Every nation and government is ruled by law. God’s government is no exception. God’s government includes the entire universe and, therefore, His law is above all other laws. As such, it applies to you and to me personally. If we obey, we will prosper; if we rebel, we will be brought into judgment. God wrote His law with His own finger on two tables of stone, and it is known as the Ten Commandments. The punishment for breaking God’s law is death. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Yet, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Therefore, while the wages of sin is death, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) God loves us so much that He “sent his only begotten Son into the world [to die for our sins], that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) He didn’t send His Son to “destroy the law” (Matthew 5:17) or to relax its requirements, but to provide a way that we can be forgiven of our past sins and empowered to live a godly life.
While God’s law is a perfect standard of righteousness, it is powerless to save. All the law can do is testify whether a person has broken it or not. Paul wrote, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin… For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:19, 20, 23)
While the law condemns those who transgress it, the same law bears witness in favor of those who have been justified. Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” God’s righteousness comes to us, apart from the law, a free gift “unto all and upon all them that believe” (verse 22), and it is “witnessed by the law.” The law bears record that we are justified. The same law that condemns the wicked is a blessing to the righteous, proclaiming that they have been justified, bearing witness that they have God’s righteousness. We shall all be judged by the same law; it will condemn the wicked and vindicate the righteous. Of this, James wrote,
“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:8-12)
James referred to the royal law as the command to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” then he went on to expound on the last six of the Ten Commandments, which deal with our relationship to our fellow man. James pointed out the deeper meaning of the last six commandments, and that is to love one another.
Jesus did the same thing. Summing up the entire Ten Commandments, He said, “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
When Jesus spoke these words He was not doing away with the Ten Commandments, but pointing out that they have a deeper meaning than might be obtained by a surface reading of the law. He pointed out that loving God, and loving our neighbors is the principle behind the Ten Commandments. God’s law is a law of love. He intends that we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. If we do this, we will fulfill the law. Paul says, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)
A Higher Principle
I would like you to think about something. Does God call us to go beyond obeying the letter of the Ten Commandments? Is there a higher principle that God is calling us to? When asked which is the greatest of the commandments, Jesus said the greatest is to love God with all the heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Eight of the Ten Commandments tell us what not to do, usually beginning with “Thou shalt not…” They are prohibitions. The remaining two tell us to remember the Sabbath and honor our parents, but the vast majority deal with prohibitions. Yet when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, His answer demonstrated that the highest commands, in His mind, began with “Thou shalt…” Here Jesus gave us two commands of things we must do in order to obey them: “Thou shalt love God,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.”
Paul was right when He said that if we love our neighbor, we have fulfilled the second half of the Ten Commandment law. If we love our neighbor we certainly will not steal from him, kill him, tell lies about him, etc. The law of love does not do away with, or lessen the requirements of, the letter of law, but rather enhances and deepens their meaning. Anyone who claims that he loves his neighbor, while at the same time he steals from him, or lies about him, is a liar. It is impossible to love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time steal from them or do any evil against them. Therefore, love does not destroy the law, but fulfils it.
Let me ask you a question: What if I never do any harm to Frank down the road? What if I have never stolen from him, told lies about him, or killed him, etc.? Does that mean that I love Frank? Not necessarily. There are many very evil people who have never done any harm to me personally, but I could not claim that they love me. There is an important point in this. Just because I do not harm someone does not mean that I love that person. Love goes beyond not harming a person to the point of doing good to that person.
I have had to ask myself the questions, “What have I done to help the person next-door, the person down the road, or the person I see every week in the store?” “Do I really love these people?” I may have the principle of love for them, but it has never become a reality unless I do something about it; unless I do good to them. If you were to visit my neighbor down the road and ask him, “What do you think of Lynnford?” He could testify that I have never stolen from him, told lies about him, or done any other harm to him, but could he say that I have done something good for him? That is a question that I have had to seriously consider. My thoughts on this subject were deepened when I read the verse that says, “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” (Proverbs 3:27) I don’t know about you, but that verse brings me conviction. To whom is good due? To everyone! That is like the man asking Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is, anyone in need. This verse is telling me that I should take every opportunity I have to do good to those around me. My neighbor could say, “Well, Lynnford is not a bad guy, because he has never done any harm to me,” but I want him to be able to say, “I really like Lynnford, because he has the love of God in his heart. He did something good for me,” or “He went out of his way when I was in trouble, and let me know he cared.”
Friends, God is calling us to love unconditionally. Jesus emphasized it when He said, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.” (Luke 6:27, 32) Love is the opposite of selfishness. If we love selfishly, expecting something in return, this is no better than sinners who love those who love them. Love is giving, whether it be money, gifts, time, attention, resources, etc. God so loved that He gave. He gave His all in the gift of His only begotten Son. He held nothing back. God wants us to love others in this way—unselfishly holding nothing back; not just for our friends, but for our enemies as well.
Lessons from the Book of Matthew
Matthew recorded a story of a man who understood the “Thou shalt nots” very well, but he failed to obey the “Thou shalts.” We pick up the story in chapter nineteen:
“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22)
This man claimed that he had kept God’s commandments since he was a child. He was probably the type of person whom people would want living next door, because he did not steal or harm his neighbor. Yet, he recognized that he was lacking something in His life. Jesus knew exactly what it was, and He pointed it out. This poor man was so caught up in selfishness that he neglected his duty; to love God with all his heart and to love his neighbor as himself. The young man’s response to Christ’s words demonstrated that he did not love his neighbor as himself.
In Matthew 25 we read a parable of the sheep and the goats. I would like you to notice how Jesus described each group. He said,
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)
In this description of the righteous, nothing is mentioned about things they did not do, such as stealing, lying, murdering. The only thing mentioned is the good they did to their fellow man. They truly loved their neighbor as themselves, and this love was demonstrated by their actions.
But there was another group; the goats. Let’s see what Christ has to say about them.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:41-46)
Again, nothing is mentioned here about whether they broke one of the Ten Commandments but, rather, Christ pointed out their lack of love for their neighbor. Who are these people? One of them could very well be the local Sabbath school teacher, the devoted churchgoer, the pastor in the prominent church in town, the evangelist on television, or it could even be you or me. Do you really love your neighbor? God knows, and a faithful record follows you. Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Oh dreadful words! Who can imagine how horrible it would be to hear the words “depart from me, I never knew you,” directed at them.
Paul wrote, “if any man love God, the same is known of him.” (1 Corinthians 8:3) Anyone who truly loves God is known of God, and he can be sure that Christ will never say to him, “I never knew you.” Loving God is the key. John wrote, “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21) When we truly love God with all our hearts, we will love our neighbors as ourselves, and our love will produce fruit; it will be seen by what we do.
Love is not passive, but active. The book of Hebrews calls it a “labour of love.” (Hebrews 6:10) If your love for your neighbor goes no further than avoiding doing harm to him, then it is no more genuine than that of the rich young ruler who sorrowfully departed from Christ. Jesus was constantly involved in ministering to others, whether it was giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, tenderly encouraging a sinner to repent, or feeding the hungry, Jesus was a man who actively loved; laboring for the good of others. John said that we ought “to walk, even as [Jesus] walked.” (1 John 2:6) When Jesus was here He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38) If we are to walk as Jesus walked, we must be going about doing good, wherever we go. This is the work of Christ, and this is the work of all those who truly follow Him.
Some ways that you can show love to others is to visit them when they are sick, or in prison. Even a card or letter is usually greatly appreciated. James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) When you learn of those who have need, go out of your way to find out how you can help. Give them a call to encourage them. If they were not in church, stop by and let them know that they were missed. If they have done something to offend you, forgive them quickly. Do not hold grudges. (Leviticus 19:18) Always give people the benefit of the doubt, and never jump to conclusions about their motives. Offer a smile to those around you; smiles are contagious. Always be patient and kind. Speak a friendly word to those who are down. Let someone cut in front of you in line or in traffic. Hold the door for someone. Be a friend of the friendless. Do not prefer the rich or powerful above the poor and needy. Go out of your way to make people feel special. Love the unlovely. Take every opportunity to do good to those around you. Uplift Christ as the answer to everyone’s need. Speak “the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6) “See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” (1 Peter 1:22)
God’s love was so strong that it motivated Him to action; to send His only begotten Son into this world to save sinners like me. If He had only loved me enough that He would not harm me, where would I be? Passive love—love that does not motivate action—is not love at all. Love is only real when it is demonstrated by actions. John wrote, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) Love is not an elective, but a requirement. Without it, no man will see the kingdom of heaven.
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20)
“Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)
“If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
How to Regain Your First Love
In John 5:42 Jesus spoke some very strong words to the church leaders of His day. He said, “I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.” There are many people today to whom these words could be said and, sadly, just as in Christ’s day, many of these people are church leaders or churchgoers. Could it be said of you or me? If the love of God is not in us, Jesus Christ, the faithful and true witness, knows it. And if it is true, it is about time that we know it, too. Do you love your neighbor with an active love that is demonstrated in doing good for him? There is a record that follows each of us: the law of God testifies whether we have love or not. Jesus said,
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Revelation 2:2-5)
I love the way Christ deals with us. He acknowledges all the hard work done and the effort made for His sake. He points out the good in a person, and then He says, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.” We should all take lessons from this when we are dealing with our children, our spouse, our family, friends, etc.
Friends, do you realize your need? Do you see that you have less love for God, Christ, or your fellow man, than you did at some time in the past? If so, don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged that Christ foresaw this, and gave you the remedy. That is another thing I love about the way Christ deals with us. He points out our problem, but He does not leave us there. He also gives us the remedy. If you have left your first love, Jesus says, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.”
The first step is to remember from whence you are fallen. Think back to a time when you loved God more, or when you loved others more, than you do today. The second step is to repent for your wickedness. And thirdly, Christ says, “Do the first works.” What is it that you were doing when you had a greater love? Did you read your Bible more than you do today? Did you pray more? Did you sing songs and hymns in your heart throughout the day? Did you meditate often upon God’s love for you? Did you share your faith with those around you? Did you have a great burden for the souls of others? Think about these things and “do the first works.” If you do this, you are bound to have results. Jesus said it would happen! If it produced good fruits in the beginning, it will do it again. This is the remedy that Christ gave for those whose love has waxed cold. Try it and see, I am sure you will be blessed.
I can guarantee that the first works include a daily contemplation of the wonderful love of God in giving His Son to die for your sins, for this is the power of the gospel that changes the heart of a sinner. If you want to acquire a pure love for your neighbor, it must begin and be maintained by beholding “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” in that He “sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” (1 John 3:1; 4:9) It was a contemplation of this love that started you on your Christian experience, and this is the only thing that will see you through unto the end with a genuine pure love for God and your fellow man.
My friends, the world is starving for a manifestation of genuine, unreserved love in God’s people. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:22) “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:19) Will you be one of those people? Will you make the commitment to behold God’s love and allow it to change you; to follow Christ, forsaking all of your cherished sins? The world is waiting to see it. Christ is waiting for His harvest to be ripe. Don’t let them wait any longer. Give yourself to Christ with a complete surrender to do His will.