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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 44: “God Is Love”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 13, 2011

This trio of lessons from 1961 is a good match for and complement to this year’s lesson 44, which has as its purpose statement “To help class members understand how the Father and the Son show their love for us and how we should show our love for them.” The first lesson on the meaning of love is followed by lessons exploring what it means to love God, and what it means to love our neighbor. They come from Lowell L. Bennion, Teachings of the New Testament, Sunday School Course 27. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1953.

THE MEANING OF LOVE

By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

The Position of Love in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel of Jesus Christ contains many wonderful principles. These are interdependent. Without them all, none is complete; without one, all are impaired. Sincerity, as we have noted, is a prerequisite of all others, likewise faith and humility. One gospel principle, however, is central, the heart and the flower of Christian living. Jesus, Paul, and John all give it preeminence among all the principles of the gospel. That principle is love. It shall be our aim in this chapter to see the emphasis placed upon love in the New Testament, and then to explore its meaning.


Christ Made Everything Depend on Love

You will recall that when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:37-40)

the Old Testament, as we know it today, is divided into three parts by the Jews: the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings, such as Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes. In Jesus’ day the Writings had not as yet been canonized, hence they were not on the same plane as the law and the Prophets. When Jesus said that everything in the law and the Prophets hangs or depends on love of God and love of man, he meant everything written which is listeners had come to accept as the word of God.

Not only did everything in the Law and the Prophets depend on love, but everything that Jesus himself taught also depended on love. All of the beatitudes are intimately related to love and take on enriched meaning when associated with this central principle of the gospel. Humility is deeper if it has part of its origin in the love of God. Likewise, meekness is born of love of God, of man, and of truth. The merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those whoa re persecuted for righteousness’ sake are truly such only if they also truly love their fellow men.

Toward the close of his ministry, on the occasion when he had taught humility by washing their feet, Jesus said to his disciples:

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34, 35)

He might have chosen other virtues as a witness of Christian discipleship. Humility, meekness, sincerity, moral courage, faith, repentance, mercy – any of these would have been worthy of his name. The fact remains that he chose love. It was the one principle which included and inspired all others.

The relationship of love to faith, repentance, and forgiveness is illustrated in an incident related by Luke. A Pharisee by the name of Simon invited Jesus to eat meat with him. A woman, known as a sinner, hearing of Jesus’ presence, brought a box of ointment. With tears she washed his feet, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the ointment she had brought.

Simon was disturbed that Jesus would permit a sinner to touch him. The Savior told him a parable to illustrate that where much is forgiven there is great love. Then he said of the woman to Simon:

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7;47, 50)

Love, like faith, is also a motivating force for action. Love begets faith. Faith leads to repentance. And “Mercy claimeth the penitent.” (Alma 42:23)

Without Love We Are Nothing – Paul

The Apostle Paul knew the Spirit of Christ. He too made love central in the gospel. To the Galatians, he wrote:

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty or an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Gal. 5:13, 14)

To the Romans, he wrote in a similar vein, showing how love comprehended the commandments of the law:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)

To the Colossians, he wrote:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Col. 3:12-14_

The most explicit and eloquent description of love in the New Testament is found in I Corinthians 13. The word used in the King James bible is “charity.” according to Mormon, charity is the pure love of Christ:

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. (Mor. 7:47)

Of this pure love of Christ, which is to fill the hearts of his disciples, Paul wrote:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 9I Cor. 13:1-3)

Let all your things be done with charity. (I Cor. 16:14)

This means for us who are professed followers of Christ that no matter what we believe, what we give, or how strong a testimony we bear, if we have not the pure love of Christ in our hearts and in our lives, we are as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” – we are nothing.

Love – A Favorite Theme of John

In both the gospel of John and in the first letter of John, love is the main theme, the leitmotiv. He identifies God with love.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. (I John 4:7, 8)

On the basis of this passage, some Christians we have known think of God as simply the great ideal and power of love in the world. In this they err, for love does not create worlds nor the spirits and lives of men. It does not reveal ideas; nor does it fulfill other functions of God described in holy writ. John was not writing as a systematic theologian when he said, “God is love.” He was, rather, giving expression to his religious conviction and knowledge that God is a Person of Love. Love is central to his whole Being. If we are to be born of him and know him, then we too must cultivate love one for another.

Characteristics of Love

The word love is used freely and loosely in languages with which we are acquainted. A boy loves an ice cream cone, a puppy, his mother, a little girl next door, and many other persons and things. In this chapter we are going to restrict its meaning to what we think Christ meant when he told us to love God and neighbor. We confess that we shall only suggest and not exhaust its meaning. We shall only characterize and not even try to give final definition to the meaning of Christian love. Jesus and his disciples have left us many wonderful sayings which indicate to us some of the important qualities of love. They overlap. We shall delineate these qualities of love only for purposes of clarification. In life they merge as one.

1. Love is whole-souled – It involves one’s entire personality, one’s whole being, mind, and heart. It is not a partial giving of one’s self. When one loves, it is purely and fervently and without dross or alley.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matt. 22:37)

Love, therefore, knows no fear:

And we have known and believed the love that god hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:16-18)

Love is not simply a rule of action for certain occasions. It is not a single stroke to be used in the game of life. It is a loving disposition, born of the Spirit of God and Christ, a whole feeling and outlook toward life. Love invites and is sustained by the Spirit of God.

Seeing ye have purified your souls in saying the truth through the Spirit also unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (I Peter 1:22, 23)

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for god is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Therein is love, not that we 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 ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:7-12)

Love is feeling. Love is an attitude. Love is also action. Like faith, it leads to works, it implies deeds, and expression.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:18)

2. Love is unselfish – It is not egocentric, but outgoing, centered in another person or persons. Selfish love is a contradiction of terms. Love of self as part of loving someone else infringes on that love. Love is self-forgetting not self-concerned. It seeks the happiness and welfare of others. In love, one “loses himself” for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, and for love’s sake. In the words of Paul:

Charity (the pure love of Christ) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, … (I Cor. 13:4, 5)

3. Love is sacrificial in its unselfishness

This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12, 13)

One who loves his fellow men is glad to give of himself, his means, his talent, his time, and his strength for their welfare. Love is giving. Love is doing. Love is living for others. this is the character of the love our Father in heaven has for us, his children.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16, 17)

4. Love is impartial In romantic love we specialize. A man does not feel romantically the same toward every woman. In our society that would be disastrous for everyone involved. In romantic life we purposely cultivate and cherish a very special kind of loving feeling for a particular person – one’s wife or husband. The sacredness and beauty of romantic love as we know it in marriage rests to a large degree on its unique character, on the very special trust, loyalty, and ecstacy that is felt continuously between two persons. In family love we also specialize. Through long and intimate association, through interdependence, and through thoughts of common kinship, we feel a very special love for our own kin. Christian love knows no such specialization. It is a feeling and a relationship we can have toward any or all men. god’s love is of this impartial character.

… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)

Proof of the genuineness of our own love is this: that we can love our enemies and persecutors. For if we love only our friends, how do we know our love is pure, unselfish, giving, and sacrificial?

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. for if ye love them which love you, which reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48)

Jesus was impartial in his love. He was kind and compassionate to sinners. He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him. He loved children and had compassion for the poor, the lame, the halt, and the blind. The rich and publicans also played host to this lover of all men. He died that both the just and the unjust might be resurrected. And he died that all men might be drawn unto him.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

The Savior’s impartial and deep love for all men is beautifully and explicitly stated in the Book of Mormon:

for behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord god worketh not in darkness. He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world, for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Department from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price, Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay, but he hath given it free for all men and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all to repentance. Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. (II Nephi 26:23-28)

And again, the Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal; that they should not take the name of the Lord their God in vain; that they should not envy; that they should not have malice; that they should not contend one with another; that they should not commit whoredoms; that they should do none of these things; for whoso doeth them shall perish. For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth not anything save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (II Nephi 26:32, 33)

James, in a warning to the rich, links impartiality to the “royal law” of the scripture:

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (James 2:8, 9)

5. Love is spontaneous One does not love for a reason. Christian love is a natural, free expression like the feeling one has for a friend. In true love one does not calculate the reward, nor count the cost. Love is the overflow of a loving heart. One does not love out of duty or by command. One does not love to gain the celestial kingdom. One loves simply to love. Because man is a child of God, his nature is to love. Because all men are children of God, they need, invite, and are worthy of our love. Every great virtue, like life itself, finds fullest expression when it is unconscious of itself, when it is the fruit of being born again, of conversion, of the Spirit of God within us. To insure his selfless, non-calculating spirit of love, Jesus said:

… When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

We should love not to be repaid of men, for that is not love but subtle, if not deceptive bargaining. We should love not to praise ourselves, for that is self-righteousness. We should love for love’s sake only, even as we should pray in secret, give alms in a manner that “the left hand soweth not what the right hand doeth,” and anoint the head and wash the face when we fast. For then and only then is the religious life genuine, pure, free, and full as Jesus intended it should be.

6. Love increases The ideal of love that Jesus taught makes us aware that our own love is mixed with dross and tin. Sometimes our own religious life appears to us as “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” This is not only discouraging, but is also a healthy sign. sincerity and humility are prerequisites and ingredients of love.

We must learn to love. And the process of learning is always fraught with some self-consciousness, error, and failure. Paul is encouraging in that he asked the saints of his day to increase more and more. As in every virtue of the gospel, we may grow in the purity and intensity of our love.

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you. (I Thess. 3;12)

But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more. (I Thess. 4:9, 10)

In the next two chapters we shall suggest how we can express and increase our love for God and fellow man.

“THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD”

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. this is the first and great commandment. (matt. 22:37, 38)

Jesus made the second commandment – “love thy neighbor as thyself” – like unto the first. For this reason, we are sometimes prone to make the two great commandments one and to reduce them to love of neighbor. While these commandments both embrace love and though they do strengthen one another, like cross stitches in a weaver’s cloth, they are different. Each has its distinctive meaning and value. Love of God is not wholly encompassed in the love of men. It is different.

It is our purpose in this chapter to discuss how we can love god. This will include the love of men, but it is also more than the love of men.

Keeping the Commandments

How shall a man love God? The simplest and also the scriptural answer is: keep his commandments. Jesus himself proved his love for the Father in this way.

But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so do I. … (John 14:31)

Since the Savior brought to his disciples the will of God, he could say to them:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. … he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:15, 21)

if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

The same thought is developed in the first letter of John: “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfect.” (I John 2:5)

Keeping the commandments of God is an indispensable way to show our love for God. However, in and of itself, it is not a sufficient guide. It depends also on the spirit in which the commandments are lived. It depends too on just how we relate the commandments to our Father in heaven. Let us explain.

Slaves obey. Oppressed people submit to the rules of a dictator, but not with love. Obedience to the commandments of God cannot be an expression of love if it is tainted with servitude. To be loving, it must be a free, willing, whole-souled, and unselfish obedience.

Then too one may keep many of the commandments without faith in God and without feeling an intimate companionship with him. this kind of legalistic relationship to the will of God is born of the letter and not of the spirit. In it is little of the love indicated in the last lesson.

One may, however, keep the commandments in a personal way – in a way that brings one into an intimate relationship with God. One may hunger and thirst not only after righteousness, but after the righteousness of a loving Father made manifest in his Son. This gives to the whole venture of morality a personal and loving touch. Morality becomes also spirituality when associated with the love of God. We shall develop this thought more fully shortly.

Ways to Love God.

1. Love of God can be personal and direct. There are many experiences in life which fill our hearts with gratitude and love. What are some of these? They vary from person to person. For us they are the caress of a child, a walk down the lane after a rain, witnessing the dawn in June, the smell of fresh-mown hay, the feel of newly-plowed earth, the sight of peach blossoms in May, or of wild flowers in the high meadow, the beauty of a life that “has come to itself” and truly repented, or the strength of a human being who has suffered without compliant or has defended the right without fear of personal loss – and a thousand like things.

If we have faith in God as our Father and Creator, there is much to make our hearts sing to him in praise and thanksgiving. We can feel deeply toward the Creator of so much that we love deeply. God is the Creator of nature and man. Our love for him as Creator cannot be fully satisfied by our love of men. In this sense, love of God is other than love of fellow men.

Love of God is felt in prayer and worship. Not only from the well-springs of our own gratitude and aspiration, but also from the inspiration of others expressed in poetry and melody we feel our love for God. “If with all your heart, ye truly seek me, ye shall surely ever find me, thus saith our God.” (Mendelssohn) These words sung with sincerity and beauty bring us near to our Father.

There are occasions in study, in meditation, and in worship when we realize the goodness and greatness of the Father, We love him as a Person, for what he is. We glory in his goodness, in his constancy, in his knowledge, in his mercy, in his love for us.

We love him because he sent his Son into the world to make manifest to us the character and will of the Father. In the life of Jesus of Nazareth we see the integrity, the tenderness and kindness, the compassion and mercy of our heavenly Father. Because we love the Son,. whose words we know, whose life was made manifest, we find it not difficult to love the Father who sent Him.

Truly to love God, a person needs faith that He lives. Then he must so order his life that he seeks after God through all the goodness and beauty that is to be found in nature and in life. The love of God is more than belief, more than obedience; it is gratitude, adoration, and communion. Without these, the religious life is quite barren; with these it is rich.

2. We can love God by loving his attributes. What are his attributes? He is just, impartial, merciful, loving, forgiving. He is a Person of integrity and truth. he is intelligent and creative. Believing that he lives and that these things are part of his nature, a loyalty to these qualities of character are linked with a loyalty to him.

When a religious person labors for justice among men, he is not only serving an ideal and his fellow men, but he feels he is also loving the Father. He is true to the very Being of God. Likewise, to show mercy, to forgive, is to act in harmony with the Nature of God, to be true to him.

To be creative, to fashion something new after the image one carries in one’s own mind and heart, is satisfying to human nature. With faith in God, the same creative experience also brings one into an intimate relationship with him. The devout mother has a spiritual experience in childbirth. She is creative with God in “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The creative teacher, missionary, or leader in Christ’s Church feels a companionship with the Father and the Son. His work is also God’s work.

To love truth is to love God, to love God is to love the truth. One might paraphrase the scripture and say: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth the truth, he is a liar; for he that loveth not the truth, … how can he love a God of truth?” (See I John 4:20.)

If we do not love the attributes of God, the great moral principles which he lives and promotes in the world, such as justice and mercy, our love for him is shallow indeed. It would be similar to saying, ‘I love my wife, but I hate the things she does, the way she thinks, the ideals by which she lives.” Our love for another person includes the things which are a part of that individual’s personality – his thoughts, feelings, actions, hopes and desires. Our love for God also includes our love for everything for which he stands – for his truth and his righteousness.

In Micah’s inspiring summary of how we should come before the Lord, he wrote: “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8) Here the prophet brings morality and spirituality together. To walk humbly with God includes doing justly and loving mercy among men. And to do justly and love mercy is also a sure way to walk humbly before god with his power, influence, and love present.

Nephi said, “For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.” (II Nephi 26:23) We know of two kinds of darkness – ignorance and sin. to walk in these paths is not to walk with God, or to love him.

For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:20, 21)

3. We can love God by loving his work. His work is to bring to pass the eternal life of man. Therefore, anything we do lovingly to contribute to our Father’s purpose in human life is also an expression of our love for him. We believe that is why Jesus said that the second commandment is like unto the first. that is why Jesus said, in response to Peter’s repeated assurance that he loves him, “Feed my lambs.” “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (Read John 21:15-17.)

In his story of the day of judgment, Jesus depicts vividly the contrast between those who love him and those who do not. In it he identifies love for him with love of men. (In other scriptures he has already made love of him synonymous with love of the Father.)

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:34-40)

John states the relationship between love of God and love of man forcefully indeed:

Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (I John 2:8-11_

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (I John 3:14, 15)

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (I John 4:20, 21)

”THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR”

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Gal. 5:14)

An Ancient Commandment

Love of neighbor is not original with the New Testament. It is found in Leviticus 19:17, 18. And, thought it is not mentioned, to our knowledge, elsewhere in the Old Testament in just those words, it is implicit in both the law and the prophets. In principle, love of neighbor underlies much of Old Testament teaching.

The Law of Moses, though firm and at times severe, is, even in some of its harshest statements, also humane. A wrongdoer was punished, for example, for many offenses by whipping. “… The judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.” The modern judge does not have to witness the punishment he pronounces on the offender, and no longer do we beat people for crimes committed. However, within the framework of this physical punishment in Israel, we find a humane note of importance:

Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee. (Deut. 25:3)

Those who summarize the law of Moses as meaning “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” are misinformed. Even this reciprocity was merciful in an age when the rule was to take a man’s life for an eye or a tooth. The Mosaic law is deeply concerned for the welfare of the poor and the stranger, the widow and the fatherless. Even the manservant, the maidservant, and the cattle were to rest on the Sabbath day. The law protects the borrower from the lender, the accused from the accuser, the slave from his master to a considerable degree. The law of Moses is filled with compassion, which is one expression of love.

The literary prophets say little about love of neighbor specifically, but a great deal about justice and mercy. Amos, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are champions of the poor and oppressed, of the “afflicted of Joseph.” they demand in strong and courageous terms the highest type of social morality. They invite men to worship God by helping his children. Note one passage from Isaiah:

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity. (Isaiah 58:5-9)

Jesus Brings Fresh Emphasis to an Old Law

By the time Jesus came on the scene, much of the wonderful vitality of the law and the prophets had been lost in men’;s devotion to the letter of the law. Interest in rules and performances had overruled for many a deep concern for man as a child of God and as a brother. The prophetic spirit had been replaced by the scholastic and priestly.

Jesus gave new life to the second commandment. Along with the love of God, he made it first and central to the religious life. No longer could it be lost as wheat in chaff, for in his teaching it stood out as a light upon a hill. In the Old Testament some distinction was made between an Israelite’s moral relations with a fellow Israelite and with a Gentile. Hebrew slaves were more favorably situated than captive slaves. A man could lend money on usury (with interest) to a stranger, but not to a fellow Jew. (See Deut. 23:19, 20.) In the teaching of Jesus, there is only one standard of morality. He showed the same respect for the centurion and the Samaritan as he did for his own people. In fact, eh often singled out the Gentile for special praise. The Old Testament does this too in such works as Ruth, Job, and Jonah; but there are serious lapses from the universalism of Jesus in the law of Moses. Jesus also gave to the second commandment the vital force of his own loving person. He spoke with beauty and with power; and he loved with great compassion, tenderness, and self-sacrifice. Truly, love of neighbor received new meaning and power in the life and teaching of Jesus.

How Shall We Love Our Neighbor?

Someone has said, “It is easy enough to love all men, the difficulty comes when we specialize,” when we begin to particularize. Jesus’ teaching and living are so beautiful and so inspiring that many of us are content simply to believe in them, to give homage, to pay lip service. We are proud to be his disciples. to talk about his teaching brings contentment, makes us feel good and secure. We do not, to be sure, like certain of the scribes and Pharisees, get lost in carrying out the letter of the law. Our aim is to be content with the big, broad principle of the law. Seldom do we ask, “What does it mean in every day living?” this very question will be our interest in this chapter. In the light of New Testament teaching, there are at least three ideas to guide us in loving our neighbor.

1. We are to love with purity of motive. We elaborated quite extensively on this New Testament teaching in the chapter on The Meaning of Love. Here we can remind ourselves that we must continuously search into our own hearts, examine our own motives, and ask ourselves: “Do we have a sincere interest in the welfare of our fellow men?” “Do we have good will toward all men?” “Do we desire their happiness?” “do we find ourselves earnestly and unselfishly thinking about how we can be of service to them?”

Is our love for our fellow men contaminated with personal interest? Let us illustrate: A man who had served his brethren in the priesthood for many years was tendered a testimonial and eulogized for his services. In response, he said, “Brethren, you need not have done this for me. Had I not known thee my Father in heaven would reward me a hundredfold, yes a thousand-fold, for what I have done for you, I would not have been your servant these many years.” This man labored faithfully and he loved his brethren to a degree, but the well-springs of his love were not pure and were not deep enough. The pure love of Christ could not have fulls way because of self-love.

The purity of love is illustrated in the life of Moses. The children of Israel fashioned and worshiped a golden calf while he was on Mt. Sinai receiving commandments from the Lord. The Lord told Moses what the people had done while he was still on the Mount. The Lord was ready to consume them and raise up a new nation. Moses, however, pled with him to save them for the sake of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the Lord listened to Moses and did not destroy his people.

When Moses went down to the camp of Israel and saw with his own eyes what the children of Israel had done, he was furious. He broke the tablets which contained the law, ground up the calf and made the Israelites drink the dust thereof in water; and he had the sons of Levi kill 3000 men – brothers, neighbors, and companions. after the punishment had been meted out, he said, “ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” Then Moses said unto the Lord:

… O this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – ; but if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou has written. (Ex. 32:31,3 2)

Moses not only forgave his people, but he risked his own favor with the Lord to bring forgiveness to them. He would not be remembered without his people.

2. We are to love others as we do ourselves. Sometimes we hate and are slow to accept and to forgive ourselves. On the other hand, we are continuously conscious of the self, trying to protect it from harm, seeking to preserve it from injury and death. We are quick to excuse the self, to overlook errors, to justify mistakes. The self is the center of our consciousness and we relate all events and desires to it.

If we were to love our neighbor as ourselves we would think of him a great deal. He as a person would be the object of our constant concern and care. He would no longer be just a function to us – someone who fills the gas tank, pays us rent, or drives the bus. If we thought of him as ourselves, then we would realize that he is a whole person with feelings, responsibilities, fears, and hopes just as we are.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matt. 7:12)

3. Our love should bear good fruit in the lives of others. Purity of motive sanctifies him who loves, but the effective, intelligent expression of love blesses the one who is loved. It is not enough to love men in our hearts; we must also love them in deed. Without both right feeling and effective action, love is incomplete. Christian love must not remain in Christ’s heart, in the book of Matthew, chapters 5 and 22, nor in our hearts. Well did the poet sing:

We know the paths wherein our feet should press,
Across our hearts are written Thy decree:
Yet now, O Lord, be merciful to bless
With more than these.
Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,
Grant us the strength to labor as we know,
Grant us the purpose, ribb’d and edg’d with steel,
to strike the blow.
Knowledge we ask not, – knowledge Thou hast lent,
But, Lord, the will – there lies our bitter need,
Give us to build above the deep intent
The deed, the deed.

[From “A Prayer” by John Drinkwater, quoted in a chapel talk at the Brigham Young University, by Parley A. Christensen.]

Friends tell us of a certain woman – and there are many of them – who does the deed. While they are thinking about helping, or vaguely feeling that they should, this good woman visits the sick, takes food to a neighbor, brings children to her home while their mother is in the hospital, and comforts those who mourn.

We know a husband and wife who have set aside Wednesday night to seek out or to invite in those who need them. They actually visit those whom they have intended to visit; they invite friends in who need their cheer. All of this is done, not out of a sense of duty, not for acclaim, but out of a deep desire to love. they call it their “fun night.” They set a definite night only because if they did not do so, less important things would crowd out the deed.

People have needs, very specific and definite needs. Our love should be directed to them as a gun is aimed at a target. Jesus loved people in a way to satisfy their needs. He ate with sinners because, he said, “They that are whole need no physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (mark 2:17) he healed the sick, made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the sinners to repent and be forgiven, the self-righteous to see the shallowness of their lives, the money-changers the desecration they had wrought. There is a wonderful concreteness and effectiveness in the manner in which Jesus lived and taught love among men.

Some human needs are tangible and can be satisfied with material and physical help. Food, clothing, shelter, rest, and physical help are needs which are usually evident and can be met. The world over, more than half of the population is malnourished, ill-clothed, poorly sheltered, and in need of medical and dental care. In much of our world food, clothing, and shelter are not needed, but many wives, mothers, fathers, widows, sick and aged need rest; and they need physical help to maintain their homes and yards. Here is a great opportunity. Who are the people in need in our midst? Are priesthood quorums, Relief Societies, and M.I.A. groups satisfying their physical needs?

Many human needs are intangible but very real. People hunger for love, thirst for a sense of personal worth; need to be clothed with earned praise and deserved encouragement; need a knowledge of the gospel of Christ and faith in God and in life. All men need to realize their spiritual and moral natures as children of their Eternal Father. We need to express love for people in such a way that they will increase in their living of the basic principles of the gospel of Christ, which are also the basic principles of life. Let us illustrate:

An acquaintance of ours has a ten-months old baby. the other day he was tending her in the living room of his home. She pulled a set of encyclopedias off the bottom book shelf. He put them back a little tighter than they had been before. Later in the afternoon the baby returned to the books and began tugging to get them on the floor again. she pulled and tugged without success; then she looked to her father for help, and fussed and fumed increasingly.

That father loves his baby girl and delights in satisfying her every whim. His first impulse was to help, to pull out the first book for her. Then he said to himself, “This girl is going to run up against bigger problems than this one day. Why not, for her good, let her struggle to overcome this obstacle?” He withheld his help and watched her out of the corner of his eye. After much labor and gesticulating, the baby finally had the books on the floor. She was gleeful. The father hugged her. His love was expressed by not helping until she had achieved her goal.

Our obligation is not to give people what they want or demand of us, but that which experience teaches us is for their best good. A child who is given everything he asks for, whose every whim is anticipated, is likely to come to a point in life, and very early too, when his life seems empty and shallow. In desperation, he may seek all manner of foolish and destructive means of trying to make himself feel important. Vandalism, crime, drinking, braggadocio, and persecution of others have their source, in part, in our failure to help people gain satisfaction through their own constructive efforts. The nature of man demands that he be creative and achieve, if he is to be happy.

In our part of the country, if one waters corn before it needs it, while it is yet green and short, the corn will be stunted and somewhat yellow compared with corn that is compelled to force its roots deep into the soil in search of water and nourishment. Too much of the wrong kind of love – a love that is kind to the real needs of the child can have the same effect on it as water given too soon has on young corn.

What is true in the family is also true in Church. Human nature is everywhere the same. Do everything for the boy in Church – give him parties, socials, awards, rewards, praise, honor, and lessons, and his heart is not content. Keep these things in moderation and let him give of himself to the church. Let him talk and think, help and serve, carry responsibility with encouragement, and he will likely learn to love the Church. Satisfaction is greater in giving than in receiving. Part of loving is to let others serve us. To love our fellow men we must also learn to be gracious receivers.

This principle applies in international affairs. Countries which have, should help and share with countries which have not. In food emergencies this can be done directly to prevent suffering. In the long run, however, one nation can help another, not by playing “Santa Claus” to it, but by teaching and helping that nation to solve its own problems, to achieve its own freedom, security, and self-respect, by assisting it to attain its legitimate place in the family of nations.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Is there anyone who should not receive of our love if we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Certainly his love knew no bounds. While his own immediate ministry was to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel,” within the nation he reached out to all classes, including foreigners. He sent his apostles to preach to every creature. He died on the cross for the resurrection of the just and the unjust and for every sinner. All men must be the object of our good will if we are to be Christ’s disciples in deed.

The question arises: do we have equal responsibility to all men? How can o ne’s capacity and energy serve everyone? We do have more responsibility to some people than to others. When a man marries and becomes a father he has, under normal circumstances at least, the responsibility to care for his own materially and spiritually. This charge has been given us in scripture and by society. And we serve mankind by rearing a family of good citizens. Our proximity to a neighbor, and our knowledge of his need, make us more responsible to him, in a sense, than to a stranger in Abyssinia. Yes, our specific responsibility to persons is variable.

In another sense, however, our responsibility to the stranger is the same as to our own, and to the foreigner the same as to our fellow countrymen. They are children of the same Gold and of the same earth as we are. We are brothers and should do everything within our power to see that all men have an opportunity to satisfy their physical and spiritual needs. the boy up the street, who may at first be repulsive to us, should be treated as an end with his welfare in mind. Starving children in India or Korea ought to awaken our mercy even as those in our own neighborhood. Our hearts and minds should not rest unless we are working to help relieve human suffering wherever it shows its head. May the good Lord bless us with a Christian discontent!

In New Testament days, life was relatively simple. Illustrations of love and charity are largely on the personal level. “Go, sell, and give to the poor,” and “When Thou givest alms, etc.” There was, is, and ever will be opportunity to love our fellow men directly and personally. However, in our complex society, the need is equally great, if not greater, to express our love impersonally and group-wise. In Heber City, Utah, the announcement is made that church, school, and other civic groups have organized to study and evolve a better program for youth in the valley. Youth itself is participating in the study. This is an excellent approach to the needs of youth and should add much to the efforts of men and women working individually. America’s program of sending professionally trained people to countries such as Iran, not to bestow charity, but to help the local people to establish schools, sanitation, and scientific agriculture, is an effective, modern expression of good will. UNESCO is accomplishing much in this sort of thing to build peace on earth and good will among men.

We need to study economics, sociology, and political science along with the principles of Christ. The latter can give us moral and spiritual ideals and the former some of the methods and techniques of realizing these ideals. then we need to discipline ourselves to work and sacrifice in order to realize these ideals in the most effective way. For example, we believe in the brotherhood of man. (1) How does this influence our outlook on tariffs? (2) From the standpoint of political science, what are the consequences of high tariffs, and of low tariffs? (3) From an economic standpoint, local, national, and international, what are the implications of high tariffs, and of low tariffs?

Unless our Christian ideals, such as love, come down out of the clouds and guide us in our thinking in every walk of life – marriage, the family, community, education, politics, and economics – our religion is quite ineffective and, according to Matthew 23, quite Pharisaical. the religion of the restored gospel is not only practical in its devotion to health, recreation, and a welfare program; it is also practical in its insistence that the great Christian ideals shall sanctify daily life, and that in daily life these ideals shall be realized.

A Word of Caution

A man gave a sermon one evening on forgiveness because he knew that in the audience was a person who needed to forgive a brother who also was present. After the services, the one brother, who had a humble and contrite spirit and had already forgiven the other, came forth and said he would have to be more forgiving. But the man to whom the sermon was directed went his way unchanged.

For those who are already loving their fellow men with all their hearts and energy, there is another practical consideration. If the occasion requires, one should lay down his life for his brother. In most circumstances, however, it is best to care for one’s own health so that he may continue to serve his fellow men, just as it is wisdom to care for a machine so that it can continue to operate. This bit of wisdom was given by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon.

… I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. … (Mos. 4:26, 27)



1 Comment »

  1. Thank you. Reading this has renewed my faith and love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Bones — November 25, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

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