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And the second is like it

15th August 2014

Matthew 22v34-40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which 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."

We took a brief look at the first and greatest commandment last time. This time, we'll consider the second, which is "Love your neighbour as yourself", found in Leviticus 19v18.

The first thing Jesus tells us about this commandment is that it's like the first. It's not the same, of course. It's second, not first because love for God is more important and more fundamental than love for other people, because God the creator is more important and more fundamental than the people He created. But it's similar in several respects:

  • Both are in the Torah, the books of Moses, the Law of God (although not in the Ten Commandments).
  • Both are commandments to love.
  • Both are fundamental to living a decent life.

The first responsibility of every human is to love, worship and obey our creator. He gave us life, and we owe him total allegiance. Some people believe in the concept of a moral atheist, but our most important moral duty is to honour God.

The second responsibility of every human is to love other humans - all other humans. It's not enough for Christians to love other Christians, or to love members of our own family, or members of our social class or income bracket, or people of our own national or ethnic identity. We must love our neighbour, whoever he is. You'll remember that Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour" (Luke 10v29). We must love people that our friends, family and co-religionists hate. And we must love those who hate us (Matthew 5v44-47). And I think we need God's help to do that. Again, the first commandment comes before the second.

What does it mean to obey the second commandment? Paul says:

Romans 13v8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

Just as all the commands about worship, sacred assembly and sacrifice are there to help us to understand how to love God, so the commandments about not stealing, committing adultery, or coveting what belongs to others, and whatever other commandment there may be are there to help us understand how to love other people. As Jesus says, All the Law and the Prophets hang on these first and second commandments.

Paul highlights these particular commandments:

  • "Do not commit adultery". We must not damage another person's marriage.
  • "Do not steal". We must not take what belongs to someone else.
  • "Do not covet". We must not even desire what is not ours.

As Paul says, Love does no harm to its neighbour. In examining ourselves in the light of the second commandment, let's start by ensuring that we're not hurting anybody.