This post is part of a series. If you are interested in following the series in order, please start on the page titled Love – An Introduction.
Love Fulfills the Law
Before we delve deeper into the actual love list itself, there are a few things I want to write about that help put those words into a context that is more applicable to every day life. I believe that more philosophical topics are a waste of time if we cannot apply the wisdom we gain from them to make people’s lives better. When we discuss the topic of love, what is the point if nothing comes of it? So I want to spend a little time here talking about how love works in our lives.
One of the ways love changes our lives is through the fulfillment of God’s word.
Galatians 5:14 NIV
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The entire law is fulfilled through love! Isn’t that exciting?
That means we don’t even need to know all of the laws in Numbers and Leviticus to actually keep them. When we act out of genuine Biblical love, we will fulfill those laws whether we know and/or understand them or not.
How Does Love Work Like That?
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Love fulfills the law simply because the law was originally sourced in love. The law of the Bible was set in place to bless and protect the seed of Abraham. The law wasn’t their shackles. It wasn’t meant to limit them or oppress them. Those laws were there to lift the seed of Abraham up above all other people, to give them lives of such abundance and happiness as the world has never seen before. That was the purpose of the law.
Some of the people today who try to discredit Christians make an issue out of eating shellfish. The Bible does indeed say that we are not supposed to eat shellfish. Now, anyone who has read the entire Bible knows that the unclean food issue was dealt with in the New Testament. Jesus said that it’s not as important what goes into your mouth as what comes out of it
What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them,but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.Romans 14:20
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
So there is a Biblical argument in favor of eating shellfish. However, when you read that argument in context, it is always with other people in mind. So I would like to propose an application of Biblical love for you to consider as an example of fulfillment of the law. We know today that shrimp is very high in cholesterol. Yes, the Bible says that all food is clean. I can eat whatever I want. But when we look at eating shellfish in the context of love, what should we do?
If the reason I eat shrimp is to satisfy my own gluttony, with no thought or concern for the people in my life, will my health not suffer? Is it Biblical love for me to do something that will harm my health, causing me to be a burden to others?
I’m using the shrimp example because that happens to be my greatest weakness. I am one of those who could quite easily eat myself into the grave. If I didn’t keep my gluttony in check, my health would deteriorate quickly and my miserable life would be cut short. If I lived in a vacuum, that MIGHT be okay. But my life is interconnected with the lives of so many other people. I have a responsibility to stay healthy for the people in my life.
So what should I choose, gluttony or love?
For as long as I put other people’s needs above my own wants, needs and desires, I should not be giving into my gluttonous urges to pig out on shrimp every chance I get. Yes, if I didn’t know any better, I would think that this law was designed to deny me pleasure. But when I take myself out of that vacuum of selfishness, when I see how my life touches the lives of people around me, it becomes so very clear that I have no business eating shrimp like that.
About two years ago my pastor, Don Nordin, delivered a well researched, well thought out message on the subject of drinking alcohol. I already don’t drink, but Pastor Nordin said something very profound in that message that changed the way I look at a lot of issues. He said that even if you feel like you can “handle it”, even if you feel like you will never let the alcohol control you, are you 100% certain that your children will have the same self control you do?
Once again, when we step back and out of the vacuum of selfishness, when we stop only looking at our own needs and our own desires and look at how we behave is affecting other people, then what seemed okay before no longer looks that way anymore. There are several things about my life that I changed because of Pastor Nordin’s message about drinking, because the same concept applies to almost anything we do that is generally deemed as only marginally wrong or only marginally bad for you.
When we love, we are no longer looking to see what we can get away with and still stay within the law. When we love, we are actively putting other people first in our lives. When we love, we no longer look at what we can do for our own sakes. Instead, we take that extra step backward to see how our actions and behavior effect the people we touch through our lives.
Don Nordin was right. If I think I can handle it, that doesn’t mean my son will be okay walking on the edge that way. That doesn’t mean my students will be able to just have a few drink and never let the alcohol control them. And my friends and fellow musicians, what’s to guarantee that they will never have a problem? If I look at the big picture, I can see that it’s not okay to drink alcohol even if I feel like I can handle it.
Is It a Contradiction?
Getting back to the shrimp, does this mean that the New Testament contradicts the old? The Old Testament says don’t eat shrimp. The New Testament says that all food is clean.
No, there is no contradiction. When you put love first, you will know when it’s right to eat shrimp. There are times when not eating the shrimp goes against love. Those are the times when it’s okay to eat the shrimp.
See, I think a lot of people get that part of it mixed up. They think that the “all food is clean” verses validate their gluttony. Our loving Father would never encourage us to become such miserable slaves to our bodies that way. Yet, nor does He desire for us to become so close minded in our religion, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, that we use our religion as an excuse to not love other people, standing in judgement over them.
In the end, the food is not the issue, it’s our behavior that matters most. It comes down to what is in our hearts. That’s why Jesus said that it’s not what goes into your mouth that matters, but what comes out of it. He was encouraging us to love each other, even in the way we eat. When we put other people first in our lives, we will know when it’s right to eat the shrimp.
Love, the Law and the New Covenant
I’ve given you two examples (the shrimp and the alcohol) but there are similar examples for all of the laws in the Bible, from the ten commandments all the way through Numbers and Leviticus. The man who lives according to God’s statutes will be blessed in ways that enrich not only his own life but also the lives of the people he touches. Unfortunately, Jesus also told us that it is impossible for us to obey all of these rules. He said that the man who lusts after a woman has committed adultery in his heart.
Matthew 5:27 – 28
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus also said that a man who is angry with someone has murdered him in his heart.
Matthew 5:21 – 22
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
If we will be judged even by what we think, then none of us are innocent enough to avoid the fires of hell. None of us! No one is righteous enough, or can follow the Biblical laws well enough, to save their own souls. None of us are righteous enough to judge and condemn other people. There is no sinner in this world lowly enough that we should ever point a finger in judgement over him because, without God’s grace, we are all destined to the same fiery pit.
That is why God made a new covenant with us through Jesus Christ.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God made a new covenant with us, a new deal in which all of our wrong doings would be paid for with the blood of His only Son. What are we expected to do in return for this new salvation? When pushed to give a new list of commands, Jesus said:
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
A covenant is a contract with expectations from both sides of the deal. In the old covenant, the Israelites were expected to follow God’s statutes, to obey His laws. When the laws were broken, the people were to pay for their transgressions with sacrifices. With the new covenant, Jesus’ blood has already paid that price and as the quote from Jeremiah above says, He will remember our sins no more. In return, our end of the deal is that we are to love God and our neighbors. Through this love we are able to better obey the original laws because they are written on our hearts.
In the next post in this series, I will introduce the first word in the list, “patient.” This was the word that prompted me to do two years of research on this topic, two years that changed the way I live. Patience is not what we think it is in our modern society. When you learn what patience really is, you will understand why it is the first word in the famous love list from 1 Cor 13.
To read the next post in this series please go to Love Is Patient Part I.