Love fulfills the law (November 12, 2023)

Looking at 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 and Romans 13:8-12, Ted Foote, Jr. reflects on the relationship between the law and love.

Outlook Standard Lesson for November 12, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Corinthians 13:4-13; Romans 13:8-12

The pre-story

Twenty-five to thirty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Apostle Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus’ life and teachings at Corinth, and later to those in Rome.

1 Corinthians 13 is often remembered as “the wedding chapter” because it’s so often read at wedding ceremonies. That’s surely positive, but we make a mistake if we think Paul is writing about marriage as a topic alone. He’s describing love as we experience complete love from God amid our incompleteness (13:8,10).

In Romans 13:8, Paul writes, “Owe this to each other: Love. Love one another” (my paraphrase). Then he expands: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9). Here Paul quotes the faith traditions of Moses and Jesus. Many centuries before Jesus, God offered Israel the Mosaic Law, including Leviticus 19:18: “No vengeance when you are wronged. No grudge-bearing. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus clung to this in his own teachings. When asked about the greatest commandments, he replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” – quoting Leviticus 19:18 [cf. Matthew 19:16-22; 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28].

We owe the same

In his own life, Jesus never expected it to be easy to love your neighbor. It’s something we make progress on one day and lose ground on another day. We all have our preferred boundaries. We all have experienced hurt and don’t want to re-experience hurt, so we develop defensive and offensive practices to minimize our pain. Since Jesus experienced the totality of being human, he understands. Yet, he still said this was the greatest commandment — and lived it out.

Paul, therefore, teaches how, as people of God following and growing in Jesus’s way and spirit, we owe the same to one another. We owe each other God’s love as revealed in Jesus. That’s the greatest gift possible, but it is never easy.

This applies how?

A 9-year-old once observed and experienced certain fourth-grade classmates forming cliques and “insider groups.” He reported this to his parents, who replied, “It’s not good to count your inside friends as more important than other students.” After a moment of silence, the child said, “Yeah, in God’s eyes, it’s better to care the same for people.” In God’s eyes, it’s better to care the same for people. Truly.

Equipped and engaged

Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Thirty years after Jesus’s ministry, death, and resurrection, Paul encourages the developing church of Jesus’ disciples at Rome, telling them (13:10-14, my paraphrase): “God will take care of working on your reluctance and hesitation ‘to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.’ God’s Spirit in this Jesus awakens you to live toward God’s fulfilling this Law of Love. You can cease thinking self-indulgent and self-justifying cultural norms and habits are fulfilling. God will lead you to focus on what needs to be seen (and done)! Like a tailor holding a jacket for you to try on, put on the person and spirit of Jesus Christ!”

For people in all times and places, these verses guide our living as God is desiring.

Questions for discussion

  1. What has been the most difficult challenge in “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” in your personal life, at church and in your community?
  2. At different points in your life, how has God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ led you to grow in ways you understand and practice loving God, loving self, and loving neighbor?
  3. In 1542, John Calvin crafted a question-and-response teaching model entitled, “The Geneva Catechism,” which (combining questions and responses, #113, #221, & #222) includes the following:

What do you understand by the term “neighbor”?

Not only kindred and friends, or those connected with us by any necessary tie, but also those who are unknown to us, and even enemies.

But what connection do “neighbors” have with us?

They and we are connected by a tie with which God has bound the whole human race together.  This tie is sacred and unchangeable, and no person’s ill will and sin can abolish it.  To believe in Jesus Christ is to trust God’s promise both for deliverance from death and for regeneration spiritually, so we are empowered to live in Christ.

In this 480-year-old teaching model, what do you find helpful today? If you were to edit it, what would be your reasons for editing it according to your own experience or understanding of “faith following Jesus?”

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