Blessings in the Beloved!
ואהבת לרעך כמוך
Love God / Love Your Neighbor
For many years, we have written our February newsletter on LOVE, mainly because it is the month in our country when LOVE receives significant attention, especially around February 14. Whatever your opinion of Valentine’s Day may be, there is something good about the holiday—its focus on love between people. Horizontal love. Our focus, at least for the past ten years, has been on vertical love—God’s love for us and our love for Him. This is “First Commandment Love,” the love referred to in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). The Shema, as a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to the One True God, and a command to love Him, is the first prayer that children are taught, and the last utterance of martyrs.
Love of God, however, is not considered the epitome of Jewish living. Even more important, as mentioned in A Code of Jewish Ethics Volume 1 by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, is the love of one’s neighbor. Why? Because the love of one’s neighbor is seen as a measure of one’s love of God. What matters most to God? According to Rabbi Akiva (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4), “Love your neighbor as yourself; this is the major principle of the Torah.” In the Jewish mind, there is an equation on each side of an equal sign. Love God = Love your neighbor.
With this perspective, many of us might not love God as much as we think we do. First of all, God is much easier to love than people. If it’s just us and Him, we do fine. God is always patient, and kind, never moody, a great listener, always ready to forgive. Secondly, most neighbors are not like God. We tend to separate the two, and usually don’t say, “Since I love You, Lord, I will love my neighbor, no matter how nasty, unpleasant, or unfriendly they may be.”
And yet, even the Brit Hadasha links love of God and love of one’s neighbor (brother). “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).
Love Your Neighbor
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” appears in the Bible for the first time in Leviticus 19:18. In Hebrew, “v’ahavta l’re’akha kamokha“ (v’a-HAHV-tah l’RAY’ah-KHA Kah-MOE-kha). The verse ends with, “Ani Adonai” (Ah-NEE Ah-doe-NYE, actually Ani יהוה). It is as if God signs His signature to the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, to give it special emphasis.
Love of one’s neighbor has both a positive and a negative aspect. We are to do to others as we would wish them to do to us. A non-Jew, who wanted to be converted to Judaism, approached the great Rabbi Hillel and asked if he could teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel, standing on one foot, responded: “What is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah! All the rest is commentary. Now, go and study” (Shabbat 31a). Rabbi Hillel was saying, the essence of Judaism is not treating others in a manner in which we do not wish to be treated. According to the Talmud, compassion is the defining characteristic of being a Jew. Love should go beyond what is easy and convenient. Irene Lipson, in The Greatest Commandment, mentions some Hebrew concepts connected with compassion. The first is Li-fenim mi-shurath ha-din (withdrawing from the line). This means that a person concedes something that is rightfully theirs in favor of someone whose need is greater. Sacrificial love. Another Hebrew concept is Gemilut Hasadim (Gehme-LOOT ha-sah-DEEM), Acts of Love. Doing something only out of a sense of duty is not Gemilut Hasadim. A good deed must be performed in a spirit of love and compassion. Examples: visiting the sick, helping the poor, providing for widows and orphans, and providing a dowry for a poor bride. As Ms. Lipson reminds us, “It is of the utmost importance to attend a funeral, accompanying the dead to the grave. This is regarded as an act of pure love because it is the only mitzvah (good deed) where the recipient can never reciprocate!”
There still remains the question of who exactly is “our neighbor.” For traditional Jews, the “stranger” definitely falls into this category. The Torah is clear on this: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34). Aside from the stranger, the term “neighbor” in Jewish tradition does not apply to all people indiscriminately. “Neighbors” are defined as people who behave decently toward society. This would exclude those who are anti-social, criminals, the cruel and dishonest. They would not be considered “neighbors.” Yeshua’s Jewish audience would, therefore, be shocked, maybe even repulsed, by a statement that He made during His famous Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…'” (Matt. 5:43-44).
Yeshua redefined the word “neighbor.” In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He stretched the borders of the Jewish comfort zone. “Neighbor” became everyone in need, not just those of one’s
community, background, or social class. A “good neighbor” was someone who showed mercy to another.
The “Royal Law”
A law is mentioned is James 2:8 that fulfills the Law given to God’s People at Mt. Sinai. It is the Law of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Torah internalized, the law of Love. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well.” The Royal Law is a law that should govern us in all our dealings with people, regardless of their status or ethnicity. All people should be regarded as “neighbors” and treated with love.
Love is the fulfilling of the law. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). “One word”: Love. Rabbi Shaul comments further on the Royal Law: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment are all summoned up in this saying, namely ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
When there is love, striving to keep all the commandments of the Law is not necessary. A husband who deeply loves his wife would not think of committing adultery. A woman who loves her neighbor would not be inclined to slander her. A man who loves his neighbor would not think of telling lies about him. This is how Love fulfills the Law.
Yeshua Raises the Bar
Yeshua confirmed the importance of the two great commandments when asked by a lawyer which commandment in the law was the greatest. “Yeshua said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'” (Matt. 22:37-40).
At His last Passover with His talmidim (tahl-me-DEEM), or disciples, Yeshua elevated the second great commandment, the command to love one’s neighbor. The Messiah gave His followers a “new commandment”: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another…” (Jn. 13:34). This commandment was “new” because the disciples were being called to a deeper, more selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love for their “neighbor.” Not just loving their neighbor as themselves, but loving as Yeshua loved, who was about to show them a love that would die for them. Yeshua Himself said it: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn. 15:12-13).
When our “neighbor” is our “brother or sister” in Yeshua, it seems clear that God’s will is for us to be willing to lay down our lives for them. The Messiah even gives the reason for this, “By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have a love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Yeshua is glorified by our relationships with one another. An awesome calling and responsibility! It brings to my mind our next door, a pre-believing Jewish neighbor, who sees a group of eight to eleven women come to our condo each Thursday morning for Bible study. She sees us hug, laugh, and enjoy God together. She sees us love one another. She agreed to join us at our first-night Hanukkah party this year and really enjoyed our company. Please pray for Sandy. Abba loves her and has a plan for her life!
The New Covenant on Brotherly Love
We see loving one another as a rosebud in the Torah, but a rose in full bloom in the New Covenant Scriptures. Through the empowerment of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, we are able to love as God loves. Yeshua is our Role Model, our Teacher, our Rabbi. He has led the way. He is the Way, and those who knew Him personally, like Rabbi Saul (Paul), teach us how to love as Yeshua did.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another…distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:9-10, 13-18).
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…” (Heb. 10:24). “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:8-10).
The Apostle John, known as the Apostle of Love, has more to say about love between believers in Messiah than anyone else in the Brit Hadasha. The Book of 1 John is filled with wisdom and instruction on loving others. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn.3:18). “…If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12). “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 Jn. 3:14). Strong words!
The Greatest Thing in the World
This is the name of one of our all-time favorite books by Henry Drummond, a renowned nineteenth-century Scottish evangelist. More a booklet than a book, Rev. Drummond paints a portrait of love, using 1 Corinthians chapter 13 as his canvas. Although we have read and studied the Love Chapter of the New Covenant many times, we never focused on the fact that it is all about LOVING ONE’S NEIGHBOR. It shows us how love behaves toward others, an action, rather than an abstract concept. 1 Corinthians 13 is “horizontal love” explained. There are nine components of love: patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, and sincerity. This love, greater even than faith and hope, is to be a gift desired above all others—a gift to be given to others.
Patience: Love is patient and longsuffering, even with difficult people. Drummond calls patience the “normal attitude of love.” Love is not in a hurry, is able to wait and not make demands on others.
Kindness: Are we kind in our dealings with others? Do we see their needs and help meet them if possible? Kindness is love in action. Do we do kind things? “What God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is large to be secured by our being kind to them.” (Drummond p. 26)
Generosity: Love refuses to be jealous when another is blessed but rejoices with them. Generosity in heart attitude thinks the best of others with a largeness of soul.
Humility: The humble person does not inflate his own importance, but considers others better than himself. He is not “puffed up,” nor does he brag about his achievements. Humility is love hiding.
Courtesy: Love has manners and shows respect for other people. It is polite, is never rude, and doesn’t push itself to the head of the line. Love, like the Holy Spirit, is a gentleman.
Unselfishness: The unselfish person thinks of others before themselves. Their heart loves to give. Love is others-centered. It does not “seek its own,” has no “rights.” Serves.
Good temper: Not overly sensitive, nor irritated, nor quick to take offense. The man or woman with a good temper is not easily provoked and is not sullen, bitter, or angry. They have a good disposition.
Guilelessness: Guileless people overlook offenses. They keep no record of wrong but focus on the good in people. A person without guile doesn’t hold resentment in his or her heart.
Sincerity: This includes honesty and integrity in dealing with others as well as a love of the truth. It excludes hypocrisy. Love rejoices in the truth but also refrains from exposing the weaknesses of others.
Loving Our Neighbor God’s Way
This is our high calling! The components of God’s kind of love, as seen in 1 Corinthians 13, are meant to become part of our character. We are to love our neighbor patiently, showing kindness and generosity. Our attitude toward others should be one of humility and courtesy. Loving as Messiah loved includes unselfishness, a gracious disposition, guilelessness, and sincerity. This is only possible if we first receive the love from God. Without Him, we can do nothing, including loving our neighbor. The love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The more of the Ruach we
have, the more love we should have!
Rev. Drummond sums it up nicely: “Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for all is how better we can love.”