THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT III (YOUR ROLE) // CHAPTER 19
In the Old Testament, God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments.
1. Do not have any other Gods before me.
2. Do not worship anything except me.
3. Do not use my name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not lie.
10. Do not covet.
These Ten Commandments went on to form the basis of all Jewish law.
These are simple principles that govern personal ethics as well as a relationship to God. By the time Jesus showed up in the New Testament, 603 laws had been added to these original ten. It was a full-time job trying to learn, understand and apply these 613 laws to the Jewish community.
These were divided into positive (do this) and negative (don’t do this) commandments.
There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. And there were 248 positive commands, one for each bone and main organ in the human body as they understood it.
This list was also further divided in many ways depending on the scholar that was interpreting the law.
These commands varied from things like:
· Know that God exists (Exodus 20:2)
· Pray to God daily (Exodus 23:25)
· Don’t take revenge or have grudges (Leviticus 19:18)
· Men can’t wear women’s clothes and vice versa (Deuteronomy 22:5)
· Don’t sacrifice your children in a fire to idols (Leviticus 18:21)
· Don’t eat the fruit of a tree its first three years (Leviticus 19:23)
· No magic allowed (Deuteronomy 18:10)
· Don’t sacrifice animals bought with the wages of a prostitute, or any animal that you exchanged for a dog (Deuteronomy 23:19)
People that were experts in the law, like the religious experts, believed that obedience to the law was the way they related to and pleased God.
Then Jesus showed up in Israel and began teaching. He gained a following. He seemed to have a deep command of Jewish law. But if you ask the religious leaders of that time, he was not one of them. He was saying that other things were more important than the law, which didn’t fit their narrative. They were always trying to test and catch Jesus, trying to show how much he didn’t know. By doing this, they hoped to reveal him as a false teacher and turn his followers away.
In Luke 10, there is an exchange just like this.
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” // Luke 10:25–29
Who is my neighbor?
Jesus does something revolutionary here. He takes every law, all 613 of them, and he turns them into one. The New Testament calls this the Great Commandment.
Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself.
What’s the response of this expert in religious law? He sought to justify his actions. Remember this, whenever we try to justify our actions, we are making an impossible argument. What we are trying to say is that we were controlled by the external. A situation or a person was a certain way, and that caused us to act in a certain way. This is never true. We are always in control of our perceptions, attitudes and actions. The expert knew this, so did Jesus. Jesus tells this story:
“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” // Luke 10:30–37
The term Good Samaritan has been in our cultural vocabulary for a long time. But it is important that we understand the power of this story.
Back then, if Jews had any mortal enemy, it was the Samaritans. Samaritans had intermarried with pagan nations and were seen as unfaithful to the family of Abraham, and to God. They lived in their own community, and Jews were forbidden to associate with them. To Jews, Samaritans were inherently evil. In fact, the idea of a “good” Samaritan was an oxymoron to a Jew.
In their mind, Jews had every reason to disdain and reject Samaritans. The religious expert’s question is an attempt to make that distinction, arguing that some people were neighbors and others were not. And their responsibility should only be to love God’s people.
Is what we see in Christianity today a reflection of this? How do Christians act toward the Muslim community, or the LGBT+ community? Are they our neighbors? What about people you and I just don’t like very much? What about the family members we only see at Thanksgiving and Christmas?
The difference between the Samaritan, priest and temple assistant in this story was not what they saw, it’s what they did with what they saw. The priest and the temple assistant knew the law, so they knew they had every reason to justify their actions.
In other words, they were more concerned with who qualified as their neighbor than being a good neighbor.
But Jesus changed everything, he makes it clear that truly pleasing and relating to God is all about how we treat people. Jesus makes this even clearer:
So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. // Matthew 5:23–24
Last chapter we talked about sacrifice and atonement. Now that we understand those things, we can see this verse in a different light. One of the most important things that a Jew could do was to offer sacrifices at the temple. There was only one temple, and it was in Jerusalem. Jews would travel for days from across the country and wait for a long time to be able to offer a sacrifice. Jesus says that nothing—including the offering of sacrifices—is more important than having a right relationship with your neighbor.
In other words, who cares if you call yourself a “Christian”? Who cares if you feed the poor or give money or time to the less fortunate? The fundamental thing that matters is that you are in right relationship with everyone around you. That’s true sacrifice. Instead of worrying about being right, worry about being in relationship. Give up your right to be right so that you can have a right relationship.
These words today are still a challenge for every person that reads them. Remember what Jesus said. The only thing that matters is to love God and love the people around you. In this story, the expert in religious law gets it, a neighbor is one who shows mercy to those who are hurting and in need of help.
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. // Marcus Aurelius[i]
We all want to justify our actions. There are people we don’t like, people who are wrong, people who bother us. But what should our response be to such people? We should always be ready to be a neighbor to them. To love them.
Marcus Aurelius tells us to be ready for them. Jesus tells us what to do once they show up in our life.
Paul goes on to echo this. Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. // Romans 13:8–10
Jesus takes 613 laws, and he condenses them into one simple law. To be obedient to God’s law is to love him and love each other. But simple ≠ easy. We all have and will struggle with this.
One law to rule them all
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny [him] by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. // Brennan Manning[ii]
The Old Testament is primarily centered around getting to know God and understanding how to follow his rules. This became the primary focus for ancient Jews. The proof that they knew God was how well they followed the rules. This was the old promise. The old law.
There’s a new promise and a new law. God intended to bring this one into the world all along. When you get a new car, you don’t keep driving your old one. When you get a new house, you don’t continue living in your old house. When we get a new promise, we don’t keep living by the old one. That doesn’t mean the old one ceases to exist. It means that living in the new promise and following Jesus fulfills the requirements of the old promise. So instead of 613 rules, we have one. And if we follow the one, it counts as if we followed all 613.
The Old Testament was for a chosen few. The New Testament is for all of us. But it is meant to be applied individually and personally. The only way to truly love people is to understand the love that has been given, undeservedly to each one of us.
The golden rule tells us to do to others what we would like them to do to us. Jesus says that is the essence of everything in the Old Testament.
You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. // Matthew 5:43–48
When Jesus tells his followers to be perfect. He doesn’t mean to be perfect in lifestyle, he means to practice perfect love. Like he did, like he does.
1 Corinthians 13 tells us what kind of love this is. It speaks to us as plainly today as it did when Paul wrote these words.
If I could speak all the languages of Earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. // 1 Corinthians 13:1–13
The word Paul uses here for love is the word agape (ἀγάπη). Much has been written on what agape love is. It is the highest form of love, a love that is unconditional and not circumstantial. A love that is based on who the lover is, not what the object of love happens to be. Love that is a part of the nature and the character of the lover. Love that is a virtue. Love that guides thoughts, attitudes and actions. Perfect love.
God is love. Jesus says that we should be too.
How can we know that we are loving? If our thoughts are guided by love.
What are your thoughts toward people? All people, including those you struggle with?
How can we know we are loving? If our attitudes are guided by love.
What are our feelings toward these same people?
How can we know we are loving? If our actions are guided by love.
What are our actions toward these people?
In the book of John, Jesus talks this way about love.
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” // John 15:12
How can we understand God’s love? By getting to know him. How do we get to know him? Through the stories of people that know him. Through the Bible, the collection of old and new promises that show us his thoughts, attitudes and actions toward humanity.
Once we begin to understand the love of God. Then we can begin to understand ourselves in proper context. We can see that we have the power at any time to control what we can control and let go of the things we can’t. Including the thoughts, attitudes and actions of other people. We can trust him to take care of everything that we can’t control. Because we know he loves us.
Once we know God and ourselves, and how he loves us, then we can understand the part that we can play. Our part is to express his love to the world through how we decide to think, feel and act toward people. To be the Samaritan.
We must also be always ready to deal with people who have not taken this journey to understand what we now know. We will be faced with challenges, difficulties and the evils of this world. We cannot allow those things to dictate our response. Our responses to the failures, evils and difficulties we face should be rooted and grounded in how we know that God responded to us. Love.
Jesus tells us that’s all there is now. That’s all that matters.
Loving is hard when you have a big but
This is where modern Christianity has missed the boat. People care more about the belief system than the action. It is easy to believe something in your head and heart—but deeply difficult to live it out. After all, Christians are humans too.
What should we do with people who seem to be evil, abusive or criminal? Back in 1 Corinthians 13, there’s an interesting statement that Paul makes, and it doesn’t seem to be connected to love.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. // 1 Corinthians 13:12
Life is imperfect. There is so much gray area that we encounter daily. Unfair, or even unjust, things happen to us. How should we respond to these things?
It’s hard to try to live these things out. What Paul is saying is that one day, we will see the big picture. If hindsight is 20/20, eternal hindsight is 20/10. One day, the entire picture of our whole life will be in focus, and everything will make sense. Today is not that day though. Today seems puzzling and unclear.
So, what we should do when we don’t know what to do is err on the side of love. There’s a lot of mistakes we can make. If we’re going to make a mistake, our mistake should be to love people too much rather than not enough. Be too forgiving, too generous, too kind, and let the chips fall where they may.
Let everything that you can control be rooted and grounded in loving people like God loves them, and let him take care of everything else.
“When you don’t know what to say or do, ask, what does love require of you?” // Andy Stanley[iii]
Your response to this might be something like, “Yeah, I get that, but…” The problem with loving people is usually one of ands and buts.
Love my neighbor and make the decision about who my neighbors are and what they look like.
Love my neighbor but make sure I feel comfortable.
Love my neighbor and make sure that they share my political/social/economic agenda.
Love my neighbor but justify my actions.
Love my neighbor and be pro-(insert here).
Love my neighbor but only surround myself with people/voices that agree with me.
Love my neighbor and be entitled to my opinion of them.
Love my neighbor but be intolerant of the things about them I don’t like.
Love my neighbor but prove them wrong.
Love my neighbor and prove myself right.
There are a lot of ands and buts we can have. If we decide to lay down these things, there are a lot of implications to our ideology, politics, prejudices and doctrines. But that’s what Jesus was aiming for two thousand years ago, and that’s what he’s aiming at now.
[i] Aurelius, Meditations.
[ii] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1990).
[iii] Andy Stanley, “What Love Requires,” North Point Community Church, published February 22, 2015, https://northpoint.org/messages/brand-new/what-love-requires.