Point of Reference
by Fred Price
The crucial importance of what some believe is only an archaic Old Testament injunction to “love your neighbor” finds its fullest expression in the New Testament. Paul declaring that the fulfillment of the “entire law” is found in obedience to that command. ( Galatians 5:14) Which is only possible as we learn to love God first and foremost and thereby gain the capacity to express love for others through Him. ( 1 John 4:7-21)
Peter exhorts us to, “Above all, love each other deeply…” 1 Peter 4:8; James referring to the command to love others as the “royal law.” James 2:8; Paul teaching that love is the fulfillment of the commands to commit no murder or adultery, no theft or covetous jealousy, etc. ( Romans 13:8-10); John writing, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” 1 John 3:11 The emphasis on a loving, responsive community being one of the outstanding characteristics of the early church, responsible for its magnetic appeal and dynamic outreach initially throughout Jerusalem, Judea – and later, the world.
Jesus himself summed up the expectations of the Law and Prophets with the instruction to, “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,…” Matthew 7:12 Which may fall short of a heart-felt declaration of unending love, but is at least a practical expression of care and concern; sometimes expressed contrary to how we really feel at the moment – helping us to learn to express it first, feel it later. (Which is not hypocritical but a sign of maturity.) Much of the time, it’s easier to love people in the abstract as opposed to the reality of everyday living; many of us finding common cause with Charlie Brown’s friend Linus – who famously declared, “I love mankind! It’s people I can’t stand.” 1
In fact, when asked what was the greatest commandment of the Law, Jesus replied by combining two directives from the Old Testament into a single over-riding one for the New. (Interestingly enough, neither being found in the original TEN but pieced together from two seemingly separate strands of thought that do indeed express the intent of them all.) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul... mind... (and) strength.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Going on to say that, “All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So much so that, “There is no commandment greater than these.” Matthew 22:37-40 & Mark 12:28-31 (Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18)
A fascinating aspect of this injunction to love our neighbors is found in the possibility of an alternate rendering and the more personal connotation it may have had for its Jewish adherents. This “ideal” appears throughout scripture, culminating in Jesus startling admonition of, “You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” (Actually found nowhere in scripture, but part of the contemporary teaching of the Essenes; a radically reclusive and militaristic sect of Judaism – as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 1940’s and 50’s.) Jesus emphatically saying, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43,44The Old Testament scripture most closely associated with an alternate rendering being Leviticus 19:34, “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt,…”, as he is now in your land. The deeper meaning possibly stated as, ‘You should show love to foreigners, aliens, enemies – your neighbors, because they are what you once were – different, non-conformist, alien-sinners.’ Leviticus 19:18 possibly having the closest connection to what we hear in the New Testament, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor (who is like) yourself.”
When we acknowledge that we possess the same shortcomings and commit the same types of sin (see James 2:10), we won’t/shouldn’t – point fingers of accusation or hold unforgiving grudges. (See Matthew 7:1-5, which doesn’t mean we refuse to identify sin for what it is, or call people – including ourselves – to its avoidance.) We are all flawed and sinful, sharing a common weakness for sin, needing God’s – and others – mercy and grace to realize our full potential. ( Romans 3:10 & 23,24) The truth being, if we refuse to show compassion to those who are disagreeable or who’ve made unwise, even rebellious choices, how can we expect God to be compassionate towards us when we are disagreeable and make equally unwise decisions? (Which again, doesn’t mean we condone those living in sin, but that we, “…first take the plank out of (our) own eye,…” before attempting to, “…remove the speck from (our) brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
The parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30-35 has the power to change the lives of any who seriously consider it. In it, Jesus responds to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, by asking a question of his own. “Which of these three men do you think was a neighbor…?” Who was pro-active in his response, not knowing or caring about the personal circumstances or background of the man in need? That was the man Jesus characterized as being a “good” neighbor. Conversely, we all may at times identify with the man in need, not caring about his circumstances or background as we are blessed by his/her care.
A distinctive feature of both Testaments of scripture is the concern it often expresses for societies most vulnerable; both Jehovah and Jesus tying worship of themselves with compassion for others. (For example – Deuteronomy 14:28 & James 1:27) John summing up the meaning of love by stating, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (In a broader context – our neighbors, even if they’re “alien” and not very neighborly – or even enemies.) Whether that be by providing material possessions, moral and emotional support and/or spiritual guidance. (See Matthew 25:31-46 & James 2:14-18) For, “If anyone… sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Therefore, “…let us not love (merely) with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18
1Quoted by Lois Tverberg in, Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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