Vol. IX — No. 43 October 27, 1968


Love Is the Sum and Center of All the Law and the Prophets!

Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together, Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou 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.

In Christ Jesus, who is the love of God sent to man, Fellow Redeemed:

What word is used more and what word is abused more than “love”?

The poets and the script writers never tire of the love these. The patriot extols love for one’s native land. The sentimentalist is moved to tears by mother love. Love makes the world go ’round. Love is the grease that keeps the wheels of society moving smoothly. “Make love, not war” is the cry of the hippy and the yippy.

But oh how that word is abused. Love is used as a euphemism for lust to cover lust with all its ugliness. Idolatry, blasphemy, false doctrine are practiced in the name of love. Love condones civil disobedience, anarchy, revolution, violence in the streets.

It is this same much used and much abused word that is the key to our text this morning. This text takes us back to the last great teaching day in our Lord’s ministry—the Tuesday of holy week. The Sadducees had just tried to make a fool out of Jesus with their stock question concerning the resurrection—the case of the woman who had seven husbands. Then, as St. Mark reports, one of the learned men of the law came with a question. Matthew reports that this question was put to Jesus in the presence of a group of Pharisees. The question was a test question. The King James translates, “tempting him.” Apparently the motivation was not to trick or corner Jesus, but rather to solicit an answer to a question that troubled the scribes and Pharisees very much. This was the question: “Which is the great commandment in the law?” We think of ten commandments in the law, and so we may wonder why it was so difficult to determine the greatest. But over the years the scribes and Pharisees had multiplied the commandments. They had developed a total of no less than 613 commandments: 248 “Thou shalts” and 365 “Thou shalt nots.” They had fragmented and atomized the law, dividing and subdividing it. In so doing they had destroyed the unity of the law. They argued endlessly about the relative importance of their many commandments. Jesus gave them an answer that was so simple and so obvious that it found grateful acceptance: “Thou 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.” The law is not a set of many commandments, unrelated and competing with each other. No, the commandments are all interrelated and interdependent, all of them being but different facets of the single demand for love—toward God and one’s neighbor. This Jesus proclaimed when He added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” So then—


For the Jews the Law was the Thorah, recorded in the five books of Moses. Jesus said that the sum and center of all the Law was undivided and uncompromising love towards God. Let us examine but one story to test this. Think of the time that God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his son and offer him for a burnt offering. With that command a tug of war began in Abraham’s heart—between his love for his only son and his love for his God. “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest…and offer him for a burnt offering.” See how the Lord pulled on the strings of Abraham’s heart with “thy Son,” “thine only son,” “whom thou lovest.” Here was the test! Would the natural love of a father for an only son, reinforced by the rationalization that God Himself had forbidden the taking of life and that God Himself had promised that the Savior would come from his son—be stronger than the Law’s demand for undivided love for God with heart, soul, mind, strength. This is what God always demanded and still demands—undivided, whole, uncompromising love of Himself. This is the sum and center of the Law and also the prophets. What is the cry of the prophets but this that God’s own people tried to divide their love between Him and the gods of the heathen. They ended up by forsaking the Lord. They violated the sum and center of all the Law and the prophets.

The second great commandment flows from the first: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This also is the sum and Center of all the Law and the prophets. The last quarter of the book of Genesis contains the story of Joseph. This young man was the victim of the envy and jealousy, the bitterness and hatred of his brothers. They plotted his death and finally sold him into the living death of slavery. For thirteen years Joseph suffered as a slave and as a prisoner. Then he was elevated to the second highest position in Egypt. Seven to eight years later he had his chance to get even with his brothers. But he returned kindness for their evil, love for their hatred. And so Joseph is a living example of the Law’s demand of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The prophets have the same message. When they preach against mistreatment of widows and orphans, oppression of the poor by the rich, miscarriages of justice, they are preaching against violations of the second great commandment—the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Love is the sum and center of all the Law and the prophets, not only as God’s demand upon sinful man but also as God’s solution to man’s natural and proven inability to live according to the law of love. The Law and the prophets reckon with the fact that man cannot keep the law of love and so is under condemnation. So it is that the Law, the Thorah of Moses, brings us the first promise of a Savior for all who violate the demand of love. The Law of Moses contains all the details for sacrifices to make atonement for violations of the demand of love. And every sacrifice pointed ahead to Him who would need no sacrifice for Himself because He lived according to the law of love, but who would make the one sacrifice that was necessary to atone for all transgressions against love. The prophets kept on filling out the details of the picture of this One to come who as the Servant of the Lord would come and fulfill God’s will of love and make atonement for man’s failure to live in love. So it is that “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So then, love is the sum and center of all the Law and the prophets. Now let us apply this truth unto ourselves. He’ll discover a twofold effect. First—

I. When demanded of man, it drives to despair.

The Law demands of you and me undivided love towards God and a love equal to the love of self for one’s neighbor. The Law fortifies these demands with threats of God’s wrath and punishment, temporal death and eternal damnation if we fail to obey this Law perfectly in our lives. The Law demands the humanly impossible and mercilessly condemns us for failing to live according to its demands. So it is that the Law drives to despair. David felt the weight of the Law when he cried out, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”

Let us push this matter further so we learn the true nature of the Law. The Law says to you and me: God must be first in your life. That’s what to love God above all things means. What does this mean in our practical every day life? It means that no organization, no social relationship, no business advantage, no creature comfort, no material benefit, not even such a natural thing as love of parents or love of children dare come between us and our God. It means that if membership in an organization compromises faithfulness to the Lord, such membership must be severed. It means that if some social relationship interferes or challenges the first place of the Lord God in our hearts, that social relationship must take second place. It means that if business advantage can only be gained through a violation of God’s Law or a compromise of faithfulness to Him, the advantage must be refused and the loss sustained. It means that we are willing at all times to suffer the loss of all material things, security, one’s job, one’s home, one’s all for the love of Christ. It means that children may have to bear the wrath and fury of unbelieving parents because they want to remain faithful to the Lord. It means that parents have to give their wholehearted approval to God’s judgment upon their unbelieving children, even as Aaron complained not but approved when God struck his sons dead for offering strange fire upon the altar. Day in and day out, at every time, in every situation, under every circumstance God must come first. If not, we bring down upon ourselves His just wrath and condemnation for time and eternity. “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Not a one of us can stand before our God!

The Law also says to you and me: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Self-love is made the measure of love for our neighbor. The neighbor is to have equal time. He has a claim on me. And who is my neighbor? Anyone and everyone who needs my help—including also my enemy. If someone refuses to return my greeting, I am not to snub him the next time I meet him, but I am to continue to greet him in a friendly way. If that same someone does me dirt, I am not to seek ways and means for getting even. No, I am to return the evil done me with an extra effort of good towards that same person. If this person cusses me down, I’m to bless him. If he gets violent and takes a swing at me, I’m to turn the other cheek and let him get in the second blown This sounds strange, does it not? It sounds unreal, unnatural. And why? Because we by nature are so full of little hates, little and big hostilities, little and big jealousies, little and big desires to get even with the person who does us dirt. None of this escapes the eye of the Lord. He says in His Law: “You stand condemned! You’re guilty! Your’re damned!”

If this demand of love were all that we had in the Bible, it would simply drive us to despair, for it’s a demand that we can’t fulfill and it brings a judgment that we can’t avoid by ourselves. But this is only part of the Law and prophets. The other part tells us of love—as the sum and center of both the Law and the prophets—that—

II. when proclaimed in Christ, it gives salvation.

What the Law and the prophets demand—undivided, uncompromising, perfect love towards God and man, Christ lived! In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord expounded love’s demands regarding the sanctity of life and the inviolability of personality, regarding marriage and all sex relations and regarding the use of one’s tongue. These areas cover man’s relations to his fellowman—the very area that demands of us a love for the other man that is equal to our love of ourselves. Jesus lived what He expounded. He turned the other cheek. He went the extra mile. He returned good for evil done to Him. That was His way of life. Nothing stood between Him and His Father in heaven. His will was always to do the will of His Father in heaven, even if and when that faithfulness demanded of Him that He lay down His life. His life was a life of perfect love towards God and man. His life received God’s verdict of righteousness.

But He died as one condemned of God and man! Why? Not because He had failed in a single demand of love. No, but because He took upon Himself all our loveless thoughts and words and deeds. The perfect man of love was condemned as the loveless one, for He bore the guilt of our lack of love. The Law exacted its vengeance upon Him instead of upon us. He suffered so that we might be spared. He died that we might live.

This living for us and this dying for our lovelessness is what brings and gives us salvation. The answer to our cry of despair: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” is this: “But there is forgiveness with Thee.” Thank God there is! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached October 13, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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