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Love, Love, Love!

Words of Life!
Volume 3, Number 2, February-March 1992
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church

"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:34-40)

In our last issue of Words of Life! we examined the first of these two greatest commandments. We saw that our highest objective in life must be to love God with all that we are and have. He is to be the supreme object of our affections and of our entire lives. In short, precisely everything about us must be explainable in reference to Him. This is life's highest and most fulfilling ambition.

But there is a second commandment that is very similar: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." That is, second only to our love for God must be our love for others.

If that sounds like "preacher talk" or even trite, I assure you it is only because we find the command too difficult to obey. As it stands, it requires much more than we generally practice. But as with the first commandment which we studied last time, the problem is not with the demand but with us. And again, since this involves life's highest ambitions, we must take the time to understand it so that we may better obey it.

How Much Love?

What is particularly striking about this command is not just its demand to love our neighbor but the degree of love we must have toward him: "Love your neighbor as yourself!" That, if you think about it, is staggering! He does not say that we must love our neighbor more than we love ourselves; he says we must love him as or in the same ways that we love ourselves. In other words, the way we every day demonstrate our love for ourselves is precisely the way in which we are to demonstrate our love for others. It really is very easy to understand; it is much more difficult to practice!

You are in love with yourself, aren't you. Face it, there is no one on earth more concerned with your happiness or your well-being than you are. There is no one more careful than you to see to it that you are not hungry! No one is more concerned with your rights or your health or your wealth--or your wardrobe for that matter. Our love for ourselves is obvious! It is evident by the fact that we go to whatever lengths necessary to care for our every whim.

Jesus says, that is how you must love your neighbor. His concerns are to be your concerns. His burdens are to be your burdens. His problems are to be your problems. His joys are to be your joys. And his needs are to be your needs--your needs to meet. In short, your neighbor's happiness and welfare are to be the object of your ambition.

"That's his problem" is a sentiment that betrays our violation of this command. So also is, "What does that have to do with me?" The demands of this second greatest commandment are very plain: we must think of and treat others with the very same kind of concern we show ourselves. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Nor is this a mere "extra credit" assignment; it is the on-going obligation of us all. To do any less is to stand in violation of the second great command.

Love Whom?

When Jesus demands that we love our "neighbor" it is immediately clear that He is speaking in reference to more than just those who live on your block! Come to think of it, if we could just narrow the definition of "neighbor" enough, then the command may be easier to fulfill than it seems.

This is precisely what that lawyer tried to do with Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. Finding himself a bit threatened by this very command he "trying to justify himself, said, `Who is my neighbor?'" After all, if "your neighbor" may be defined as "my friends" then I pass this test very easily!

I am sure the lawyer was more than a little disappointed as he listened to Jesus tell that story of the man from Jericho being mugged by thieves and left for dead, and of the Jewish leaders (his friends) passing him by only to be helped by a Samaritan (his worst enemy).

You see, according to the definition Jesus gives, your neighbor may be someone you don't even know. He may be someone who is unfriendly and unlovely and unable to repay you for whatever you do for him. He may be someone who requires your time and money and effort. In short, your neighbor is anyone whose need you see and are able to meet.The parable of the "Good Samaritan" makes it just that obvious, doesn't it.

The problem with fulfilling this command, then, is not found in the command itself but in our own self-centeredness. We are so absorbed with ourselves that there is little room left for those who need us. Think how this would sweeten your marriage. Your church! Your every relationship! Virtually all of life would be made more beautiful if only we would crawl out of our own little worlds enough to obey this second greatest commandment.

Self vs. Others

As usual, Jesus here turns our society's ideals on their head. His demand runs exactly opposite to the advice of modern counsellors. We are told today that our greatest, most fundamental need is a greater love for ourselves. Indeed, if we would but learn to love ourselves more, we are told, we would find all of life sweeter. "Self-esteem" has become our highest ambition.

It is incredible how the world can be so consistently wrong in its ideals, but here it is again. It is abundantly obvious that our love for ourselves is precisely the problem, not the solution! If we were not already so in love with ourselves we would love our neighbor more! Our relationship with him would not be hindered by self-centeredness and pride; by lovefor him it would thrive and prosper to our own pleasure and his. "Love your neighbor as yourself" implies not that we need more love for ourselves but that we already love ourselves quite enough and that we should instead redirect that love to others! In fact, self-love by very definition runs contrary to true love: "love seeks not its own," the apostle Paul says. Love, by the nature of it, demands a focus on the good of others.

It is precisely our self-love that ruins our relationships with others! But Jesus has the perfect and so obvious cure for all that--"Love your neighbor as yourself!"

What we need, Jesus says, is a redirection of our love. We must turn it outward (for a change!). We must focus on the good and help of others, not allowing our natural selfishness to get in the way.

So What?

So what if we love our neighbor like this? What will that accomplish? To keep these two great commands, Jesus says, is to thereby fulfill all the demands that have ever been placed upon us. "On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets." In other words, these two commands form a summary of everything that God requires of us. If we simply obey here, we will thereby be in obedience everywhere.

That's quite a claim! Let's see how it is so.

God requires us, for example, to "love our father and mother." We are to treat them with the esteem and respect that is due them as our parents. We must show them proper courtesy and obedience. The various commands in this regard take in the ideas of submission, respect, courtesy, obedience, and so on. It is pretty clear how love will fulfill that!

God also requires, "Thou shalt not kill (commit murder)." Jesus extends this to refer to that which causes murder also--hatred and unjustified anger. But you can see again that all of this is easily fulfilled if we simply love our neighbor as ourselves.

God also requires that we not steal. Once again, if we love our neighbor as ourselves we will never take what is his. In fact, we will be protective of what is his. We will not cheat him on a business deal or at the garage sale or anywhere else--if we love him as we do ourselves.

God demands also that we never "bear false witness" against our neighbor. But if we love him as we love ourselves we would never lie about him or speak in any way to harm his reputation. Love for him would by the nature of it eliminate slander, gossip, or any kind of treatment that is unjust.

The same is true of "coveting." If we love our neighbor as ourselves we will not desire what is his; rather, we will be happy for his blessings and be content with our own.

This goes on and on like this. God requires that we bear one another's burdens, do good to all men, give and lend to the needy who request, pray for one another, comfort one another, exhort one another. In fact, all of those "one another" passages throughout the New Testament are fulfilled very easily right here: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It is right, then, to say that love is the measure of your holiness. These two commands take in everything about us.

There is a brand of Christian fundamentalism which thrives so much on exposing error that Christ's command to love our neighbor as ourself is rendered meaningless. They stand ever ready to pounce on and separate from anyone who fails to "measure up" to their standards. Now there are times when separation and rebuke are necessary, but even in those times our love will force us to approach the person in question "in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted."

The badge of our discipleship, Jesus said, is not our readiness to expose error, however necessary that may be. The badge of our discipleship is not even our clear "stand" for truth, however necessary that is. Rather, "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." No amount of rhetoric to the contrary can ever change this. Love is the mark by which we give evidence that we belong to Christ.

We may talk, then, about spiritual successes all we like, but unless and until we love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourself, we have not yet experienced true sanctification.

Now What?

The question you should be asking by now is this: "How can I show this kind of love?"

It would be nice if we could just press the right button and effect the necessary change, wouldn't it? There is only one answer: begin working at it right now! Understand, that as believers in Jesus Christ we have the great resource of the Holy Spirit who indwells us to accomplish these very things! Our responsibility is to make efforts to cultivate what He works within us.

In short, we must pray that He will work true love in us and through us. And we must get to work loving--practically. Resolve that yes, above all else, you will be a person marked by love.

Mark it well--there is precisely nothing that stands any higher or more important for you than this. For this is the first and second greatest commandments, and this takes into itself everything that God requires of us. This is the supreme virtue of Christianity and the highest goal of every believer.