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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 04/27/1997
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
For the last ten weeks and more we have been examining in intricate detail every facet of the Law of God, that great Schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. Now before we leave it, we need to back away from it once again, put up our magnifying glasses, and view it once more as a unit, as a whole. After all of our minute analysis, we need someone to put it into a nutshell for us. And no one had done it better than the Lord Jesus Christ: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.'"
What our Lord says here is radical: that Love is a summary of the Law. We more naturally see Love as a substitute for the Law, as something opposed to it. We can either be legalistic and self-righteous Pharisees focused on keeping a bunch of rules, or we can be loving and compassionate, focused on people. We really have a hard time seeing Love and Law together. Ever since the Reformation, we have rightly opposed the idea that you can be saved by keeping the Law. But sometimes in our zeal we have almost made it sound as if it's better not to keep it! Unfortunately, when we cross that line (called "Antinomianism"), we have joined the modern rebellion against God's authority. The desire to substitute Love for Law is really just one form--sometimes a very pious form--of that rebellion. Impatient with rules, we just want to love people. But tragically, such love inevitably ends up not being biblical love.
The biblical perspective on the relation of Law to Love is quite different. "If you love me," Jesus rather inconveniently said, "you will keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15). "By this we know that we love the children of God," says the Beloved Disciple, "when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:2-3). And he says again, "This is love, that you walk according to His commandments" (2 Jn. 1:6). How can they say such things? Because for Jesus and for John, though not for most modern Americans, love is not primarily an emotional response (though of course it involves one), but rather a commitment to a way of life. The biblical concept of love involves not just the emotions but also the will, the body, indeed the whole person, including the mind. Therefore, God's Law defines the way of Love, explains what loving behavior is, and therefore helps us distinguish true love from the many counterfeits that may emotionally feel very similar. By their fruits shall ye know them.
The First Table of the Law then is about how to love God. Let's look at those commandments afresh in that light.
First, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." It is no accident that the relationship between God and his people is often compared by Scripture to marriage. In human relationships, there is a certain kind of love that one can really have for only one person at a time. For anyone else to share that same kind of love which is exclusive to those two people of necessity adulterates that relationship, which is why the physical expression of such a compromise of marriage is known as "adultery." That is why the Old Testament often calls idolatry "spiritual adultery," as in Jer. 3:6-8. And that is why God permits no others, no rivals in his sight. We learn from this commandment that the love we are supposed to have for God is the kind that can not be shared with any rival. For you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.
Then we are to make no graven images, no images of our own devising. To be in love is to desire to know the other person intimately. One of the greatest dangers that all pre-marital (or marital) counselors deal with is the tendency to substitute a false, romantic image, made of our own wish-fulfillment dreams, for the real person. This leads to severe problems when, after the wedding, reality rudely intrudes on our fantasy. Therefore, one of the most important things you can do to nurture and protect a relationship is to be sure this doesn't happen. In the case of our relationship with God, it means rigorously excluding from our minds all ideas about God that do not come from God himself. You cannot have a real love relationship with God if you ignore the commandment against graven images--it just isn't possible. For you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.
Next, we are not to take the Lord's Name in vain. Well, just think of all the moonstruck lovers you have ever known. Just repeating that one name to oneself can be a form of ecstasy. "O, Romeo, Romeo . . ." And we must be sure that we get the name--and its meaning--right. "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Juliet argues that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet because Romeo's family makes his name problematic. But she cannot escape it. And though she may even complain about it herself, just let the Nurse besmirch it! The name of one we love is not a light or a trivial thing to us, because it stands for the beloved. So of course those who love God will not want to take his Name in vain. For you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.
Finally, we are to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. A person in love wants to spend time with his beloved. Ten minutes a day on the phone or reading a letter just isn't enough. And if there is one day a week set aside just to be with that person, with no demands from work interfering--well, that Friday or Saturday night date becomes the center of gravity for the whole week. So, if you do not protect Sunday from intrusions from workaday concerns, if you do not look forward to it--how then can you claim that you love the Lord? For you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.
Jesus was right: the Great Commandment really and literally is a summary of the First Table of the Law. It tells us how to love God, and it tells us whether we love God. But it doesn't stop there.
If then we are married to God the Father, I suppose that means we become part of his Family--which makes the Church our in-laws. According to Jesus' designation of the Second Commandment, then, we need to know how to love them too. The second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself. This summarizes the Second Table of the Law. So let's revisit those commandments in that light.
The Second Table begins with honoring your father and mother. Well, if you can't love the people who gave you life and took care of you when you were helpless, how are you ever going to learn to love your enemies? If we are gong to love our neighbors, we had better start with the people we live with. It means that the home is supposed to be a training ground for love, a base of operations from which that love is to be spread to the world. I know that many homes do not function this way, and that some can't. But we must still pay attention to the design, and in so far as we can let love begin here. The second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself.
All the rest of the injunctions of the Second Table are related to love in similar ways. It is quite unloving to murder your neighbor, commit adultery with his wife, steal his stuff, or bear false witness against him. Duh. But when we understand these commandments in terms of their implications, especially their positive corollaries, we see that the Second Table of the Law does in fact give us a manual for loving our neighbor that is just as profound and just as helpful as the one we have in the First Table for loving God. None of these commandments can be broken except by the absence, the defect, the misdirection, or the perversion of love. To keep their positive corollaries with respect to your neighbor--to respect, nourish, and protect his body, his property, his family, and his reputation--is to be truly loving in your behavior. "How do I know if he loves me," the girl asks. Well, does he want to express that love in terms of sexual license? Is he willing to murder (abortion) to cover that license? Does he care about your reputation? The answer becomes pretty clear pretty quickly. Do I love my neighbor? you ask. Well, how can you claim you do if you are willing to gossip about him? The Law very efficiently distinguishes real love from self-centered emotion masquerading as love once we learn the lesson of Jesus' summary and let it begin to work. The second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself.
The last Commandment of the Ten shows that the others are more than just an outward description of loving behavior. It shows that Love must be the context and ruling motive for all. For the Tenth Commandment, against coveting, shows as we saw last week that outward conformity is not enough. Jesus' Second Commandment then shows that Love is the inward reality of which the Law is the outward expression. The second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself. Jesus summary really is the perfect summary of the Law, and in summarizing it perfectly, brings out the true nature of its demands.
For the Christian whose sins are under the Blood, who is not striving to earn salvation by keeping the Law but rather is keeping it as God enables because he has been saved by Grace, not Merit, there need be no contradiction, no conflict, between Law and Love. The Law is the expression of Love, and Love is the goal of the Law. The Christian lives by the Law because he loves God and Man, and the Law teaches him to love them better. His love impels him to live by the Law, and the Law reinforces the impulse to Love. The Law does not enable him to love (Grace does that), but it instructs him in the true ways of Love. This is the way it is designed to be.
But for the non-Christian in rebellion against God, his rebellion drives Law and Love apart. Experiencing the Law as a burden, he cannot see it as the path of Love. He tends then to try to have one or the other--but this attempt is doomed to failure, destroying both. Law without Love is Legalism. It exalts the self. It is ugly and self-righteous, and leads to death. Love without Law is Romanticism. It indulges the self. It is therefore despite its best intentions, ugly, unrestrained, and lawless, therefore destructive, and leading to death.
Sin drives Love and the Law apart. Only Jesus can put them back together again. So now you know why He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." And why, in answer to the Lawyer's question, he said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." And why Paul said, "God commends his Love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams