Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Second Greatest Commandment

We read in a previous chapter where there was a lawyer who tried to trick Jesus by asking, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered by saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Then He said, “This is the first and great commandment.” He didn’t stop there, but continued by saying, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt. 22:35-39.) In keeping with the first and greatest commandment, when we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we will want to follow all of His other commandments, which include loving our neighbor as ourselves.

God’s People to Become One
Truly loving our neighbor, as ourselves, is charity, and it’s the principle of grace in action. What greater thing did Jesus teach than to love God and love our fellow man. His life was spent among the poor and needy, the sick and afflicted, and the despised. He even blessed the daughter of a Canaanite woman to whom He hadn’t been sent. (Matt. 15:22-28) Of all of the gifts we can give to another, “... the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:13), says the Apostle Paul.

When we love others as we love ourselves, we will (1) do for them the same as we do for ourselves, (2) give to them as we give to ourselves, and (3) treat them as we want them to treat us. All of this, of course, can be boiled down to what is commonly known as the golden rule: “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.)

When we equally give to our neighbor, as we give to ourselves, there will be no rich or poor among us—all will be equally wealthy. The will of the Father is that we be charitable and treat our neighbor as we treat ourselves. What this means is, God’s people all share equally, and what they do for ourselves they are willing to do the same for their neighbor. A principle that should be a guiding light to those who would do as Jesus would do is His words when He said, “... Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:35-40.) How we treat others indicates how we would treat the Savior.

The Root of All Evil
There was once a man who enquired of Jesus what he should do to have eternal life. After receiving a positive response from questioning him about keeping the commandments, Jesus said to him, “...If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:21.) This answer disturbed the man because he was very rich, and he sadly went away. From this we see that it is not enough to just keep the commandments, we must also be willing to sell all we have and equally share it with those in need. We also learn that it is the only way to become perfect. After the rich man left, Jesus said to His disciples, “... Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (See Matt. 19:16-24.)

Jesus didn’t condemn all the rich just because they were rich, he condemned those rich who were proud, greedy, and covetous. He didn’t say it was impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, but taught that it was very difficult because of their greed and pride. When Paul wrote to Timothy he didn’t say that money was evil, he said, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith ...” (1 Tim.6:10.)

When we are strong in the faith of Christ, we will not need to covet after riches. We keep in mind that it is Jesus that provides all things, and we are to share that which He provides with those less fortunate while, at the same time, not taking advantage of them.

Adding to the many indictments against Israel’s wickedness, the Prophet Isaiah said, “... every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.... for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.” (Isa. 1:23; 3:14-15.)

From these few verses, alone, it sounds like Israel was rather unjust. For the sake of reward, it appears the orphans were mistreated, the cause of widows not considered, foodstuffs not distributed to the needy, that which should have gone to the homes of the destitute was confiscated for the houses of the rich, and all this being rubbed in the face of the poor as they were being taken advantage of.

A Parable
At this point let’s consider a brief story which is not unlike many today.

There once was a woman who lived in a mortgaged house with her husband and four small children. Her husband made very little money at work, and had no insurance of any kind for his family.

After becoming very ill he spent much time in the hospital, incurring large medical bills and other expenses. Because of his illness, and time away from work, he lost his job when his employer laid him off. Therefore, he had no means by which to pay all of those large medical bills, and other bills kept pilling up as time passed.

Due to health complications, the man eventually died leaving behind a widow, four small children, a mortgage on the house, large medical debts and other bills with no means of income or insurance. The creditors, of course, added much interest to the outstanding balance of the bills, which usury God condemns as evil. (See Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Neh. 5:6-10; Ps. 15:1-5; Prov. 28:8; Isa. 24:1-3; Jer. 15:10; Ezek. 18:5-9, 22:12-13; Smith’s Bible Dictionary; Black’s Law Dictionary.)

Because the widow could not pay the bills and continued increases upon her debt, the medical profession summoned her before the law, demanding payment, instead of forgiving the debt which they could have done. She investigated the possibility of a lawyer to plead her case before the court. Instead of compassionately and freely offering his help (Pro bono) to free her from bondage, the lawyer charged enormous rates for his services which she couldn’t afford. As a result, she had no advocate before the judge.

Because she had no source of earnings and couldn’t make mortgage payments, the bank repossessed the house, forcing the widow and her four children out into the streets. The bankers must have forgotten that Jesus said, “... for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great ...” (Luke 6:34-35.) They too, of course, could have forgiven the debt, trusting that God would multiply their business many-fold for their compassion.

After the widow and her children were evicted from the house, the banker sold it at a discount and still made a tidy profit. And the new buyer thanked God for blessing him in making such a good investment which would bring him much in earnings when he’s ready to sell.

But, what of the widow and her children? Where are their profits and increase in earnings.

It doesn’t take much for the average person to see the injustice in all of this. The true disciple of Christ has no need to feel that any of it is just, or believe that someone has a right to make a profit off the hard luck of others, for their profit is in the Lord who provides all that is needed. Though there are those that go into business for the reason of preying on the poor and unfortunate, the follower of Christ will try to help and bless the downtrodden. Quoting again from Isaiah we read, “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” (Isa. 10:1-2.)

Understanding God’s Law
Any time our method of earning money is attacked we become defensive. The money changers in the temple had their way of earning money, and they became defensive when Jesus took the whip to them. (John 2:13-16.) To say that we make a living by taking advantage of the unfortunate, or in an unethical way, can make us uneasy, especially when that way of making a living is an accepted practice. However, God does not go by accepted practices, He goes by what is equitable.

While the Prophet Isaiah was chastising the Israelites for their wickedness, one of the first things he mentioned was their strict obedience to law and their neglect of charity. Isaiah lit the fire of rebuke with these scorching words: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. 1:13-15.)

This sounds similar to the rebuke laid upon the scribes and Pharisees by Jesus when He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23.)

Isaiah continues by admonishing Israel in the following words, asking them to become clean from their pride, greed, and vanity: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isa. 1:16-17.)

I once heard it said, “It isn’t how much we give that matters to the Lord, it’s how much we keep.” Many know the story of the widow’s mite where rich men cast their gifts into the treasury, but a widow cast in her two mites. Jesus said, “... this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4.) We must realize that when we make money our God, we have no one to pray to when the money is gone. Their mistake is “... supposing that gain is godliness ...” (1 Tim. 6:5.)

Sometimes we think that because we had the opportunity for a little schooling, to get a job, work hard, and earn a little, we should also selfishly put much away for the proverbial rainy day. There are times when we think that it isn’t our responsibility because others don’t do the same, or aren’t blessed in the same way. We need to realize, however, that some are not blessed with the same opportunity to go to school, get a job, or earn much, and that it’s already their rainy day.

Real followers of Jesus don’t need to hold tight to the scripture that says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8.) He recognizes that the unfortunate, perhaps, might have a handicap, either physical, mental or emotional that hinders him from functioning to his full capacity. He or she also doesn’t forget that Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged. ...” (Matt. 7:1-2.) And though there are the greedy poor, just as there are the greedy rich, yet the disciple of Christ will not judge and turn away the petitioner. The Lord will deal with them in His own way and in His own time if they are unjust.

Knowing that there are the lazy and the greedy does not justify how we conduct our business. We cannot separate business practices from religious teaching, as many try to do. God is proving us in all things to see if we will do what He has commanded. The Lord expects us to give of our abundance to those who stand in need, and not let the beggar petition in vain. Aren’t we all beggars before God? Don’t we all depend upon God for everything we have—our food, clothing, and even the air we breath, as well as our financial substance? Does He let us beg in vain when we are in great distress, even for forgiveness because we are all sinners? No, He doesn’t! He doesn’t leave us alone, for He salves our wounds and fills us with joy. He fills us with the good word of hope and salvation. And when He blesses us and fills our needs, we are to bless and fill those in need.

The Need to Forgive Others
Forgiving others helps us esteem them as God requires. Forgiving is a personal responsibility, and it has nothing to do with whether a person asks for it or not. However, if a person does ask for forgiveness it’s our duty, obligation, and also privilege to offer that forgiveness. It’s also a requirement from the Lord that we forgive those who ask.

The Master instructed us during the Sermon on the Mount how to forgive those who trespass against us. He said if one strikes you, turn to him the other cheek (Matt. 5:38-39), and if someone sues you in court for your coat, give him your robe also. (Matt. 5:40; 1 Cor. 6:1-8.) If you are forced to travel a mile with someone, offer to go twice the distance. (Matt. 5:41.) We are instructed to not turn the borrower away (Matt. 5:42), and if someone steals, don’t ask for the stolen item back. (Luke 6:30.)

When we have truly forgiven someone we will not share their sin or offenses with others. Instead of harboring further grudges and resentments, it’s the duty of those forgiving to let go of hurts and ill feelings. When we continue to hold ill feelings about someone, or share those negative feelings with another, then have we truly forgiven? Not really!

Forgiveness is a key principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will find that to receive forgiveness from the Lord depends on whether we can forgive others. By choosing not to extend the charity of forgiveness to others, we are also choosing not to receive from Christ. In one of the parables Jesus taught, He spoke of a servant that begged his lord for forgiveness of a debt that he could not pay. Jesus said, “... the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” Now that same servant had a fellow servant that was in debt to him, but would not forgive his fellow servant, demanding payment. When the servant’s lord found out about this the lord was wroth with his servant and said, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matt. 18:23-35.)

As we choose to give, so we choose to receive. By extending the forgiveness, we can justly go to the Father and ask the same. We will be able to go in confidence and faith, for we will know we stand justified before Him.

The Bondage of Non-forgiveness
There is a basic reason why someone will not forgive another, and that reason is often the fear that the offender might not get his just reward. Fear is based on pride and is the opposite of love. Love releases and holds no grudge, but fear tries to get even, being vindictive.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of charity, for it is the giving of something that only you can give—the forgiving of someone you feel has done you wrong in some way. Forgiving can help release the offender from a great burden which he may carry upon his shoulders. You see, when someone transgresses against you, he owes you restitution. Now because of that restitution, he becomes indebted to you until forgiven. So forgiveness releases the transgressor from the burden of debt. When you do not forgive the trespasser, you are, in reality, keeping him in bondage, and bondage is slavery. He becomes a slave until you release him, in the meantime, you remain a slave holder.

God doesn’t believe in slavery, He desires us to be free. We are not to treat our neighbor as a slave, even though that neighbor might have agreed to a debt in the first place. Keeping someone in bondage is not treating or loving him as we treat or love ourselves. If the kingdom of heaven is like the example of forgiving debts, as presented in the parable above, then we forgive those indebted to us. But the proud are easily offended and hold grudges; they withhold forgiveness to keep another in their debt, justifying their injured feelings.

There is a simple way to tell if we are able to forgive another: it is when we no longer try to punish someone by our words or deeds; we have released him and he owes us nothing. We have set him free from bondage. To receive the Lord’s blessings we must, in like manner, freely extend those same blessings to others. If we desire a gift from God, we MUST be willing to give that gift to someone else. Remember, it isn’t who is right, but rather, what is right.

Fear Is Not the Power of Love
There are only two basic emotions—love and fear. All other emotions are secondary emotions which stem from one or the other of these two basic emotions. Now the chief principle upon which the second greatest commandment is based is love, not fear.

Fear is the tool of the adversary, but love comes from God; “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7.) If God does not give us the spirit of fear, then who does? It is from that old devil, Satan, who is the author of fear. Both emotions do not exist in man at the same time; where there is love, there is no fear, and where there is fear, love is absent. Love encourages the Holy Spirit, fear draws evil influences. That Still Small Voice is our conscience. It is what helps lead us along our individual paths in life. To get it right with God, we first let go of fear and lovingly trust Christ Jesus.

There’s an important key to knowing the Spirit of the Lord. When once understood, the key will help eliminate the spirit of fear. The key is that: The Spirit of God always produces joy and peace of mind. When you hear the spirit you feel a measure of joy, and a feeling of peace comes over you. But when you have another spirit you receive no joy, and the feeling will be of agitation or conflict—that of fear. That spirit of fear is the spirit of the Adversary.

Concerning this subject, there is an excellent little book entitled, Love Is Letting Go of Fear, by Gerald G. Jampolsky. In this superb book, Dr. Jampolsky points out that the opposite of love is fear. He says that love cannot exist where there is fear, and that fear cannot exist where there is love. He writes: “... there are only two emotions, love and fear. The first is our natural inheritance, and the other our mind manufactures. Fear always distorts our perception and confuses us as to what is going on. Love is the total absence of fear. Love asks no questions. Its natural state is one of extension and expansion, not comparison and measurement. Love, then, is really everything that is of value, and fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing.” (Love Is Letting Go of Fear, pp. 2, 17.)

To truly love our neighbor as ourselves, we must have faith, trust, and confidence in the Lord. Only purity of heart can assure Divine approval and a hope for continued communion with God. On the other hand, fear, that negative influence from Satan, only thwarts God’s work.

Love Is Eternal
We are the offspring of a wise Heavenly Father who loves all of us, and He highly esteems each as having great value. To Him there is no worthless soul, or one soul that is worth less than another. Love is an eternal principle that lasts throughout all eternity, and our Heavenly Father loves all of us. However, He doesn’t always LIKE some of the things we do. Because of this, all of us will not live with Him in the life to come, unless, of course, we repent and turn our hearts and lives over to Him.

Many relationships come to a halt because someone does something the other person doesn’t like, not because love has ceased. The late Will Rogers once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Well, that may sound good and idealistic to some, but it also may not be very discriminating. As previously stated, God loves all of us, but He doesn’t like all of the things we do. Consequently, He will not like some of us in His kingdom.

Like is conditional, pure love is not. Love, however, can spring from a simple seed, and that seed can be what we first like. It is something that we like to see, like to hear, like to do, like to be, like to obtain, and so on. Upon nourishment and tender care, that seed can grow and blossom into loving fruit. So in loving our neighbor as ourselves, observe something about that neighbor that you like, no matter how small, and nourish that seed.

There’s Enough for All
It takes faith to love our neighbor as ourselves, meaning to give to others as we give to ourselves. It takes faith to believe that there is enough to go around for everyone. The Psalmist wrote, “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Ps. 24:1.) We need to have faith that God was wise enough to create a world that could support all of His children. The faithful finds that when he gives with the pure love of Christ there is plenty to go around, with much to spare. And this giving and sharing is simply grace in action.

We are taught that, “... the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (1 Tim. 1:5.) When we unselfishly and unflinchingly give the gift of charity, we can then feel justified in petitioning Christ for this same gracious gift.

As stated toward the beginning of this chapter, the two major themes taught by Jesus were love of God and love for our neighbor. His life was a repeated example of those teachings. While Jesus was teaching the parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats to His disciples, He explained to them that the Son of man shall come in His glory. When He does, he shall separate the sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25:31-34.) After Jesus divides the wicked from the righteous, He then tells the favored disciples the reasons for their inheritance.

The Master continues: “For I was an hungred, 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 hungred, 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. 25:35-40.)

The second greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” is inseparably connected with charity, the pure love of Christ. We also know that to love our neighbor as ourselves is to give to them as we give to ourselves, and treat them as we would treat ourselves. Such people shall receive grace for grace.

In the last chapter of Roy Mills’ book, The Soul’s Remembrance, he writes, “We only need to look about us to see the mighty spirits that have come to teach and support us as we grow and learn on earth. And the GREATEST of these mighty spirits are those that love and serve their fellow man.” (The Soul’s Remembrance, p. 144.) And in her book, I Stand All Amazed, Elane Durham wrote about a very important question that Jesus asked her during her near-death experience. It was: “What have you done for your fellow man?” (I Stand All Amazed, p. 31.)

As stated in a previous chapter, it appears that the bottom line for obtaining the most glorious reward in heaven, according to those that have viewed it, is unconditional love for others and unselfish service toward them with all we have. A wise individual once said, “You make a living by what you receive, but you make a life by what you give.”