The 20th Sunday After Trinity November 2, 2003
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
30(1-4, 6), 245, 349(1-4), 349(5-7)
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
In Christ Jesus, who loved us so that He sacrificed Himself for us, dear fellow redeemed:
If I gave you the assignment to choose your favorite “love story” from the Bible you might choose the story of Ruth. It is the story of how Ruth refused to stay in Moab and instead followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, all the way back to Israel; and how she and Boaz met, eventually married, and became ancestors of our Savior.
Perhaps you would choose a love song, the Song of Solomon. You might choose the story of the woman who came to Jesus and washed His feet with tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with fragrant oil. About that woman Jesus said, “She loved much…” (Luke 7:40). Or you might choose the story of the crucifixion for on Calvary you see God’s great love story toward you. But you would most likely not choose the story of Israel at Mount Sinai as a love story. Certainly not events at Mount Sinai from where God thundered His commands!
If you were to choose words of love as they are expressed in the Bible you might choose phrases such as: “I will give you…” or “I will send you…” or “I will protect you…” or “I forgive you.” Surely you would never choose the words: “Thou shalt!” or “Thou shalt not!”
Yet, all of the “love stories” we treasure from Scripture do come back to Mount Sinai and do come back to the words “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.” The woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet showed great love because she understood how much she failed in loving God and how much He loved her and gave her salvation from her sins. Our love toward God and His love toward us have a connection to the Law. We find from Scripture TRUE LOVE FULFILLS THE LAW. I. The command to love summarizes all II. The failure to love exposes all III. The gift of love forgives all
In Jesus’ ministry, His enemies typically looked for ways to catch Him in some error and and thereby expose Him as a fraud and discredit Him before the people. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two groups of Jesus’ enemies who tried to entrap Him. These two groups hated each other, but they found common cause in their joint hatred of Christ.
Before the events we have just read, the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead which Jesus preached so they addressed Jesus on that topic. They asked Jesus if a woman was widowed and remarried, was widowed again, remarried again and the process continued until she had seven husbands, whose wife would she be in the resurrection? Jesus’ answer quickly quieted the Sadducees for He explained that in the resurrection there will be no marriage nor giving into marriage (Matthew 22:23ff).
The Sadducees had failed in their attempt. The Pharisees saw this and wondered if they could do better. They saw an open door into which they could jump with a test of their own. Perhaps they would be more successful than the Sadducees and come out “on top” in their ongoing battle for superiority. So the Pharisees gathered together and came with the question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” [v.36]
They would have thought that no matter what law Jesus would set forth, they would “have Him” for He would then be elevating one law from Moses (their hero) higher than all the rest. But Jesus defeated their test by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [vv. 37-39]
The command to love God above all else is an umbrella that stretches out over everything. Everything in the commands and desires of God and everything in our lives fits under the umbrella of loving God above everything else. But a lining on the underside of that umbrella is the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The two commands go together. You can’t do one perfectly without thereby also fulfilling the other, and love for God is seen through our love to one another.
Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). Paul did not dismiss the love for God that should supersede our love for one another, but he recognized that as we show this perfect love to one another, we are by that love also demonstrating a perfect love for God.
The two “tables” of the law—loving God above all else and loving one another—summarize God’s Law. Jesus also says, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” [v.40] Yes, they summarize the Law that exposes our sin, but they also summarize and connect to all the things that the prophets spoke. The prophets did declare the Law of God. They did declare the judgment of God when that Law was broken, but they also proclaimed the salvation that Christ would bring. The Law is fulfilled by love and the love of God sent a Savior to fulfill what we cannot do.
The first table of the Law—loving God above all else—includes the first three commandments: 1) Have no other gods, 2) Do not misuse the name of God, and 3) Remember the Sabbath Day.
Loving God above all else is to put Him first and foremost in our lives. He has no competition when it comes to where we put our trust. He has no competition when we are determining our priorities. He always gets “first choice.” That is loving God above all else. When we put God on top of everything else, nothing else is going to interfere. We aren’t going to misuse His name which He has given us to bring people to faith, to declare His praises, and to bless one another. If we love God above everything else we would never dream of cursing someone when God wants us to bless them. We would never dream of swearing something falsely or unnecessarily when God says “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). We would never dream of going to witchcraft, or superstition, or anything involving good luck charms because we have the God of all in whom we place our trust. We would certainly never use His name to deceive others into believing we are His children when we are not, nor would we teach something falsely as if it were His Word and in that way lie by His name. If we are loving God with a perfect all encompassing love, surely we would not neglect the opportunity to hear His Word, to study it, to take time out to fulfill our souls’ needs. Love for God fulfills the first three commandments.
The second table of the Law—love for our neighbor— begins with the commandment to honor father and mother and all others who are in authority. The second table continues with commands to not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, and not covet. Paul writes in Romans, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
The love that summarizes all is not just “any love.” It is a love that is measured by Christ’s example. God loved the unlovable and sent Jesus. That self-sacrificing, “looking out for the other person” kind of love is the love that fulfills the commandments. That love is what we heard described in the epistle reading. Consider some of the characteristics of true love that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13….
Love does not boast and is not proud. If I love without boasting, without pride, I cannot rebel against those in authority as if I was better or smarter then they. It is pride that says, “Mom and Dad, I don’t want to do it! I’m not going to do it!” It’s pride that somehow thinks I have a better position of knowing things and making decisions than do my parents. It is pride that moves the employee to think he knows better than the employer and say, “I’m going to do it my way regardless of what the one over me says.” It may be true that you do “know better,” but God has placed your employer or manager over you. Love doesn’t boast, it is not proud, it serves and honors those whom God has placed in authority. Pride says I’ll determine my own way. I’ll not submit to anything or anyone. Love is not proud, does not boast.
Love is not rude. Love doesn’t leave room to dishonor parents, to speak back “smartly” or with a certain “cut” in your voice. There is no room for disobedience or treating anyone rudely.
Love is not self-seeking. If one loves, one does not steal because stealing is self-seeking. Stealing says: “God, you may provide things for me, but you haven’t done a good enough job. I need this so I’m going to take it since You’re not giving it to me.” For whom are you stealing if not for yourself? Oh, people might argue, “I’m stealing for my needy brother, or daughter, or nephew that’s destitute.” But really, in all things, stealing is self-seeking and love is not.
Love is not easily angered. All of the anger, resentment, and bitterness that rises up in a heart is condemned by God when He says in the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder” because He also says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). All of that hate and contention, all of the sin against the 5th commandment is not love. We need not be imprisoned murderers to be guilty of breaking the 5th commandment. Love is not easily angered, so the 5th commandment is fulfilled where there is love.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” that prayer is fulfilled by love. If I am loving you as God has loved me I won’t keep track of how many times you’ve upset me, how many times you’ve hurt me, how many wrong things you’ve done against me. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love rejoices in truth. It doesn’t gossip. It doesn’t tell stories that aren’t true to hurt someone else’s reputation. Even if what I am saying about someone else is true, love also protects. If I know the truth is going to hurt someone or their reputation and its not absolutely necessary that I speak those words, love stays silent and protects. Love fulfills the 8th commandment.
The “protection” of love applies to all of the commandments 5-10. Love protects our and our neighbors’ lives. Love protects God’s sanctified estate of marriage in general and also, individually. He intends it to be a gift for those to whom He gives it, to be kept holy and pure, to be given as a gift at the proper time, not to be despised, not to be mocked, not to be joked about, not to be run through the gutter of every fleshly desire and filthy joke. Love protects marriage. Love protects everything you own—your property and possessions so no one steals them. Love protects your good name and reputation and love protects your heart lest you covet after things that God does not give.
The perfect Christ-like love which Paul describes is the fulfillment of the law. Every law that God gives, every expectation that He makes is summarized in the words: Love God above all else and with that kind of love, also love your neighbor as yourself.
When we see that all of God’s Law is summarized by these two commands, and we understand what kind of love it is, then our failure to love is exposed. God’s expectations in His law exposes all of our failures.
At times, we all hold to secret idols. We could probably boldly say that we have never bowed down to wood or stone. We have never said a prayer to Allah nor suggested that Buddha was our maker. But yet, when something becomes a priority higher than God that has become our god. If we have become consumed with what we can receive—wealth, possessions, prestige, standing in society—those things have become a god. The true God warns, “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10). As we go through this life, what we receive, and the things we use in our life for our bodily sustenance are not the focus. We need not be concerned with what we receive, we can be concerned about serving. “Heavenly Father, my Potter, shape me. Let me serve you in love, and what I receive is good. I trust You to give me whatever you desire to give me. My service to You in love is most important.” But how often aren’t our sins exposed because we look for much more.
It can be an idol and a secret god to love father and mother more than God, to treasure the word of other people more than God’s Word. Friends and God are weighed side by side. My friends say this, my God says that, I think I’ll go with…my friends! You just made an idol. You just followed a false god. There is so much failure to love in our lives.
It applies in our attitude toward others. The Jewish leaders held it against Jesus that He would associate with the “sinners” and the tax collectors. Jesus told several parables to teach them that those who come knowing their sins, those who are downtrodden and crushed are the ones who are able to understand His purpose and their need for salvation.
The apostle James cautions us in his epistle, “ …if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?…If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:2ff).
Whoever should keep the whole Law and stumble in just one point, is guilty of all! Whether it be sins of favoritism or any other, one sin alone makes us guilty of all. Failure to love in our lives exposes all of the sin in our hearts and the condemnation that is rightly ours.
We can also grow unhappy with God’s Word. Paul wrote to Timothy, “[Do not] give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:4-7).
Anytime someone suggests that God’s Word may not be quite right—whether they suggest that by what they really say or by how they act—they are being fed up and unhappy with God’s Word and are no longer honoring Him. This too is a failure to love. When I don’t quite want to go the way God’s Word says, when I’m sick and tired of hearing those same words in devotions and sermons all the time, this is a failure to love the life-giving Word of God. Those who go after fairy tales and idle talk and a good story rather than the truth of God’s Word, those who want to be entertained rather than hearing the truth have grown unhappy with God’s Word. Theirs too is a failure to love.
So if we consider what true love is as defined by God and use that to cast light onto our hearts and in our lives, it exposes all of our failures to love.
The gift of love which God gives, forgives all of our failures to love—all of our sins. The Scriptures say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to be our Savior that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (cf. John 3:16). In the fullness of time God fulfilled His “love plan” and sent His Son to be born under the law for us and to die under the condemnation of the law for us (cf. Galatians 4:4-5). So, the gift of God’s love through Christ Jesus forgives all and fulfills the law that God commands when He says, “You shall have no other gods, you shall not steal,” and all the other commandments. Jesus lived a perfect life fulfilling that law for us. His gift of love meets God’s expectations. His gift of love in His life fulfills everything God expects from you and demands from you. His death forgives you all your sins. It is an amazing love that forgives you. John writes in his first epistle. “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (the satisfactory payment) for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Where is the law fulfilled? Not in our hearts. It is fulfilled in the gift of love—Christ fulfilling the Law for us. Where is that forgiveness accomplished? On the cross where Jesus died for every one of our failures to love.
The depth of God’s love is demonstrated even further by Paul’s words to the Romans, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8). When we were still enemies of God (nothing loveable at all) God demonstrated His unselfish, purposeful love and redeemed us. That gift of love forgives all of our sins.
On Mount Sinai we hear God’s commands and it is a “love story.” Before God ever gave one command He told the people of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). He declared Himself to be their covenant God – Jehovah—the God of promise, the one who had so miraculously taken them out of captivity. That’s love! Then He said, “these are the things that please me. Show me Your love by following My Word.”
God has delivered you from all your sin by His gift of love. He declares to you, “I am Jehovah! The God who has redeemed you, pulled you out of death, rescued you from eternal condemnation. Here is the way to show your love for Me.”
Love toward God and toward neighbor fulfills the law and yet we fail, but God’s unfailing love forgives us. That is the greatest of love stories and the love that is most true. Amen.
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