Friday, February 26, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - February 25 - The Second Greatest Commandment

Today's reading in Leviticus (chapters 19-20) was a lot easier for me than the others, since I could more readily understand some of the legislation recorded in those chapters. And of course, having read Genesis and Exodus and most of Leviticus by now (not to mention Psalm 110 earlier this week), the arguments of the writer of Hebrews in today's NT reading (Heb. 7) made a lot more sense as well.

Undoubtedly because of my conditioning from the NT, the phrase I specifically latched on to today in Leviticus was Lev. 19:18 - "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." In the middle of this myriad of laws and statutes, the Lord reminds the people that behind all of these laws was a very simple ethic, the ethic of love.

In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus summarized the entire Torah as consisting of two commands: the command to love the one God with the whole being (from Deut. 6:4-5); and the command to love your neighbor as yourself from Lev. 19:18. Everything, He says, hinges on these two commands. And while they are simple, they are so very difficult to obey when someone or something draws us away from God, or some grudge or offense turns us against our neighbor. "Tough love" is a well-worn cliche, but often we use it to describe what we are going to do to others rather than what we need to do ourselves. Loving God the way the Bible says, and loving others the way the Bible says, now that is "tough love."

Interestingly (to me at least), two authors often pitted against each other - Paul and James - both use this very same passage in Lev. 19:18 to make the very same point. Both Paul and James agree that genuine faith displays itself in works (Gal. 5:6; James 2:20), and both specifically cite Lev. 19:18 as the summary of what genuine faith in action looks like.
  • Gal. 5:13-14 - "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
  • James 2:8 - "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well."
Love is so fundamental, and reflects the reality of genuine faith. Love your neighbor as yourself.

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