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The Second

Ryan Joy


March 3, 2024

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“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).

“YOLO!” “Live, laugh, love.” “Live your truth.” We love to summarize life down to a slogan. Retailers from Hot Topic to Hobby Lobby seem more than happy to provide wisdom to put on your t-shirt or kitchen wall. One modern favorite is the simple adage: “Love yourself.” This week, a sister sent me a picture of an apron silk-screened with those two words. Except this week, as she reflected on Mark 12:30-31, she got a marker and added three words: [Love] “your neighbor as” [yourself]. Jesus gives us two sentences to guide our lives, boiling all of the law into the two Greatest Commandments. Like a North Star, they keep us always pointed in the right direction as we navigate our way home. In the last lesson, we dove into the original context of the Greatest Commandment — to “love the Lord” with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:4-9). We found that it’s part of the daily Jewish prayer, the Shema. In today’s lesson, we’ll dig into the original context of the Second Great Commandment (Lev. 19:9-18) — the statement Jesus combined with the Shema as “like it” saying “on these two depend all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:39-40).

The Commandment Before the Second

Jesus cited a verse in Leviticus as the “second” important rule of life. It’s the last sentence in a passage with five paragraphs (Lev. 19:9-18) that showed Israelites how to treat neighbors. Each ends with God declaring the reason to obey: “I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:10,12,14,16,18). God wanted his covenant community to (1) provide for each other (Lev. 19:9-10), (2) treat each other honestly (Lev. 19:11-12), (3) protect the vulnerable (Lev. 19:13-14), (4) treat everyone — poor or rich — fairly (Lev. 19:15-16), and (5) work out problems with frankness and love rather than hate, grudges, and revenge (Lev. 19:17-18).

“When “love yourself” is our motto, as well-meaning as it may sound, it can lead us to think continually about ourselves in self-interested, self-absorbed, selfishness.”

The Second Great Commandment

The commandment answers three basic questions:

1. What should I do?Love.” We learn what that means from God: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another … if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 3:10-12).

2. Who should I love?Your neighbor.” One clever lawyer rightly identified the two most important commandments but got stuck on the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. Telling of a despised enemy’s kindness, he refocused the lawyer’s attention from who he needs to love to who “proved to be a neighbor*” (Luke 10:29-36).

3. How should I love them?As yourself.” How do you love yourself? We have an innate desire to feed, protect, and care for ourselves. We naturally pursue our own interests. That’s normal, but Paul adds to it, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). When “love yourself” is our motto, as well-meaning as it may sound, it can lead us to think continually about ourselves in self-interested, self-absorbed, selfishness. We stay stuck in the first verse of the old hymn: “all of self and none of Thee” (and not much of anyone else either). Christ prioritized our interests and emptied himself. “Love yourself” isn’t the command, but “as yourself” IS the basis of our love for our neighbor. Jesus has no problem with us loving our own lives. Still, he offers a strange path to blessing: “he who loves his life loses it” (John 12:25). True wellness and blessing look different than we tend to expect. It involves self-denial. It goes from self-service to service, discovering the gift of giving. We need to understand and seek what is good for ourselves so that we can seek it for others rightly. We seek joy and peace more than pleasure and ease for ourselves and others. We want everyone to have real healing, well-being, and wholeness in every aspect of their life, especially in their soul.

“Why do we treat our neighbor as ourselves? Because he is the Lord, and his command is enough.”

The Statement After the Second

At the end of the sentence, God declares who he is with thunderous authority: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). He ends the Second Great Commandment like he started the Greatest Commandment: pointing to “the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:4-5). Why do we treat our neighbor as ourselves? Because he is the Lord, and his command is enough. He is our Lord, and we, his people, must “be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). We take our view of people from his view of people. He made humans to bear his image (Gen. 9:6), therefore all human lives have worth, potential, and a holy purpose.

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