Self and Love of Others

Loving God and loving others as yourself summarize the law and prophets. Jesus says so, a lot, or at least in three of the Gospels. So, how does loving our neighbor as ourselves correspond to laws 6 through 9 of the Ten Commandments?

“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:13-16 NASB

It may sound like it’s obvious, and perhaps it is. Think through what Jesus claims:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40 NASB

Or my favorite:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 NASB

The first three, possibly four, laws of the ten are about our devotion to our Creator and Savior. The rest are about how we treat others, “No murder, adultery, stealing, or lying in court.” So, how are these four laws summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself”? C.S. Lewis has a great examination of this summarized law of loving your neighbor. In Mere Christianity, he examines what he calls, “do as I would be done by”, or the Golden Rule of “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s derived from this law to love your neighbor as yourself.

I don’t want to plow his field again, he got it spot on. Instead, I want to bring out something he points out that I found very illuminating. He said:

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not always enjoy my own society. So apparently “Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I’m afraid I sometimes do (and these are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. It is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, pg 90, Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952 .

So, love of others isn’t predicated on particularly liking ourselves. Lewis goes on to point out that we care for ourselves even though we don’t like ourselves. And, in much the same way, we are supposed to love others regardless of whether we like them or not. We are to love them even if they are very nasty sorts of people, just as we are, occasionally. Yet, where’s the point of connection with these four laws?

“Don’t murder” might be the easiest one since we’re more likely to preserve our lives than to destroy ourselves. And, even in the case of suicide, there is often a selfish element (though, not always, and that is not a simple issue). But it is safe to say we are generally more likely to preserve our lives than destroy ourselves. So, the command not to murder fits, in fact, a case could be made that we are to save lives, moving from a prohibition to an encouragement.

“Don’t steal” may be more difficult to see in relation to how we treat or love ourselves. We don’t typically “steal” from ourselves. On the other hand, we tend to consider our “stuff” to be worth protecting, sort of like our lives. In fact, we tend to tie our “stuff” very closely to our “lives” (which is not a wonderful approach). In this way, caring for the stuff of others includes stealing it, but it also means carrying for anything of theirs in our possession.

“Don’t be an adulterer” actually fits well with “stealing”, just stealing another person’s spouse. On the other hand, adultery is often tied to selfishness. Desires are met without regard for the effects this will have on others. For many people, desires rule their actions, making whatever they want to do more valuable than relationships. But, if we seek the desires of others over ourselves, or consider the desires of others as we decide our own actions, then selfishness is less likely to drive us. We love as we love ourselves when we attempt to fulfill the desires of our spouse as we want to fulfill our own desires.

Finally, “Don’t lie in court” seeks honesty in legal dealings, perhaps in the city gate, but can also be business transactions. The idea here is that we, in such situations, would seek our best interests. So, in such situations, we should love others (i.e. treat others) as we desire to be treated, connecting this law very clearly to the Golden Rule. Which is true for all four of these laws. We love others as we love ourselves when we treat others as we would be treated. We want to be treated honestly when we deal with other in professional or legal settings? Then we should treat others honestly in professional and legal settings.

It really isn’t rocket surgery to figure out the connection between these four laws and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the application of it to our daily lives that we struggle with. It’s not always easy to think of others as more important to us than we are to ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It sounds easy, or simple, but the practice is so counter to our culture, our desires, and our natural selfishness that we often don’t even see what we’re missing. What is something you can do today that will break you out of your own selfishness? I’m going to do dishes, I think, maybe laundry? I don’t know, but something my spouse typically does.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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