By Roland W. Keith
When a Pharisaic lawyer asked the Lord about the great commandment Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40; 19:19: Mark 12:29-31). Many years later the Lord’s brother, James, dubbed the second of these commandments the “royal law,” writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well” (James 2:8). Think about it. A royal law is one handed down directly from the king, and so long as he does not change his mind the law cannot be altered. Now consider that God is the eternal King of kings. The Bible tells us that He does not change His mind or fail to keep His promises or turn from what He has purposed (James 1:17; I Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 13:8; Numbers 23:19; Proverbs 19:21; Matthew 5:18). According to scripture all of God’s commands and all His promises are based on these two foundational commandments. And since He is a King Who does not change, His will in all matters is immutable.
We are, and forever will be, subject to these two commandments and all others based on them. So important are these two commands that when a lawyer tested Jesus with the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25), Jesus responded, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). If we truly understand both commands from God, they will lead us to eternal life. The first command will lead us to seek the truth of God’s word and obey it and the second will ensure that we live up to our responsibilities to our fellow man in sharing the truth and living amongst each other as God intended.
Concerning the royal law, we find that it existed long before Jesus’s or James’s statements. God told the Israelites not to take vengeance or bear a grudge against one another, and to love the stranger among them as themselves (Leviticus 19:18, 34). Jesus would later add that we are to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-45). Paul taught that we should love and serve one another, rather than seeking to destroy the other (Galatians 5:13-15). The first command dictates our relationship to God. The royal law determines how we come together with our fellow man to our own betterment and survival, by learning to love our neighbor (everyman). The love spoken of in the law is known in Christian circles as agape, and according to John Stacy (Messianic Psalms and Other Sermons, p. 36), “Agapao (shalt love) means "to love the unlovable, the unlovely, those who cannot merit nor deserve our love. It is unconquerable benevolence. It also means to act intensely, to eagerly cling to, and to affectionately admire."
Clearly, agape does not resemble what most of the world is thinking when it speaks of love. Although concern for our fellow man is not a foreign idea among the world it is not consistently adhered to, nor does it encompass all that the Lord’s definition would require. We are to look beyond the shortcomings of the world or individuals (find something to value in all we encounter) and give aid where and when we can, with an eye toward their eternal needs first and their worldly needs or desires secondly. This means that agape may often be a soft and gentle hand, while at other times it may come in the form of “tough love.” We must also understand what the world can produce if we do not step forward to exercise agape. All we have to do is look at history to see where agape was lacking or missing entirely: In the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, the killing fields of Cambodia, the human sacrifices of various religions throughout the ages, a society that claims concern for the world but produces more and more disenfranchised youth and citizens who place little or no value on human life and turn to mass violence to vent their helplessness, frustration and rage.
According to Jesus our neighbors are not only those we know and care about but also include the stranger in need (Galatians 6:10) One of the Lord’s best known lessons was a story Jesus told the lawyer mentioned above that dealt with this very subject: “Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37). Whether we live next door or across the world; whether we are trusted countrymen or despised adversaries, the Lord is telling us our true neighbors are those who are our friends and those we count not only as our enemies but our persecutors as well (Matthew 5:43-44). For many of us the idea of counting those who do us harm or even seek our death may seem like a bridge too far. However, we must remember that even while we were in rebellion against God, He sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). Requiring us to care for our fellow man is not beyond our means if we truly love the Lord. Confucius once said, “Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do unto you.” A rather passive but effective means of “do no harm.” Jesus on the other hand went beyond that, requiring His followers to take action. It is not good enough to simply do no harm, we must actively seek to benefit others on top of that, as Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Our Lord also once instructed, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
Our ultimate goal is to treat all men as God treats us. It certainly means to cause no form of injury— do not murder, steal, or bear false witness among other things (Deuteronomy 5:16-21; Romans 13:8-9). As Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). But again, it means more than simply to do no harm. We must look to others welfare; to build them up and do them good (Romans 15:2). We must be honest in our dealings with those we encounter in life (Ephesians 4:25). And, while we should naturally do good to those who are members of God’s household, we cannot neglect to help anyone else when the opportunity presents itself (II Corinthians 3:2). When we do God’s work in the world it allows His light to shine through us to His glory (Matthew 16:15-16). That being said there is no greater thing we can do among friends and strangers than to fulfill Gods command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
John informed his readers that the one who does not have a love for others abides in death (I John 3:14). When we love our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the lost of the world, we emulate Christ. As John also wrote, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). For those who struggle with their willingness to help others ask yourself this question: Can we fulfill the great commandment without fulfilling the royal law? Can we truly obey God without honoring both of these laws? As Jesus said, all the law and prophets, that is all the blessings and promises of the LORD depend on these two commandments, including the promise of eternal life.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.