"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Whole Law (Galatians 5:14)

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 ESV)

We have finished Galatians in our Tuesday night Bible study, but this post by Dan Phillips (actually, it was more of the comments) reminded me of our discussion Galatians 5:14. Given that Paul summarizes the Law in one commandment, and Jesus had earlier summarized the Law in two commandments:
And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)


This difference between Jesus and Paul was first brought to my attention at a Salado Bible Conference (Salado, TX). These conferences were (maybe still are?) held yearly and we would have some number go from Believer's Chapel to the conference every year (sidenote: in fact, one year Dr. Johnson was the featured speaker, delivering three messages on limited atonement - one each on the historical, theological, and Biblical perspective of the doctrine, which is perhaps a post for another time). One year, a speaker was doing a series on Galatians, and during the talk mentioned that the Law is summarized in one statement - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There was some discussion among a small group of us about him making a mistatement (in light of Jesus' words in Matthew) when we realized he was quoting Paul.

The question that then comes up is why does Paul differ from Jesus. Some who want to throw doubt on the Scripture will point to this as an obvious contradiction, just as they will do with Paul and James. But just like the seeming contradiction between Paul and James, resolving this is not really that difficult.

Jesus and the Two Great Commandments

When we think about Jesus' statement to the lawyer, we need to remember the overall context. This occurred after the Triumphal Entry, during that last week, when the religious leaders were mounting final attempts to discredit Jesus. The inevitable failure of these attempts continued the relentless march to the cross. The exchange with the lawyer is the last of these attempts, after which Jesus turns the table and asks a question to which the religious leaders are not able to respond. Jesus then pronounces judgment on the scribes and the Pharisees.

In this context, when a question was put to Him, Jesus not only dealt with the question, but deeper issues as well. So when, in Matthew 22:23-33, the Saducees come talking about the resurrection, He points out their error of not believing in a resurrection. This is common in all the gospels - Jesus deals not with the surface/physical questions, but underlying spiritual truth.

So, when the lawyer asks "which is the great commandment in the Law?" Jesus gives two commandments. The first being to love God, but then a second one "like it". He then asserts that the entire law rests on these two commandments. Many have seen reflected in Jesus' answer a reference to the "two tablets" of the Law, one dealing with our relationship to God, the other dealing with our relationship to man.

While there is truth to this reference, we need to ask why Jesus decided to respond with two commandments. He had been asked for the greatest commandment, yet gave as a response of not just one, but two, commandments. If we think about the fact that, like before with the Saducess, His response was meant to shake the complacent from their self-righteousness and to reveal to them truth, we will begin to understand the reason.

For the lawyer and the others would have quickly affirmed that they loved God, even with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. But did they really? Jesus points them to loving their neighbor as themselves. Any one of them who had heard Him speak about the good Samaritan, or other examples, would be had pressed to acknowledge that they were loving their neighbor as themselves.

Why Loving My Neighbor includes Loving God

Jesus is in effect telling them that they might claim to love God, but their actions clearly show that they do not love their neighbor. And it takes both to fulfill the Law. This is James' argument about faith. It is easy to claim you have faith, but faith without fail produces fruit. Where, James asks, is your fruit? Jesus is telling the religious leaders that it is easy to love God, but love for God always produces love for your neighbor. Where, then, is their love for their neighbor?

So, some twenty odd years later, Paul is now writing the church(es) in Galatia, and wants to encourage them to "walk by the Spirit." In doing so, Paul writes that the Law, about which the Galatians had become so concerned, does not have an inward focus. Instead the Law is fulfilled in love for your neighbor. But what about love for God?

Paul is taking Jesus statement and revealing another truth. Jesus says that love for God always results in love of neighbor. Paul says not only does love for God always result in love of neighbor, but love of God is the only source of true love for our neighbor. In other words, we cannot truly love our neighbor unless we first love God.

Why? At least two reasons come to my mind. First, because our neighbor is made in the image of God. It may be a marred and fallen image, but it is there. Second, because in our falleness, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, we have no real love in us. But if we have been regenerated, then we will love God.

Closing Thoughts

First, I do know that some people sacrifice for others. But based on what the Scriptures tell me, I believe that these acts at their root are not acts of love. They may be acts to gain approval, either from God or man. They may be acts to get something in return. They may be acts of desperation, e.g. acts designed to "leave a legacy" by someone who either openly or in their heart believes that this life is all that their is.

Second, I do not believe, even after regeneration, that we yet love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, nor do we love our neighbor as ourself. But there has been, if we truly believe, some change in our heart (a heart of flesh that replaces our heart of stone - Ezekiel 11:19) that causes us to love God and to love our neighbor. But for those of us who claim to love God, the question hangs out there as to whether or not we have evidenced that by acts of love for our neighbor.


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