THE GREAT COMMANDMENT

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“The 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 neighbour as thyself

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

–      Matt. 22:37-40

 

IN CONCLUDING the series on the Ten Commandments as detailed in the two tables of the Decalogue (Ex. 20:3-17; Deut. 5:6-21) which are the summaries of God’s precepts for righteous living, it is instructive to observe that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve – human pregenitors – in the Garden of Eden, Satan, the disobedient father of sin has consistently pointed to man’s sin as his proof that God’s law is unjust and could not be obeyed by mortals. Then Christ came to redeem Adam’s failure and to reconcile Adam’s descendants with the infinite God over Adam’s disobedience.

 

And among men, Christ set a standard by His suffering and vicarious death for the salvation of mankind. He predicated this, on the Great Commandment set out in Mathew 22:37-40, with the anchor duty as LOVE for God, and LOVE for fellow men.

 

Apostle Paul in Rom. 13:8 exegetically enjoins “owe no man any thing, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law”  and declared in verse 10 that, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is fulfilling the law”.

 

Verse 37 of Matt. 22, is our Lord’s quotation from Deut. 6:5. The reference to: “with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind”, thus enumerating different parts of one’s being, is simply of Christ saying: that love for God, if truly present will permeate every aspect of one’s being and life. Christianity calls for all that a man is, and has – his mind, his affections and his capacity for actions (1 Thess. 5:23). The Hebrew word rendered “heart” in Deut. 6:5, generally refers to motives, affections, feelings, desires and will. It is the source of action, and centre of thoughts and feelings (see Ex. 31:6; 36:2; II Chron. 9:23; Eccl. 2:23). The word translated “soul” in the passage denotes the animating principle of man, the life, including his bodily appetites and desires (see Num. 21:5).

 

The duty of loving God and one’s neighbour is the “Great Commandment” because, there must first be love in the heart before a person can, in the strength and the grace of Christ, begin to observe the precepts of God’s law. (cf Rom. 8:3,4). Obedience without love is as impossible as it is worthless. But where love is present, a person will automatically get out to order his life in harmony with the will of God as expressed in His commandments.

 

The “Great Commandment” is to LOVE GOD first and LOVE YOUR FELLOW MAN as yourself. This command unlike the prohibitions of the OT in “Thou shalt not …” , is in a positive directive, characteristic of the NT renditions of “Thou shalt …” The love in this command is in the positive – the pillar that holds the Great Commandment. It’s operative diction is “LOVE”.

 

There are three Greek words translated love in the English Bible. These Greek words convey different ideas we seek to express by the word “love”. Viz: “agapan”; “philein”  and “eran”. The Greek “eran” denotes passionate, sensual ‘love’ that operates essentially on the physical plane. Certain forms of infatuation may be classed under this variety of ‘love’ Eran is not used in the NT. “Philein” describes in general, affectionate sentimental love based on feelings. It is subject to change as the feelings change.

 

Greek “Agapao” carries such deep and wealth of meaning, our English word love inadequately translates. The English word “love” means so many different things, and convey so many diverse ideas, that the true meaning of “agape” is obscured by this translation. In the NT “agapan” when contrasted with “philein” describes love from the standpoint of respect and esteem. It adds principle to feeling in such a way that, principle controls the feelings. It brings into play the higher powers of the mind and intelligence, whereas “philein” tends to make us to love only those who love us. “Agapan” extends love even to those who do not love us. It is selfless; but “philein” is often mared by selfishness while “eran” is purely selfish.

 

The noun form “agapoa” is confined almost exclusively to the Bible, and denotes love in its highest and truest form. There is no greater love than this, that impels a man to sacrifice himself for others (John 15:13). It implies reverence to God and respect for fellow men. It is a divine principle of thought and action that modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passion and ennobles the affections.

 

The Christian love is a virtue pre-eminently inculcated and produced by Christianity. The whole of God’s law is summed up in love, not in the sense of rendering all other requirements nugatory, but in the sense that love is fundamental, and expresses the spirit of all others and with enlightenment leads to observance of all other commands (see Matt. 22:17-39; 5:43-48; John 14:15,21; 15:12-14; Rom 13:8; 1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:14). Accordingly, love is declared to be the chief test of Christian discipleship (Matt. 3:44; John 3:14; 13:35). Love is also the highest motive or ground of moral actions. Without it, all other motives fall short of furnishing the true stimulus of Christian living.

 

As  all sin roots itself in selfishness, so all virtue springs out of love, and yet the love which is presented in the NT as the main spring of holy living is “grateful love” as distinct from the love that is wholly disinterested. It includes adoring love or that which loves for its own sake. Christian love is made possible only by divine grace.

 

Apostle Paul in his beautiful prose poem in 1 Cor. 13, described as the “greatest, strongest, deepest thing Paul ever wrote” sets out the nature, worth and eternal duration of love in comparison with the temporary spiritual gifts, and observes that the possession of the spiritual gifts are good, but are superseded by love which is an endowment more valuable than the gifts which cannot operate effectively without love. He lists the spiritual gifts to include. “speaking with tongues of men and angles; the gifts of prophecy; understanding all mysteries and all knowledge, have all faith that could move mountains; doling out all ones’s ‘goods to feed the poor’ and even sacrificing one’s body to be burnt in martyrdom”, and says that if he that speaks in tongues lacks love – one of the basic characteristics of God, his superior eloquence or his facility in the use of language is as valueless as the meaningless noise of any piece of brass or vainly clanging cymbal (see John 4:6) And of the angelic tongue, the Apostle says the highly spectacular manifestation of speaking with angelic tongue does not confer any honour on the one who receives this gift nor is it of any real value to the recipient, if it is not associated with love.

 

On the more important, but possibly less sensational gift of prophecy – speaking as God’s inspired messenger, passing along instructions  from heaven to men – the Apostle observes that the prophet who stands between God, and men and reveals God’s will to men, must be dominated by love, otherwise his messages will have little effect upon the hearers.

 

To understanding of all “mysteries and all knowledge”, it becomes absolutely necessary to examine the words “mysteries” and “knowledge” in the context of the Bible and in relation to love. Mysteries (Greek – “musteria”) are things hidden from those who are not sincerely interested in knowing the truth. They are not mysteries in the sense that they cannot be understood or that they are deliberately withheld from some and bestowed upon others. For instance the gospel is ‘foolishness’ to some (1 Cor. 1:23) because “the natural man” unconditioned by the influence of the Holy Spirit, has no capacity for receiving “the things of the Spirit of God”. Because of sin, man’s powers of mind have become weakened, his capacity for understanding the wonders of life, both natural and spiritual, is greatly inferior or below that which God intended for him (see. Isa. 6:9,10; John 12:37-40; II Cor. 4:4). The unconverted sin–dominated mind cannot understand the things of God. This is because sin has wrought a complete change in man’s spiritual nature, so that his ways are diametrically opposed to those of his Creator (see Isa. 55:8,9). To the prophets, God sees fit to reveal the workings of His will on behalf of men. They are, in turn, commissioned to instruct men as to their relation to God and their fellow men (see Ps. 25:14; Amos 3:7).

 

Knowledge, generally speaking is man’s ability to apprehend facts. In relation to the gospel, it would be man’s ability to apprehend spiritual truth and arrange it in an orderly manner for presentation to others. This apprehension of truth comes from the study of the Scriptures or direct from God by inspiration. “Knowledge”  however, for better understanding must be distinguished from “wisdom” and both from “understanding”. The word “wisdom”  (Heb – “chokmah”) occurs 141 times in the Bible and almost without any exception, is translated “wisdom”. Chokmah comprehends a number of ideas (1) technical skill (Ex. 28:3; 35:26; I Kings 7:14); (2) cleverness, shrewdness (I Kings 2:6; 3:28; Job 39:17; Isa. 10:13; 29:14). (3) practical worldly wisdom (I Kings 30; Isa. 47:10); (4) pious wisdom (Deut. 4:6; Ps. 37:30; 9:!2; Prov. 10:31; Isa 33:6; Jer. 8:9); (5) wisdom as an attribute of God (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19; Jer. 10:12; 51:15); (6) personified divine wisdom (Prov. 8:1-36; 9:1-6); (7) human wisdom (Ps 111:10; Prov. 1:2) etc.

 

Wisdom (Heb “sekel” ‘ To be prudent, circumspect’: Greek ‘sophia) is distinguished from knowledge – Heb ‘da’ ath’ Wisdom has to do with character and conduct, whereas knowledge is primarily intellectual enlightenment. Knowledge may be merely an accumulation of unrelated and unorganized facts without the ability to apply these facts to practical life. Wisdom is the ability to be able to make practical use of facts. An intermediate step may be conceived of, in the term “understanding” (Heb – ‘binah’). Understanding implies the ability to evaluate and organize facts – an essential framework of wisdom. Instead of the “ideal wisdom”, the NT speaks of “righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), holiness (II Cor. 7:1; Heb 12:10), charity (1 Cor. 13, properly love), but comprehends a similar characteristic in all these. The emphasis in all of these concepts, is on character rather than on ritualism or even dogma insofar as it does not relate to theoretical Christianity.

 

Knowledge and understanding are the basis of wisdom. The exercise of wisdom is the function of the intelligent mind. True knowledge is not a guarantee of right action, but right action is accompanied by a knowledge of what is right, and is dependent upon it. Growth in wisdom comes as the result of instruction, but only such instruction that has its source in divine revelation. The Bible is the true basis of such teaching.

 

The faith, Apostle Paul refers to is not that which all Christians possess. It is a special kind of faith such as enables its possessor to do exceptional exploits for God and man.

 

And having listed the possible possession of gifts and greatly desired spiritual endowments, the Apostle makes a simple statement that all these things, admirable and important though, they may be, are in-effective without love. The same is true of acquiring intellectual power – wisdom, knowledge and understanding – which exceed that known as the highest among men, this will profit nothing if there is no element or corresponding level of love in their application. The mind that is not surrendered to Christ and actuated by His Spirit is under the control of Satan who also has great intellectual power and works with them to accomplish his own pleasure. Thus it becomes apparent that mere intellectual attainments separated from the  Godlike quality of love, merely serve to aid the enemy – Satan – in achieving his ends, and do nothing to further the spiritual interest of man (see I John 4:8). One who may have had much of this world’s wisdom together with a theoretical understanding of the relationship that should exist between man and God, and yet had no experimental knowledge of love, would still be lost. His efforts to do good to others would be fruitless, and the great goal that should be his in life, –  the glorification of God, –  would remain unreached (see I John 4:7,8).

 

The Apostle now rises to the sacrifices for which the Christian boasts of his righteousness – so called “giving to charity” and says in I Cor. 13:3 “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor . ..”. bestow, Greek – “psomiszo’ meaning: to feed by putting bits of food into the mouth,”  “to dole out” “to feed out in morsels”. This refers to the distribution of alms in small portions to many poor people. Almsgiving was considered to be a great virtue and is reprehensible when done ostentatiously. This, Apostle Paul points out that if all that a man possessed was thus doled out, and yet true love was absent from the donor’s life, it would be empty hypocrisy and of no value spiritually. Though such giving might result in assistance to many, it would not meet with God’s approval because the requisite character qualification – love – was lacking.

 

The second part of this verse 3 “… and though I give my body to be burnt . . .” which implies, “ though I dole out all my possessions to feed the poor and though I give over my body in order that I might boast, it profieteth me nothing”, To give one’s body to be burned would represent an extreme form of self-sacrifice. Some have regarded this passage as prophetic of the fearful torture by fire that befell the church in the time of Nero and later. They thus see in it a warning against the delusion that merit might be obtained by needlessly seeking martyrdom by fire. However, if the one who suffers martyrdom by fire does not possess the character qualification of love for God and love for his fellowman, he has no hope of eternal life and consequently has lost everything. This is to emphasize that love is therefore more precious and valuable than the gifts of the spirit, the acts of beneficence and self-sacrifice.

(To be continued next week)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GREAT COMMANDMENT (2)

(Continuing from last week)

 

CHARACTERISTICS AND ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE

 

Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 13:1 – 8 sets out seven characteristics of love and eight attributes and acts of love:

i     Forbearance or long – suffering, in a world where impatience and intolerance prevail, is a precious attribute. Love bears long with faults, failures and weaknesses of others. It recognizes that all human beings are fallible, and that, therefore, allowance must be made for the manifestation of the outworking of errors that result from human inherently sinful nature. Long suffering is opposed to haste, to passionate expressions and thoughts, and to irritability. Long-suffering denotes the state of mind that enables a man to be patiently quiet and to bear long when opposed, wrongfully accused and persecuted (see Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; II Tim. 4:2; IIPeter 3:15).

 

ii.   Kindness: (Gr. “Chresteusmai” – “to be gentle”, “to exercise kindness” “to be considerate and mild” It. Portrays the gracious nature of one who is actuated by the Spirit of God, one who is ever seeking to reveal by word and deed and understanding, sympathy for, and appreciation of, the struggles and difficulties of others. It inculcates the idea that under all circumstances of life, whether harsh and provoking, painful or sorrowful, love is mild and gentle. Love is the reverse of hatred, which manifests itself in severity, anger and harshness, unkindness and revenge. A man who really loves another is kind to him, and anxious to do him good, gentle and courteous, because he does not wish to hurt his feelings but seeks to promote his happiness (see I Peter 3:8).

 

iii.  Envieth not:   The word envy (Greek: zeloo – “to be zealous” either in a good or bad sense, but the reference here is in a bad sense; “to be envious” that is to exhibit wrong or unpleasant feelings forward others on account of advantages possessed by them. Such feelings give rise to strife and divisions, entirely contrary to the teaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for He exhorted men to love one another and live together in unity (see John 15:12; 17:22; I John 3:23). Envy or jealousy is one of the most cruel and contemptible of all human feelings (see Prov. 27:4; Song of Solomon 8:6). Lucifer, the exalted angel who was one of the privileged covering cherubs by the throne of God was overcome by envy and lost his high position (see Isa. 14:12–15; Ezek. 28:14,15), since his fall, Satan has sought to implant his own dreadful vice of envy in the heart of every human being, so that all may be ruined as he was. Only love can drive out envy and jealousy. However, contentedness with what God has permitted us to have, does not debar as from desiring earnestly the best gifts and longing ardently for the “more excellent ways” of love. (see I Cor. 12:31).

 

iv.  Does not boast: (Greek:  “Perpereuomai” – “to be vainglorious” “to be boastful”). Love does not sound its own praise. It is humble and does not try to exalt self. One in whose heart there is true love, remembers always the life and death of Jesus. This instantly repels every thought or suggestion that would lead to self-glorification. The true love that is the gift of the Spirit looks upon every good thing as a gift from God and bestowed by Him, and hence there is no reason for vain boasting because of possessing any gift from God.

 

v.   Not proud: (Greek: ‘Phusioo’“to puff up” “to inflate”) Metaphorically, “to make proud”. Love does not admit of inflating self or another with vanity; it does not produce a condition of conceit and self-exaltation. This expression points to the subjective state of pride and self-exaltation that often marks those possessed of superior knowledge and abilities (see 1 Cor. 8:1). Love does not involve in mental self-esteem, laying claim to having the best gifts and in that way ministering to vainglory. It does not produce ideas of self-importance, nor seek and relish the flattery of others for something accomplished.

 

  1. Not unbecoming: Apostle Paul used the expression: “Doth not behave itself unseemly” (1Cor. 13:5). This is a reference to the Greek word: “aschemoneo” – “to act unbecomingly” “to behave dishonestly”. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX), the word is used with the meaning “to be naked” (see Ezek. 16:7, 22). Love is never uncivil, rude or unmannerly. It is never associated with any behaviour that offends the sensibilities of others. Christ in His earthly ministry was ever mindful of the feelings of men. He always acted with courtesy and propriety toward all, therefore every true follower of the Lord should be courteous always, never responding to the prompting of the natural heart to repay rudeness and harshness with discourtesy. Love always searches for that which is right and proper or becoming in all the relations of life, because it seeks to promote the happiness of others, and this of necessity, leads to avoidance of everything that would cause offence or interfere with true enjoyment. The Christians’ personal opinions, desires and practices are supplanted by love in the interest of the comfort, convenience and happiness of others.

 

The becoming behaviour of love precludes all fanaticisms and unbalanced positions that lead to unrestrained emotional outbursts that bring the cause of God into disrepute. The statement that love never behaves unseemly proves that it is under the control of reason at all times and cannot be mere emotion or feeling. That which is simply a response to feeling or emotion and falsely called love, does that act reasonably, nor does it necessarily consider the feelings and sensibilities of others.

 

vii. Selfless: (Literarily his own (things). The exact opposite of the nature of real love is a selfish seeking after one’s own advantage, influence or honour as the great objective of life (see 1 Cor. 10:24, 33). Of all the characteristics of love, selflessness is the most difficult for the unsanctified heart to understand. Man naturally is interested – first of all in himself, and often that interest over-shadows all others, but Christ’s way – the way of love – puts self last and others first. Man’s selfish nature is one more proof that sin has completely reversed the divine order in the experience of humanity, leading men to concentrate their affections and interests on themselves (see Jer. 17:9, Rom. 7:14 – 15, 20; 8:5 – 8; James 4:4). One possessed of the selfless love of God forgets self and is completely absorbed in doing the will of God

 

Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) proves clearly that no one can be a true Christian, who lives for himself alone or who makes it his principle object in life to promote only his own interest. A Christian is one who follows Christ’s examples, therefore, he is one who rejects the pressures of the natural heart for devotion to self and who is willing to sacrifice his own comfort, time, ease, wealth and talents to advance the welfare of mankind.

 

viii. Never provoked: In Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthian 13:5, the word “easily” is prefixed to “provoked”. ‘Easily’ in this passage is supplied by the compilers, and apparently without warrant. It actually gives a wrong shade of meaning to the statement. Love is never provoked whether easily or otherwise, nothing can disturb the equanimity of perfect love and cause a display of annoyance, impatience or anger. To insert the word “easily” would be to suggest that there are times when a certain amount of anger, irritability or resentment are permissible, but such is not the case (see Ps. 119:165; Heb. 12:3, 1 Peter 2:23). The Christian who knows that “self”, the “natural heart” is opposed to the will of God, and that having committed himself to God, he is dead to sin and has no cause for irritation or annoyance. He simply turns everything over to God, knowing that whatever happens, he is under the watchful, loving eye of One who is controlling all things for his good. (see Rom. 6:11; 8:28; 1 Peter 5:6,7). One of the most striking effects of conversion is the remarkable change that is seen in the character of a person who was naturally irritable in disposition, resentful and readily roused to anger. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit such a one becomes mild, gentle and calm. All efforts by Satan to annoy him and make him give way to the old quick-tempered spirit, become unavailing.

 

ix.  Hates Sin: – The Greek word “adikia” rendered “iniquity” in 1 Cor. 13:6 covers every act of unrighteousness, sin, disobedience and pervation. Love finds no pleasure in any kind of unrighteousness, whether on the part of a friend or foe. Unrighteousness which is sin, is altogether foreign to the divine nature of love, therefore one who loves cannot be pleased with anything that is not in harmony with the will of God. Love does not rejoice over the vices or faults of other or find happiness because others are found guilty or are under retribution for their wrongdoing. It does not take malicious delight when an enemy falls into sin or when an opponent makes a mistake that involves him in disgrace. Love takes the opposite course and seeks to help even an enemy when he is in trouble (see Prov. 24:17; 25:21; Matt. 5:14’ Rom. 12:20). Only those not sanctified by the truth, find pleasure in the wrong-doing of others (Rom. 1:32; 12:9). Love conceals and is silent about the faults of others, which the selfishness of the natural heart would gladly expose.

 

Generally, love is disposed to put the best possible construction on the conduct of others, imputing good motives to them. This is the attitude of love because it has no business giving offence to others and is never disposed to entertain anything to the detriment of others except on reputable evidence. In matters and issues concerning God, love believes without question, anything that is revealed of the will of God for man. It does not doubt the word of God and His instructions. Love inspires faith in one’s neighbours based upon trust which rests ultimately in God. Therefore this love prepares and equips its possessor with the will, power, wisdom or intelligence and strength to face strife, ridicule and contempt with equanimity, even in defense of the truth that involves others to ensure eventual vindication of the truth. Love suffers quietly all the difficulties, trials and persecutions and injuries inflicted by man, and, all the attacks that God may see fit to allow the adversary to make (see Job 13:15). This statement about love shows the infinite patience that is possessed by him who is always under the control of love. The strange behaviour of others, perhaps calculated to hurt or annoy him, he patiently bears, for he sees in his fellow men, souls for whom Christ died, souls that are constantly misled by Satan, and therefore to be pitied and helped rather than condemned or treated harshly.

 

Being the perfect exposition of the law of God, love consistently works for the best interest of others, and consequently is prepared to look upon the unfavourable conduct of others with an understanding, patience and sympathy inspired by God (see Matt. 22:37 – 40; Rom. 13:10; I John 4:7, 12,16,18,20,21).

 

Apostle Paul in I Cor. 13:8 concludes the specifications of the qualities inherent in true love with the declaration. “Charity never faileth, but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail, whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish way”. The Greek word “pipto” the simple verb form of “ekpipto” – ‘failure’ used in this passage means “to fall off’  (or from)”to fall from its place” “to fail” “to perish”. Genuine love does not fall off like a leaf or a flower (see James 1:11; I Peter 1:24) that has given its beauty and flagrance during the sunshine — and has served its purpose – which the cold wind and frost cause to wither and fall off the plant.

 

In days of stress and strain, as well as, when all is bright and fair, love remains the same, shedding its fragrance of trust and hope and faith all around. This must be so, for love is the very foundation of law, and the law of God is eternal (see Ps.119:16; Matt.5:17,18; Luke16:17). Every believer is enjoined to cultivate this Fruit of the Spirit; and every believer may be assured that there can be no experience of life for which love does not make provision; love can be relied on at all time to solve all problems.

 

In the life of a true believer, love experience, not only dictates the application and exercise of the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongue-speaking, wisdom, knowledge and understanding, etc, but supersedes all of them spiritually, as it establishes a permanent good relationship with God the Father, through Christ the son and by the action of the Holy Ghost.

 

When this ultimate is attained – all the Gifts of the Spirit clear the way for that which is eternal and unassailable proof, that obedience to the law of God set out in the “Ten Commandments” can only be possible for a heart saturated with the various elements of TRUE LOVE.  First for God in connection with the precepts of the First Table; and for fellow men as stipulated by the commands of the Second Table of the Decalogue. Thus establishing the truth that “LOVE is the only veritable key to righteous living – the “Great Commandment”.