Matthew 22:39-40

Neighborliness

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

 

Matt. 22:39a (Holman) “The second is like it: Love. . .”

 

The law-expert did not ask to know the second command, but heard it anyway–a quote of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus was evidently the first to bring this verse and Deuteronomy 6:4-5 together. It was a magnificent grouping.

The second commandment, a natural byproduct of the first, grows out of, and is intrinsically connected to, the commandment to love God. At the same time, the first commandment is invalidated without the second.

There is no true love for God apart from love for people. Love for God is known to be real only when love for people is shown. The second command, a very down-to-earth demonstration of divine love, gives us a way to show others how much we love God, and how loving He is to them.

 

Matt. 22:39b   “. . .your neighbor. . .”

 

Don’t try to build a fence around the word “neighbor”. Gender, race, nationality, financial status—none of these apply here. Our neighbor is every person we come in contact with. In Luke’s Gospel (10:29) the questioner, deciding to press the point after hearing the second command, asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. With this story, Jesus settled the “neighbor” debate. The right question is not, “Who is my neighbor?”, but rather, “To whom can I be neighborly?”

 

Matt. 22:39c   “. . .as yourself.”

 

Bill Hybels says we never lock eyes with anyone God does not love. Let me add, including the eyes in our mirror. Loving ourselves is not a slam-dunk. I read on Facebook a prayer, “Thank you, God, for loving me even when I do not love me.” Never forget your childhood theme song: “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.” The Bible teaches me God created me, Jesus died for me, and the Holy Spirit pursued me relentlessly. We are to love ourselves, and then love others as we love ourselves. We know we love ourselves aright when we are striving to love God and others. False self-love is self-obsessed; true self-love emphasizes God and others.

Both commandments present lofty standards to live up to. Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength–a daunting goal. Plus, love our neighbor as ourselves–a dizzying ambition. Both commands are equally impossible to obey, but never stop trying to attain the ideals they set. We can love Him and others more throughout life. This is our birthright as believers.

God showed us how to love others. He proved He loved people by doing something sacrificial for them. He sent to them His Son Jesus (John 3:16). The Father, to show love, did a concrete feet-on-the-ground action.

Our obligation to love others is so vital that we call one of Jesus’ most quoted texts “The Golden Rule”. “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” (Matthew 7:12). We owe people what we would want from them, if our situations were reversed. We are to seek their well being and pleasure as much as we would our own in the same circumstance.

Let me be very practical here. When we are hungry, we eat; when thirsty, we drink; if tired, we rest; if sick, we buy meds. We don’t only talk about doing these things–we do them. We are to do the same for others.

 

Lord, help me live from day to day in such a self-forgetful way

That even when I kneel to pray, my prayer shall be for others.

Others, Lord, yes others. Let this my motto be.

Help me to live for others that I might live like thee (C. Meigs 1902).

 

Our only hope for obeying the first two commandments effectively is to keep them in proper order. If we make the second command the first, we end all hope of sustaining it for the long haul. Why should we humans try to overcome our natural egocentricism and value all others apart from God’s love for them? We are compelled to love others because He loves them.

This calls to mind what has proven to be a huge failure in atheistic philosophy. Some believe they can obey the second command without the first. They want our ethic without our religion, but it never works for long.

Friedrich Nietzsche, son of a Pastor and grandson of two Pastors, died in 1900, having trumpeted the “God is dead” mantra. He believed the removal of God would pave the way for mankind’s evolutionary destiny—survival of the fittest—to finally be fulfilled. Uninhibited by God-thoughts, the strong could and should eliminate the weak. Nietzsche predicted the twentieth century would be the bloodiest in history. His devotees, including Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, and others, helped fulfill his prediction.

Most atheists are fine upstanding people, but the exceptions to this rule have caused horrid brutality that is unfathomable. Atheist governments killed more people in the twentieth century than all religious wars killed in all of history combined, including the ones we are entangled with now.

 

Matt. 22:40   “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two

commandments.”

 

We call “The Law and the Prophets” the Old Testament. Jesus said He did not come to toss these books away. “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (MT 5:17).

All New Testament commands are to be obeyed, and every Old Testament command must be obeyed or revered as a principle, when viewed through the New Testament filter. Love does not do away with rules, but becomes the atmosphere in which laws operate. The issue is not as much the priority of love over law as it is the priority of love in law (Rom. 13:9-10).

In the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message is this sentence: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” This sentence was deleted from the 2000 BFM. At first glance this seems a bad thing to do. How could anyone go wrong with Jesus as the measuring stick for all laws?

Here was the problem. Liberals sometimes used this sentence to nullify Bible laws. They said if Jesus did not speak directly to an issue, we are free to agree or disagree with other Bible passages on a given subject.

For instance, Jesus did not discuss abortion or euthanasia. Though the overwhelming verdict of Scripture is pro-life, from womb to tomb, some say this does not matter since Jesus did not deem it important enough to talk about.

Unbelievers thus twist the very intent of Jesus. We are not to let our silly notions of love nullify obedience to laws. Rather, we are to obey God’s laws in a spirit of love. Jesus felt laws should not be annulled, expunged from the record. Laws are not arbitrary, but coherent, glued together by love.

The first two commandments summarize the essence of Christian duty. Fortunately, we don’t have to be legal experts to understand these two vital commands. Love God and love people; everyone can understand this.

Every sin is either a wrong against God or against others. Rituals and disciplines are important to Christian success, but love has to come first, above all else. God wants us to love: Him first, others second.