God Loves Neighbor as Self
“The most important (commandment) is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
– Mark 12:29-31
What a gift these verses are to us! Praise the Lord for moving a Jewish scribe to ask Jesus this question. Because of that man’s inquiry, we have the written account of God-in-the-flesh answering the question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Wonderful.
And what is Christ’s answer? I think we can break it down into three elements, the “root,” the “shoot,” and the “fruit.” Let’s look at each in order.
Jesus begins His answer by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel…” What is the most important commandment? It begins with hearing – and thus knowing – who God is. This is the base, the foundation, the root of the entire Love Command that is to follow.
We cannot love what we do not know. We need to know YHWH (and the “Lord” here is, of course, YHWH in the Hebrew text), know His character, know His ways, know Him if we are to love Him. The root of the Great Commandment is knowledge of YHWH, the one true and personal God. Someone who loves their “god” with all they are and seeks to love their neighbor as themselves is NOT fulfilling this commandment if the god they love is not the YHWH of scripture. Integral to the Love Command is knowledge of the one loved. YHWH is not calling us to utter devotion to some generic deity, He is calling us to utter devotion to HIMSELF. Apart from knowing YHWH the one true God, this command cannot be obeyed.
And, it must be said, that – post incarnation – we cannot know YHWH without recognizing Jesus Christ as God incarnate who declares God to us. If we do not know YHWH in the flesh, we do not know YHWH at all. Period. Apart from the confession of Christ as the Image and Exegesis of the invisible God, there can be no true and saving knowledge of YHWH God (John 5:23, 8:42, 55, 14:6-7, 1 John 2:23). So, now that Jesus has come, the “Shema” – the Great Commandment, the heart and fulfillment of the Law, Love – cannot be obeyed apart from recognizing the crucified and risen Christ as the definitive and climactic declaration of YHWH to creation. Since the birth of Christ and into the endless ages of eternity, to know YHWH is to know Him in God the Son, the man Christ Jesus.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all….” This is the shoot that grows from the root of knowing God. To truly know God IS to love Him. The two go hand in hand, like a fire and light, water and wetness, if YHWH has been known (and known in Christ) then He WILL BE loved.
And what is love in this sense? What does it mean to love the Lord with our entire being? I think Jonathan Edwards helps us by defining love as “consent.” Our being consents to – inclines to, agrees with, conforms to, aligns with, is pleased by – the being of God. Whole being-ed consent to God’s being is what it means for a human to love God. This is the shoot that – by grace – grows from the root of knowing God in Christ (notice the Trinitarian formula here, our knowledge of God leads to our love for God. And what is Edwards’ concept of the Trinity except God’s knowledge of Himself in His Son giving rise to His mutual love in the Spirit? Very interesting….perhaps it can be explored more in another post).
It should be noted that consent/love, considered in this way, must produce a conformity to the beloved. If love of God is our whole being going out in consent to Him, it is impossible that we would not also be conformed to Him. (If we love Him, we will obey Him, John 14:15)…..and that leads to the Fruit.
“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the fruit that grows from the shoot of love for God which, in turn, grows from the root of knowing God (and all this by sovereign grace). Love of neighbor as self is simply the outward expression of the inward conformity to our Beloved. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Christian is to be marked by love because he knows the One who is Love, and He knows the One who is Love chiefly through the act of Love on the cross. He has been loved by Love Himself, and if he claims to know Him who is Love, he ought to be – He will be – altered by it.
The Great Commandment Manifest at the Cross
In conclusion, consider with me how this entire “Great Commandment” was embodied in Christ on the cross:
Knowledge of God – On the cross, Jesus makes the one true God known (John 8:28, 17:26). In His death He is declaring to us the Name and Nature of YHWH. We cannot now know God apart from the cross. If we are to know YHWH – consider the glory here – if we are to know YHWH, we must know Him in the crucified and risen Christ. THE CROSS is unavoidable and inescapable, it MUST be at the very heart of our conception of God for all of eternity. God has ordained that He cannot be truly known unless we know Him as crucified and risen. Even as age of joy swallows age of joy in the New Heavens and Earth, we will never look on our God without also looking on His scars – He ordains that He be known most intimately only in Christ and only through His dying and rising. We know who YHWH is not primarily at Sinai, but at Calvary.
Love God With All – On the cross, Jesus loves God with all. John 14:31 makes it clear that Christ’s heart at the cross was to love His Father, and what greater expression of love can be given than for the whole of one’s life to be breathed out in love? The cross is the supreme display of whole-being-ed love for God. Therefore the greatest expression of love for God that ever took place was carried out by God Himself. If we would know what it looks like to love God with all, we are to look at God the Son who obeys the Father unto death, so that the world would know that He loves Him (again, John 14:31).
Love Neighbor As Self – On the cross, Jesus loves His neighbor as Himself. Not only is the cross the Son’s love for the Father, but it is also God’s love for us. In Christ, God becomes our neighbor and we become His. Stunning.
Who would be the one to fulfill the command to love neighbor as self? YHWH! YHWH would dwell in our midst in a tent of flesh so that He might be our neighbor and love us as Himself. And here is the glorious thing: GOD becomes our neighbor, and for God to love neighbor as self means that GOD is going to love His neighbors – His enemies – with the same love with which He loves Himself (Scripture tells us as much: John 15:9, 17:23). And how does God love Himself? At the least we can say He loves Himself fully, infinitely, unreservedly.
God loves God with all that God is, so, once He has become flesh, how does God love His neighbor as Himself? How does He love humans with His own infinite love? He POURS HIMSELF OUT, He GIVES HIMSELF, He breathes His entire self out to them in love – and what does this look like for a creature? Death. It looks like death. The Cross is the inter-trinitarian love of God for God “aimed outward.” It is God loving humanity as God loves Himself, which is with everything He is.
Glory….stunning and rapturous glory. God loves His neighbors as He loves Himself…God has loved humans as He has loved Himself. The cross is so infinitely staggering because at the cross HUMANS are made the object of DIVINE love….at the cross the river of God’s own delight is poured out over the human race….at the cross the kiss of love that is shared only within the Trinity of God is bestowed on the creaturly head of His rebellious Bride…at the cross God spreads the Trinitarian banquet of His love, a table at which ONLY Father and Son by the Spirit have every feasted….and now He invites His enemies to come and eat and live…wonderful beyond imagination.
And so, Jesus Christ – at the cross – embodies the Great Commandment. Oh, if we have seen the glory of God in Christ, if we have been thrilled and satisfied and saved by the love of God in His Son, then may we be conformed to the same image.