The Second Greatest Commandment
And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39NKJV
Question 122 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is the sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man?” It gives the answer, “The sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man, is, to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to do to others what we would have them to do to us.” Last week we considered why God calls us to remember His laws. This week we consider the summary and goal of the second table of The Ten Commandments: that we would love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Did you ever wonder why God gives us commandments? In large corporations it is common for low level executives to come and go as they try to build their resumes and climb the corporate ladder. All too often, in order to try and justify his large salary and assert his authority, a new vice president of this or that will come in with a host of new orders and rules, changing how everyone in the department must now do their jobs. The unfortunate employees are left trying to figure out how to make the new boss happy, by jumping through his seemingly randomly placed hoops, while still being able to maintain their current levels of production. God’s laws are not like that! God’s laws are not a poor attempt by an insecure Creator to justify or establish His authority and position over His creatures. God gives us His commands for our own good. His law is for our benefit, not for His.
Back in Question 102, we saw that keeping the first four commandments is how we express our love to God. So also now, twenty questions later, we find that keeping the final six commandments is how we express our love to our fellow man. John wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments,” (1 John 5:2). Thus, our love for others flows from our love for God as expressed through our obedience to His law. John is teaching us that we can know that we love other human beings when we are loving God through the keeping of His commandments. Clearly the Bible does not acknowledge the divorce of law from love that unfortunately so many Christian teachers proclaim. Quite the opposite, Scripture repeatedly declares that real love for God and for man can only exist where there is real desire and effort to keep God’s law. Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another (John 13:34). Therefore, love and law must go together and cannot be contraries.
Accordingly, when I am loving another human being, I should be able to trace the content of my love back to the final six of God’s Ten Commandments. So, when a man loves his wife he will keep the seventh commandment and not commit adultery against her. That part is easy to see, but there are ramifications that flow from this love-based obedience if it is sincere. A man shows love towards his future wife by not committing fornication before marriage. Neither will he toy with sexual sin or flirt with getting close to it before or after marriage, because he wants to keep the spirit of the law not merely the letter. Furthermore, he will not, through neglect, hardness, or lack of affection, provoke or tempt his wife to commit or desire sexual sin. He will love his wife by showing her the affection that he owes to her (1 Cor. 7:3), honoring her (1 Pet. 3:7), and cherishing her by putting her needs first (Eph. 5:25). So also for the commandments to not steal, murder, bear false witness, or covet: when I am loving my neighbor I will not just refrain from evil, but I will seek to do good and protect my neighbors’ possessions, lives, and reputations.
Here we may be tempted to protest that such extended ramifications of the law of God are not easily seen. How then can I know my duty towards my neighbor? How can I know how to love my neighbor without a theological degree, or at least without serious study of God’s Word? Well, the long answer is that love is worth the effort! Love does not come naturally to sinners. We need to saturate ourselves with God’s Word if we are going to truly know how to love. However, that fact does not get us off the hook. The short answer is we almost always know how we want to be treated in a given situation, as we are always patient with, fair towards, and generous to ourselves. Consequently, if we are truly seeking to love others we will diligently apply the same care towards them that we naturally have for ourselves. We will love them by keeping the commandments from our hearts, in order to do them good!