I have to admit that I stumbled upon this idea by accident.
At Kawartha Community Church we have always written messages in teams. We have found that many heads are better than one when studying and formulating messages around Scripture.
We were working on a series about Jesus’ final words to his closest followers right before his crucifixion. We had divided up the topics for study and presentation. One of us did the idea of the vine as taught by Jesus. Another focused on the role of the Holy Spirit as projected by Jesus. My topic (by default – I normally let others choose) was Jesus’ command for his followers to love one another. I guess initially my co-writers thought that concept was boring or too vanilla for their tastes.
So, I began to study.
A couple of things started to jump out at me when I read the passages. First, I have to give you a little background.
God gave the Jewish people the law through Moses in the wilderness. During my study, one passage that rose to the surface was what the Jewish people call the Shema. It’s taken from the book of Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 New Living Translation (NLT)
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a]5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
6:4 Or The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
The Jewish people zeroed on this passage with relish. It is the passage recited first thing in the morning by every practicing Jew.
The Jewish scholars also zeroed in on a secondary passage from the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament in the Bible).
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
This second passage is interesting because the second emphasis is found buried in a list of laws as almost an afterthought. But Jewish scholars quickly picked up on this passage as worthy of special focus.
Their theory was that things have a summation. They arrived with the conviction that everything taught in the Torah could be boiled down to the two passages underlined above. Those passages were a microcosm of everything else in those vast writings.
Jesus affirmed this view. In three of the Gospels, Jesus has a discussion with a teacher of the law about what was the greatest commandment. Apparently there was some debate about different commands and someone had challenged the focus that had developed around the two statements above. But Jesus agreed with the view traditionally held by Jewish scholars
So…that’s all well and good. Bring things forward two thousand years and there has been a type of fad in the modern church to hook into this idea. I think it’s primarily to offer a type of simple understanding of faith that people can adapt to in encouraging an attempt to change behavior. Don’t know what to do in an ethical dilemma? How can you act in a way that honours these two commandments? It’s kind of a short cut to figuring out how to behave.
It’s been my observation that this minimal focus has brought about mixed results. It’s an attractive way to sum up faith, but it discourages the process of wrestling through scripture and prayer to figure out how to make life work. At least this is true in the modern church. The Jewish faith has always been able to use both means effectively.
Now coming back to my study on the later passages of the Gospel of John. Our church at that point had picked up on the two greatest commandments above and were orienting our thoughts around this idea.
But something jumped out at me from this passage. Listen to Jesus’ words:
A new commandment I give you… love one another.
My first observation. What about this command was new?
Secondly, how did it differ from the other two? Shouldn’t it have been covered under the “love your neighbour” command?
These things keep me up at night…
A couple of observations about this third love commanded by Jesus:
- It’s the only command that I know of that is distinctly plural. It simply cannot be observed by an individual. It takes two or more to fulfill it, unlike the other two commandments.
- It is something that is for Christians.
- It is extremely powerful. The things Jesus attributes to the effectiveness of observing this command come at great cost and with great reward.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
There are some pretty significant promises, declarations and predictions in these two passages.
What do you think?