To answer that question, we need to consider one particular altercation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Matthew records one of the religious leaders attempting to trap the Lord with a trick question. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). It seems their plan was to pin Him down on one of the hundreds of ceremonial laws and rituals they had heaped on the people of Israel, only to contest whatever He said. They believed they possessed the superior knowledge of God’s law. They were wrong.
Jesus replied with a quote from the Mosaic law. “‘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” (Matthew 22:37–38). He was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (specifically verse 5), a key passage of the law that links love for God with obedience, and which also figured prominently in the customs and ceremonies the Pharisees had instituted. Once again, He was contrasting the emptiness of their pious rituals with the comprehensive, full-orbed love God commands from His people.
But Christ doesn’t stop there. He says, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39). Again, He’s pointing back to the Mosaic law—this time, to Leviticus 19 and God’s commands regarding the way His people were supposed to behave toward one another, and to strangers.
Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. . . . When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:9–18, 33–37)
God wove those specific provisions into His law to protect His people from themselves—to keep them from defrauding each other or leaving each other destitute. If you think about it, that’s really the purpose for laws—to protect us from one another.
The truth is, if we could truly love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and if we could faithfully, graciously, and sacrificially love our neighbor as ourselves, we wouldn’t need laws—we’d be living holy lives. Like Christ concluded in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” All of God’s commands, both the spiritual and moral duties He has given to us, are fulfilled in our comprehensive love for Him and our faithful love for our neighbors.
Paul picks up this same idea in Romans.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)
Reading that, it’s easy to see how that kind of love is missing in the human heart today. How our society runs in the opposite direction, with people demanding their own rights and privileges without a thought for one another, much less any consideration of God.
In a world of selfishness, greed, inequity, and injustice, believers need to be set apart by their consuming love for God, and their sacrificial love for others. That’s the kind of holy living that brings salt and light to this dark, decaying world.
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