Saturday, September 24, 2016


If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)

We've been exploring what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.  It depends on our definition of "love," but we need to know the Bible's definition of love to be certain we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Go to Leviticus 19.  This is the chapter after the infamous Leviticus 18, which deals with unlawful sexual relations and includes child sacrifice (sacrificing one's child to Molech in OT times, but abortion would fit nicely in that passage today).  Chapter 19 deals mostly with theft and ripping others off.  What 18 and 19 have in common is loving one's neighbor as oneself.  If you love your neighbor, you do NOT have immoral sexual relations with them, of the kind described in chapter 18, and you do NOT take advantage of their class and financial difficulties, as described in chapter 19.  Here is the part of Chapter 19 that deals with robbing one's neighbor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:9-18)

Punctuated with God's holy name, the laws come tumbling in: we are not to steal, to deal falsely; we are not to lie; we are not to swear by God's name falsely. Profaning the name of the Lord by swearing falsely by his name can be connected with the same Hebrew language in chapter 18: child sacrifice also profanes the name of the Lord.  Why? Because when one takes the life of a child, one is calling into question God's judgment in giving life to that child in the first place.  This is the same as swearing falsely--blasphemy.  We are not to withhold earnings that another deserves by working.  The pair of commandments about the blind and deaf show how we can take advantage of the weaker members of society.  We are not to drag others into court.  We are to show partiality neither to the poor NOR the rich.  We are to judge others righteously (note that we are still to judge, but righteously).  Next, there is another verse about NOT standing up against the LIFE of your neighbor.  See how loving one's neighbor involves standing up for LIFE, not death?  Finally, God begins to add murder into the mix (hating your brother in your heart). We do not argue, either, but reason frankly.  We do not take vengeance, but we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  See how we stretched out over many of the ten commandments, including the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth?  If we include the verses in Leviticus 19 not covered here, loving our neighbor includes keeping ALL of the commandments.  And we know that by loving our neighbor, whom we have seen, we prove that we love God, whom we have not seen.

But there is this one place at the beginning of the passage that we have not covered, and to leave it out would be to feed you all law and no gospel.  The passage in Leviticus 19 begins with a positive command, and it's one that is both easy and difficult to keep.  It also points us to Christ and what he did for us as our kinsman redeemer.  The verses in question are 9&10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  These are beautiful verses because they speak of giving of oneself to the needy, in a charitable way, of course, but not in the way that we are used to.  We don't live in an agrarian society anymore, and the parts of our society that are agriculturally based do not follow this gentle command at all.  We are a consumer-driven society that uses things up at a very quick rate under the guise of "not wasting."  God counters this concept with, "you cannot waste, because everything is mine."  We may not have a crop, and we may not have a harvest (and if we do, we tend to not let any part slip through the cracks), but we do have stuff that wears out and gets thrown away or sold (instead of given away), and we do have food leftovers that get thrown away or stashed in the fridge, where they are forgotten about and eventually thrown out.  This is what we all do.  But this passage is telling us that we should let things go and give them away.  We should not care about getting our money back, or some part of it, but give away what we don't need, to show the sojourner that we care.  To love our neighbors as ourselves.

Now look at Ruth 2.  Ruth is "gleaning" in Boaz's field (collecting the leftovers that God instructs us to leave behind in Leviticus 19).  Listen to verses 14-16: And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”  Boaz goes beyond the gleaning rule.  He even pulls some of the already-bundled barley out and lets her have it.  He even gives her roasted grain.  He even gives her bread and wine (Holy Communion!).  He goes far beyond what we would, because Boaz is a type and shadow of Christ, who loves his church and gives far beyond what is expected to satisfy it.  Just as Boaz redeems and marries Ruth, so Jesus redeems and marries his church.  Psalm 34:22 reads, "The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."  Our God is the God of Life.  He gave us life, and he died to save our lives.  Put your faith in him, take refuge, and you will not be condemned.

So, in answer to James' implied question, "how do I love my neighbor as myself?" the answer is to allow your neighbor to glean.  Give away what you don't need.  Jesus, however, gave to us more than we could ask or imagine.  We begged for bread, and he gave us the bread of life.  We prayed to glean, to eat the crumbs from his table, and he gave us life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven, eternal relationship with the triune God in Heaven.  The least we can do in response is to love our neighbor, allow our neighbor to glean.