What would happen if the man-in-need scenario from the parable of the Good Samaritan were recreated? How many would stop to help?
John Darley and Daniel Batson, two Princeton University psychologists, conducted a study, in the early 1970’s. Princeton Theological Seminary students were individually approached. The students were asked “to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building and present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning” (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, p. 164). Who would stop to help?
Three variables were included in the experiment. “First, before the experiment even started, they gave the students a questionnaire about why they had chosen to study theology… Then, they varied the subject of the theme the students were to talk about. Some were asked to speak on the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation. Others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally, the instructions given by the experimenters to each student varied as well. In some of the cases, as he sent the students on their way, the experimenter would look at his watch and say, ‘Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving.’ In other cases, he would say, ‘it will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.’” (Gladwell, pp. 164-165).
Malcolm Gladwell explains the finding of the study, “If you ask people to predict which seminarians played the Good Samaritan (and subsequent studies have done just this) their answers are highly consistent. They almost all say that the students who entered the ministry to help people and those reminded of the importance of compassion by having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan will be the most likely to stop… In fact, neither of those factors made any difference. ‘It is hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior,’ Darley and Batson concluded. ‘Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.’ The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was, 10 percent stopped to help. Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent stopped. What this study is suggesting, in other words, is that the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior” (Gladwell, p. 165).
Here are a few thoughts:
- May we not live so hurried in our lives, that we do not take time for real urgent needs. There are physical needs that deserve immediate attention (Luke 10:25-37). There are spiritual needs that deserve quick attention (Luke 15:1-7).
- May we have the wisdom to have the proper understanding of priorities. Consider these Bible teachings: (a) Mercy over sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:9-13; 12:1-8); (b) People over animals and Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6 cf. 12:24); (c) Care of family over religious giving (Matthew 15:4-6); (d) Care for family, brethren, and then others (1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16; Galatians 6:10); (e) Love is owed to others (Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:14); (f) Love of God comes first (Matthew 22:34-40); (g) Obedience to God over man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). It is not unusual for men to have difficulties with priorities. Some would pass by one needing immediate help, after being hit by a car and left for dead, because they have to make it to Bible class. Some would give away their last dime to a stranger leaving their family in a bind. Some would make one wait until after the sermon to be baptized, even though the person made clear they were ready before the sermon or worship assembly started. It is important that we understand Biblical priorities.
- May we do good to others as we have opportunity (Galatians 6:10). We are the salt and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). We are to live for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Philippians 1:20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12).
- May we remember what Paul instructed Titus. He told him that God’s people are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Again, “Remind them… to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). Again, “I want you to affirm constantly, that those who believe in God, should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8). Finally, he said, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they be not unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Four times in the last seventeen verses of the book of Titus, Paul emphasized the need for a lifestyle characterized by good works.
- May we be doers of the word. May we be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). May we be doers of the word and not preachers only (Romans 2:1-3, 17-24). God wants us to not only listen to His word, He wants us to live it. God wants us not only to preach His word, He wants us to practice it. May we seek to imitate the Savior. Jesus was no less busy than any of us. Yet, He always seems to have had time for others in need (e.g. Luke 17:11-19; 18:35-43). He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Doing good opened up opportunities to reach the lost. When we go about doing good, we too may have opportunities open up to reach the lost.
What will you do the next time you encounter an urgent need?