Jesus' Favorite Verse?
By Rick Howard
Text: Leviticus 19:33, 34
'And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. (34) 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.”
Text: Matthew 22:34-40
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. (35) Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, (36) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (37) Jesus said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
If you had to guess, which verse of the Old Testament do you think was one of Jesus’ favorites based on the number of times He referenced it?
Well, if you thought of the passage where it says to “…love your neighbor as you love yourself,” you would be absolutely correct!
How many of you would have guessed it to be this one? Here in our text we see one of those times when Jesus referenced this Old Testament command found in Leviticus 19:18.
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Self-love vs. Brotherly Love
The Bible knows us so well, that loving self is a given and if we would love others as we already love self, dramatic changes in society and churches would take place. Self-love is never a command in the Bible or shown to be a need in our life – we have plenty of self-love and it is the failure to show some of that love to others that causes so much wrong in life.
In context, this command is primarily toward fellow Israelites – vss. 11-18 where neighbor = one another vs.11; among your people vs.16, your brother vs.17; children of your people vs.18.
But, because human nature perverts truth, the Jews took it then as a permission to treat non-Jews (strangers) badly – that doing good and loving your neighbor applies only to fellow saints, not to strangers (enemy of Matthew 5:43).
Jesus elevates this command to just under the greatest command of all: Matthew 22:34-40. Loving God covers the first 3 of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17);
Loving others covers the last 6 commandments. Then command # 4 – the Sabbath – is the transition from God to others because it involves both.
All 10 commandments are summarized in these two.
In practice, we make love for ourselves number 1 -- and that is where the problem lies. Yet, the Bible’s exaltation of the supremacy of Christ (Psalm 110:1) and the command to love one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) are the two most commonly quoted or referenced Old Testament verses in the New Testament -- and involve the two greatest commandments! Is this a mere accident or is it a deliberate emphasis?
The number one first and foremost commandment is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 –
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (6) "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.”
The Law shall be in your Heart
Bear in mind (as Deuteronomy 6:4 so states) that the Law was not just intended to be external, but in the heart – which is what Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount.
Likewise, in Deuteronomy 30:6 is seen the “life principle” they turned into death.
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
Deuteronomy’s rehearsal, i.e., the second giving of the Mosaic Law, (repeated 38 years after the original introduction as seen in the book of Exodus), emphasizes this “heart” element more clearly – although it was removed in practice, which was especially shown in Pharisee-ism.
Jesus hit this “heart” principle hard in His Sermon on the Mount and gives the deeper, truer meaning of the Law -- including the second greatest commandment of loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 5:43) --
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' “
Have you noticed these two statements are never used together in the Old Testament? The Jews combined them to prove good only to fellow Jews.
In fact, “hate your enemies” is never commanded to them (about the closest to that idea would be Deuteronomy 23:1-6). There it was dealing with those who had been forbidden from entering into the congregation of the Lord, due to their evil toward Israel on their journey and of God’s command to wipe out the Cannanites. The Jews had built this up into “a law of hatred” toward others in general – clearly an invented law!
What Might have Been...
Deuteronomy 5:44-48 is just an enlarged version of what was already in their Law as issued by God (same chapter as our text in Leviticus 19:33,34).
If they had followed this commandment to love their neighbor / stranger, how many converts from other nations do you suppose could have been the result? There undoubtedly may have been many Rahab’s and Ruth’s!
The events taking place as noted in Esther 8:17 could have been a regular occurrence while operating as a “light to the Gentiles” in proclaiming to them the “glory of God” (Psalm 96:2, 3,10).
They were to show kindness to the “strangers” (non-Jews) who lived among them (Leviticus 19:9,10).
Indeed, when one examines Deuteronomy 10:19, the underlying principle of our own “Great Commission” is seen! We were once lost were we not? (Ephesians 2:1-3), and now want others to be saved!
The Rich Young Man
In Matthew’s gospel is recorded an incident where the import of this command is seen in full force. A rich young man approached Jesus, asking Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, seizing the opportunity to lay emphasis upon the command to love one’s neighbor, listed the commandments of Moses (in particular, numbers five through nine), however, omitting the tenth commandment to not covet (Matthew 19:16-22). Was this man guilty of this?
Jesus put the full force of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, and of giving to the poor and stranger (Leviticus 19:10). Jesus showed His own example of obeying this commandment for He gave all for us (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Some might wonder if loving one’s neighbor included likewise loving those of other nations. Jesus answered that question when He equated “neighbor” and “stranger” (Luke 10:27-37). The truth in this story is key to a church’s demonstration of loving one’s neighbors in their efforts to reaching out to others with the gospel.
The Lord’s churches can be as guilty as Israel when it comes to reserving their love for just their family and fellow church members (Galatians 5:13-15). Certainly it is natural to help family and church most -- but we are not to restrict love to just them (Galatians 6:10).
For further reading, review these two passages which give strong emphasis on the practice of these very principles under discussion (Romans 13:8-10 ; James 2:8-13)
I am thankful Christ loved me when I was a stranger and poor.
I am glad “God so loved the [whole] world” and not merely only a few!