The Great Commands (part 3)

Love Your Neighbor

This is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. It is a natural corollary to the first command because love for other people is the only concrete way any of us can demonstrate the depth and reality of our love for God. John elaborates on this point in 1 John 3:17-18, 4:19-21. Furthermore, Jesus explains in Matthew 25:31-46 that it is in our love for other people that our love for Him is most perfectly expressed. As has already been alluded to, the questioner in Luke 10 asked coldly, “Who is my neighbor?” He had missed the entire point of the two great commands.

In Fowler’s commentary on Matthew, he writes, “In fact, our love for God must be the precondition and inspiration for love of our fellows. It is only when we love God’s view of man that we can learn to love man too. Only when we see in man what God sees in him can we begin to love him. Thus, the definitive foundation of true humanity is our appreciation of God. Remove this and our idealism degenerates into cynicism because man’s resistance to change will frustrate us… So, the true foundation of a broad, unrelenting, indomitable love for man must be deeply rooted in the staying power we derive from a loving God who renews our vision of what man can become…” (Fowler, p. 256).

This concept is further played out in the idea of our love for our neighbor being connected to the love we have for ourselves. It is built in to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, very similar to the self-love we must have in order to treat our spouses properly (Ephesians 5:28-29). When we embrace the dignity that is imbued in us by God, we can learn to see the worth of those around us. The degree to which we learn to accept ourselves – our abilities, our limitations, our economic situation, etc. – is the measure of our ability to love and accept others. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, after all (Psalm 139:14), and I am valuable enough to be worth Christ’s time and energy. His blood was shed because He considered me so important. In order to become more accepting of others, I must embrace the truth that God loves me despite my flaws and failures.

On these two commandments depend the entire Law. Christ clearly states that this is the summation of everything that God requires of us. These two commands are inclusive of every other expectation. Human life is shallow and incomplete without both working in harmony. It is not that no other laws are needed, either, or else God would not have wasted His time writing the rest of the Bible. But these two commands form the basis for our obedience to everything else. From our treatment of strangers, to our obedience at work; from our love for widows and orphans, to our unrelenting commitment to worshipping God properly.