“How could the apostle Paul write that?” I was once asked by a diligent young Christian.
“Write what?” I asked.
“How could Paul write that ‘the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself”’?” (Galatians 5:14 NIV)
“What about that concerns you?”
“Well, surely if Paul wanted to summarise the entire biblical Law, he would have used the summary which Jesus gave: the greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’.” (Matthew 22:37–38)
“I see. You are concerned that Paul appears to be in contradiction with what the Lord Jesus taught. But there is no contradiction.”
“There isn’t? But Jesus says clearly that the greatest commandment of all the commandments in the Bible is to love the Lord our God. And Paul says, just as clearly, that the entire Law can be summed up in the command to love your neighbour as yourself. In fact, Paul says the same thing again when writing to the Romans: ‘The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.’ (Romans 13:9 NIV) How does this not contradict what Jesus said about love for God being the greatest commandment of all the other commandments?”
“Let me try to explain. Jesus did not only say that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. In the very next verse, he went on to say that there is a second commandment that is just like the first: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:39) In other words, both commands function equally well as the best summary of all the laws in the Bible.
“Two different but equally good summaries of the same thing?”
“Yes. Or let’s try to approach this from another angle. Ask yourself: how does one obey the greatest commandment which is to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength?
“Hmm… I suppose we could say we love God with all our heart by obeying all his commands.”
“An excellent answer. And there are many, many commands in the Bible, are there not?”
“Yes, there are!”
“So if we were to try to pick one command of all the many different commands that are in God’s Word to function like a summary of all the commandments of God, which would we pick?”
“Well, Gordon, I wouldn’t want to pick and choose. I would say that all God’s commands are equally important.”
“That sounds like a reasonable answer, but it isn’t the answer that Jesus gave. Jesus was prepared to pick one commandment as being the best way of showing that we love the Lord our God with all our heart. He didn’t pick ‘Remember the sabbath day’, or ‘Pray at all times’ as the best summary of all God’s commands. Jesus picked ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.”
“So Paul is not actually in contradiction with Jesus?”
“Absolutely not. Paul is in perfect harmony with what his Lord Jesus taught. And it isn’t just Paul who understood Jesus correctly. James describes the law ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ as ‘the royal law’. It is the king of all laws! (James 2:8)”
“Thank you, Gordon. Perhaps then we could summarise what Jesus said is the greatest commandment of all in the phrase ‘love God by loving our neighbour’.”
“I like that. Yes, let’s all ‘love God by loving our neighbour’.”
|Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020.
He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012-2020.