The 6th commandment; Loving Our Neighbor

March 10, 2024 / No.

Dear radio friends,

Which school one attends is a matter of fundamental importance. Often two different schools have a very different outlook or position on issues of society. One might be conservative, and another liberal; one might exist for the propagating of ideas that are commonly believed but not true, while another exists to teach truth. In the late Middle Ages some universities were holding on desperately to the old way of looking at things, and others were promoting the new way–the rebirth, or renaissance.

So in learning about true Christian love, it is important to go to the right school. The school of unbelief, the school that rejects God’s Word as the standard, insists that love is to be shown to every man, but denies that there is also a God who must be loved. It teaches that love is the equivalent of being nice and tolerant, and that intolerance is the key ingredient to hatred. And it teaches that we find the power to love within us.

By contrast, in God’s school, our spiritual master, Jesus Christ, sets forth a very different idea of love. We are to love all humans, but for God’s sake; and loving them for God’s sake affects how we show our love in this or that instance. We are to show love by seeking their physical and spiritual wellbeing. Loving God above all, we will hate what He hates, namely, sin and those who love and pursue sin. Our hatred of them will not lead us to try to injure or kill them, but will lead us to be not like them. In this school we learn that we have the power to do this in Christ.

Which school we attend is a matter of fundamental importance.

The child does not decide to which school he will go; his father and mother make that choice for him or her. Likewise, God requires us to learn what true love is in His school, at the feet of the teacher He has provided, Jesus Christ. Let us come to learn this lesson, with eagerness!

The lesson that Christ teaches us today in the school of the law is that we must love our neighbor; and He shows us how.

The heart of today’s lesson is set forth in two parts of Matthew 5. We read in Matthew 5:21-26:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

And we read in Matthew 5:43-48:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, 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, what 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.

The first lesson we must learn is what love really is. Here we must begin with God’s love, because His love is the perfect pattern for all love. God’s love toward His people in Christ is His delight in us, His desire to do good to us, and His working to establish and perfect a relationship of friendship with us. That love is perfect, as Matthew 5:48 indicated. The word does not mean “sinless,” although certainly God is without sin; but it means “complete.” Our heavenly Father is complete: His love is demonstrated in His whole being, in all He does, at every moment.

Now God commands us to love our neighbor. This means that we are to seek his good, and to desire a relationship with him. God’s idea of love, taught in His school, is different from the common worldly idea of love in several ways. First, we think of love as a feeling; God requires us to love as an action and a commitment. Second, society thinks of love, especially the love that desires a relationship, in sexual terms. God certainly is not thinking of love in that sense. In fact, as the seventh commandment will make clear, He forbids us to have sexual relationships with anyone except our spouse. But a relationship of peace and true friendship must be our desire. Third, while many speak of our calling to love everybody, in society we soon hate the one who does not love us as we wish they did. By contrast, God’s love is constant, and ours must be too. Fourth, society thinks of love as limited to doing good to the neighbor’s body, including his mind and emotions. But it ignores that we must also love the neighbor in his soul, that is, that in love for him we must promote his relationship with God. God requires us to love our neighbor chiefly in that we do all in our power to build him up in his relationship with God.

The second lesson we must learn is, to whom must we show love? And the answer is: to our neighbor. First, this means our neighbor in God’s covenant, church, kingdom. The ten commandments were written for Israel; an Israelite’s neighbors were mostly other Israelites. And the sermon on the mount was written for God’s covenant people too, regarding how to live in the covenant. So our neighbors are first of all our brothers and sisters in Christ. To them we must show love, seeking the wellbeing of both their body and their soul.

But our neighbors include anyone who crosses our pathway, whether he or she professes faith in Christ or not. Our next-door neighbors, our coworkers, the man driving in the car in front of me, the woman pushing a shopping cart down the same aisle as I am in–these are my neighbors. God put them on my path.

That means that some of our neighbors are those who hate us. Jesus underscores this in Matthew 5:44-45, when He commands us to love our enemies. In this text Jesus’ point is not that we hate some people, and we must cease hating them and begin to love them. Rather, His point is that some people are our enemies, in the sense that they hate us; and we are to love them. This is perfected, Christ-like love; this is a love that is more perfect than that of the publicans. We all have a natural love, that is, a readiness to like certain people. Generally those people are those who are like us, or like the things we like. But to love those who hate us is a superior form of love; it is not natural love, but spiritual.

The third lesson that we are taught is how properly to show love. How to show love is really the fundamental point both of the sixth commandment and of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5. The sixth commandment teaches that we must show love by not killing, not murdering, our neighbor. Jesus expands on the prohibition of the sixth commandment in Matthew 5:21-22: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

The killing that the sixth commandment forbids is that of murder. The sixth commandment did not prohibit capital punishment in the form of killing one who had blatantly disregarded God’s law; nor did it prohibit killing one’s enemies in war. The same God who prohibited killing in the sixth commandment expressly required Israel at times to put to death an offender, and to kill her enemies in war. But He forbad any Israelite to kill another, to murder another, in hatred. Rather than killing our neighbor, we must care for him or her; rather than hating him or her, we must love.

In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus expanded on this calling to love. To love the neighbor is to do good to the neighbor, to care for him bodily. In this regard, we are not only to meet the neighbor’s immediate need, but also provide above and beyond his needs. If he asks something of us because he is in need, we should provide his need. If he sues us at the law, we should be ready both to give him what he asks and more. This means that we ought to pray for him, and bless him, even the neighbor that hates us. And genuine love for the neighbor does more than seek his bodily good; it seeks his spiritual good. So we pray for him, and bless him (that is, speak good of him), notice, even for those neighbors who hate us.

To love our neighbor requires us to put aside our own agenda and our own self-seeking. In Matthew 5:25-26, Jesus tells us to agree with our adversary while we are in the way; that is, on the way to the judge or courthouse we should make peace. In personal disagreements, we are quick to defend ourselves; Jesus says that we are to think of the other, and work for peace. Of course, when I am convinced that I am morally right about a matter and my neighbor is wrong, Jesus is not telling me to concede that; but even then, Jesus teaches us to let no pettiness and personal desire color the matter.

If this is the positive keeping of the sixth commandment, it is easy to think of many ways in which we are guilty, in which we seek ourselves, in which we hate our neighbor. First, any outright murder is forbidden. This includes the murder of unborn infants inside the womb. Second, all hatred of the neighbor that shows itself short of taking his life is also forbidden. The neighbor is not a thing to be kicked, slapped, hit, or abused in any other way; the neighbor is a person, to be treated with dignity and respect. Third, any hatred of or frustration toward another that leads us to desire or seek his hurt is wrong. How often have you rejoiced to see another person get what he had coming to him or her? Perhaps he received justice; but were you loving him as he did?

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us how broad this commandment is by making us ask this question: to whom am I neighbor? The man to whom Jesus was speaking asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus indicated that this was, in a sense, the wrong question, for it could lead one to have expectations of how others are to treat us. Rather, the question is, to whom am I neighbor? So, to whom are we neighbor? To the person in the parking lot at the store, so that rather than stealing her purse, we help her if we see she is in need; to the person driving the car in front of us, so that we are to maintain safe control of our car regardless of what that other drive does; to the delivery person or solicitor, even if we don’t want them at our house, so that we keep our walkway in good repair and free of ice. When we remember that we are neighbor to everyone with whom we come into contact, and that we are to love him or her, we will work to prevent his hurt as much as we can.

A fourth lesson that we learn is that a great obstacle exists to our loving our neighbor. Quickly we suppose that the neighbor himself is the great obstacle; I love most of my neighbors, yes, but that one? Him? You know what he said to me? Her? You know how manipulative she is? But the great obstacle to keeping this commandment is not the neighbor; it is I, and you, ourselves. The sixth commandment is a prohibition, a negative command: “Thou shalt not kill.” God expresses this negatively because we know that we are capable of hatred, self-seeking, murder, and every sin against this commandment; the sinfulness and depravity of our own heart is the great obstacle. Jesus underscores this in Matthew 5 when he forbids us to be angry without a cause; to call our brother Raca, that is, senseless one, idiot; or to call him a fool. We do these things; we are prone to hate. And when we hate the neighbor, when we call him names, when we desire revenge, we are really trying to put ourselves forward in the eyes of another; we want other people to acknowledge that our neighbor is really a nobody, and we are among the greatest humans there are.

To restate, what makes loving the neighbor so hard is not anything about the neighbor, but everything about you and me. From this, two points follow.

The first point that follows is how sinful we are. We must see that everything about us, apart from grace, leads us to hate! We cannot obey this command in our own power and strength! To use the words of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 3, we hate God and our neighbor because we are prone to do so by nature. Here the word “prone” does not merely indicate a tendency, but means we would inevitably hate, the way an apple tree inevitably bears apples. How sinful we are! How greatly we need the grace of God to change us, renew us, if we are going to love! How essential that He first love us, in order that we might love Him and the neighbor!

The second point that follows, then, is how greatly we need the salvation that Christ gives, and how greatly we need to hear the gospel. The gospel speaks of that salvation. God loves us who are sinners, us who hated Him. He showed that love by sending Christ to take our sins upon Himself and to bear the punishment we deserve on account of them. God then showed His love by causing Christ to rise from the dead, so that He can impart His life to us, enabling us to love. And the gospel declares this. We need to hear that God loves us, and sent Christ for us.

And then we must believe this gospel. Do you believe this, radio friends? Do you believe that God loves you, for the sake of Jesus Christ? Do you stand amazed at His love for you, even though you do not deserve it?

Now here is the main point I am making in this connection: it is this love of God for us in Jesus Christ, the renewing power of which the gospel speaks, that removes the great obstacle to loving my neighbor. I was the obstacle; my sin was the obstacle; but I am renewed in Christ, and have the power to obey!

Finally, Jesus gives us a great motivation to obey when He calls God our Father, and us His children. Next to the relationship of husband and wife, the relationship of parent to child is the greatest relationship of love. That God is our Father and we His children means that He loves us, and we Him—we are in a loving relationship. We did not choose to be in that relationship, any more than a child chooses to be the son or daughter of a couple; God placed us in that relationship. But, as a child inevitably acts like his or her father, we will live as our Father lives. He is perfect; we will be perfect.

Ultimately, we will be perfect in heaven. There we will love our fellow kingdom citizens perfectly. Until then, we will not be perfect in the sense of sinless, but we will grow in our ability to demonstrate our love toward each other. More and more we will fight the hatred and envy that takes root in our hearts; more and more we will see the ways in which we have not been seeking the neighbor’s earthly good; more and more we will see that we are also called to love the neighbor by sharing the gospel with him or her. And more and more we will see that Jesus showed perfect love.

Once again, in the school of God’s law, we are reminded that our Great Teacher sets the perfect example to follow, and that He empowers us to follow that example.

How thankful we are to have gone today to the school of God’s law!