Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’.
Last week, we began looking at Paul’s teaching about walking in love. In most of Paul’s writings, we can see him stating that love is the fulfillment of the law. The law that comprises of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament applies to us even in this day and age. This is because we are the spiritual children of Abraham who have been added into God’s family when we placed our faith in the saving blood of Jesus. We now have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Since this law is relevant to us even now, let us try to understand its nature and its relationship with love.
NATURE OF LAW
A few weeks ago, we looked at Paul’s teaching on owing nobody any debt except that of loving one another. He clarified that it is fine to owe a debt of love because the one who loves another fulfills the law.
This may be startling to us, but let me state that it is very important for us to understand the nature of law to understand Christian life well. That’s where the expert teachers of the Law or the Pharisees in Jesus’ times stumbled. They taught and interpreted the law without understanding its intent or spirit.
For example – they would say if you haven’t murdered anyone then you have not broken the commandment of ‘Thou shall not murder’. But Jesus said that if you are angry with your brother and called him a fool then you have committed murder. The Pharisees’ were stumped! How was that possible?! Well, for that we need to understand the intent of that commandment. God gave that commandment not to keep them from murdering, but to show them how to live in love.
Take another example. The Law said ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’. The Pharisees’ said that as long as one hasn’t been unfaithful to their spouse, then they hadn’t broken the commandment. But Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman with a lustful eye he has already committed adultery. Again the intent of the law was to keep man from ever committing such a heinous act. When we love someone truly we will not violate them in such a manner.
Jesus always taught explaining the intent of the law. He never gave a long list of do’s and don’ts. That was why sinners thronged to hear Him preach and turned their lives over to follow Him.
LOVE AND FULFILLMENT OF LAW
Now, let’s come back to the statement that we touched upon earlier. What does it mean to say that if we love we have fulfilled the law? It means that God, who is love, gave us the law so that it can teach us to live in love. Unless we fulfill the intent, we don’t fulfill the law.
LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR AS OURSELVES
After explaining that he who loves another fulfills the law, Paul goes on to list the commandments. He names them one by one and then says that they are all summed up in one statement, that is, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’.
In fact, this summarized version of the Ten Commandments can be seen in Leviticus 19:18 which says, ‘you shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord’.
JESUS QUESTIONED BY TWO MEN
On two different occasions, Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment. Both times, Jesus took this Old Testament Scripture to clarify the intent of the law to His audience. Let’s quickly see how He did that.
- Good life
Matthew 19:16-19 says, ‘Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
In reply to the man’s question about which commandments to follow, Jesus mentions five of the Ten Commandments and then ends his statement with the commandment from Leviticus to love one’s neighbour as oneself. In essence what the commandments were saying was that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. That was the gist of the Law.
- Greatest commandment
Mark 12:28-31 says, ‘Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” ‘Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus put the first four commandments that describe our relationship with God as being the foremost. He said we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength. Even though the lawyer asked Him only about the greatest or foremost commandment, Jesus went on to explain that the second one is just like the first and it is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The two are so intrinsically tied together that we cannot artificially separate them. They sum up all of the Ten Commandments perfectly.
COUNTERFEITS OFFERED BY THE WORLD
Now, the sad thing is that the devil tries to twist God’s Word and come up with his own alluring but false teachings. He has gotten the world to say that if we love our neighbor as ourselves then we fulfill the law. He convinces people that since God is a ‘subject’ that can be controversial and varies from religion to religion, it is alright to keep Him out of the picture. Instead he says that we must be practical in our lives and focus on loving one another.
But there are many fallacies to this philosophy. Let’s look at some of them.
- REVERSAL OF THE ORDER OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
It reverses the order of the Ten Commandments and says that loving man is more important than loving God. But that is wrong. The Ten Commandments are divided into two sections. The first one is about loving God and the other is about loving one another. Loving God must come before loving one another.
- REVERSAL OF THE ORDER IN WHICH JESUS STATED THE COMMANDMENTS
When Jesus clarified and summarized the Commandments, He put them in a particular order. He said the foremost is to love God with all of our being and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Neither can the two be separated nor can their order be reversed.
- INSULT TO GOD
Whenever we put anything before God it’s an insult to God. So, if we ignore God and place emphasis on loving one another, then that is an insult to God. God must be in the first place before anybody or anything. That does not mean God is egotistical. It means that God is the source of our supply for everything in life and He wants us to be connected to Him than to the supply in itself.
- FALSE VIEW OF MAN AND SELF
It takes a false view of man and the self. Let me explain it. As a result of the fall, man has become extremely selfish and self-centered. C.S Lewis tells a story of a mother who ran a large household efficiently. She took pride in the way she managed her family’s affairs. But one day she died. To everyone’s surprise, her family was relieved. Because until then their lives were controlled by her, but now they could live peacefully! It’s a funny yet insightful tale of how even the good things that we do are motivated by our selfish desire to be in control. In fact even in the love of a mother (which is the noblest form of love), there is often an element of selfishness lurking around.
So consider telling a selfish person to love his neighbor! He knows only how to love himself. He has no clue how to love another being. Therefore the problem of selfishness makes it impossible for man to love his neighbor.
- LACK OF PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF LOVE
Another problem is that people of the world have no idea about love. We know that there are different words to express love in Greek – Eros (erotic love), Phileo (affectionate love) and Agape (Divine love).
Until Jesus demonstrated Agape love, the world did not understand it. For example, consider this conversation between Peter and Jesus in John 21:15-17. ‘So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You. He said to him, “Feed My lambs. He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
Even though they have used the same word ‘love’ in all the three instances, in Greek different words were used. Tamil Bible captures the two meanings differently. Jesus asked, “Nee ennai anbu koorugiraayaa? Peter replied saying, “Naan umami naesikkiraen”. The first two times Jesus was asking Peter if he ‘loved’ Him with ‘agape’ love. Peter replied that he ‘liked’ Him with ‘phileo’ love.
The third time around though, Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him with phileo love. Peter was saddened and replied, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Peter had at one time professed to love Him and to never abandon Him. But he deserted Jesus soon after. However, Jesus went to the Cross to die for Peter’s sins too. So the third time Jesus asked him if he loved Him with phileo love, Peter was saddened that Jesus knew that He had only phileo love for Him and not a deeper love.
Therefore, it proves that agape love was of a high standard and a completely new concept to the educated and reformed Greeks of the day! Hence we see Paul write in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 that, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing’. He then realizes that nobody would understand about this love that he talked about because it was completely new to them. So, he further defines agape love in verses 4-8. He says, ‘love suffers long. Love is kind. Love does not envy. Love does not parade itself, it’s not puffed up, love does not behave rudely. It does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails’.
Often we glibly say that we can ignore God but that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. This is because we don’t understand love properly. The fact is that we cannot love one another as ourselves because it is not human nature. It has to come from God. It happens when God makes man a new creation, regenerates Him and gives him a new nature. Then suddenly it takes away his selfishness and he is able to reach out to others.
Isn’t that an incredible thing? Because we have been transformed by the love of God and by the working of the Holy Spirit, we can be agents of change in this world. We can help restore the broken things of the world and make them beautiful again.