“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 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.” Leviticus 19.17, 18
The rule of God’s Law within the community of His people begins in the soul – heart, mind, and conscience. God has shown us in His Law, and in all His Word, what affections are proper, how we should think, and what we should value. Gaining the benefits of God’s Law in our communal life begins by submitting to the instruction of God’s Law for the right ordering of our souls.
From the rule of God’s Law in our souls we turn to consider the rule of God’s Law in our relationships. In this first section we will address some general considerations relating to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Then, in subsequent sections, we will consider particular kinds of relationships and how the Law directs us to love our neighbors in each of these.
The commanding affection of all our relationships, according to the Law of God, must be love (Matt. 22.34-40). In general, love is the affection which governs the ways we would prefer others to treat us (cf. Matt. 7.12) and how, in the most general sense, we typically treat ourselves (cf. Eph. 5.29). Love is a disposition of the heart, as our text implies. We cannot love well when we allow negative or misplaced affections to harbor in our hearts toward our neighbors. Love is also an outlook of our minds, for it requires that we think carefully and reason frankly, if only within ourselves, concerning what actions love requires of us in any situation. And we must strive to set love as a default value in our consciences, so that the requirement and priority of loving our neighbors may always be active to check improper affections and guide our thinking.
Love comes to expression in a variety of ways, as we shall see. But the important point to make here is that love is demonstrable; it takes shape and comes to fruition in particular kinds of actions, whether words or deeds. The Law of God does not intend to catalogue these in any kind of an exhaustive way. Rather, it provides categories and examples of the kinds of action love demands, and then charges us, under the leading of God’s Spirit, to make appropriate applications according to whatever may be the situation in which we are involved.
The important point to make here is that the Law of God is not designed to impose a slavish order on human beings, so that we become servile automatons of a tyrannical deity. Instead, the Law of God teaches us the way to be liberated from mere self-love into commitments and actions designed to edify our neighbors and strengthen our communities, and to replicate within the society of men a projection of the kind of love that exists within the very Godhead itself.
For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the life of faith, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to www.ailbe.org and click on our Book Store.