…with a fresh visit to the ‘New Commandment’
and the elusive ‘Law of Christ’
When Jesus was asked by a legal representative of the Pharisees, which was the first or greatest commandment in the Law, He did not quote from the Law given at Sinai: He did not even quote from the variant of the Decalogue reiterated by Moses for the second generation Israelites.
The Old Covenant
The Pharisees thought they were pretty smart at keeping the Law. This ‘lawyer’ had hoped to ‘test’ Jesus, but as was Jesus’ habit in these circumstances, He responded by challenging the lawyer. Because Jesus did not quote the first of the Ten Commandments, but another command from a law that Moses added as he finally prepared the Israelites for their triumphant entry into the promised land. A command that the Pharisee would have found very difficult if not impossible to obey. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all the heart and with all they soul and with all thy mind.’ The love that can scarcely be commanded.
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, nowhere before Deuteronomy do we find a command to love God. We find plenty of examples of God showing love to his creation and we find a few instances of people loving God, but no direct command to do so. Because love can scarcely be commanded!
The New Covenant
In the New Testament, beyond Jesus reminding the Pharisee under the law of that passage in Deuteronomy, again surprisingly (or perhaps you may think now unsurprisingly), we find no direct command to love God under the New Covenant.
Why is that? Well – why do people love God? What is it that compels us to love God? John answered that very simply: ‘We love Him because he first loved us.’ [ 1 John 4:19] Even here the Greek is unclear as to whether the word ‘Him’ should be there. It maybe a more general expression – ‘We love’. Any love we are able to express comes from God and His love for us.
Under the New Covenant we become appreciative of the extraordinary sacrifice our God personally made to save us, and to accept us into His Kingdom. Then we come to love Him – with this love which can scacely be commanded.
Similarly, under the Old Covenant it wasn’t during the forty years of wandering and moaning in the desert, but it was on the eve of entering into the promised land that God issued this command through Moses; when the new generation of Israelites could clearly appreciate what their God had done for them and had in mind for them all along.
This love can scarcely be commanded – because love is a fruit which grows and develops and is nourished internally by the Holy Spirit and not by external command. [Gal 5:22]
Love towards ‘neighbour’
The second rare phrase from the law that Jesus quoted was from a mixed group of laws in Leviticus ‘Love your neighbour as yourself [Lev 19:18] And even this love can scarcely be commanded.
Almost invariably instances of this subject in New Covenant literature are in fact exhortations and not literally commands.
The New Commandment
But didn’t Jesus issue a New Commandment to His disciples which was to be the badge of the New Covenant church [John 13:35]; and wasn’t it to love one another?
And isn’t the law of Christ to love one another by bearing one another’s burdens? Surely these indicate that Love is a law and can be commanded? Maybe not. Let’s have a more careful look.
‘A new commandment I give you, said Jesus ‘Love one another’. Well – not exactly. In both instances – Jesus’ original delivery in John 13:34 and John’s reporting of it in 2 John 1:5 – the wording of the second clause is: ‘that we/you also love one another’ and the word translated ‘that’ from the Greek is ἵνα [hina] which means ‘in order that’ or ‘so that’ (as it can also mean in English).
So the correct translation is ‘A New Commandment I give you “in order that” or “so that” you might love one another.” The New Commandment, then, was not simply to love one another. It was less direct. Whatever the commandment was it would give them (the disciples) the power or ability to love one another. What could do that? Only the Holy Spirit (Christ in us) given to those who believe. So the New Commandment is simply to believe. It is faith.
The Law of Christ
The law of Christ, in it’s unique setting, has a similar indirect relationship with it’s antecedent clause. Paul wrote ‘Bear one another’s burdens, which is the Law of Christ’, – didn’t he? Well no, not exactly – he wrote ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.’ The bearing of the burdens – the love shown to and shared with the brethren – is not itself the Law of Christ; it merely fulfills the law of Christ, (as also incidentally it fulfills the Law of Moses [Rom 13:10])
So we see that this love is the response or result of the Law of Christ and not the Law itself. The Law is at the back of this response – something more fundamental, more basic.
Again what gives us the power and ability to fulfill this Law is ‘Christ in us’ – the Holy Spirit given to those with faith. Those who believe. The law of which this is the fulfillment is again the Law of Faith, meaning the principle of faith (as the phrase is used in Romans 3:27)
The love that can scarcely be commanded
This is the Love which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit given to the household of faith. This is where we meet with the essence of the New Covenant.
The grace we receive – not by law or legal command – but through faith alone.
‘What manner of love is this’? It is the ‘love which is bestowed upon us’ [1 John 3:1], by which we respond to God [1 John 4:19] and which we pass on because it is ‘shed abroad in our hearts’. [Rom 5:5] as a result of the New Commandment and as the fulfillment of the Law of Christ. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit – the manifestation of Christ in us – and it is secured from the Father through faith. This is the love that can scarcely be commanded.
About Neil Colombé
Neil had a very wide and prolonged education which included Latin, philosophy, logic and metaphysics – but not Hebrew, Greek or Theology. He has been a Bible student for fifty years and thirty of those were under the auspices of a church which encouraged theological study to a greater degree than some seminaries! The composer of several fine hymns, for example: He is the prolific writer of two books (both the same!) You will find his Amazon author page here with further biographical details. He lives in Wales with his wife Joy where they run a BnB , and are visited intermittently by their six children.
Neil is the composer of several fine hymns, for example, click here.
He is the prolific writer of two books (both the same!) You will find his Amazon author page here with further biographical details.
He lives in Wales with his wife Joy where they run a BnB and are visited intermittently by their six children.
His website: ‘Grace? Yes – but!’