Monday, June 15, 2009

This is the Law and the Prophets

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Romans 13:10 -

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
- Matthew 22:40 -

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
- Matthew 7:12 -

As a third part to my previous two posts (Part 1, Part 2), I wanted to focus on how Jesus' statement that loving our neighbor is the Law and the Prophets. In the language of the three above verses, treating people the same way we want to be treated is loving our neighbor, and that is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. I want us to understand the weight of the implications of this.

The holy, righteous, and good Law (Rom 7:12), the commandment that approaches the limit to all perfection (Ps 119:96), the Word that God has magnified above all His name (Ps 138:2), this generous disclosure of the very heart and mind of the eternal God of the universe (1Cor 2:16), over a millennium of revelation spanning 4,000 years of history aims at and is fulfilled by love.

John Piper, in his book What Jesus Demands from the World, says it better than I can:
When you see people love like that (fulfill the Golden Rule), what you are seeing is the visible expression of the aim of the Law and the Prophets. This behavior among people manifests openly and publicly and practically what the Old Testament is about. It fulfills the Law and the Prophets by making the aim visible. Loving God, however, is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when you love others. So loving others is the outward manifestation, the visible expression, the practical demonstration and therefore the fulfillment of loving God and therefore of what the Old Testament is about. ... Love is the origin (Matt. 22:40) and the goal (Matt. 7:12) of the Law and the Prophets. It is the beginning and the end of why God inspired the Bible. ...

Jesus is saying…if we truly understood [the Old Testament, that] would enable us to see that all the law was pointing beyond the ceremonial and the external to the heartfelt love commanded by Jesus. (pp. 253, 255)

I want to take a look at how all the Law and the Prophets -- all of the Old Testament revelation -- really is all about benefiting all those we come in contact with. There are a lot of passages, and that's on purpose. If you don't have time now, I would strongly recommend that when you do have some free time you reflect and meditate on these passages, and how comprehensive this aim is for God as revealed in His Word.

Examples from the Law
  • Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11 – Not withstanding the year of remission, Israel was commanded to lend freely to the poor among them.
  • Deuteronomy 15:12-15-18 – They were to release their slaves in the seventh year, but not just release them. They were not to go away empty-handed. Israel was commanded to send their slaves away with livestock and crops and wine.
  • Deuteronomy 19:1-10 – Israel is commanded to set aside a city of refuge for a manslayer so that innocent blood won’t be shed.
  • Deuteronomy 19:14 – God commands them not to move boundary markers so as to steal their neighbor’s property.
  • Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – They are not to mistreat the captive women that they might marry.
  • Deuteronomy 22:1-4, cf. Exodus 23:4-5 – They are not to be indifferent or unaffected by suffering, but to take care of their neighbors’ lost animals (and any other property).
  • Deuteronomy 22:8 – They are to build guard rails along their roofs so that no one might fall off.
  • Deuteronomy 23:15-16 – They are not to return an escaped slave to his master, and neither are they to mistreat him.
  • Deuteronomy 23:19 – They are not to charge interest to their neighbor.
  • Deuteronomy 23:24-25, cf. Deuteronomy 24:19-22, Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 19:9-10 – The people are allowed to gather what they need for their hunger from their neighbor's vineyard, but they may not put anything in their basket to store it. God makes provision for the hungry to be fed, but He also ensures that no one be taken advantage of by hoarding.
  • Deuteronomy 24:10-13, cf. Exodus 22:25-27 – Rejoice as you peer in to the large, compassionate, and gracious heart of God! God cares for the coldness of the poor man with no covering. "What else shall he sleep in?" Amazing.
  • Deuteronomy 24:14-15 – They are to pay a poor man his wages each day, not withholding anything that is due him, because it’s all he has to live on.
  • Deuteronomy 26:1-12 – Tithing is a means of caring for the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows.
  • Exodus 20:12-17 – The last six commandments relate to our loving others. Don’t do these things. Instead, love!
  • Exodus 21:2 – God commands that slaves be released every seven years.
  • Exodus 21:18-19 – If they hurt a man, they were to compensate him for his inability to work and take care of him until he recovered.
  • Exodus 23:12 – God ordained the Sabbath to give rest to their animals and refreshment to their slaves.
  • Leviticus 25:25 – If their neighbor lost his property, they were to buy it back themselves for him until he was able to repay them. And if he wasn’t able to repay, they were to give it back to him in the year of Jubilee.
  • Leviticus 25:35-43 – They were to take in the poor among them to live with them in their household, and were not to treat them as slaves.

Examples from the Prophets

  • Isaiah 58:4-7, 10; cf. Isaiah 1:10-17 – God condemns religious ritualism, and an "adherence" to His Law that doesn't include the heart, that doesn't include love. The obedience that He desires is "to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, ... to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him."
  • Jeremiah 22:3 – 'Thus says the LORD, "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place."
  • Ezekiel 18:7-9 – ...if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully-- he is righteous and will surely live," declares the Lord GOD.
  • Zechariah 7:9-10 – "Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.'"

Examples from the New Testament

  • Luke 10:30-37 – See this post, under the section "Scripture Commands that Believers Love by Benefiting."
  • Luke 3:10-14 – John the Baptist explains that the fruit in keeping with repentance is to love your neighbor as yourself in your context of life, whether a tax collector, a soldier, or just another person in the crowd.
  • Matthew 9:9-13; Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:6-11 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for missing the intent of the Law. They are so concerned with the ritualism and their own self-righteousness that they couldn’t see that the intent of the Law was always to love; that is, to do good, to benefit people.

As you can see, the Old Testament (and the New!) is replete with God’s prescription of love for one’s neighbors and enemies such that they are a practical benefit to them. And when God is not prescribing love for one’s neighbor, He is prescribing love for Himself! It is just everywhere!

Effectively and literally, the Law and the Prophets can indeed be summed up by (1) God benefiting His people by commanding that they love Him, and (2) God commanding His people to thereby benefit others.

Indeed, “this is Law and the Prophets.”

The Failure of Humanity and the Victory of Jesus

One thing we can’t miss here, though, is the Gospel! Loving God and loving our neighbor is what all of God’s revelation is about! And yet in ourselves we are miserable failures to do it! Saved or unsaved, we fall so far short of doing both of these things on a daily basis! The glorious aim of love presented so practically and so unmistakably in Scripture goes unfulfilled in fallen humanity. Because of our sinful flesh, this good, holy, and gracious Law could not conform us to the image of God in Christ.

But God sent His Son to do what the Law could not do. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of this Law! And He was born and lived and died and rose again so that the requirement of this Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, for those of us who believe this Good News in His name!

Conclusion: Worship!

The right conclusion to all these things – that is, that:

  1. God Himself is so worthy and lovely and glorious that He regards Himself as the greatest benefit anyone can have,
  2. That He gives Himself freely to His people,
  3. That we love people simply by loving Him and presenting Him to them,
  4. And that the very essence of His character as its revealed both in Scripture and in Jesus is to shed abroad His goodness in love...

... all of that is to cause us to love Him and worship Him!

It’s not enough that we read and write and study and talk about these things and go back to our lives knowing that it is our primary duty to love God. No! Having joyfully gazed into these glorious truths of the unsearchable wisdom of God, we must be affected by Him! His loveliness must overtake us! Seeing Him so high and exalted and glorious must compel us to fall to our knees and lift up our hands in worship and overflowing praise! This, friends, this is what it means to say God is Love.

So having studied the Word of our God, having understood our God, having seen our God, and having known our God, let us pour out our hearts in adoration of Him for all that He is!

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