Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 8: 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.) 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. He repeatedly taught us about love, service, and charity. His life was spent among the poor, needy, sick, afflicted, and 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 Corinthians 13:13.) Charity encompasses all good things that are giveable: our goods, money, time, talents, services, and so forth.

When you love others as you love yourself, you will (1) do for them the same as you do for yourself, (2) give to them as you give to yourself, and (3) treat them as you want them to treat you. 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.) God’s people all share equally, and treat each other with mutual love and respect.

When we equally give to our neighbor, as we give to ourselves, there will be no rich or poor among us—all will be wealthy. When we equally share, we are living the second greatest commandment, and not living in iniquity. The will of the Father is that we be charitable and treat our neighbor as we treat ourselves. We can’t pretend to do otherwise, for Jesus said, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:22-23.)

Iniquity Is Inequity
Even though many do good works in the name of Jesus, yet all will not enter the kingdom of heaven if they are full of iniquity. The Greek word for iniquity, as used in Matthew 7, is anomia (an-om-ee’-ah), meaning "illegality," "violation of law," "wickedness," "transgress," and "unrighteousness." Webster’s Dictionary says that the word iniquity comes from the Latin word iniquitas which means, "lack of righteousness or justice," "unjust," "wickedness," or "sin."

Webster’s definition for unjust is, "unfair;" and "dishonest or unfaithful." His definition for unfair means "biased," "inequitable" and "dishonest," and the definition for unequal means, "unjust, unfair, not of the same size, strength, ability, value, rank, number, amount, etc." It also means not balanced, even, regular, or uniform, and not equal, adequate, or equitable.

Iniquity, then, means that which is unjust, unfair, dishonest, unrighteous, and it represents that which is not equal, even, uniform, adequate or of the same size, strength, ability, value, rank, number or amount—in short, inequitable. Iniquity, therefore, means inequity.

As mentioned in Matthew 7, what were these proponents of discipleship doing that was illegal, wicked, and unrighteous? What laws were they violating or transgressing? It sounds like they could have been neglecting the needy and poor among them. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "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 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." (1 Cor. 13:1-3.)

Some may feel that bestowing all their goods to feed the poor is charity, yet verse three sounds contradictory to that belief. However, true charity is not only bestowing our goods upon the needy, it has to be done with the love of Christ, for Jesus does not give begrudgingly. Therefore, true Christians give willingly, benevolently, and with a Christ-like love.

Charity, the pure love of Christ, is for the equalization of all mankind, that there be no rich or poor in the world. It is for the purpose of establishing a Godly, righteous, sanctified people. If we do not give with this gracious goal in mind we are fostering inequality which is iniquity.

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 story we find that it is not enough to just keep the commandments, we must also sell all we have and equally share it with those in need. We also learn that it is the only way to become perfect. When we follow the Master’s example we will do as He did, serve the poor, needy, sick, afflicted, and despised.

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. Seeking riches can be addictive, and many covet after worldly gain, power, and recognition. 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 not taking advantage of them.

Adding to the many indictments against Israel’s wickedness, 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, receiving God’s judgment. 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, or parable, which is not unlike many around us 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 doctor bills and other hospital expenses. Because of his illness and time away from work, he lost his job. Therefore, he had no means by which to pay the large hospital and doctor bills, going deeper in debt as time passed.

Due to health complications, the man died leaving behind a widow, four small children, large medical debts and other bills, mortgage on a house, and no means of income or insurance. The creditors, of course, added much interest (usury) 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. This they did instead of extending forgiveness of the debts which they could have done had they the charity and mercy of Christ, and because of their rich financial resources they would have hardly felt the difference.

She investigated the possibility of a lawyer to plead her case before the court. Instead of compassionately and freely (Pro bono) offering his help to free her from bondage, an attempt he could have made had he the love of God, the lawyer charged enormous rates for his services. 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, but they did not.

After the widow and her children were evicted from the house the banker sold it at a discount, and at the same time still made a tidy profit. The new buyer thanked God for blessing him in making such a good investment which would bring him much in earnings.

But, what of the widow and her children?

Understanding God’s Law
It doesn’t take much for the average person to see the injustice of 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 Christian 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.)

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 makes 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.

Because of this inequity, Moses was not able to establish a righteous society in his time, and there is no righteous society upon the earth today for the same reason. Ezekiel prophesied concerning the latter times and said that the shepherds ruled their flock with force, and do not search out the lost. The good word is that the Lord, Himself, will seek after His sheep and feed them. (Ezek. 34:2-10.) It’s imperative to examine how we serve and treat one another, especially when we have a stewardship over a flock of His sheep.

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 much like what the Lord said when speaking about those claiming good works in His name—a scripture we considered above: "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:22-23.) It’s also 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.) We can incur the wrath of God when we pursue thoughtless (things pursued with less thought) habits without truly sacrificing and loving those in need.

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.)

Many feel rather comfortably content with just teaching Sunday School, singing in the church choir, finding it easy to write a check for the paying of tithes and offerings, and just doing what is expected on the surface. The true disciple of Jesus, on the other hand, does not presume that this justifies his offering of charity. He doesn’t necessarily find it easier to give money just because he won’t miss it, because it’s easiest to give what hurts less. He doesn’t need to find excuses when called upon to serve, for he is willing to give up a few moments of his time to see if there is anyone in his neighborhood in need. He also doesn’t resent having to turn off something such as a televised sporting activity or special movie to perform some needed act. He doesn’t just give money to a charity, he follows Jesus’ example by getting personally involved with the people in need. That is true charity!

There is more the Lord expects than just outward performance in the customary way. It’s much harder to physically go and perform a needed and unselfish service, particularly if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable at the time and not on a list of expected or required duties. It’s even harder to equally give to our neighbor that which we possess. An example of how the Lord expects His followers to share can be found in Acts 4 and 5. There we find that the people that believed were of "one heart and of one soul," and they had "all things common." "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." (Acts 4:32-35.)

When the reader considers Acts 5, he will find what happened to a couple that tried to cheat the Lord and the people in this matter. 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.) When we make money our God, we have no one to pray to when the money is gone.

This concept won’t go right over the heads of those who are true Christians, for they will know that God doesn’t bless them for some pretended righteousness, "... 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.

The Christian doesn’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. The Christian 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.)

The true disciple of Christ doesn’t have to believe that what he gives to one he must give to all, or be fearful that others will take advantage of him, for he knows that what God has bestowed was given in grace, and is not his alone. Though there are the greedy poor, just as there are the greedy rich, yet the Christian 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. The Christian disciple 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. Instead of being proud of our accomplishments we are grateful—grateful enough to share God’s gifts with others. When we share what we have, we can expect the Father to share with us. When we expect the Father to share all that He has with us, we are willing to share all that we have with our neighbor.

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 does not! 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. Now, when God blesses us, we are to bless others.

There’s Enough for All
Does the Lord want us to store food away for a rainy day when it’s already raining on our neighbor? It takes faith to give to others as we give to ourselves. It takes faith to believe there is enough to go around. The Psalmist wrote, "The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Ps. 24:1.) We must have faith that God was wise enough to create a world that could support all of His children. There is always good reason to equally share what we have with our neighbor, because there is plenty for everyone. The faithful disciple finds that when he gives with the pure love of Christ there is plenty to go around, with much to spare. Charity is a gift of love, it is grace in action, and it’s necessary to truly understand this principle when we expect to find favor with God.

As Christians we remember the life God has given to us, and we don’t take it for granted. We remember the supreme and charitable sacrifice Jesus made for us, and the suffering He endured that we might have eternal life. We are not asked to give more to others than what He gave to us. The Savior asks so little of us in comparison.

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. Besides, serving others can help us forget our own worries. It can produce a deep and abiding inner peace that may come in no other way.

Yes, there are those who do spend a lot of time and energy being concerned about others. They care to the extent that they try to be too much to too many people, at the expense of their own physical, mental, and emotional health. This is where wisdom comes in handy. The Lord knows we cannot be everything to everybody, and He doesn’t expect us to be. He wants to share this burden, and we need to have the faith that He can handle it. There needs to be a balance, but all too often the balance is shifted towards selfishness.

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. For example, 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 is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," which 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. In so doing we will be living the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—thereby becoming a Godly people. 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."

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