Love One Another

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.Leviticus 19:9-18 ESV

This chapter opens with the following statement from Yahweh: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV), and Moses is commanded to deliver this message from the Lord to “the congregation of the people of Israel” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV). This was a corporate call to a life of holiness and just to ensure that His audience knew who was issuing the call, God repeatedly states, “I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18). As God emphasized His laws regulating human interactions, He wanted His people to know that He placed a high priority on their relationships with one another.

It was not enough to keep His laws concerning the Sabbath and the sacrificial system. Their outward displays of devotion to Him would be insufficient if they failed to obey His rules that governed life within the faith community. Individual piety did not take precedence over the interpersonal relationships of God’s people. So, in this chapter, God stresses those laws that were intended to guide and guard the daily interactions between His covenant people. They were in this together. God viewed them as a collective, a unified whole made up of distinct and disparate individuals who, together, formed His “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

In verses 9-18, Moses records God’s message regarding holiness as expressed in the Israelite’s daily interactions with one another. Every one of the laws God highlights in this passage was intended to regulate the interpersonal relationships of His people. And love was to be the motivating factor behind obedience to each of these laws.

“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” – Leviticus 19:18 ESV

This was the commandment that Jesus placed on equal standing with a sold-out love for God. When asked by the Pharisees which of the commandments of God was the greatest, Jesus surprised them by combining a love for others and love for God into one inseparable and binding commandment.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

These two admonitions were not mutually exclusive but had to coincide side by side. It is impossible to love God without having a healthy love for those whom God has made. The apostle John put it this way:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

God had made a covenant with the nation of Israel. He had set them apart as a people, not just as individuals. And His laws were meant to regulate their relationship with Him as well as with one another. What the apostle John points out is that God pours out His love on each individual so that they might share that love with someone else.

since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:12 NLT

As God’s people love one another in the same way He has loved them, His love becomes magnified and increasingly more visible to a lost world. No one can see God, but they can witness the reality of His love as it manifests itself among His covenant people. The very fact that God’s people can love one another selflessly and sacrificially is proof that God exists.

So, as God reiterated His laws governing human relationships, He was encouraging His people to display His love through their daily interactions with one another. Each of the laws highlighted in this passage is intended to produce practical expressions of love. The Israelites were commanded to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and any grain that was dropped in the process of harvesting was to be left right where it was. Why? So that the poor and the needy would have food to eat. Keep in mind that many of these regulations were not applicable yet. The Israelites were still encamped at the base of Mount Sinai and did not yet own fields or vineyards. These laws would not go into effect until they entered the land of Canaan. But the principle behind the law was to be implemented immediately. God cared for the poor and so should they.

The next set of commands covers such things as stealing, lying, cheating, and fraud. These kinds of behaviors were unacceptable among God’s people because they exhibited a lack of love for the other person. These actions are harmful and not helpful. They do damage rather than good, and they convey a lack of respect for those whom God has made in His own likeness.

God knew that the Israelites would struggle with everything from greed and lust to unjustified feelings of superiority. That is why He warned them to treat the deaf and the blind with respect and honor. No one was to look down their nose at anyone else. The poor, weak, and disenfranchised were no less members of the family of God than anyone else. They had not chosen their lot in life, and the more affluent and socially acceptable Israelites were not free to judge these less-fortunate members of the faith community.

The practice of favoritism and cronyism was unacceptable among God’s people. Whether in the community or the courts, no Israelite was to practice discrimination. And this temptation to show favor to the haves over the have-nots would prove to be a problem in the New Testament church. James dealt with it forcefully and bluntly.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? – James 2:1-4 NLT

There was no place for slander, gossip, or impartiality among God’s people. The Israelites had been called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood that lived pure and undefiled lives. What was acceptable and even respectable among the Canaanites and Egyptians was off-limits to God’s people. Neglect of the poor, abuse of the working class, defrauding of the weak, or failure to help the defenseless were to be viewed as nothing less than hate. To claim to love God while hating your fellow Israelite was a non sequitur and had no place within the covenant community.

Vengeance, payback, and all forms of retaliation were prohibited because they displayed a desire to act as God in the life of another human being. And God made it clear that He alone was

“Vengeance is Mine; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly.” – Deuteronomy 32:35 BSB

The apostle Paul quoted this very verse when writing to the believer living in Rome.

Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”

On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:19-21 BSB

God wraps up this section in Leviticus with a summary statement that emphasizes love. But the kind of love God demands of His people is interesting. He states, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV). But what does this mean? It sounds a bit self-serving. But God is expressing the common ground all human beings share. We each long to be loved, cared for, provided with assistance when needed, treated with dignity and respect, and given the benefit of the doubt. Yet, how easy it is to demand these things from others but fail to reciprocate.

“The point seems to be that they were to see others as people with needs, as they themselves had needs. The expression of love for other people then meant to come to their assistance. Thus, far from exploiting and oppressing people, the covenant member had to help them.…The idea here is clearly that of beneficial action motivated by concern for someone.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

Jesus picked up on this ancient maxim in His sermon on the mount, paraphrasing it to drive home his point.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12 ESV

This has come to be known as the Golden Rule, and some form of it exists in just about every culture that has ever existed. But its genesis can be found in the book of Leviticus, where God directed His people to love others in the same way they wished to be loved. And Jesus states that this reciprocal form of love forms the foundation of the entire Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets. God’s people are to love Him but they are also called to love one another. But what is the basis of that love? They are to love others in the same way that they desire to be loved by God. Selflessly, non-judgmentally, graciously, unwaveringly, consistently, and undeservedly.

Jesus put it this way: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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