In the gospels (Matthew 22:34f; Mark 12:28f; and Luke 10:25f) we have the story of the lawyer who, on hearing how well the Lord had answered the Pharisees, asked Him a very important question to which the Lord gave an answer that is fundamental to these One Another injunctions. The lawyer asked which was the foremost (greatest) commandment of all in the Law. The Lord’s answer—the foremost commandment is to love God with all your heart. But He didn’t stop there. Loving God, which includes knowing God intimately and having faith in Him, naturally leads to a second commandment—loving others as we do ourselves.
In Part One it was mentioned that in these two great commandments we have the principles of Summary and Substance. These two summarize the Bible and give us the basic substance of the Word of God and of what fellowship with God produces. Love for God and one another is the very essence, heart, and substance of the rest of Scripture. These two commands sum up the heart and goal of the rest of God’s commands in the Word. In other words the rest of Scripture gives us God’s commentary on loving God and loving one another. In doing this Scripture provides us with the means, manner, motive and method.
The other commands and principles of Scripture are never the end or goal in themselves, but find their meaning and purpose in these two things—love for God and love for men who are made in the image of God. As the Apostle wrote, “the goal (the end in view) of our instruction (apostolic or biblical instruction) is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Thirteen times in the New Testament we find the injunction, “love one another.” These injunctions to love one another give us the substance and summary of our responsibility to others while the other One Another commands tell us how. They form God’s commentary on what it means to love one another.
These One Another commands come in two varieties: (a) There are the negative commands—what we are not to do, and (b) the positive commands—what we are to do.
The negative commands are basically canceled out by obedience to the positive commands. This reminds us of a very important concept in Scripture, the principle of exchange: of putting off by putting on. Breaking old patterns comes through experiencing the new life of Christ by faith.
Through the filling of the Spirit, fellowship with the indwelling Christ, and knowing and applying the Word, we are able to put on the Lord Jesus and as such, stop making provision for the flesh. Note the following passage:
Ephesians 4:21-32 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
In the negative commands we find hindrances to loving one another and hindrances to fellowship. These negative injunctions stress and point to what we naturally tend to do without the exchanged life of Christ, without the life-changing power of the Lord, the ministry of the Spirit, and daily renewal in the Word.
For the purpose of this study, only five negative commands will be listed, but note how they are nullified by the positive injunctions of the New Testament. The sixth command is foundational and we will deal with it in more detail.
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Rom 14:13).
“Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7)
“But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).
“Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26).
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it” (James 4:11).
“Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9).
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44).
While this command was addressed to the unbelieving religious leaders in Israel, there is a principle here that obviously applies to us all, and is tremendously important to the entire process of our ability to love one another.
In John 5:37-40 these Jews were studious and knew the Old Testament Scriptures, but they had missed the purpose of Scripture and had become self-righteous and proud of their knowledge. Failing to see their sinfulness they were self-confident externalists who sought acceptance with God and the praise of men by their legalistic obedience to the Law. They failed to see their need of the cross and a suffering Savior.
Because they failed to see their sinfulness and weakness, they saw no need for faith in Christ. There was also no genuine love for God in them because of their pride and self-love (John 5:42). What they did religiously, they did for their own glory and admiration from men as chapters 6 and 23 of Matthew make perfectly clear.
John 5:44 points us to the heart of the problem. John writes: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”
They were seeking glory from men or from one another. Without awareness and recognition of our sinfulness and need, without faith in God’s Son and the cross, without truly resting in who we are in Christ and His acceptance of us, we are left to justify ourselves and find our sense of security and significance from people. When we seek glory from one another, we are unable to love one another in the biblical sense according to the character of the Word. Rather, we become engrossed with such things as
Performance: How do I do?
Appearance: How do I look?
Status: How important am I?
The religious leaders did not approve of Christ’s act of love when he healed the sick man on the Sabbath. Rather, they were infuriated because Christ had broken the Sabbath. They failed to see that the Sabbath according to God’s purpose as a blessing for man (Mark 2:27). Their self-righteousness had blinded them to the ultimate goal of Scripture—love for God and love for man.
In John 5:44 the Lord said, “How can you believe, when … ?” In other words, how can you put your faith in God, how can you learn to rest in Him and what He has to offer you? You have put your trust in the wrong place and you are seeking your happiness in the wrong way. Christ shows us that what they were doing was keeping them from trusting in Him and what He had to offer them.
Seeking glory from one another hinders our capacity to trust in God’s acceptance and evaluation of our lives. Such a trust causes us to seek from men what only God can give us. Seeking glory from men means we are seeking our security and sense of significance from their praise, applause, and approval, rather than resting by faith in God’s estimation and the promises of His Word. Ultimately, the glory that is from God is found only in Jesus Christ, and it is through Christ that men find security and significance. Not only must we come to Christ for God’s righteousness, but we must learn to rest in God’s acceptance and evaluation of who we are in His Beloved, the Lord Jesus.
In Christ our sins are removed and we find complete acceptance. We become accepted in the Beloved (cf. Eph. 1:6, KJV).
In Him we become the children of the living God. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:2).
In Him we find meaning and purpose which means significance. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Following are two charts to illustrate the importance of our focus:
Chart 1: Disorientation to Grace
Chart 2: Grace Oriented
It seems evident from the two great commandments of Mark 12:28-33 and the many commands to love one another that love is one of the clear marks of maturity. A mature man or woman will be one who loves. But if love is the evidence of maturity, what is its essence? Is the mature person just a programmed individual who obeys a host of injunctions to love others, whose life consists of certain kinds of activities that he chooses to do? Certainly, people must choose to act against natural unloving inclinations and feelings on behalf of others. If something deeper does not occur, however, his love will lack reality and it will fail.
Why do we so often fail to love? Because, like the Pharisees, when we are seeking glory from men we are looking to get from people what only the Lord can give. Because we live in a very imperfect world, we often do not get what we want and, to get our wants met, we act out of self-protective measures in very unloving ways, or our overt acts of love are really acts of hypocritical self love. We build walls around ourselves for protection, but these walls become hindrances to our ability to love.
We become defensive and self-assertive.
We challenge others in an unloving way.
We become critical to protect ourselves or to build ourselves up both to others and to ourselves.
We complain and speak evil of others to build up our own self-esteem or to meet our felt needs.
We may withdraw and fail to reach out to others in love because we are afraid of being hurt or of some kind of failure.
So, if the evidence of maturity is love, the essence of maturity is a daily realized spiritual dependence on the Lord out of which we find the tripod we all need for spiritual stability:
Acceptance (God has accepted me in Christ),
Belongingness (as a child of God, I belong to Him and to His family), and
Competency (as a believer in Christ, one blessed with every spiritual blessing and the indwelling Spirit, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”).
We do not live in the Garden of Eden, which was lost because of the fall, nor in the glories of the future reign of Christ where the lamb will lie down with the lion. Until we acknowledge that this life, because of the evil of this age, is going to be filled with times of pain and disappointment in circumstances and relationships, we will not pursue Christ with the passion of a deep thirst, nor will we be able to reach out in love to those around us. Why? Because we will be seeking glory, security, and significance from this life rather than from the Savior.
As long as we seek from man what only God can give through Christ, we will not exercise faith in the only One who can fill our core and most fundamental need which is to know God. We will have turned God’s process upside down. We will be looking for love, security, and significance in all the wrong places. The great need is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to know God and to rest in Him, and to commit our other longings and needs to the Lord.
Matthew 6:31: “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’” These are casual longings, but this applies to the critical longings as well.
Matthew 6:32: “For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” This is the pattern of the world, so, trust God for your needs.
Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” Crucial longings, the core needs of man which must take first priority.
Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So again, trust God.
Immediately following these exhortations of Matthew 6:31-34, the Lord deals with the negative affects of our other longings, those that involve our relationships with people, when our primary focus in not on Him and His kingdom.
Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
In other words, seek first the kingdom of God, get your own life right before Him, submit to God’s authority, then you will have the ability to truly deal with people in love.