Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Great Commandment in the Law

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 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 22:36-40

"And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with allthy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

"He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thyheart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." Luke 10:26-27

People often speak of how love is the fulfillment of the law.  But what does that really mean? What are these texts really telling us?
  • One, it tells us that the "great" commandment to love God with all of our heart, mind, & soul is the highest law; it has primacy over all other laws.

  • Second, it shows that there is a secondary command to the "great" command. This is not less in significance, because it is "like unto" the first.  So, it is also "great" but can only come after the first.  It is only possible to love our neighbors if we first love God (I John 4:21).

  • Third, we are told that all the law and the prophets "hang on", stem from, or are encapsulated in these two "great" laws.  By default, this not only means that the other laws are lesser than these two; it also tells us that the two "great" laws are more broad than the others.  One can only be "summed up" in something which is greater than one's self.
A friend recently said the following:
If you read the Torah closely you will see that outside of the Sacrificial and Ceremonial laws there are no new laws. The rest of the Torah are each of the 10 commandments broken down in detail...for example Exodus 21:15 "And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death." This is "honour thy mother and thy father" explictily detailed.
This statement is true!  Further, this tells us exactly why love is the fulfillment of the law.

The laws under the "great" commandments are not the whole of God's will for man or even the whole of God's law for man.  The laws under the "great" commandments are merely "examples" of the greater/higher laws. They are the "great" laws broken down in more explicit detail so that man could perceive God's ways.

Understanding these things, we could depict God's laws as follows:

It can be seen then, how obeying a higher law fulfills the lower laws/examples.  Conversely, it would be in error to say that obeying a lower law/example fulfills the higher laws.

This is why obedience to the Ten Commandments or Mosaic laws could never perfect man (Matthew 19:16-21; Hebrews 7:19), for the "great" commandments of God are broader and encompass more than these examples (Matthew 5:28).

Is this not what Jesus was saying when He criticized the Pharisees for neglecting the "weightier matters" of the law (Matthew 23:23)?  They were heeding the letter, but obeying the letter of the examples could not birth justice, mercy, and faithfulness in their hearts.

Some might ask "Why didn't God just give Israel the two 'great' laws instead of all the others?"  The answer is because man was so defiled by sin, he could not comprehend what God meant by "love God and love your neighbor."  Therefore, God had to give examples of what this meant.

These examples are types or shadows of His perfect will which is reflected fully in the two "great" commandments and embodied in the person Jesus Christ.  This is how Jesus fulfilled the law and also why the law has been fulfilled.

"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things." Luke 24:44-48

Jesus had to open the eyes of the disciples' understanding because - although they were well-versed in the Scriptures - they still did not have understanding. Jesus told them that He must fulfill what was written: He must suffer, die, and rise from the dead in order to offer man repentance and remission of sins. 

Jesus fulfilled all of the law by walking continuously in the perfect law of God (love) and offering Himself as a sinless sacrifice for our sins. Thus, Jesus fulfilled and not destroyed the law.

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:17-18

Jesus promised to fulfill the law, and He did just what He said.  He became the firstborn from which we may likewise follow and walk in newness of life (Romans 8:29).

Consider again my friend's comments above.  If we understood what God meant by "honor your parents", He would not have to tell us "Do not smite your parents."  We would know that instinctively!

The goal is not to walk around trying not to smite our parents so that we can comply with God's law.  The goal is to be transformed into His image so that we have no desire to smite our parents.  The goal is not to try and resist sinful urges the rest of our life, but to kill that which has the sinful desires (the old man) so that we can obey God by nature (II Peter 1:3-4).  This is why we must be born again by the Spirit of God.

The old covenant is symbolized by what man must or must not do. The focus is on man's ability & works before God: "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not".  However in the new covenant, God says, "I will". The focus is on God's utmost capability in completing HIS work IN man.  Why? Because man cannot change his own heart and the heart of God cannot be legislated. The root of sin is in the heart and only God can change that.

God is not trying to get us to comply with examples of His righteousness, (which is a lower level of relationship), but to be transformed into His righteousness by being made one with Him in His Son (which is a higher calling). The letter of the law (examples) were not made for a righteous man (I Timothy 1:9).  Being made new to walk according to the dictates of the Spirit, we can then fulfill the royal law of God by walking in the "great" commandments (Ezekiel 36:26-27, Romans 8:4; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 4:14).

When the New Testament text speaks repeatedly of the old covenant or the law being replaced, done away, or set is not saying that the words of God have become void.  It is saying that man no longer needs examples when he has been transformed by God to become the reflection of Himself.  As such, man will walk in all of God's judgments as he is led by God's Spirit in all matters, even areas where no express law has been given.

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Romans 8:14

For more information on the law, please see the series on The Spirit of the Law.

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