The Great Commandment

If you were to ask a group of believers, “What is the greatest commandment in the New Testament?”, the most likely response would be a quote of Matthew 22:35-40.  “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, ‘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” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is the great and foremost commandment.  And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (quoting Leviticus 19:18).  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’ ” (Mt 22:35-40).

Notice the fine print in the question and Jesus’ response.  The lawyer requested “the great commandment in the Law.”  And Jesus’ reply highlights the command to love God and love your neighbor as the foremost commandment in the Old Testament, i.e. “the whole Law and the Prophets.”  In short, Jesus is giving us the greatest commandment in the Old Testament.

What is left out of the “great commandment” from a New Testament point of view is the community aspect of loving one another that is developed later in Jesus’ ministry and explained in great detail in the subsequent New Testament epistles.  If you think about it, the two great commands of Matthew 22:35-40 have an individual mandate.  Only you can know, sense, or feel how much you love God.  And in regard to the second command, the “love your neighbor” illustration Jesus uses in the parallel Luke 10:25-37 passage has the good Samaritan working alone to help the fallen traveler.

So how do these commands, the greatest in the Old Testament, affect the New Covenant believer?  Consider these New Testament passages:  “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal 5:14).  “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is a fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10)  “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).

The New Testament teaches that love is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.  And with His focus on loving God and loving your neighbor as the great commandment of the Old Testament, Jesus is laying the foundation for the greatest commandment of the New Testament.  We will find out what it is next time.

Imitators of God

The New Testament teaches that our family resemblance to God acquired at the new birth is what empowers us to love as God loves.  God’s love toward us not only gives us the ability to love, but gives us the model for love as well.  In fact, several of the New Testament writers implore us to demonstrate our family resemblance by imitating God in how we love.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1-2).

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I Jn 3:16-18).

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I Jn 4:10-11).

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35-36).

This is just a sampling of the idea that when we love, we imitate the love of God, our Father.  As Paul Miller wrote in Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus didn’t say we should love our enemies because ‘that’s what love does’, He said we should love because that’s what the Father is like.”

Controlled by Love

The apostle Paul makes the connection between our supernatural capacity to love and the New Covenant work of Christ in the book of II Corinthians.  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died” (II Cor 5:14).  How in the world is part A of this verse, “The love of Christ controls us” connected to part B, “One died for all, therefore all died”?  This verse is essentially Romans chapter 6 in a nutshell.

“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we to might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:3-6).

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were joined with Christ.  Our old man, our sin nature, died and was buried with Christ.  Our new man, our new nature, was raised anew with Christ, not just in a positional way, but in a practical way as well; walking in the “newness” of Christ’s resurrection life.  Unlike the old man, a slave to sin, our new man is free from the overpowering control of sin.  So what controls us now?

“The love of Christ controls us.”  We are back to II Corinthians 5:14.  Because Christ died – and we died through Him (II Cor 5:14b) – we are no longer controlled by sin.  We are no longer controlled by our own self-interest.  We are now controlled, motivated, ruled by love.  Paul says as much in the next verse, “And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (II Cor 5:15).  By joining Christ in His death and resurrection, our motivation by self-interest has died and has been replaced by love.

Please think through this connection between our motivation to love and Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  The capacity, ability, and desire to love as God loves is not something we have to work hard to attain, some far off goal to aspire to.  It is already in you!  It is a gift given to us at our new birth and remains in us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Remember, fruit is the natural outcome of a healthy tree and love is the natural outcome of a life indwelt by the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  May your fruit spring forth and produce in abundance today.

Your Love Resemblance

Too many times our teaching and discussion regarding the love of God ends with His rescue, deliverance, and salvation or His current care and provision.  But in one of the most incredible gifts of the New Covenant, we are not only the recipients of God’s love, but the possessors as well.  We are not only lavished by God’s love, but actually indwelt by His love through the Holy Spirit.  You have, operating inside you, some measure of the love of God.

The New Testament teaches that you have a supernatural power to love; a capacity, ability, and desire to love as God loves.  You possess this by virtue of your new relationship with God as His child.  “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (I Jn 3:1).  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I Jn 4:7-8).

The practice of love is an outward demonstration of an inward change; our adoption into God’s family.  By virtue of being “born of God”, we now have a family resemblance to God Himself in how we love.  Does this moral resemblance to God somehow make us His equal?  May it never be!  Resemblance does not mean equal.

Our daughter and son-in-law, Annie and Matthew Dorin, just had a baby boy a few weeks ago.  Even as an infant, Micaiah looks like his father.  So if a visitor were to pick up baby Micaiah and exclaim, “My, you have another Matthew in the house,” they would not be declaring that Micaiah and Matthew are equals.  They would only be pointing out the resemblance.  No one expects Micaiah to bench press 200 pounds or walk to the train station in five minutes like his father, but they do have a distinct family resemblance.

Likewise, because you are God’s child, you have a moral resemblance to God in your capacity, ability, and desire to love.  But I can guess what you are thinking, because I am thinking it as well.  If this disposition to love is so supernatural, why isn’t its practice more evident in our own lives as well as our community of believers?  Just as we can hide a physical resemblance by how we wear our hair, clothes, or make-up, we can hide our moral resemblance through sin.  But this is a lengthy topic which we will have to take up further down the road.

God is Love

Any discussion about love in the body of Christ, the church, must begin with God Himself, the author of love.  Love is not only the invention of God, but it is the very essence of God.  Love isn’t something God does; it is who He is.  “God is love” is a prevalent theme (I Jn 4:7 e.g.) throughout His revelation.  And this love, at the center of who God is, is the driver in His relationship with us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down His life for His friends” (Jn 15:13).  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).  “Grace to you and peace…from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:4-5).

God’s love has rescued us.  And that rescue is firm.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35-39).