When a scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28), Jesus answered with two different passages from the Old Testament. First, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, saying that we should “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength” (Mark 12:30). Then He quoted from Leviticus 19:18, saying that we should “Love our neighbour as ourselves” (Mark 12:31).
Jesus said that these two commandments are the most important commandments. They are inseparable because we cannot do one without the other. Loving God is displayed through loving our neighbour. If we do not love our neighbour, we do not truly love God, even if we say that we do (1 John 4:7-12, 20-21). According to Jesus, loving neighbours, not strangers, is how our love for God is proved. The church is called to be a lighthouse of God’s love to the world (John 13:34-35). Where else will the world see the love of God if not in the church?
So how can we show the world the love of God through neighbourly love? The passage that Jesus quotes from — Leviticus 19:9-18 — is full of specific examples of what neighbourly love can look like.
Verses 9-10 say that farmers should not “reap their field right up to its edge”, or “strip their vineyard bare”, or “gather the fallen grapes of their vineyard”. We are not farmers, so how does this apply to us? It tells us that we should not use all our resources on ourselves. It tells us to make room for giving to those in need: “You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” Everything that we earn does not need to be spent on ourselves. God gave us what we have so that we can bless others (Ephesians 4:28). One practical way to make this happen is by creating and living on a budget. Budgeting is hard work, but it helps us love our neighbours in need. Make this a goal for yourself in 2020.
Budgeting is hard work, but it helps us love our neighbours in need
Verses 11-12 say that we should be honest in our dealings with people. In ancient Israel, when someone swore an oath, they would invoke the name of the Lord. Thus, to “swear by (the Lord’s) name falsely” was to “profane it”. Failing to keep an oath made in God’s name was disregarding God’s holiness. We may not make oaths in God’s name today, but we tell people that we will do this or that all the time. Is your “yes, yes” and your “no, no” (Matthew 5:37)? Not being true to your word is not loving your neighbour.
Verses 13-14 say that we should not oppress people. We should not take what is not ours. We should pay people what we owe them, when we owe it to them. We should not insult the physically disabled. We should fear the Lord, knowing that He sees and knows all that we do and say. We cannot oppress our neighbour and claim to love them at the same time.
Verses 15-16 say that we should seek justice and righteousness in our legal system and in our relationships. We should not defer to the rich and powerful. Favouritism is forbidden. We should not slander our neighbours or seek to do them harm. That is the opposite of love.
Verse 17 says that we should not have hate-filled hearts toward our neighbours. If we have something against them, we should “reason frankly” with them, so we do not “incur sin because of them”. This means that if we have resentment toward someone, we should talk to them about it. If we bottle it up and hope it goes away, it will likely lead to deeper bitterness that will result in sinful actions. Dealing with conflict straightforwardly is loving our neighbour.
Verse 18 takes it a step further and says that we should not hold grudges or seek revenge against people who have wronged us. Rather, we should “love our neighbour as ourselves”. This is the fundamental principle of God’s law. This is the primary thing God wants us to do to the people around us.
Anyone around us in need is our neighbour. As Leviticus 19 makes clear, there are myriad ways to show love to them. Failing to love them is failing to love God. Loving them is revealing our love for God. In what ways do you need to love your neighbours in 2020?
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