For the whole law is fulfilled in this one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
One Word – What’s the matter with Paul’s arithmetic? This isn’t one word. It’s a whole bunch of words, an entire commandment. Why does Paul say that the whole law is fulfilled in this one word?
Paul is just being Jewish. In Hebrew thought, The Ten Commandments are called the “Ten Words.” Like a good teaching rabbi, Paul boils it all down to one word. That word is ahav.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think that the word would be agape? Did you think that Paul had a little used Greek word in mind? Probably not. Paul is thinking in Hebrew (thus the idea of the one word). That means that he is thinking about Leviticus 19:18. This verse is at the end of a series of commandments given by God involving the interactions between men and women. It is the summary of how we are to treat each other. So, when Paul tells us that our freedom is to be used in the service of one another, he doesn’t have to go very far to remind his audience about the operating principle for genuine service. All he has to do is recall what they already knew from the torah – that God commanded loving care for my neighbor. What Paul points out is this: if I truly love my neighbor in the same way as I love and care for myself, I will fulfill God’s instructions about service to others. More than that, I will also fulfill God’s instructions about honoring Him, worshipping Him alone and upholding His character. In other words, how I treat the man next door is the determining factor in measuring my total obedience to God.
What Paul implies, and what it will take a lifetime for us to work out, is that my attitudes and actions toward those who are nearest to me can only be truly loving if I have incorporated God’s character into my very being. Without His righteousness dwelling in me, I will find it impossible to have the right heart and the right hands to provide benevolence toward others at a cost to myself. Oh, I might be able to perform acts of kindness. I might be able to say good things. But when it comes to truly godly service, like laying down my life for my enemies, my human morality will fail. I will need God’s goodness pulsing through my veins to pull that off. My goal is not high performance altruism. It is transformed, incarnate living. That’s why the whole law is wrapped up in this one word.
Remember, Paul is taking about freedom. You don’t have to live this way. You’re free. You can jump on the hormone train to a better life. But you will misuse your freedom. You’ll be heading in the wrong direction. If you want to really know love, you’ll have to practice ahav at home, in the neighborhood. You’ll have to learn sacrifice the hard way. But don’t despair. God has designed the universe so that the deliberate choice to practice ahav as a slave results in glorious harmony. And practice makes perfect.
Topical Index: Freedom