For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Paul, Galatians 5:13-15
All this fall, we’ve been reflecting together on the Ten Commandments. These bedrock biblical teachings have had wide-reaching impact across the West. If everyone practiced the Ten Commandments, I believe our world would be a far better place. Wouldn’t you rather live in a world with no murder, adultery, stealing, lying, or coveting?
Yet, as I reflect on the spirit of our age, my sense is that what most people want is to be left alone to do as they please. How many times do we hear the line, “Don’t judge me.” Very deep in our DNA as Americans is the idea that we should be free to pursue whatever our heart desires, as long as we’re not harming anyone.
Then there’s the matter of the New Testament’s critique of the legalism of first century Judaism. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul criticized the tendency of religious people to put their confidence in the keeping of a set of rules over placing their trust in the living God. Neither was against the practical laws and guidelines provided in the Torah, but both resisted human arrogance based upon law-keeping.
So how are we to combine these deep and important ideas? On the one hand, God’s covenant with Israel included commands to live in certain ways and to avoid harmful behaviors. One the other, Jesus calls God’s people to live in a relationship of love and trust where rules, while not absent, are subordinated to the primacy of divine grace.
The New Testament writers often summed up the Ten Commandments as having to do with love. Jesus did this in Mark 12, Matthew 22, and Luke 10, declaring that the greatest command was to love God and the second greatest was to love neighbor. Paul reiterated some of the ten commandments before writing, “love is the fulfilling of the law” in Romans 13. In I John 4:7, the author says, “let us love one another because love is from God.” In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The bottom line, as conclude our study of the Ten Commandments, is that love is the goal! We are to love God by giving God exclusive worship, allegiance, and reverence. We are to love one another not only by refusing to do anything harmful but also to treat each other as we would want to be treated ourselves. May the world know that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love one another and all humankind!