During the Mosaic dispensation, the children of Israel were responsible to obey certain commandments. Likewise, during his present dispensation, believers in Christ are obligated to keep Gods commandments (1 John 2:3-5). Though some may wish to label commandment-keeping as "legalism," God makes it very clear that it is the only way we can show our love for Him (John 14:15,21). Legalism--What It Is and What It Is Not
Obedience to Gods commands is essential for believers of any age, of any dispensation. However the believer living under grace has been given a set of commandments which differs in certain ways from the set of commandments given through Moses to the Israelites living under the Mosaic law. Consider, for example, the commandment which concerns love for ones neighbor. Gods saints have always been commanded to love others. David (under law) and Paul (under grace) were both responsible to keep this important commandment. And yet, in spite of this common denominator, the way in which Paul was commanded to love others differed greatly from the way in which David was commanded to love his neighbor. In fact, Paul was under a much higher law--a law that was humanly impossible to obey. As we shall see, God demands from every believer living today a love which is far greater than the greatest love a man could ever have!
The beloved disciple John discusses the love-commandment in 1 John 2:6-11. At first glance, John here seems to contradict himself. In verse 7 he says, "I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment." It is not a new, but an old commandment. This all seems quite clear until John begins verse 8: "Again (on the other hand), a new commandment I write unto you." In one breath he says it is not new; in the next breath he says it is new! Its old, but its new! What is this old-yet-new commandment?
The old commandment is recorded in the third book of Moses, in Leviticus 19:18: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" Our Lord considered this the second greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22:36-40). To keep this one law is to keep all of the manward commandments in the Decalogue. Certainly if a man really loves his neighbor as himself he would never murder him, abuse his wife, steal from him, lie against him or covet what is his. It is also a very convicting commandment because it cuts to the very core of human selfishness. Too often we love ourselves much more than we love our neighbor, and put our interests over and above his.
The Lord Jesus beautifully re-stated the old commandment in Matthew 7:12--"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." Though this has been called the GOLDEN Rule, we must never forget that it is the OLD Rule, as old as the 10 Commandments, as old as Leviticus 19:18. This rule was in effect from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Calvary, at which time it was superseded by a NEW Rule.
On the eve of His death on the cross, the Lord Jesus took the old commandment and made it brand new! Consider John 13:14: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." Keep in mind the words of the Apostle John who was present when Jesus spoke these words (1 John 2:6-11). It is evident that in one sense this is a new commandment, but in another sense it is old. The command, "That ye love one another," certainly is not new. Leviticus 19:18, a command given in the days of Moses, said essentially the same thing (compare 2 John 5). But the Lord Jesus added something that made the old commandment new-"AS I HAVE LOVED YOU." The new commandment contains a completely new standard of love (compare 1 John 2:6). The Israelite under law was to love his neighbor as he loved himself--the standard of SELF-LOVE. The believer today is to love others as Christ loved him-the standard of CALVARY LOVE!
Let us put ourselves in the place of those disciples who originally heard these words. What if one of them had asked, "But Lord, how did You love us?" Surely the Lords answer would have been something like this: "If you really want to see how I love you, watch what I am going to do for you tomorrow!" (compare Romans 5:8 and 1 John 3:16; 4:9).
Lest they should misunderstand, the Lord further explained the new commandment in John chapter 15: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (verses 12-13). The greatest love a man can ever have is to lay down his life for his friend (compare Rom. 5:7), but Christ did something far greater than that. He laid down His life for those who were His enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). Calvary love is greater than the greatest kind of human love! And the believer in Christ is commanded to manifest this same kind of love. Who is sufficient for these things? How thankful we are to our God that He has given to believers of this age the wonderful gift of HIS SPIRIT to enable us to keep this new commandment (John 14:15-17; and compare Galatians 5:22-"the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE").
As we study the New Testament epistles, we are not surprised to discover that although the old commandment is still mentioned (Ephesians 5:33; Rom. 13:9), the great stress and emphasis is upon the new commandment. For example, Ephesians 4:32 teaches that the believer is to forgive others EVEN AS GOD HAS FORGIVEN HIM. The verse does not say, "forgiving one another, even as you would have others forgive you." The new standard is that of CALVARY LOVE, not SELF-LOVE.
Ephesians 5:2 is another example of the new commandment being re-stated by the New Testament writers: "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." And again in Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it." Notice that this verse does not say, "love your wives, EVEN AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF." The Apostle Paul repeatedly set forth the standard of Calvary love as the motivating factor in the believerís life (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
The great tragedy of our day is that the majority of churches in our land place the greatest stress upon the old commandment to the complete neglect of the new commandment. Analyze the preaching and teaching that comes forth from liberal pulpits and see if this is not so. Constantly we hear about the need to "love your neighbor as yourself and to "do unto others . . ." We hear repeatedly of the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. But how often do these same preachers tell us about the love that was shown on Calvarys cross? The reason the new commandment is not preached is because it brings a person face to face with a crucified Saviour who died for the ungodly when we were yet His ENEMIES! Liberals seek to avoid this message at all costs!
Those of us who boast in a crucified Saviour need to constantly proclaim the new commandment, even as Paul and John did in their doctrinal letters. Even more than that, we need to practice Calvary love. SELF must reckoned dead indeed unto sin (Rom. 6:11). With the Spirits enabling, we can gladly give of ourselves and sacrifice for one another (1 John 3:16), seeking only Gods highest and best for those we love. When the world sees this kind of love it will point them to the One who displayed that same kind of love when He died on the cross. Then shall they know that we are His disciples (John 13:35).
George Zeller (Voice Magazine, July/August, 1977)
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