|A New Love Commandment|
In the mega churches in Singapore, one seldom hears of the love commandment. John 3:16 is emphasised instead as they grow the churches from strength to strength with new comers and converts. In more progressive churches, the notion of the Love Commandments of Jesus is paramount, the central cry of faith which allow them to be more inclusive and accepting of other faiths and despised minority groups in society such as gays. The church would do well to follow the Love commandments of Jesus.
We may see the love commandments as Jesus adding to the well known Shema of Israel, with the verse “Love our neighbour as we love ourselves” in order to live out the great commandment of loving God. In essence, loving God becomes demonstrated in how we love others. If we love others as how we put ourselves and priorities first, surely the world would be a better place for we would do no harm since “the other”, “the neighbour” is one with us. When we cause harm, we are hurting ourselves.
However, the Love Commandments are two distinct commandments, and Jesus didn’t add in the second as a revelation to explain the first. Both are from specific context/verses from the OT. The Love Commandment of Jesus reads:-
Matt 22:36-40 – Teacher what is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it “Love your neighbour as yourself”. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.
Mark 12:29-31 – 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 all thy soul, 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.
The first commandment is derived from the well known the first part of the Shema of Yisrael from Deutronomy 6:4-9 which reads, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The second commandment is taken from Lev 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord”.
A more careful reading of the text in Matt 22:36-40 gives a deeper insight as to why the Teacher of the Law, the Pharisees became rather silent. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a group of gentle lambs about how to live a good Christian life with love, He was talking to a hostile group of foxes in a lion’s den of religious leaders and experts of the law eager to trap and undermine Jesus.
Before they could utter a counter reply in Matt against Jesus, they would quickly realise that:-
a. Jesus left out the word “Strength” or “effort” in Matt 22, thus contradicting the Shema Yisrael. The Pharisees were famous for creating thousands of specific laws and so the main focus was on following these laws as a matter of religious duty with all our efforts and strength. The Pharisees were famous for enforcing the strict religious laws. Jesus was condemning the Pharisees by implying that loving God is not through our efforts but starts from the heart and everything we do not just the laws or how zealous we were to persecute others who had failed to do so.
What Jesus was implying was consistent with the rest of the Shema (Deu 6:5-9) where Loving God becomes resident in our hearts, in our speech, in our walk of life, from sunrise to sun-down, in whatever we do with our hands, and whatever we put of our minds to, and whatever we allow to enter our household. There were no laws to define all our deeds nor would it be possible. It was a revelation that loving God must be a heart issue, and not by our efforts or strength to follow specific religious Laws by itself. Just because we follow of all the laws doesn’t mean that we love God nor demonstrate God’s love.
The mark of loving God is to be in our palms, speech, minds, hearts, homes. Do our actions show that we love God? How do we treat others? What harm have we caused to the innocent who cries out to God in anguish? Loving God is far beyond the religious laws which only brings us to the futility of knowing that by our efforts, it is impossible to be sinless and the follow the letter and the spirit of the law.
Similarly, the Christian Right takes the bible laws very literally in persecuting gays, whilst not following the other strict religious OT laws. They would have asked Jesus whether Homosexuality was the greatest sin. But they would be reminded that the basis of Christianity, the First Commandment is acknowledging Jesus as the Lord God and Saviour, tthat God is "One"- distinct amongst all other gods and religious faiths that the Jews have had to contend with. It is not about breaking or adhering to a religious law.
Christianity is not about enforcing religious laws that we do not follow ourselves on the GLBT community, but rather about showing how we love God. We don’t show our love for God by persecuting gays. How do our actions display the love of God which we proclaim as unique and special amongst all other gods and religious faiths?
b. Jesus added Lev 19:18 to the Shema, in essence adding the Prophets to the Law which the Shema actually represents.
The Pharisees could hardly object because Lev 19:18 was actually spoken by God in the bible and therefore has a standing. The Jewish religious laws are very strict, an eye for an eye. Whatever you sow, you reap. If one person is killed accidentally by you, say in a road accident, you are liable to be killed by the family of the deceased unless you are able to escape to the Cities of Refuge. There is no grace in the law, no appreciation for context or the reason for the law to be implemented in the first place.
Likewise, the Christian Right interpret the OT laws very narrowly against gays saying that gay sex is a sin, when the context was straight men having anal sex with the priests out of the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth and later on Cybel in Corinth. The abomination and the motivation was the idol worship of the deities. It was not about same sex orientation. The Law has no mercy or grace. It was meant to lead us to the end of our own strength. Grace and mercy came through Jesus Christ.
We often give grace and allowance for ourselves when we sin. We don’t kill ourselves when we say something wrong against God, and many of us do so inadvertently. We don’t chop of our hands when we steal – whether literally or figuratively. The bankers and Wall Street stole millions/billions from Main Street and yet you don’t see them committing suicide because of their dire sins. Instead, they are asking for the US Government to bail them out and paying themselves huge bonuses for their crimes. We give grace to ourselves, and judge ourselves very lightly for our sins. We see in others even the smallest spec of sin.
We are quick to forgive ourselves but slow to forgive others having a vengeance and a grudge against others. We want our rightsaccording to the law – the right to hurt others back when we are hurt, the right to pay back harm for a harm done to us. The centre of the world is always us, the fear that our straight marriages will be impacted and so we ban gay marriages and put gays in prisons even though it has nothing to do with us or the Christian Faith. We give very little grace to others. Even when we are the greatest hypocrites and sinners, we consider ourselves as righteous/godly and give very little grace or mercy to those we harm.
The law is about judgement. The First Commandment has embedded in it - loving God through our efforts to follow the law. Yet, by adding Lev 19:18 to the Shema Israel, came the grace of God. This grace is personified by loving others as we naturally would have love and given grace to ourselves. And the Pharisees were infamous for giving grace to themselves. They were vile sinners – Jesus called them whitewash tombs because they appear outwardly so holy and moral, yet full of inward sins and skeletons. Yet, they go around condemning others for their sins, giving no grace at all, when their own sins were much bigger. We are often quick to hate and judge others, but slow to love or give grace. We only love and give grace to ourselves.
The 2nd commandment calls for love, a love that represents the grace of God. Jesus personified the grace of God through His death and resurrection giving us what we do not deserve. The prophets were ultimately proclaiming Jesus, the Messiah. Hence together, the Love Commandments, the 1st and 2nd Commandment hangs all the essence or the spirit of the law and the teachings of the Prophets of the OT. The mega churches so vary and insistent of the law, would be perplexed by the grace of God in loving others as we love ourselves. Have we loved others? If we were straight, would we expect others to accept our sexual orientation just as if we were gay?
c. The 1st comandment is to first acknowledge the nature and being of God we worship, to identify the God whom to worship with all our soul and heart.
The 1st commandment brings us back to the declaration of God to Israel that the Lord God is One, a declaration that God is unique and separate amongsts the gods of the nations, above the gods of Ancient Egypt, Canaan, Romans, Corinthians, Athens.
Loving God is first knowledging the character and nature of God. We know God as seen in how He journeyed with Israel, and finally came down to earth in Christ the Lord who was in the likeness and being of God and is God.
Loving God therefore is first correctly acknowleging and identifying God, and we come back to the foundation of the first two of the ten commandments - having no other gods (Deu 20:3), not making any images to represent the gods (Deu 20:4), not to worship nor serve other gods (Deu 20:5), and not misusing and mispresenting the name of God (Deu 20:7). If we love God with all our soul, strenght and might, we must first know who we are loving.
One can still live and work out the second commandment of loving others as we love ourselves without abiding to the first commandment to worship God rightly. But Jesus put it first, because right believing ultimately should result in right living.
In John 13:34, Jesus put it another way, a new commandment to love each other because of the revelation of God's love in our heart, the love that led to the Cross of Calvary.We can't truly love others as we love ourselves without experiencing the depths of the love of God.
GLBT Christians would have the hardest time of all to love others without fully having that embrace, and acceptance of God and not as a sinner or of fallen nature but beautifully designed and created by God as a people of dignity, worth, and value. It is grace that changes people, the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And Gay people receive so little grace or mercy from the church but so much rejection, hate and hypocrisy that they are leaving the church in droves. But God is different.
The experts of the law and the Jewish Faith, the Pharisees who were the enforcers of the law yet being vile sinners and hypocrites themselves, lovers of themselves were stunned by the grace of God Jesus had revealed to them the heart of loving God and God’s desire for grace and mercy through their own scriptures which they were supposed to be experts. They didn’t love God, they love themselves.
The Pharisees had no answer to Jesus’ love commandments. Jesus then turned the tables on them asking:-
Matt 2:41-45 Jesus asked them “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he? The son of David,”, they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet”. If then David calls him ‘Lord’, ‘How can he be his son?”
The Pharisees wanted a return to the Davidic Kingdom and overcome the Romans. The Messiah was to have come from the lineage of David, ie coming as a man in human flesh, yet David acknowledged his own son as Lord thus inferring that the Messiah coming through the lineage of David will be both fully man, and fully God. “The Lord said to my Lord…” implies that God the Son in Christ would sit at the very right hand of God.This would be blasphemous since a mere man cannot ever claim to be God.
The Pharisees dare not answer because this would be acknowledging that the Messiah would come in the form of a man, yet still be righteous and sinless, God incarnate on par with Father God in heaven. When at last they took Jesus to court, they accused Him of blaspheming God – because Jesus whom they deemed, a mere man, called Himself God. So the first question of the greatest commandment, the Love Commandments, came back to the central question and stumbling stone of who Jesus claimed to be – the Son of God, on par with the One God of Israel unique and distinct amongst all other gods in heaven, on earth, and in hades.
If we truly love Jesus, we would be like Christ on earth, because Christ is in us and the Holy Spirit guides us to fulfil His work and ministry. We are His voice, His hands, and feet bearing the good news of the Gospel, bringing healing, hope, and basic needs (food, medicine, shelter) to the poor, outcast and those despised by society.
The measure of how we love God, is how we reflect Christ to this world. If we truly love Jesus, we would stand by the Gay community to shield them from hate, rejection, condemnation from family, society, governments and the majority. How we love the least is often reflective of how we love the highest in heaven - of how we love Jesus, now sitting at the right hand side of God.Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.