Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
There is a broad misconception in the Church that the Old Testament is a book of difficult, mean, and even hateful laws, and that Jesus had to come and straighten everything out. This misunderstanding has at times wreaked havoc in the Church. For instance, in the second century there was a man named Marcion who taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the God and Father of our Lord and Savior in the New Testament. He was some mean god who never should have created the messed-up world in which we live in the first place. And although I am unaware of anyone having quite such bizarre beliefs today, I do encounter language that people use sometimes that would lead one to believe that the Bible speaks of two different gods, or that God underwent some radical change in His own nature. The constant refrain we read in this chapter of “I am the LORD” should guard us against such views, reminding us that our God is eternal in the heavens, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8).
Here, in Leviticus 19, we see God’s concern for justice in all of our relationships that has always characterized our God’s holy and perfect will. Concern for the poor is illustrated in the command not to glean one’s own fields or gather fallen grapes from one’s own vines. Concern for the infirm or outcast is commanded in the way the people were to treat the blind and deaf, the sojourner and alien. One was not to oppress his neighbor nor hate him in his heart. They were not to pervert justice but judge fairly. Indeed, the whole sum of it all is expressed in verse eighteen: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So many think that Jesus came up with that. Well, he did … as the Word who was with God and was God from all eternity (John 1:1-4). I won’t say that his ministry didn’t further elucidate the Law and these commandments; it certainly did. As John says, the commandment is both old and new at the same time; old in that it was from the beginning, and new in that it is now understood through the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus (1 John 2:7-8). The difference is that Jesus didn’t just say it, he lived it. And now through faith in him and rebirth through the Holy Spirit whom he gives to us, we can live it, too. No, not like he did. But now with the new nature he has given us, let us love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. In short, let us walk in newness of life (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 6:4).