells us he “stood up to test Jesus.” But given the gravity of the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, the question asked by this Expert in the Law is an important one. Consider the interaction with another Expert in the Law recorded in Matthew, chapter 22. We assume this is an entirely separate incident and a separate Sadducee because of the form of the conversation.
I’ll begin reading in verse 35 of Matthew, chapter 22.
Matthew 22:35-40
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Perhaps the people of Jesus’ time told jokes about the Experts in the Law, the Sadducees, the way we tell jokes about lawyers; and it does seem like the one who questioned Jesus in our passage was a little too sure of himself, but the question for us in our modern context is the same one asked of Jesus. When it comes to obeying the command of scripture to love my neighbor, “who exactly is my neighbor?”
Who is my neighbor?
The words of Christ recorded in our New Testament were written down in Greek. Sometimes we seek additional clarity or nuance by considering the Greek text. The Greek word translated “neighbor” in Luke as it was used by the Sadducee, and in Matthew when it was used by Jesus himself is plēsiŏn. The emphasis of this Greek word is proximity. It might crudely be translated “near one” or “the one nearest.” In both cases, the New Testament command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is being drawn from the Old Testament command found in Leviticus 19:18 which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” In this case the word translated “neighbor” in our English version of the Bible is the Hebrew word rêya. As with the Greek, there is no deep mystery, the Hebrew word means friend, family member or close associate.
Old Testament followers of God would almost certainly have limited the scope of obligation to love one’s neighbor to extended family or tribe and the guests in one’s home. The Sadducees of Jesus’ time likely placed similar limitations on the concept of neighbor. Most devout Jews of Jesus time would have felt some obligation to treat strangers with charity, but would not have considered anyone outside their family or Synagogue worthy of the standard of love due one’s neighbor.
The story of the Good Samaritan is Jesus challenging the way we decide who merits the highest obligation, or duty to others, required by our faith. He doesn’t say we have the same obligation to all people. Even when Jesus challenged his followers to love their enemies in the Sermon on the Mount, his requirement was distinct from the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
To love your neighbor as you love yourself speaks of an obligation to provide direct care and provision.
Obedience to God requires that we provide such care to those near us and in our families. The teaching of Jesus adds to this group people who are doing good to others in our community even if they are not family members or members of our church; even if they don’t worship God the same way we do. It is reasonable to speculate that Jesus intended his story about the Good Samaritan to extend the obligation to love one’s neighbor across lines of race, nationality and religion. But I am struck by the specificity with which this familiar story can be applied to our relationships with first responders in our community.
The Good Samaritan helped a hurting man that religious people were too afraid or too busy to help. The Church is supposed to be the living manifestation of Christ in this fallen world. As Christ himself met the needs of the hurting and the helpless, we are supposed to be the ones seeking out and helping those in need. But most of the time when people in our community are victimized or in need, it is our first responders who do the work of helping the hurting and protecting the innocent from harm.
The Good Samaritan faced genuine peril, because the same robbers who attacked the man in the story could have been waiting in ambush--this is a terrible threat our first responders face every day.
The Good Samaritan comforted the man he found on the roadside and rendered the equivalent of emergency trauma care before transporting him on the back of his donkey/ambulance to a place where additional care could be provided.
I don’t think we can escape the parallels between the Good Samaritan and our local first responders. The religious leaders of Jesus time wanted to limit the scope of their obligation before God to meaningfully care for and provide for those closest to them. Jesus told them that they must add to the group of people who merited this kind of love anyone who helped them in time of need, anyone who did the good they were unable or unwilling to do themselves. I believe that as modern Christians, we must also add to the group of people we meaningfully care for our police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and emergency medical personnel because they are doing the work of the Good Samaritan and more.
We are challenged by the story of the Good Samaritan to love our first responders as we love ourselves
This goes beyond basic respect, which we should never fail to give. It goes beyond praying for all first responders in general, which we should also do. I believe that we are called to do more to show our love for our modern Good Samaritans. We can do spontaneous things like pay for a meal for the uniformed cops, firefighters or ambulance personnel we see eating in a restaurant beside us. We can contribute resources to organizations that support first responders and their families in times of need. We can even go to public meetings and ask our politicians what more can be done to provide equipment, training and resources for our first responders.
But I think the most meaningful things are more personal. We can really get to know one or more first responders and their families. There is a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, fireman or EMT or paramedic who lives down the street from you or in your neighborhood. You can take them a plate of cookies and say hello. Tell them you’re praying for them and their family and let them know you’re available to help their family when they’re working all night or all day. You may have to start slow because they’re used to people wanting things from them rather than wanting to do things for them. Try to find ways to treat them like family, especially if they don’t have family nearby. And you may think of other ways to love them to. The standard is summed up in the words, “Love your neighbor, and first responders, as you love yourself.”
I often hear police officers say to one another, “I’ve got your back.” In a group that’s not very touchy feely, it’s a significant expression of care and comradery. But the most meaningful thing one police officer can say to another is, “I know you’ve got my back.” We can’t always be there for our first responders, but we should consistently respond to them in such a way that they know they can count on us for support, encouragement and real help when they need us.
The staff at Northshore Church regularly prays for our first responders. Many we lift up by name. We have also sought to make our church a church that welcomes and really cares about first responders. We have been praying this week about what more we might do. We want you to join us. We want to be a church that understands that our first responders can’t be here every week, even if they want to. We want to be completely okay with an occasional squawk of radio traffic. Most of us can turn our phones off. But they need to feel comfortable joining us for some or part of a service even if they are on duty or on call. We want to welcome and love on the families of first responders, especially when Mom or Dad is working. Let’s be the church that every first responder knows is praying for them and is here when they need us.
Please join me in prayer.
Lord we thank you for our first responders. For our police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and emergency medical and ambulance service personnel. For those working at this very moment and those resting to work again soon, we ask for health and blessings and provision for each first responder and their families. We claim on their behalf your promise that those who are merciful will be shown mercy, and that those who are peacemakers will be called sons and daughters of God. Please stir us up as a church and as individual members of your Body to love the first responders in our neighborhoods and our larger community. Help us know how to love them as we love ourselves.
Our Worship Team is going to lead us in a time of singing. This is also a time of reflection and decision. At the close of every Worship Service we invite you pray, in your seat or with someone here in front of the stage. And we invite you to consider what you have heard from God and how he may be calling you to change the way you think about things or how you are doing things. We’ve been talking about love and what it really means to love others for a number of weeks here at Northshore. Our pastor just wrapped up a sermon series on love and we’ve been talking today about loving our first responders. All this love has to come from somewhere. At Northshore, we believe that we are able to love because God first loved us. We believe he demonstrated his love for us on the Cross where Jesus died for our sins. And we believe that we can be delivered from our sins and live in hope rather than fear, and learn to love rather than hate if we surrender ourselves to the God who created us, and loves us, and has made a way for us to live eternally in his presence. If you would like to know more about beginning a new relationship with God, we’re here now if you’d like to talk to a minister, and we’ll be here tomorrow and the next day if you want to call, e-mail or come by with questions about coming to know Christ.