Love and Fulfilling the Law

 

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 22:34-46

October 4, 2015

Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

 

In the name of + Jesus.

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The Internal Revenue Code that regulates federal taxes has nearly 10,000 sections dealing with every aspect of the tax laws of our country. This keeps the tax accountant industry alive and well because we mere mortals do not have the time to read 10,000 laws, much less understand and apply them. In a similar way, the Pharisees were kept in business because they had a complex system of laws (though perhaps not on the level of 10,000 sections). Jewish Rabbinical teaching recognizes 613 distinct commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), although oral teaching and commentary on these laws would significantly increase this number. The laws regulated not only moral behavior, but also Jewish ceremony and worship and civil matters.

So when a certain lawyer of the Pharisees poses the question to Jesus: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? (v 36), Jesus has a lot to choose from. But rather than choose just one, He chooses them all by summarizing the commandments. You shall love the Lord, your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole, and with your whole mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and also the Prophets (vv 37-40).

The Law of love is the spirit of the Law. Every other commandment comes from these two. The Ten Commandments are simply commentary on these two commandments: the first table deals with love for God; the second table deals with love for neighbor. The Law of God is beautiful in its simplicity—there’s no extended regulatory handbooks that deal with every single situation a Christian might find himself in. Love God; love your neighbor.

The Apostles pick up on this as well St. Paul writes to the Romans, Owe nothing to no one, except to love one another, for loving another fulfills the Law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and any other commandment are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love works no ill to neighbor, therefore love fulfills the Law (Rom 13:8-10).

So if you love, then you’ve kept the Law. The only problem is that love cannot be regulated by the Law. The Law can govern the body and the outward behavior, but it cannot create love in the heart. It’s clear from His answer to the lawyer that Jesus expects not only outward obedience, but also inward love when it comes to the Law.

In the great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul exposes what exemplary outward obedience amounts to without love. And now I’ll show you the best way of all. If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don’t have any love, I’ve become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God’s Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don’t have any love, I’m nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don’t have any love, it doesn’t help me.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t brag or get conceited. It isn’t indecent. It isn’t selfish. It doesn’t get angry. It doesn’t plan to hurt anyone. It doesn’t delight in evil but is happy with the truth. It bears everything, believes everything, hopes for everything, endures everything. Love never dies. If there are prophecies, they will come to an end; or other languages, they will stop; or knowledge, it will vanish. We learn only a part of anything and prophesy only a part. But when that which is perfect comes, what is only a part will vanish. When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think like a child, plan like a child. Now that I’m a man, I’ve given up the ways of a child. Now we see a blurred image in a mirror, but then we’ll see face to face. Now I learn only a part of anything, but then I’ll know as He has known me. And now these three, faith, hope, and love, go on, but the most important of these is love (1 Cor 13 AAT).

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Jesus then has some of His own commentary on the Law of love. He follows up with His own question. While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus put a question to them, saying, “What do you think concerning the Christ? Whose Son is He?” This question is an absolutely necessary question to get right in order to get the Law right. If the Law is left all alone, then it has no power to fulfill its own demands.

This is where Christ steps in. He is the one who explains the Law in its spiritual dimension. You have heard it said to those of old, “You shall not murder,” and, “Whoever murders is liable to judgment.” But I say to you that all who are angry with their brother will be liable to judgment, and all who say to their brother, “You fool,” will be liable to the Sanhedrin, and all who say, “Moron!” will be liable to the Gehenna of fire (Mt 5:21-22). Jesus says that the Law governs both the body and the heart and that even if you keep outward obedience, you have still not fulfilled the Law’s demands.

But then this promise is added: Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to destroy them, but to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). Love is the fulfilment of the Law because Christ fulfills the Law by His love. All of the Law and the prophets hangs on love because Christ is the One who hung upon the cross.

The Law always accuses when it points back to us like a mirror. But the Law also points us to Christ. The Law shows us that Christ is the One who fills it full, who keeps the outward obedience of the letter, but also the inward obedience of the heart. His perfect love for God and for His neighbor drove Him to the cross to be the Sacrifice for sinners.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down His life for His friends. You are My friends, Jesus says, when you do what I command (Jn 15:13-14). The love of Jesus, and not our love nor our works, drove Jesus to the cross do die on our behalf. Only faith in His sacrifice and the forgiveness He thereby won for us can make us right before God. But that righteousness also bears fruit. The love of Christ creates love in our hearts.

We love because He first loved us, writes St. John (1 Jn 4:19). The love of Christ fulfills the Law, reconciles us with God, and creates new movements in our hearts—a new love for God and for our neighbors.

Jesus says how this happens when the Pharisees answer His question as to whose Son the Christ is. The said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David, in the Spirit, call Him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet’” (vv 43-44). David did the good work of prophecy in the Spirit. The Spirit is the gift of Christ’s love who bears the fruit of love in the hearts of those who believe. Without the Spirit of love, the Holy Spirit, even the most exemplary Christian works are hollow and empty. But the Spirit fulfills your works by filling them with the love of Christ, the crucified.

The Law Is Fulfilled in Christ

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

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