The Fruit of the Spirit: Love

We all know combinations that just don’t go well together, don’t we? We even have a saying for them—they go together like oil and water. Some people think this about God’s Law and love. Others perhaps agree that God’s Law and love are compatible, but wouldn’t do well in explaining how they harmonize. Yet, they do. It is not possible for there to be discord or incompatibility, at least in an ultimate sense, between God’s Law and love, because they are God’s. But affirming that they harmonize is not the same as expressing how or why they do. A short blog post is not sufficient to do justice to the fullness of their personal or organic union, but perhaps we can identify enough of the truth regarding them that will help us see that they are not oil and water. In the process, we might gain a better understanding of both God’s love and Law.

In Matt. 22:37-40, Jesus stated that the greatest commandment in God’s Law is, “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.” Among the multitude of things that could be said about Jesus’ statement, we can certainly conclude this: Jesus affirmed a personal, or organic, unity between God’s love and Law. In his answer, Jesus begins with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and combines it with Leviticus 19:18. Thus, he extends his answer by expressing the truth of Deut. 6:6-9 and the truth of the “Second Table” of God’s Law, or commandments 5 through 10. Jesus’ point was that the “First Table” of God’s Law is inseparably united to His “Second Table,” and thereby they can only be applied together. Put another way, we cannot love God without obeying him (John 14:15), we cannot love God without loving others, including our enemies (Matt. 5:44-48).

In Romans 13:8-10 the apostle Paul makes clear that the one “who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” He quotes from the “Second Table” of the Ten Commandments citing the commands against adultery, murder, stealing and coveting, and summarizes their application as, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” He concludes: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” In other words, love is God’s law brought to its proper and fullest expression (cf. Psalm 119; James 2:8-13; 1John, esp. 5:1-3). In 1Corinthians 13:13 we are told of the three great Christian characteristics—faith, hope and love—the greatest is love. Since love is the fulfillment of God’s Law, we are right to conclude that the fulfillment of it is the greatest Christian characteristic.

Indeed, Jesus achieved this fulfillment and continues to achieve it by virtue of his indestructible life (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 10:4; Hebrews 7:15-28). He is carrying it out not merely in the individual souls of believers, but the church corporately and the entire cosmos, because he is Lord of heaven and earth. This is why he taught his disciples to pray, among other things, that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Consider this: The entire created order was brought into existence by God’s command, i. e. the issuing of His Law. God’s Law was present before sin entered his creation, and Adam and Eve’s relationship to God prior to sin was based on God’s Law.

All this expresses both a logical and personal union within God’s Law and between God’s love and Law. Rationality is ultimately personal, not impersonal, and certainly not a matter of one’s skin color nor ethnicity. To speak of a personal union is to speak of an organic or living one. We need to recognize and give full weight to this union for our thinking to be fully Christian. Perhaps, some are unaccustomed to considering God’s Law as the expression of his love and, thereby, his logic, or his way of thinking, which in turn is unavoidably his act. Yet, Scripture teaches these things.

Part of the consequences of Western culture’s influence on the church is impersonal radical dualisms. These dualisms have a variety of manifestations. They ultimately separate, and play off against each other, two things that God has united, and that the Bible says mutually define one another in some sense. The physical and the spiritual, God’s Law and gospel, the human body and soul, and God’s Law and love are just a few. Rather than thinking of these realities in impersonal ways, we need to learn to treat them as they are—aspects of who God is and what he does. When we do, we will think of them according to an organic or personal union, as living realities that ought not to be played off against each other any more than you ought to play your head off against your neck, shoulders and the rest of your body. So, God’s love is fully demonstrated in our obedience to His Law, they are not “oil and water.”

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.