Matthew 7:7-12: The Law of Love

Read: Matthew 7:7-12

Matthew 7:12 has been called the “Golden Rule” and rightfully so because it is what Jesus says is the summation of the Law. He also calls it one of the Great Commandments too (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul calls this teaching the “Law of Love” (Romans 13:8-10) and James the “Royal Law” (James 2:8). The original manifestation was found in the Old Testament among a sundry of other laws related to interpersonal relationships (Leviticus 19:18). To the New Testament writers, this single command is given a number of special names which indicates that it is among one of the most important teachings that Jesus gave concerning the Law and the Prophets.

The position of this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount follows a short discourse on petitioning God. Jesus teaches that God is a good father who wants to give those that ask what they ask for. This text along with John 15:7 though are used by skeptics to discredit the Christian faith. They argue that the scripture teaches that whatever one asks for one will receive from God, no questions asked and without reservation. This thinking essentially reduces God to a cosmic genie that will grant any wish. The problem is that it fails to take into account what Jesus is saying. John 15:1-17 explains the context of this though. The context for the statement is that those who are asking are also abiding in Christ such that when they do ask they asking in accordance with God’s will. When one trust God, he directs them accordingly (Proverbs 3:5-6).

John also connects such asking to the Great Commandment. Jesus in John 15 gives the old commandment a fresh understanding when he says to the disciples that they should love others as he has loved them when they had been taught to love others in the manner that they would like to be loved. The Sermon parallels this. Jesus is showing that God gives graciously and abundantly to those who ask and should also be the same when one loves others as well. If God loves generously, then all those who call themselves followers of Christ ought to do the same.

The beauty of this “law” is that it is not a prohibition against an act, rather it is freedom to act. In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul connects that in serving others one is fulfilling the law, but says that those that live according to the Spirit are not under the law. Life in the Spirit manifests a number of “fruits”. There are not laws against these. This is perhaps the one thing that separates Christianity apart from all other faiths concerning works. Other faiths teach that one follow a moral code of conduct in order to gain enough merit to obtain some kind of salvation or avoid some kind of judgment. Christians though are saved by faith instead of works, so they are free to love without pretense and why they are not under any law at all. When Jesus commanded the disciples to love as he did, this is precisely what he was getting at. Jesus didn’t need to gain merit, rather he was doing it selflessly.

Lord, help me to love as you loved!

Matthew 5:43-48: Love Everyone!

Read: Matthew 5:43-48

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” has been called the “Golden Rule” among other things. This commandment is found in the Old Testament among a plethora of laws concerning how neighbors should interact with one another (Leviticus 19:9-18). It is also among the “Greatest Commandments” that Jesus gives in Matthew 22:34-40. He says that on this command along with loving God “hang” the Law and the Prophets. The idea from the original language of the New Testament is that the Greatest Commandments are like a rope on which the rest of the law is suspended. If the rope is cut, then the everything else comes crashing down. In a manner of speaking, Jesus is saying that it is the essence of the Law and the fulfillment of the Law when one puts it into practice.

But Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount corrects another bad teaching that the people had been taught concerning the Law. They had been taught that their “neighbor” only included a select few people and the rest of the people were their enemies, and it was okay to hate them. This is evidenced by the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Here, Jesus gives the same commandments from Matthew, but the hearer wanted to “justify himself” by limiting the scope of his neighbor. Jesus shows how the Samaritan was the neighbor to the one in need, which these Jews hated. This is why Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount qualifies what he says concerning loving one’s neighbor with loving ones enemies as well, showing them that the real benefit to loving one’s neighbor comes not from loving those who are most like oneself, rather loving ones that are not like oneself. It is in this context that loving one’s neighbor really plays out.

Paul and James both echo the command in their writings as well. Paul himself says that by following the command that one will fulfill the Law too in much the same way Jesus implies (Romans 13:8-10). James calls the commandment the “Royal Law”, implying that it comes from a king, no other than God himself (James 2:8). While certain aspects of the Law don’t necessarily apply anymore, specifically those related to ceremonial law, this part unequivocally is affirmed by the New Testament and shows that the Greatest Commandment implies that one’s neighbor is everyone, not just a select group of people. Christians today are still under the same law concerning loving one’s neighbor, and do well to fulfill it. In doing so too, one can show the love of God and win one over to God as well!

Lord, help me to love my neighbor!

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14: The End of The Matter

Read: Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

The Preacher ends where Proverbs starts off – the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Preacher, after having searched things out and evaluated his entire life accordingly, concludes that all is vanity and that the lot of main is to fear God and keep his commandments. He Preacher sought to gather wisdom and arrange it in a fashion for his readers to understand, and writes his treatise as if it where the ultimate manifesto on the subject matter concerning life. He shifts from third person to first person, warning his “son” to beware of anything beyond what he has read in the Preacher’s writings here. The Preacher warns that there is no end to the making of books and much study is tiresome. But nevertheless, the Preacher does commend wisdom calling it a “goad” – that is something worn by cattle to prod them on. In the case of wisdom, it is to live skillfully in accordance with God’s commands, because God brings action into judgment.

The Preacher already encouraged his reader to fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 8:12). The Preacher in his conclusion echoes what the Law had already spoken in Deuteronomy 10:12. When the Old Testament talks about fearing God, it is not talking about being afraid of God in the sense that one is afraid of something that is scary, rather being fearful of God is realizing one’s place before God and responding appropriately to that knowledge. The appropriate response is obedience as the Preacher points out and what God requires. Deuteronomy 10:12 says that God’s people should love him and serve with all their heart soul. Jesus declared that this was the greatest commandment on which the law and the prophets were suspended like a weight on a rope (Matthew 23:37-40) and says that obedience is how one shows live for God (John 14:15). What is certainly true throughout the whole of scripture and is the bedrock of all that one does in life is to love and fear God, and one does this by keeping his commandments.

One’s relationship with God begins at the point of salvation where one follows Jesus’ command to repent from one’s sin and another to believe the gospel (Mark 1:15, John 12:50). After this, a believer receives the Holy Spirit and with the help of the Holy Spirit embarks on a life that pursues godliness by following the commands of Christ. The Preacher learned this lesson the hard way, but people need not do this – they can learn what brings the most fulfillment by hearing the gospel, believing it, and living it!

Lord, help me to fear you and keep your commandments!

John 15:12-17: The Primacy of Love

Read: John 15:12-17

Jesus’ command to the disciples was to love one another. Jesus reiterates the concept of love over and over in his last moments with disciples (John 13:14, John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23, John 15:9-10, John 15:12-13, John 15:17, John 16:27) more than anything else probably because he wanted the disciples to really get this part above all else. The primacy of love in the New Testament is undeniable. The synoptic gospels record Jesus saying that the two greatest commandments were to love God with the totality of one’s being and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:27) which is an echo of the Old Testament commands in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Paul echoes the Leviticus command in Romans 13:9-10 and Galatians 5:14, saying this command is the summation of the law. Matthew adds Jesus saying that on these things “hang”, in the manner of a weight hanging from a rope, the Law and the Prophets. In other words, without this primacy of love, the Law and the Prophets would come crashing down. Paul reiterates the primacy of love in 1 Corinthians. He calls love the “excellent way” and goes onto describe love in 1 Corinthians 13. He concludes the matter that love is greater than hope and faith. Without love, the gospel does not make sense either. Jesus says that it was because of love that God sent Jesus (John 3:16).

Jesus says that the greatest form of love is when a when a friend lays down his life for another. The obvious meaning of this is Jesus laying down his life for the disciples on the cross. Jesus demonstrated the greatest form of love in this manner. Laying down one’s life can also be manifested in how Jesus loved while he was alive to. Philippians 2:3-8 where Jesus humbled himself and took on the form of a servant and Jesus demonstrated this sort of love in an object lesson by washing their feet (John 13:5-15). Jesus does not speak to them as servants, rather as friends, telling them his business and he treats them as equals. He called them out so that they could go and bear fruit and so that their fruit would remain. By abiding in the love of Christ and by laying down their lives for one another, they would fulfill the law and make lasting fruit, so much so that in the manner in which God gave Jesus what he needed to bear fruit, they too could ask for what they needed to bear fruit and God would give it to them. This does not make God a cosmic genie, rather a loving Father who is concerned about drawing all people to himself. Those who love God will ask according to this purpose and obey his commandments.

Christians today are bound by the same love that Jesus was talking about to the disciples. In the same manner that Jesus called out the disciples to go and bear fruit, God calls Christians to go out and bear fruit. But the Christian must always stay connected to the vine and abide in the vine, loving God with the entirety of one’s being and loving others as oneself.

Lord help me to abide in your love so that I may bear fruit!