Sermon: Three Questions


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Purpose: To get us to give our attention to those before us

Three Questions 

What is the right thing to do? Who are the people I most need? What affairs are the most important?

Proverbs 4.25–27

Based on Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • January 10, In the year of our Lord, 2016

Song Leader and Song Suggestions: Larry Amberg – No suggestions


  1. A king thought to himself that 
    1. if he always knew the right time to begin everything;
    2. if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and
    3. if he always knew what was the most important thing to do,
      1. he would never fail in anything he might undertake.
  2. He announced to his kingdom 
    1. that he would give a great reward
    2. to anyone who could teach him these three things.
      1. Learned men all gave different answers, and
      2. all the answers included complicated instructions.
        1. The king did not give the reward to anyone, because
        2. he did not agree with any of them, since
          1. they involved creating schedules,
          2. setting up councils, and so on.
          3. They made knowing more difficult.
  3. However, he still desired to find the right answers to his questions. 
    1. Therefore, he sought a hermit,
    2. widely known for his wisdom.
  4. The hermit lived in a forest which he never left, and 
    1. he only received common people.
    2. Therefore, the king put on simple clothes and,
      1. before reaching the hermit’s home,
      2. dismounted from his horse.
        1. He left his bodyguard, and
        2. he went alone.
          1. The hermit was digging in front of his hut.
          2. Seeing the king, he greeted him and kept digging.
            1. The hermit was frail and weak, and
            2. the digging made him breathe heavily.
    3. The king said, “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions:
      1. How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time?
      2. Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?
      3. And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?”
        1. The hermit listened, but said nothing.
        2. He just kept digging.
          1. “You are tired,” said the king, and dug for the hermit.
          2. “Thanks!” said the hermit, and sat down.
  5. When the king had dug two beds, 
    1. he stopped and repeated his questions.
    2. The hermit remained silent,
      1. stretched out his hand for the spade, and said:
      2. “Now rest awhile—and let me work a bit.”
        1. However, the king did not give him the spade, and kept digging.
          1. Two hours passed.
          2. The sun started to set behind the trees.
        2. The king stuck the spade in the ground, and said:
          1. “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions.
          2. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”
  6. “Here comes someone running,” said the hermit. “Let us see who it is.” 
    1. The man running held his stomach, because
    2. he was bleeding.
      1. He fell before the king, moaning feebly.
      2. The king and the hermit quickly helped the man.
        1. They discovered that he had a large wound in his stomach.
        2. The king washed it, and bandaged it.
          1. The bleeding would not stop, but
          2. the king kept
            1. removing bandages,
            2. washing the wound, and
            3. applying new bandages.
    3. Finally the man quit bleeding, and
      1. asked for a drink of water.
      2. The king brought water and gave it to him.
        1. Since it had become cool outside,
        2. the king and the hermit brought the man inside, and
          1. placed him on a bed.
          2. The man feel asleep.
            1. So did the king,
            2. right on the threshold of the shack.
    4. The next morning,
      1. the king had slept so well
      2. that in a daze,
        1. he forgot where he was and
        2. who this man was lying in the bed,
          1. who was now looking at the king.
          2. “Forgive me!” said the wounded man in a weak voice.
            1. “I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the king.
            2. “You do not know me, but I know you. I am an enemy of yours who swore to avenge himself on you, because you executed my brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, but you saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”
  7. The king rejoiced that he had peace with his enemy so easily, and 
    1. to have gained him as a friend, and so
    2. the king not only forgave the man, but said
      1. he would send his servants and his own physician to care of him, and
      2. promised to restore his brother’s property.
  8. The king went out to the porch and talked with the hermit, 
    1. wanting his questions answered.
    2. The hermit was planting seeds in the freshly dug beds from the previous day.
      1. “You have already been answered!” said the hermit.
      2. “What do you mean?” asked the king.
        1. “Do you not see?” replied the hermit.
        2. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have regretted not staying with me.
          1. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds;
          2. and I was the most important man; and
          3. to do me good was your most important business.
        3. Afterwards, when that man ran to us,
          1. the most important time was when you were tending to him, for
          2. if you had not bound up his wounds
            1. he would have died without having made peace with you.
            2. So he was the most important man, and
            3. what you did for him was your most important business.
    3. Remember then: there is only one time that is important—now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have power.
    4. The most necessary person is the one with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and
    5. the most important affair is to do that person good, because for that purpose was man sent into this life.”


  1. Luke 10.25–37 – Three Questions for the Good Samaritan 
    1. A lawyer asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life.
      1. Jesus asked,

        “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

        1. The lawyer quoted Deuteronomy 6.5,

          “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.’”
        2. Then the lawyer quoted Leviticus 19.18,

          “and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
      2. Jesus told the lawyer
        1. that his answer was correct, and
        2. if he did what he quoted, he would live.
      3. However, the lawyer asked Jesus,

        “And who is my neighbor?”

      4. Jesus said,
        1. A man traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, and
        2. fell among thieves,
          1. who stripped him of his clothing,
          2. wounded him,
          3. leaving him half dead.
        3. A priest passing by saw the mugging victim and ignored him.
        4. A Levite did the same thing.
        5. However, a Samaritan came to the man,
          1. had compassion on him,
          2. bandaged his wounds,
            1. poured oil and wine on the wounds;
            2. set him on his own animal,
              1. brought him to an inn, and
              2. took care of him.
        6. The Samaritan had to continue his journey,
          1. so he gave money to the innkeeper
          2. to take care of the man, and
            1. promised that if the innkeeper spent more,
            2. the Samaritan would make up the difference.
      5. Jesus then asked the lawyer this devastating question,

        “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

        1. The lawyer answered,

          “He who showed mercy on him.”
        2. Jesus said to him,

          “Go and do likewise.”
    2. Let’s apply the three questions to the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
      1. What was the right thing to do at the right time?
        1. It was to help the man right then.
        2. Is it ever convenient to stop what you are doing and help someone?
      2. Who were the people the Samaritan most needed?
        1. The victim provided the Samaritan an opportunity for a good work.
          1. The victim needed the Samaritan, because
          2. sometimes we are the helper and sometimes we are helped.
        2. Then he needed the innkeeper.
      3. What affairs were the most important?
        1. The man before him.
        2. Although other matters pressed upon him, he provided for the victim.
    3. What do you think the Lord thought of the Samaritan?
      1. The point of the Parable shows the Lord’s approval.
      2. The Samaritan will have it good at the Judgment.
  2. Wisdom from Solomon 
    1. The Spirit used Solomon to write the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
      1. What are, or is, the purpose of these Books?
      2. They show us how to live life daily.
    2. Proverbs 4 I believe, applies to our three questions,

      25 Let your eyes look straight ahead,
      And your eyelids look right before you.
      26 Ponder the path of your feet,
      And let all your ways be established.
      27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
      Remove your foot from evil.
      (Pro 4.25–27)
    3. Ecclesiastes 6 also applies to our three questions,

      9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire.
      (Ecc 6.9a)
    4. If we look elsewhere
      1. rather than at the people and events before us,
      2. we will miss what is most important and needful.
        1. We will not fulfill the goals of things elsewhere, and
        2. we will not make the most out of what is before us.
    5. Of course, we plan and schedule (Samaritan did and Tolstoy’s king did), but
      1. that cannot substitute for being in the moment.
      2. It is not about us and what we want.
        1. It is about the One whom we confess is the Lord.
        2. Since He is the Lord He runs our lives.
          1. What then, does the Lord want us to do right now?
          2. Who are the people we need most or rather who need us?
          3. What affairs are most important right now?


  1. Why are you here? 
    1. I do not mean, why are you on the Earth, but
      1. why are you here in this building?
      2. why are you sitting by the people who are next to you?
      3. why do you work where you do?
      4. why will you have contact with certain people this week?
      5. why will you shop at a particular store?
    2. Ask, “Why?” about everything.
    3. Our focus cannot be exclusively on what we have to do.
      1. Our focus should be,
      2. Who is the Lord putting in my path today?
  2. And what about your soul? 
    1. Have you prepared it for eternity?
    2. You need Jesus now
      1. to save your soul now
      2. that you might begin to live now,

        2 For He says:

        “In an acceptable time I have heard you,
        And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”

        Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2Co 6.2).

        59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.59–62).