We’re going to talk about the law of Moses—the moral requirements of the law of Moses—and how it has or has not changed under the New Covenant.
So let me start by asking you, what was the highest moral law? That is, in relationship to how we relate to other people? What’s the highest moral law in the law of Moses? You tell me.
That is correct! Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s an Old Covenant law, it’s found in Leviticus, it’s part of the law of Moses. That was the standard that God expected the people of Israel to live by all during the law of Moses, from the time it was given at the Exodus, up until the time that Jesus died on the cross, said it was finished and inaugurated a New Covenant.
The Ministry of Jesus Christ
So now let’s fast forward hundreds of years to the ministry of Jesus Christ. One time, somebody asked Him, “what’s the greatest law?” And He said that the greatest law, of course, is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. But a second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself (see Mark 12:28-34). So that’s the highest moral law.
Of course the highest law is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. But the highest moral law, how we relate to others, is to love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus said, it’s the second greatest commandment.
What the Apostles Taught
So now, did that change when the New Covenant was inaugurated?
Well, apparently not, because the apostles, namely the ones who wrote the New Testament (I’m thinking of Paul and James) endorsed the second greatest commandment, the law to love your neighbor as yourself.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8
Then he begins to quote from the law of Moses,
For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Romans 13:9
Well, that kind of sounds like Paul was endorsing the second greatest commandment as being the highest moral standard under the New Covenant.
And, we can also look at another place, in Galatians 5:14, where Paul said,
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Voila! And Paul isn’t the only one who endorsed that commandment as being the highest moral commandment under the New Covenant. James is joining the chorus here.
James writes all about this in James chapter 2, but let’s just look at one verse:
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. – James 2:8
How about that? The apostle James believed that if you follow that commandment, the second greatest commandment, you are doing well.
Didn’t Jesus Give a New Commandment?
So, I would say that we’re safe to say that the highest moral law under the New Covenant is to love your neighbor as yourself, and what else could there be?
If you want to know what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, well, you just can think about it for two seconds and figure out. Or you could go back into Leviticus and read where God elaborates a little bit about what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
So, we ought to be suspicious of anybody who says that Jesus upgraded morally the law of Moses, and now we have a higher standard to live by. I know, somebody’s going to quickly say, “Oh, but Jesus said ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)'”.
All right, well, let’s just talk about that, since you brought it up. How did Jesus love His apostles? Well, He loved them perfectly according to the law of Moses. He loved His neighbor as Himself. And, that’s the example that He set in front of them all of his ministry.
And now He says to them, “I’m giving you a new commandment.” But not necessarily a new, higher standard. “I’m giving you a new commandment, love each other just like I’ve loved you.”
That is, you’ve seen somebody who loves their neighbor as themselves perfectly, now do what I did.
Did Jesus Mean That We Must Literally Die For One Another?
Someone’s going to say, “We ought to lay down our lives for one another just as Jesus did for His disciples.”
So does that mean that, literally, we all are supposed to die—physically die—for each other?
Is that what Jesus was saying? “I expect all of you to physically die for one another, laying down your lives.”
No, obviously that’s not what He meant. That’s not how the apostles interpreted what He meant. Yes, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers, and John the apostle mentions that in 1 John 3:16. But he’s not intimating that we all die physically for each other, but that we sacrifice—that we deny—ourselves, that we look out for the interests of others before we look out for our own interests.
And, that’s the same thing as loving your neighbor as yourself.
So, we better be careful of making the assumption that the new commandment that Christ gave was a new ideal, or a higher standard. Especially when we have the apostle Paul and James, not referring to the new commandment that Christ gave (that we should love each other even as Christ loved us), but endorsing the Old Covenant law of loving your neighbor as yourself as being the highest moral standard.
What About the Sermon on the Mount?
Now, where do folks get the idea that Jesus did upgrade the standard of the law of Moses, that there is a higher moral standard? That generally is an idea that’s derived from the Sermon on the Mount. Because we find there, in about six statements, Jesus saying something similar to, ‘you have heard it said,’ or, ‘the ancients were told.’ And then He mentions something they were told, and then He says, ‘but I say to you.’
And so they say, “See, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament! And He says, here’s the old standard, but now I’m upgrading the standard. I’ve got a higher standard from this moment onward.”
Well, I can understand how you could get that idea from just a cursory reading of the Sermon on the Mount. But people who know their Bibles do more than just skim over the surface; they go a little bit deeper.
And we’d expect that, if Jesus was upgrading the standards of the law of Moses, first of all, He’d correctly cite the Old Covenant standards, which in many cases He didn’t. And you’d also expect that the new standard would be something different than what you could find in the Old Covenant. But, in every case, you can find that what Jesus said you should do now is an Old Covenant standard.
And we’re out of time for today to prove that, so we have to wait until tomorrow’s Little Lesson. Okay? Thank you so much for joining me! Until next time, God bless you.