“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
We are aware of the fact that the first great commandment relates to loving God, and no doubt we see the sense in that, but sometimes keeping the second seems beyond our ability. But we should note Jesus’ closing remark on these two commandments, for we cannot obey the first and disobey the second at the same time. If either one is unimportant, then the whole of Scriptural truth collapses. The apostle Paul reveals the importance of keeping the second great commandment in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. Though there are ten commandments, they are in reality reduced to two when we consider that the first four concern our relationship with God, and the remaining six deal with our interaction with our fellow man. Before we move on with our topic, it is interesting to note that, despite what some suggest, there is no command which says, ‘Thou shalt love thyself’, for it is such an selfish attitude of man that holds him back from loving God and loving his neighbour in the first place.
Many think that the command to love our neighbour was a new teaching invented by Jesus, but in fact it is one of the earliest of commands found in Scripture. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). Maybe we would never seek to get our own back on someone who offended us, but do we bear a grudge against him or her? How often do we find bitterness and contempt governing the way we interact with certain people, yet in the end it is we who are stressed with anger. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31) … “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). There is no way that we can walk in the power of God if bitterness and hatred reigns in our hearts. The Lord Jesus expects us to continually love if we are truly His disciples. Without love our testimony is void. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Therefore those who have hatred prove that they do not know the Lord. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Paul writes in Romans 13:9-10, “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”. Rather than seeking vengeance, a true believer desires to put love into action and show kindness to others. Harm and hatred might still be shown towards us, but we should never act or even think evilly against anyone. If “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5), then we have the power to live above the merciless attitudes of sinful man. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). Godly love does not honour one person above another, in fact, there should never be cliques or clubs in the church that exclude anyone. To treat a person as an outsider, or to think of him or her as an undesirable, is sinful. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4). This “royal law” demands that we are impartial and do not treat anyone differently from others. Does this mean that we should not have ‘special’ friendships within the body of Christ? In light of the Scriptures, if those friendships are exclusive and restrictive, then they are forbidden. “To have respect of persons is not good” (Proverbs 28:21) … “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16).
If we have borrowed something from another person, be it money, a book, or a piece of equipment, and have not given it back, it shows a lack of Christian love and respect. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). The debt that we are continually paying off is our love towards others. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Romans 12:10). This godly attitude includes the need for genuine acts of benevolence, kindness and compassion. We should actually hate even the thought of living beneath this standard of Christianity. “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). This love is evidence that the Holy Spirit is operating in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The ‘love’ chapter found in 1 Corinthians 13 expresses all aspects of godly love and leaves us in no doubt how it is to be applied. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth” (:4-8). Anything short of this is not what Jesus intended for His church to have. Therefore loving God and our neighbour is certainly the best way to live our lives. Our love for God will have an impact upon how we interact with those around us. When God’s love permeates through every area of our lives, then we will be a good example of Christian living and a credit to the Lord. “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).