Love as the Fulfilment of the Law and Prophets

“In an age when the word “love” is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deut. 6:5 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously.” –Douglas R. A. Hare

When the Sadducees (who had power in the temple at the time and lived by the priestly, Levitical handbook) and the Pharisees (who possessed significant religious authority and lived by the prophetic voices, including Deuteronomy) got together and tried to trap Jesus by testing him with a question that no doubt would give insight to Jesus’ mindset (Matt. 22:34-40), the answer they received showed love: undivided loyalty to God and un-wavered commitment to one’s neighbor.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 

Looking closely at Jesus’ response, he answers from both of their handbooks.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment.

This answer is straight from Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the Shema, repeated twice daily by faithful Jews and even found written in a phylactery in one of the Dead Sea caves, suggesting 1st Century Jews took verses 7-9 literally. These verses were that important to the 1st Century Jews. No doubt the Pharisees took pride in this answer, as this is the answer that they would undoubtedly be expecting, and probably could not wait to put it in the Sadducees face. But Jesus keeps on going…

39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Now Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18, straight from the priestly handbook (Sadducees influence), the Sundry Laws of Moses which were in place to protect poor people and foreigners. This law that Jesus adds as a second one is (ὁμοία αὐτῇ “similar to it”). This one is in an equal category, it is so important that the whole law and prophets hang on these 2 commandments. (cf Matt. 7:12 where the Golden Rule is said to be/fulfill the law and the prophets and Romans 13:10 where Paul states that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”) Jesus has ultimately “set forth a twofold commandment that could be seen as a hermeneutical lesson for the understanding and application of the law and the prophets.” (Donald A. Hagner)

“Jesus’ words concerning love go far beyond a feeling of empathy. Love is ultimately fidelity. It is never abstract; it is always fidelity with hands and feet. If power is the capacity to act upon the life of another, then from the viewpoint of this alternative, holy, mind-set, love must be the ultimate expression of that capacity to act. Love is the ultimate expression of power used for the sake of the other in contrast to power used for the sake of one’s own survival. Love is the ultimate capacity to act upon the life of another for the sake of his or her good, for the sake of life, and for the sake of the divine agenda. Far beyond a sentimental feeling or a strongly held affection, love is the action of extending God’s creative life, blessing, and good into the life of another. Love is a synergistic partnership with the life-giving blessing God.” -Timothy M. Green

How can I read this commandment from Jesus and apply it in my own life? Am I truly “loving” others the way Jesus commands us to? Sometimes I have empathy for others, and on occassion I have affection for those who I come in contact with, but do I have a commitment to intimate God by taking their needs seriously? Do I extend God’s love to them with continued loyalty and faithfulness for their sake and not my own comfort and survival?

I know the answer to these questions, and I don’t like it.

Jesus’ sacrifice.

“Do you know how a fox gets rid of its fleas? The fox goes along the hedgerow, and collects little bits of sheep’s wool. Then he makes it all into a ball of wool, which he holds in his mouth. Then he goes to the stream, and slowly, slowly, walks down into the water. He lowers himself right down into the water, with the ball of wool in his mouth, until at last he is totally submerged; then he lets go, and ball of wool floats away downstream, carrying all the fleas with it. The fox merges, clean. In this image, Jesus is the ball of wool.  The spotless Lamb allows the evil of the whole world to be concentrated on himself.  He doesn’t keep it in circulation by reacting with violence; nor does he escape into the ineffective innocence of quietism.  He takes the weight of the world’s evil upon himself, so that the world may emerge, clean.” (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus, p.48)

Biblical Priesthood

“God chose the human race to be the priests of all creation, offering up creation’s worship to Him and bringing His wise order to it. When humans sinned, God chose the nation of Israel to be the priests of the human race, offering up human praise and putting into operation God’s solution to the problem of sin. Israel herself, however, was sinful; God chose a family of priests (the sons of Aaron) to be priests to the nation of priests. The priests themselves failed in their task; God sent His own Son to be both priest and sacrifice. The inverted pyramid of priesthood gets narrower and narrower until it reaches one point, and the point is Jesus on the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus is the moment when the human race, in the person of a single man, offers itself fully to the Creator.”

–N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 10.