The Second Table--Love Your Neighbor
What is the first word that comes to your mind when I mention the Ten Commandments?
How about the word . . .
Many modern people conceive of freedom as an end in and of itself. And many modern people also regard freedom as unimpeded access to any choice, as unlimited choice, as always keeping one’s options open. If you ask the average American today, “What is freedom for?” you will likely get a blank stare. And if you ask them, “What is it that free people may not ever do?” you will likely earn a shake of the head, roll of the eyes, and a scoff.
But the commandments are what divinely bestowed freedom looks like. Freedom is not when the powerful take whatever they want, but when we respect the property of others and we do our best to help them maintain it and retain it. Freedom is not when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all -- from the unborn, to the impoverished, to the handicapped, to the vulnerable, to the elderly -- are protected and their rights are respected. Freedom is not the endless satisfaction of every sexual impulse, but the commitment of two people to each other. Christian freedom knows that within the bounds of a loving and committed marriage, there is more freedom to be experienced than there is in the lifestyle that does not commit to family.
The Lord introduces his commandments by talking about freedom. In verse 2 he says,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
In other words, “I have shown that I am the expert when it comes to freedom, so let me tell you what it takes to remain free.”
God knows that true freedoms comes from good fences. Last week we considered the “First Table of the Law”—the “good fences” which he set up in our relationship to him. This week we turn to what is traditionally called the “Second Table of the Law”—the “good fences” he set up for our relationship to others.
That outline of two “Tables” comes from Jesus’ own summary of the Law which we saw in Matthew 22:
"'Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
So, here’s another word . . .
Jesus says the Ten Commandments are all about love—love for God and love for our neighbor.
Paul agrees in Romans 13:10:
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
We’ve been studying the Ten Commandments, those “good fences” that God has set up for our own good. Last week we considered the “First Table of the Law”, those commandments which detail how we are to love God. In the next two weeks we will consider the “Second Table of the Law” concerning how we are to love our neighbor.
In my studies this week I came across Luther’s Small Catechism. I want to share some of what he has to say in his section on the Ten Commandments because I think he does a good job of showing us what love for our neighbor means,
Honor your father and mother. (God’s representatives)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
You shall not murder. (God’s gift of life)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
You shall not commit adultery. (God’s gift of marriage)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and descent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.
You shall not steal. (God’s gift of possessions)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that w do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.
You shall not give false testimony against you neighbor. (God’s gift of a Good Reputation)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
I think this shows us that the point of these laws is not some sort of self-help project, but rather to turn us toward our neighbor. The point of the law is not self-improvement, but neighbor-improvement.
The purpose of the law is not “your best life now,” but rather “your neighbor’s best life now.” Because we are stuck in this fallen condition called sin, and because we are going to remain stuck in this condition until God “makes all thing new” in the new creation, God says to us, “For as long as you’re here in this condition, love your neighbor."
So, maybe you’re wondering, like the lawyer in Luke 10, “[W]ho is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
Let’s start with a bit of etymology. The word neighbor in the English comes from the Old English “neah” or “nigh”, which means “close by”; and the word “gebur” which means “to dwell.” So, the word neighbor means “one who dwells close by.” Now, I realize that when Jesus talks about our “neighbor” he means something broader than merely “someone who lives near you”, he’s talking about mankind in general, but what about those people whom God has placed in our literal neighborhood? Don’t we have a responsibility to them?
One of the regular bits on Sesame Street was the little song, “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?”
Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood?
O, who are the people in your neighborhood?
They’re the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street.
They’re the people that you meet each day.”
Who are the people in your neighborhood? Do you know their names? Do you know what they do for a living, what they do for fun? Do you know how they’re doing, are they OK? Do you know whether they have faith in Christ, if they go to church? Do they have needs? Do they need help?
We aren’t very good about this in our society anymore. I’m not very good at this—I don’t really know my neighbors. I’m much more likely to say, “It’s not my problem” or “I haven’t got time” or “I’ve got enough problems of my own.” Remember Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol? There is a scene where the ghost of Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge and laments over "life's opportunities misused." Scrooge remarks, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob." Upon which the Ghost cries out in anguish:
Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
The fact is, as Christians we have a responsibility to our neighbors who may not know Jesus yet. We say, “I’ll pray for them,” but how can we pray for them if we don’t really know their needs? How can we talk to them about Jesus if we don’t even know them?
Because the law isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbor. God doesn’t give us these laws for us to “live our best life now.” It’s about our neighbor living their “best life now.”
How do I love my neighbor? God says, “Make sure everyone gets one day off each week, take care of the elderly, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse, don’t hurt your neighbor with your words, don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.”
But more than just not doing these things, care for them, help them, serve them and honor them. God loves your neighbor so much that God gives you the law. And God loves you so much, that God gives your neighbor the exact same law.
And when we live the Commandments in this wonderful, positive way—that’s when they cease being a burden to us—limiting our lives. When God’s good fences become aren’t just a list of all the things we shouldn’t do, that’s when they become a blessing and an opportunity to live freely by serving freely and giving freely. And loving freely—just as God loves us.
When I think that freedom means doing what I want—serving myself—invariably I become a slave to my own selfish desires. God has so much more in store for us. My freedom comes from knowing that God loves me and frees me to love you.