• Joshua D McVey

Know your Neighbor


See if this sounds familiar. "The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)." Paul continues, "But the gift of God is eternal life." There was no heaven in the Old Testament. The gathering place of the dead (underworld) was referred to as Sheol (Stanley, 2018). This was not heaven, it wasn't thought of as a pleasant place. Heaven is a New Testament (Good News) idea inspired by Jesus' resurrection. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2)."


Israel of the Old Testament had an agreement with God through Abraham and then Moses. If they kept His commands, He would bless them. "So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD (Leviticus 18:5)." Pleasing God led to blessings; your crops would prosper, your flocks would grow, and your life would be good.


The highest form of righteousness was to please God. This was done through following the law and giving sacrifices. Jesus was radical because he didn't teach honoring God as the highest priority.


Take a breath and let that simmer for a moment. Perhaps you're feeling the anger and confusion the teachers of the law felt when hearing Christ's teaching.


As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23,24)." Jesus taught being reconciled with one another is more important than the offering at the altar.


You can see why the religious leaders at the time wanted him dead.


Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”


It's important we notice Jesus said "Like it" as in it has the same value. Loving your neighbor was mentioned second, but maintains equal value with "Love the Lord your God."


Later in Luke 10 another Pharisee states these two commands as instruction on inheriting eternal life. He paid attention to Jesus' lesson but asks a qualifying question. "Who is my neighbor?" He can accept loving his neighbor as long as it's a Jewish neighbor, they are after all, God's chosen people. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero is not Jewish, but Samaritan, a half-breed. Worse, the poor victim is overlooked by pious Jewish men to maintain their cleanliness. They have elevated the value of the law over the love of a neighbor.


On the night of the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34)."


We interpret that in hindsight of the cross. We know what's coming, but put yourself in the shoes of the disciples hearing it for the first time. How had Jesus loved them for the last three years?


"He might say to Matthew, "Remember the first time we met? You were despised by your community and an embarrassment to your family. But I invited you to follow me anyway. Matthew, extend that same grace to everyone you meet for the rest of your life. Nathaniel, remember the day we met? Do you remember what you said about me? 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' You dissed my town, my family, my childhood friends, but I invited you anyway. Extend that same grace and forgiveness to everyone you meet. As I have loved you . . . Guys you remember that afternoon my blood drinking, flesh-eating illustration offended and confused the crowd and we started losing 'em? Everyone of you yahoos were thinking of leaving me to fend for myself. I could have left you to fend for yourselves and you certainly deserved it. But I didn't. And I never brought it up again. Do unto others as I have done unto you (Stanley, p. 167, 2018)."


The new covenant (Good News) honors God through loving our neighbors. "The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)." The death debt was paid through Christ's sacrifice. The law was fulfilled and now obsolete. The new command, love one another. That's the good news, righteousness is not found in the law. It's found in Christ. Paul never used the Old Covenant as a proof text, it always hinged on Jesus' example.


Healing will only come through love and sacrifice. It will never come from avoiding sin or justifying ourselves through the law.


"A new command I give you, love one another."


In His service and yours,

Josh


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