A couple months ago as I was reading through Romans, I was struck by the idea that any commandment or law can be summed up by this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Paul says it in Romans 13:9-10, finishing with the phrase, Love is the fulfillment of the law.
I pondered this a little and then presented it to my kids. I asked them, "What laws would still be needed if we all treated each other with love?" We talked about various examples, but we could not think of any laws that would be necessary if we loved others. Certainly there would not be need for criminal laws pertaining to rape, murder, assault or burglary. There would be no need for religious laws around adultery, coveting or lying. And even civil laws, such as speed limits, business licenses, and property lines, would be unnecessary if we would drive our vehicles, conduct business, and treat our neighbors in ways that are loving and not harmful.
Love truly is the fulfillment of the law. That's what Paul said in Romans because that's what Jesus also said (in Matthew and Mark). Sometimes Jesus-followers, aka Christians, talk about loving others in big, broad terms. It sounds righteous and holy and saintly and all that. But how well do I love in a very practical, feet on the ground, me and you, kind of way?
I am called to drive cautiously because it is loving to the other people on the road with me - not because I want to avoid a traffic violation.
I am called to pay for my purchases because it is loving to the people who took the time to make, deliver, and sell the product - not because of any laws against shoplifting.
I am called to put my trash in a proper waste can because it is loving to the people who clean the area as well as to those who look at it - not because a sign tells me not to litter.
I am called to speak respectfully about my spouse... my boss... my school board... my pastor... my governor... my president because it is loving to do so - even if I disagree with their decisions and express that appropriately.
As one who has decided to follow Jesus, I am called to be patient with the server who got my order wrong. To be kind to the customer who is never satisfied. To be honest on my taxes. To obey speed limits. To abide by the school dress code. To wear a mask when illness may be spread. To speak words that build up instead of words that discourage or divide.
As one who has decided to follow Jesus, I am called to love others as much as I love myself.
Shew. The specific application of this command is a lot harder than the broad version. When I consider the intent and effect of every action and every word, loving others becomes a much bigger fight against my flesh. My natural tendencies may not be toward hate, but they are also not necessarily toward love. Sometimes people are hard to love. They are unkind. And difficult. They criticize. They don't appreciate me. They pull their car out in front of mine. They even support the opposite political party.
So how do I make this big, challenging, summative principle a reality in my life?
By allowing this question to guide me: What is the next most loving thing I can do?
In this situation... in this interaction... in this moment... what is the next most loving thing I can do?
If Jesus says that love is the law of all laws. And if Jesus modeled love for me. And if I say I want to be more like Jesus, this is how it happens. I fight back my flesh and its desire to do what it wants, and I choose to do whatever is most loving to the person in front of me.
Disclaimer: That does not mean I have to surrender honesty, hard conversations, political views, appropriate boundaries or even defensive actions when necessary. Even those can be handled in ways that are loving.
Therefore, today, as I parent my kids, drive through my town, pick up my groceries, complete my to-do list, interact with my colleagues, talk about my boss, stop by the hardware store, welcome my spouse home, think about my friends and family... I will consider what is the next most loving thing I can do.
For love is the fulfillment of the law.