The Love Commandment in the NT– Part Two

There was a good reason why Jesus insisted that the commandment to love God and to love neighbor was essentially one commandment, and none was greater than it. Jesus knew all too well about the possibility, even the human propensity to separate love of God from love of neighbor, the vertical from the horizontal. The quest for the beatific vision, quite separate from loving one’s neighbor, was all too common, and fundamentally flawed. It is the sort of quest we see today when people try to separate spirituality from ethics and ethical responsibility to the other. On this score, see the poignant and powerful treatment of the subject in Miroslav Wolf’s award winning book Exclusion and Embrace. It is true to say we meet God in the other, but it is also true to say that we cannot understand the other unless we know God.

The bifurcation of theology and ethics is yet another casualty of the attempt to ignore that loving God with all our being also entails loving our neighbor as self. In it worst form, it leads to people thinking they can be whole-hearted Christians while ethically misbehaving in various ways. This is the very essence of what Jesus was referred to when he talked about ‘hupokrites’ hypocrisy the disjunction between piety and purity, between talk and walk, between what’s in the heart and what the body is doing.

Sometimes we talk about whole-heartedly loving God, and while that is a good thing, Jesus had something far more profound in mind– the loving of God with the whole self— with all one’s heart, with all one’s mind, with all your spirit (rather than soul), and in addition to all that interior commitment— with all your strength. What exactly would that look like? It means, among other things, being like the runner who is ‘going for it’ going all out to finish the race, to finish well, even to finish first. He is accepting nothing less than his maximum effort, he is striving for nothing less than excellence, he has committed himself to an all or nothing proposition– it’s full bore, or no bore, and further, he has no desire to be a bore.

We get glimpses of this whole self love for God not just from the noted saints like St. Francis who gave it all up, gave it all away, gave all he had to love and serve God. We get glimpses of it when a poor widow with almost no resources throws in her last two pennies into the temple treasury and Jesus holds her up as the example.

Jesus of course warned us about what happens when we don’t do this. He holds up the example of the exceedingly pious and uber-ethical young man who ‘lacked only one thing’ and was asked to sell all the valuable things he had and give to the poor. Be sure of this. Whatever it is that you love more than God— he will require it of you at some point. You will have to lay that dream, that possession, that obsession, on the altar. You will have to furthermore lay yourself on the altar, present yourself as a living sacrifice. God doesn’t merely want something from you God wants you, the person he created in the first place!! No wonder Jesus told his disciples they must take up their crosses and follow him. It’s a life and death matter, and if you would gain your life, you must first lose it in the love of God and the following of his Son. And if you say in your heart of hearts— this is too much for me. I can’t do it… you are right. You can’t under your own steam. The love command brings you to the end of yourself, and throws you right into the arms of God…. who gives what he commands, and enables what he requires.

There have of course been many expressions of this love in song…. but here’s one I love….

Finding Jesus— Reboot
Finding Jesus– Review of Part One
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’–The Interview Part Six
Finding Jesus— Begins Sunday Night at 9 P.M. on CNN
  • Rick

    Great song, and written by Todd Rundgren.
    As you touched on, I don’t think we can love others without loving God, and His power for us to love others.

  • James Mace

    Dear brother Ben, re the Dual Love Command (DLC), the best “reason why Jesus insisted that the commandment to love God and to love neighbor was essentially one commandment, and none was greater than it” is that the First is to love the communitarian God and the Second is to love the communitarian image of that Trinity in the covenant people, now called the Church. Jesus emphasized this DLC because He was fully restoring humanity in His New Covenant people and setting a foundation of rock for His Church to prosper as the renewed image of God for the fallen world. This is why we see so very much greater emphasis in all the NT writings re the Second Great Commandment as the special intra-ecclesial love of Christians for other Christians than we ever see about the derivative loves for non-Christians that depend for their greatest success on getting the DLC right within the Church.

    Only this mutual, reciprocally loving relationality between God and Their humanity reflects both the Creator’s original intent before the Fall and the ultimate eschatological destiny of humanity after sin ceases to be a factor: love Trinity and love either the pre-fallen or the restored corporate humanity in Their image. This original and enduring nature is what makes these specific love commands of the DLC different from temporal secondary realities like love for God-haters (which will soon pass out of existence).

    We can only benefit to full extent from the Church as the School of Love Formation when we obey the DLC so that the parts of the Body of Christ can be formed into the kind of divine lovers that can best love those yet-fallen humans who hate them. In addition, greater empowerment from the Holy Spirit is contingent upon obediently incarnating the corporate imago Trinitatis through the divine dance of Loving Trinity and loving the restored image of that love Community in the covenant people. Only by practicing the specially commanded intra-covenantal love can we become most Spiritually empowered lovers in stewardship of the world (incl. the centripetal evangelistic attraction of John 17:21 that draws the world to us and God, etc.).

  • BenW3

    Thanks James, this is an interesting discussion, although a-historical in various respects. There was no church that Jesus was talking about when he commanded his fellow Jews to love neighbor as self, no body of Christ to be loved yet, and it was not just his own disciples he gave this commandment to, but even to inquirers as the story makes clear. So, no— the neighbor as laid out by Jesus in the Gospels is not the body of Christ. The connection you seek to make between the two commandments is historically impossible. It is interesting however that in Ephesians 5 we have the reverse of this namely, that Christ’s love for the church is seen as a paradigm for husbands loving their wives. Note here that the wife is not the church, just in some ways similar to the church. The wife of course is the husband’s nearest neighbor. This is especially clear from Ephes. 5.28 where St. Paul says ‘he who loves his wife loves himself’ a direct echo of the second part of the love commandment. So… once more with feeling… the neighbor is one thing, the covenant community another, both in the OT and the NT. Blessings, Ben W.

  • James Mace

    As your post went very far afield from the Gospels, it is unreasonable to say my response errs in not sticking to that smaller context. Perhaps I was unclear, but I was not relying solely on the New Covenant and the Body of Christ for the existence of the same DLC dynamics expressed in the Old Covenant, which includes several indicators of re-creation, with the chosen enacting a process of the restoring of the Creator’s original intent for humanity. I was not limiting my sources only to what Jesus taught in the Gospels just as you weren’t. So your charge of historical impossibility is founded upon a false epistemology to which I am not limited.

    I see the Ephesians 5 passage as directly supporting my position and am somewhat surprised you see the opposite, as if it in any way whatsoever disproved my position (which it does not). For marriage is a covenant relationship, as is that of Christ with the Israel of God in His Body the Church. Not failing to take into account the ecclesial context of this chapter, a person’s Christian spouse is their closest fellow Christian, with the unity of flesh going back to Eden (as quoted in 5:31). (As to whether 5:28 contains a “direct echo” of Lev 19:18c is an interesting possibility into which I will gratefully look.)

    I just don’t see (despite the emotive plea) how what you wrote in response to me bears evidence for your unsupported traditional preference that ‘neighbours’ and members of the covenant community are separate concepts (in fact nothing you wrote does support that dogma, does it, in something you can unambiguously state to someone like me who has deeply considered these things?).

  • BenW3

    James, as I have said, we will have to agree to disagree. But the fact that you have thought deeply about this, while good, does not mean you have thought correctly about it, of course, and of course you could say the same in my case. But my point about Jesus’ use of the double commandment is important. According to Mt. 22, Jesus addressed the double commandment to a Sadducean lawyer, and said the whole law and prophets hang on it. The context is so very clearly Jewish and about Jewish behavior, Jews who had long argued about the heart of the Torah. In other words, there is no way Jesus is addressing directly or indirectly the behavior of Christians to other Christians who did not yet exist. Furthermore, look at how Paul uses such a discussion in Rom. 13… where Paul is addressing behavior towards outsiders, including pagan governing authorities and paying them taxes. It is in that context that he says ‘owe no one anything, except love, for the one who loves another fulfills the law. Then in vss. 9-10 he talks about the Levitical commandment and loving neighbor, and clear as day he is not restricting the word neighbor to believers. He has just given a list of pagan authorities that are included.

    Blessings, Ben W.

  • James Mace

    Hi Ben, I just saw your reply. I thought I was clear in my last post (indeed, I was) when I said: “Perhaps I was unclear, but I was not relying solely on the New Covenant and the Body of Christ for the existence of the same DLC dynamics expressed in the Old Covenant.” I firmly practice the exegetical understanding that Jesus’ mission was to Israel under the Old Covenant. So of course I agree that He taught about the DLC as it existed within Israel (but which then continued afterward into the Church as renewed Israel). So please stop failing to recognize that I am discussing the Old Testament contexts of Jesus’ discussions just like you relate.

    Also, I see Rom 13 as specifically proving my point and am again surprised, e.g., you assume there is no change between 13:7 and its preceding verses and 13:8 and its following verses. The latter deal specifically with believers (13:11) who “love one another” (13:8), in contrast with the former pagans which you apparently want to carry on into the end of the section where Paul addresses Christians alone.

    It looks to me like you first assume the traditional universalization of ‘neighbour’ and then circularly see here an evidence of it to include the pagans of the previous pericope. But that would be poor logic, wouldn’t it? It is only “clear as day” if one is unable to consider another viewpoint questioning the universalization in the first place.

  • Bill

    A nice reminder of 70s music (and fashion). Dan Seals aka England Dan is the brother of Jim Seals of Seals and Crofts. He is from Texas, not England, and went on to a sucessful career in country music.

  • Blou Django

    I see that James Mace aka. SantiagoSideros @ Facebook is broadcasting his argument with B3 to that social network. I can’t wait to wade in and wonder what the fuss is all about.

  • Blou Django

    It’s the first time I’ve heard that one by Seals and Coley, and cannot think of one by Seals and Crofts that might follow the theme of this blog post. Perhaps ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘Ruby Jean and Billy Lee’

    I’ve been listening to a British band IONA of late, in fact a lot of late and they have a tune called ‘Treasure’ ( ), which harmonizes perfectly with Ben’s opening post. In particular the following, ‘….Jesus of course warned us about what happens when we don’t do this. He holds up the example of the exceedingly pious and uber-ethical young man who ‘lacked only one thing’ and was asked to sell all the valuable things he had and give to the poor. Be sure of this. Whatever it is that you love more than God— he will require it of you at some point.’

    Another great tune is ‘Love is the Key’ by Tom Coomes.( )

  • Josiah Pech

    I must confess my ignorance over the technicalities of the double love commandment discussion. And I am certainly curious to read your views. Obviously, as the central tenent of all of Jesus’ teaching, getting this right is imperative. But I wonder about the manner in which this discussion is progressing, afterall this is a discussion about ‘love’, and love is evident through action. Please do not take offence if I am misinterpreting you, but if to love ones neighbour as self is so imperative, surely there ought to be some room to accommodate the opinions of those with whom we disagree?

    Hypothetically speaking, if Ben is correct, then what ethical consequences follow? We know that we are to love believers as Jesus clearly commanded (John 13:34), so it doesn’t appear (at least to me) that we’re missing out on the imperative of loving the church community if Ben
    is correct.

    On the other hand, if ‘neighbour’ ought to be defined more narrowly than Ben’s usage, then the ethical implications seem to have a similar result, for we are also commanded to love our enemies. Perhaps one implication of the narrower interpretation is that we (the church) have far more enemies than most of us have ever realised?

    Thank you for reading this much ignorance.
    Blessings in Christ,

  • James Mace

    Dear Josiah, There are always deep consequences whenever truth is misunderstood and wrong practice incarnates into a false system. False universalization is embraced by those with socio-political agendas, e.g., pseudo-theocratic Statism, Christian Socialism, pacifism, etc., which become idolatrous distractions from God’s best. And we do not prize loving unity of denominations, etc. We abandon the huge number of suffering martyrs around the world due to wrongfully primarily instead focus on generic humanistic benevolence. We miss out on incarnating the Trinitarian image empowered to greater degree by Holy Spirit when we disobey the Dual Love Command as an integral unit. We greatly diminish the corporate witness that is to draw the world to Christ. We disempower the Church as the School of Love Formation, which is the only way to best succeed at becoming the kind of people who are able to best love those who hate God and us. There are many such negative ramifications to misdefining “neighbour” as Ben and nearly all others do, as we are not succeeding very well at all with what has become the traditional understanding. Just a few thoughts for you before I head off to bed. Goodnight! :-)

  • Blou Django

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor [Lev. 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV : )

  • James Mace

    Hello Blou–I just saw your post. It seems you think it somehow negates what I said to quote the above? If so, it would be from pure illogic in first assuming the command to love neighbours is the only love command that there is and there is no mention anywhere else about loving non-covenant members? Sorry if you’re not saying that you can’t see the difference between one love command and another, as if the only view that could possibly be true is that all humans must only be lumped together and covered under a single love command. That is what some people do in their inability to see that perhaps one love command (the Second Great Commandment) can be of a different sphere (to love fellow covenanters) than another love command.

    What I am saying, just in case you display inability to understand with your quote re enemy-love, is that there is a special command to love fellow-covenanters. Then I have said that that is different from other love commands, not that there are no other love commands (which seems to be how you misread me?). I have said I am not limiting love, which seems to be the straw man that you are countering? I am trying to get the Church to obey the Second Great Command and care more about our suffering, persecuted fellow Christians, which we do not do and thus greatly damage everything that depends on getting that right. I am trying to get today’s Priests and Levites to stop bypassing their fellow Christians lying wounded in the ditch, not to make them stop loving non-Christians.

    Having said that, it would help to examine just what persecutory Jewish “enemies” Jesus refers to (cf. Luke 6), see what fellow-Israelite enemies the OT refers to, e.g., in the Psalms, examine how Lev 19:17-18 shows how we are not to hate but instead to love our fellow-covenanting enemies, compare that with the Lev 19:18 love command, and consider along with several scholars that the Matthew 5 passage you quote is Jesus’ treatment of Lev 19:17-18 about loving fellow Israelite neighbours instead of hating them when they sin against us.