Nowadays, preachers keep emphasizing the need to ‘love our neighbors in order to be good Christians’, but that is not where God tells us to start our sanctification journey. When speaking to self-proclaimed “experts” on God’s law, Jesus addressed the debate head on:
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matt. 22:34-39)
The Jews had had the specially revealed law of God since Moses. (What a blessing!) However, there had apparently been debates among them about which of God’s commands was the greatest–as if God didn’t mean all that He had said.
Jesus, the word of God incarnate, sets the record straight. Loving God completely, as summarized by the first table of the Ten Commandments (commands one through four), is the greatest and most important command.
Wait. So we don’t need to avoid committing murder so long as we say we “love God”? Wrongo. To truly love God “with all [our] heart[s], with all [our] soul[s], and with all [our] mind[s]” is to completely change everything about how we live–from the inside out. For instance, if we no longer love or desire anything else more than God (as the first two commandments stipulate), then we should not murder our neighbors out of envy for their possessions (as forbidden by commandment ten).
However, the order of love and devotion that Jesus teaches is critical to properly executing this text. We are to LOVE GOD FIRST. And then love our neighbor only in ways that honor and respect God, our first love.
So then what does godly neighbor love look like?
- A loving neighbor lives lovingly as outlined in the Bible (i.e. gracious walking in love because God has been SO gracious to us as believers).
- Loving our neighbor should never violate God’s law (i.e. We should never lie to protect our neighbor, instead we should pray that God will use their circumstances for His glory.).
- A loving neighbor never celebrates a neighbor’s sin against God, because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Death and condemnation are not lovely. Instead, a loving neighbor consistently and relentlessly proclaims the Gospel because unlike sin, the dividends of saving faith are “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Who wouldn’t desire that for all that they love!
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