Hope for the Nations: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Love Your Neighbors)

At Gateway Church in South Austin, we began a new series called Hope for the Nations.

The holiday season often includes us celebrating the birth of Jesus. But when we celebrate Jesus, we don’t just celebrate a great teacher or a person who did good deeds—we celebrate the One who rescued humanity and brought hope to all the nations. And because of who Jesus was, our world has seen great leaders who were influenced by His story, like Gandhi. How can we see Jesus’ influence through Gandhi’s legacy, and how can we make sure that others see Jesus’ influence through our lives, too?

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Hope for the Nations: Dr. King (Love Your Neighbors) Next Steps

Message Audio:

Message Notes from the Teaching Team:

As we lead up to Christmas, we’re looking at how God brings Hope to all nations—that’s what Christmas was about. When God would enter time and space in a form we could relate to—not only to bring us hope, but to set us right with God, so that He could lead us to be agents of change, bringing Hope to all nations.

Jesus Brings Hope for the Nations

As we head into Christmas, we’re looking at Jesus’ life and teachings through a lens that your neighbors or coworkers might find fascinating.

When you ask Austin: “Who are the most influential people this century?”
Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa top the list.

But what people respect about them is the areas where they actually lived out what Jesus taught—so we’re not doing this series to teach Christians about Gandhi or Dr. King, but to invite the culture to learn how Jesus’ words lived out is what they respect and admire. And I hope to challenge Christians to follow Jesus’ teachings in these areas.

Last week we looked at Gandhi lived out the Sermon on the Mount.

Dr. King said about Gandhi:

“As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

Today, in our series Hope for the Nations, we are going to look at how Jesus shaped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who helped shape our nation.

The Good Samaritan

In his last message, the night before his assassination, Dr. King shared on Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. That night Dr. King called on the people listening to Develop a Dangerous Unselfishness—like the Good Samaritan.  So let’s look first at Jesus parable:

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?” – Luke 10:25-29

Notice several important things.

  • First, this is a Religious Expert who is Testing Jesus and wanting to Justify himself. That’s key. The danger religious people fall into is judging themselves based on judging others, then justifying whatever they do because they’re “better than”.  It’s a subtle, but a dangerous self-centered way of living—antithetical to the way of Jesus.
  • So the Religious guy gives the right answer—Love God first, and love your neighbor as yourself. “Ding-ding, right answer” Jesus says. “Now—actually do it.”
  • But he wasn’t interested in uncomfortable change to actually do it—he was in church to feel good about what he was already doing.
  • And to justify himself he asks “Who is my neighbor?”
  • That’s key because Religious Jews despised Samaritans. They were racially intermixed—they despised that. They held wrong theological/political beliefs.  So notice the twist Jesus gives to the question “Who is my neighbor I’m to love?”

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 [2 days wages] 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.” Luke 10:30-37  

Not just “love your Samaritan neighbor”—Jesus turns the despised Samaritan into the hero.

That night, Dr. King pointed out that the despised Samaritan lived with a Dangerous Unselfishness.

But Why did the two religious guys, the priest and levite, pass by the wounded, hurting man?

Politics and Hypocrisy

And I need to pause here and mention something. Talking about Dr. King in our politically/religiously divided world could cause some to pass right by Jesus’ teachings because you’re hearing through political ears.

Interestingly, Dr. King did not publicly affiliate with any political party.

He said, “I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either.”

I feel exactly the same. You must vote your conscience, but don’t serve politics, serve the King of Kings—In the areas Dr. King did that, God used his life to achieve great things as we will see.

But King, like Gandhi, wasn’t perfect. I want to mention that upfront, so you don’t spend 30 minutes judging Samaritans and missing Jesus’ words to you. Dr. King lived a Dangerous Unselfishness in remarkable ways, but he had a secret life that was selfish and hypocritical having not staying faithful to his wife.

This really troubled me when I discovered evidence of this year ago. I remember asking a friend of mine who was a pastor in Los Angeles and who wrote his PhD on Dr. King, he told me that just as we cannot idolize a person, we cannot diminish his impact in one area even as he struggled in other areas.

Much like the heroes of the faith, King David, Moses, Abraham, Peter, and Paul all failed in some ways which should give us hope. No matter how we have sinned or failed, we can still make a difference. God can still use us!

At the same time, we do not have to fall to temptations behind closed doors. That’s why it is so important to live in authentic community. Do not hide your struggles. Just telling your spouse is not enough. We all need accountability and support.

That’s why the Scriptures say: confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16.

 We say No Perfect People Allowed so we will come out of hiding into confessing community where God heals us.

  • Do you have that in your life?
  • A Lifegroup, Spiritual Running Partners?
  • A network where you are serving others with others?

Only Jesus lived a sinless, perfect life. The rest of us need the forgiveness Jesus purchased on the cross. And we need confessing community to heal our hypocrisy—which all of us struggle with if honest.

Too Busy or Too Afraid?

So back to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus comes across as harsh because he’s trying to make a point to the Religious – the people who feel like they have it all figured out.

You say “Love your neighbor” but you despise Samaritans and justify your lack of love or mercy.

Why did the Religious pass by the wounded man?

Maybe it was because they were important people and very busy. They had important things to do—someone else will stop. Ever said that? I’ve felt that way.

Dangerous Unselfishness could endanger what you had planned, and I don’t know how many other times I’ve missed God’s promptings with my busy self-importance.

What if we all decided to be Dangerously Unselfish with our time?

Imagine the ripple effects you could have!

But Dr. King speculates, maybe it wasn’t that the Religious guys were too busy, maybe they were fearful. Maybe the religious guys were doing the math—afraid of what it would cost.

  • If I stop, it’s going to cost me time and money—after all, the Samaritan spent over 2 days wages and time—it cost him.
  • Or maybe they were afraid because the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a long, windy, mountainous road where robbers would hide and ambush travelers.
  • Or maybe the Religious guys were afraid the guy on the ground was faking it—it was a set up to ambush. Too Dangerous, don’t get involved.

The Right Question to Ask

So the Religious guys first question was “How will this effect me? If I stop, what might happen to me? How much might it hurt me?”

Dr. King says “That’s the wrong question—what will happen to me if I do?”
The right question is: “What will happen to this person if I don’t?” 

So I want you to ask yourself that question, “Do I live with a Dangerous Unselfishness?”

Because that’s what it takes for God to use us to bring life and freedom to people oppressed by evil today. And evil is not less at work today than it was then. Do you first ask, “What will happen to me if I do?” or “What will happen to this person, if I don’t?” It’s still what our world needs, a Dangerous Unselfishness.

Dr. King’s Early Years

Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in the 30’s and 40’s.

  • At age 6, he lost access to his best friend when King went to an all-black school, his friend to an all-white school.
  • Growing up, King experienced racism, segregation, discrimination that was socially reinforced.
  • Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enforcing segregation of everything from schools to water fountains and everything in between. They had been in place in form, since 1865, after the 13th amendment abolished slavery.
  • At the turn of the century, segregated waiting rooms in professional offices were required, as well as restrooms, building entrances, elevators, even amusement-park cashier windows.
  • Segregation was enforced for public pools, hospitals, jails, and African Americans could not live in white neighborhoods.
  • Marriage between whites and blacks was strictly forbidden.
  • It was not uncommon to see signs posted at town city limits warning African Americans that they were not welcome.
  • The Ku Klux Klan had grown up out of this environment, and lynchings were so prevalent in the 1920s and 30s there were 23 race riots as a result.
  • For those of us with grandparents or great grandparents who lived in the USA at that time, this was their world.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was much like his namesake, Martin Luther—he was destined by God to bring reformation.
  • Interestingly, his parents originally named him Michael King. But his father visited Germany during the rise of Nazism, and studied the importance of Martin Luther in the reformation–calling the church back to God’s purposes, he prophetically renamed himself and his son after Martin Luther.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was extremely smart—graduating with honors and enrolling in college at 15.

  • He went on to seminary, then got a PhD. in theology from Boston University. He got married and became a Baptist pastor.
  • From 1954 to 1960, Dr, King was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  He became the pastor and he was just 25 years old.

NonViolent Resistance

  • It was in the 2nd year as pastor when Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old black girl who had been studying Harriet Tubman, the brave woman who rescued 70 slaves on the underground railroad. 15 year old Claudette was ordered to give up her seat for a white person and go to the back of the bus. She said she had paid for her seat and it was her constitutional right. The bus was stopped, police handcuffed and arrested this 15 year old girl.

Dr. King investigated Claudette’s case and began forming the idea of non-violent resistance—based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and how Gandhi lived out Jesus’ words by facing down evil and injustice with love, kindness, and non-resistance.

That same year, 1955, Rosa Parks would be the second woman arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus, and Dr. King formed the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

  • 40,000 black bus riders boycotted the Montgomery buses until discrimination stopped—it took over a year, but finally segregation ended on Montgomery buses.
  • 1 month into the Bus Boycotts, Dr. King’s house was bombed.
  • Imagine if that happened to you—how would you feel, how would you respond?

Dr. King addressed an angry crowd pleading to overcome evil with love—to not employ violence—but live Jesus teachings to love their enemies.

He once said, We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you… One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Do you think that way?
That if I love and serve those set against me—it’s the best way for me to be free, but it’s also the way to win this person to the way of Jesus—which is the way of love!?

But that’s dangerous—you may get persecuted, you may be hated, you may lose your job. But Dangerous Unselfishness changes the world.

Over the next 13 years, God used the Dangerous Unselfishness of Dr. King and those he inspired to bring justice and freedom and opportunity to millions, bringing a new hope to our nation—a hope that we could actually live out what we professed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

Dangerous Unselfishness

But all this comes from Jesus—He is the source.

In the letter to the churches in the region of Galatia who were struggling with division between the Jews who followed Jesus and the pagan Gentiles following Jesus, the church planter Paul wrote:

 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28  

Racism is an offense to God, and a complete contradiction to the Gospel. And this is what Dr. King believed and fought for, because he saw it as integral to the message of Jesus.

Jesus came that first Christmas to bring us all back to God—from all nations, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all differences back into one family.

King even said, “Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel [the good news of Jesus—hope for all nations]. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment.”

In 1957, after meeting Dr. Billy Graham who encouraged King, he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to unite black ministers to work together to end segregation by non-violent means.

  • But it requires Dangerous Unselfishness to serve people though they hurt you.
  • In 1958 King’s first book came out, and at a book signing he was attacked by a delusional woman and almost died.
  • In 1960 King was arrested at a sit-in and sentenced to 4 months hard labor.
  • The next year he was arrested for a desegregation campaign
  • the next year jailed for a prayer vigil, he was assaulted by a member of the Nazi party.
  • In 1963 after ignoring an injunction against peaceful demonstrations, he writes his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, spelling out the spiritual and moral justification for fighting injustice because Jesus came with the Gospel of Freedom and as Dr. King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.”
  • That same year, the March on Washington for jobs and freedom drew a crowd of 250,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream speech” calling for the end of racism in our country:
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” -Dr. King
  • The demonstration galvanized nationwide support for civil rights. Earlier that summer President John F. Kennedy introduced the nation’s most sweeping civil rights legislation to date, and the impact of the march and King’s advocacy was instrumental in its passage in 1964.

In 1964, at the age of 35, just 10 years after becoming the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Time picked King as its man of the year, and the Nobel committee made him the youngest-ever recipient of the Peace Prize.

Violence and opposition increased:

  • The next month, 4 black girls were killed when a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham.
  • King did the memorial calling for non-violence even as the violence escalated.
  • March 7, 1965 became known as Bloody Sunday, as 600 marchers headed East from Selma to Montgomery protesting for voting rights for blacks. They got no farther than 6 blocks before they were beaten with billyclubs, teargassed, and turned back.
  • King was undeterred with Dangerous Unselfishness, he led the march again, causing Federal Judge Frank Johnson to give Federal Protection and 25,000 people joined that march.

That year, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act was passed ending segregation and banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

When the Civil Rights Act was weakly enforced, Dr. King and his wife moved into the Chicago Slums as an act of identification to fight for housing and education equal opportunity. Again, a Dangerous Unselfishness.

I’ve seen some of you do similar!
You are making a difference in the lives of our neighbors!

Back to Dr. King:

  • In 1968, 2 Memphis Sanitation workers were crushed to death in dilapidated trucks.
  • They were paid so poorly, most were on welfare or food stamps, and nothing was being done to address safety or fair wages.
  • When they protested city hall, violence broke out with tear gas, mace, clubbings, and a 16 year old girl was shot.
  • The night before his assassination, Dr. King spoke to the Sanitation Workers of Memphis.
  • That night, after teaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Dr. King said, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” He was saying, God has shown me that day in our country where people are truly treated with equality regardless of race, gender, or creed. It was metaphorical to the Biblical Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt, after 40 years of wilderness, God calls Moses up to Mountaintop and shows him the Promised Land. Moses would not go there with them, they would cross over.
  • That night, Dr. King said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
  • Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated.

Dr. King truly lived out a Dangerous Unselfishness—he stopped his life to serve people though it would cost him everything. He followed Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus last night on earth, he said this in his last message:  

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:12-14.

Dr. King said: “By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists . . . Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”

Jesus Among Us

You see, Jesus came to live among us and experienced the worst of humanity and yet gives us hope – no matter we face in this life, this is not all there is. For those who trust Jesus, we have access to the same Spirit that brought new life and conquered death – in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus!

As we live new lives for Jesus, we bring heaven to earth, God’s will on heaven comes to pass on earth through us.

Dr. King believed that followers of Jesus had a responsibility to make a difference in the world. He said:

“We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word . . . Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests. Finally, they captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ.” 

Jesus’ love is Dangerous—it cost him his life. Following Jesus is Dangerous.

Are you willing to follow Jesus if loving others is Dangerous to your life, your plans, your wealth-building, your time-line, your wants and desires?

It’s an important question—do those of us who “Follow Jesus” really follow Jesus, even if it Endangers our plans?

It’s convicting! The world doesn’t need self-centered Christians, the world needs Dangerously Unselfish Christ-followers.

Will you live with a Dangerous Unselfishness—Not asking first, “What will happen to me if I do” but “What will happen to them if I don’t?”

So how will you live a Dangerous Unselfishness this year?

So many here at Gateway have been doing this—and God is bringing Hope to our world through you.

Will you get involved serving others with us—come change lives in Next Gen, Or serve through our other Networks? Living for self is safe, but it doesn’t change the world.

And will you be Dangerously Unselfish as you give generously here at Year End? All that comes in above our Dec. budgeted giving goes first to our partner in India. Our other campuses are helping our partners in Haiti and Burundi.

All of our campuses together raised $200,000 above budget in years past. With those funds we’ve built hospitals, served refugees, and fed 1000s of kids.

I am working my way through the entire Bible and highlighting what we are called to do and what God promises He will do. It’s been a helpful process for me. And this week I came across a convicting passage:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God… 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth….” – Deuteronomy 8:10-18

We have been given so much! And then to celebrate Christmas, we give so many gifts to just those closest to us and to those who give us gifts back. One year with my Bryant extended family, we all gave $20 gift cards to different restaurants or stores. It was one of the oddest gift exchanges. It felt like: “Ok everybody hand your gift card to the person on the right!” And even then some people traded the gift card they received with the one they had bought!

I even saw a commercial saying: “Buy yourself a car this Christmas! You deserve it!”

We’re not just buying presents for people who buy for us, now we are buying presents for ourselves!

What if we became Dangerously unselfish with our giving this December?

What if we decided to give to God’s work through our church out of gratitude for all God has done for us?

Let’s become dangerously unselfish and bring Hope to Nations.

And let’s be Dangerously Unselfish inviting people to Christmas—Lex Land is headlining and we will talk about how Jesus brings hope to all nations—so invite the nations, invite coworkers, neighbors.

Don’t ask, “What will they think of me?”
Ask “What might God do for them?”

Your dangerous Unselfish invitation could change someone’s destiny.



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