But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)
The Pharisees did not like the Sadducees. It seems that when Jesus silences them, the Pharisees begin to reassess Jesus, wondering if he might be one of them. Of course, they ask a law question. Pharisees can’t get passed the law, mostly because they never get around to actually understand it. It’s a softball pitch. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to answer it.
Love. Love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is just quoting Old Testament.
It’s funny, because people often think Jesus is here loosening up on the law, of which Jesus says not a jot or tittle will pass away before heaven and earth pass away.
In truth, it is love that is behind all the law. This is what the pharisees most often don’t get, even today. The law cannot be upheld without love. And when you love, you follow the law. This is why you need the gospel. Only the gospel can change a heart and give it love.
This is also the futility of the worldly sense of repentance where the verses that say repent and believe are concerned. The Pharisaical tendency here is to treat them as two different things, and after treat them as something that is only possible after a few years of life after some sort of age of accountability. There are so many problems with that. Where as the biblical concept of repentance recognizes the need based on original sin manifest in a dead heart only remedied by faith in the gospel, this worldly sense would actually require a person to commit particular sins to be repented of! In essence it requires guilt of particular sins, before salvation is possible. So in order to know the love of God and his grace, you first have to be guilty of adultery, theft, murder, drunkenness, or at the very least, childish insubordination.
But then you aren’t taking the law seriously if you conceive of repentance in this manner, because first of all the law requires love of God. All our sin is a result of our failure to love God. It is in effect a result from a lack of faith, as faith is a combination of fear, love and trust in God. When we love God above all things, then we love his name and do not blaspheme it, we love his word and attend to it diligently, we love his worship and being together with his saints. When we love God, we love his people, his creation, we love those whom he has redeemed.
We love our neighbor as ourselves. This starts with loving ourselves. All too often, I do believe, our lack of love for others is in proportion to our lack of love for ourselves. This can be a difficult one. Perhaps it isn’t that we don’t love ourselves. Paul says no one has ever hated his own flesh. But it is that we are often at a loss as to how to love ourselves, and so we engage in behaviors that often end up diminishing the love we have for ourselves. Today this is most often the case when it comes to sex. Outside of the committed relationship of marriage, this just exposes one to all sorts of danger. It is an act of love, and yet outside of marriage it is fraught with hazards which make it a very unloving thing to do for one’s self or others, even when they are willing participants. And to often it just contributes to a self loathing. For the men there is a debasing of themselves as they give in to the “animalistic urges” as I believe the old anglican rite of marriage used to describe it. There is a place for those, marriage. However, failure to control them, failure to confine them to the marital bed where one takes responsibility for the outcome in love for his partner, undermines his own view of himself as something more than animal. For women, you can only subject yourself to being used by so many men, before you are left feeling empty. Giving yourself to another, who ultimately rejects you and moves on is humiliating, I’d imagine. Of course none of this is really thought through at the time of indiscretion. Too often our young people aren’t even given the tools with which to think this sort of thing through.
But love for others starts with love for yourself. The list could go on to include numerous other self-destructive behaviors, drunkenness, drug abuse. Something strikes me as odd about an ad campaign against teen drinking that has people engaging in numerous extreme sports saying “lives on the edge, doesn’t drink.” I have nothing against extreme sports. But advertising this as a healthier way to carry out your death wish, strikes me as disingenuous. One most of those sports, unless done irresponsibly, are quite safe. But if you are trying to save lives, encouraging teens to live on the “edge” seems a bit counter productive, unless you mean the edge of the sidewalk. Just saying. Other than that, yeah, I think it is much better to encourage a kid to rock climb, mountain bike, kayak and what nor else rather than drink. Though I do think that whole campaign is a bit overblown, I suppose I just spent too much time in Europe. I think we make it more of a problem than it has to be, compounding and exacerbating the negative effects with our puritanical laws against it. The point is we could do a bit more to teach our kids to love themselves.
But if you have no love for yourself, you will not be able to love others. But from whence does love for self come? That is the conundrum. You can’t just tell one to love themselves. Perhaps a person can “fake it till you make it.” But love is fickle in this world of sin. I myself have gone through periods of self loathing, and depression accompanied by various self-destructive habits, including death wish mountain biking escapades chasing an adrenaline high.
But then it is equally true, that the more we learn to love others, the more we learn to love ourselves. But the true source for love in this life, is God who is Love, and who showed that love for us in His Son Jesus Christ. That perhaps is the beauty of the cross and resurrection that cracks the conundrum. Here we see a man, who has loved us, and loved his Father, enough that he sacrificed himself for us, dying in our place. But we see divine love for us in that the Father, so loved us, so cared for us as his children that he was willing to sacrifice his only begotten Son on our behalf, that he might forgive our sins, and adopt us as our own. And this is then the gospel, the source of our love. We love because he first loved us. And it is this love that is the mark of true repentance, which then is synonymous with faith. To believe is to repent.