New City Catechism 7.2
Question 7: What does the law of God require?
Answer: Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience; that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done.
The great theologian Augustine argued that the main part of virtue is having our loves properly ordered, so that we love that which is truly the highest good (namely, God) above all, and love all other things in their proper proportion. Augustine’s teaching here reflects the biblical teaching that God’s law can be summarized as pointing us toward love for God and neighbor.
God is the highest good. Indeed, he is the very definition of goodness, truth, and beauty. To love him above all is to love the Good above all. But you cannot rightly love God if you do not also love your neighbor. Why is that? It is because your neighbor is made in the image of God and therefore represents God. Failure to love your neighbor is failure to love God.
It is interesting that the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31) is worded in precisely the way that it is in Scripture. Notice that God doesn’t command us to love humanity in general. He doesn’t ask us to picture an abstraction and profess love to a category. The command forces us to think about the actual, concrete individuals we encounter in our daily lives. These are flawed people, sinful people, sometimes annoying people. Many of them are people we may not want to spend too much time around. And yet, God commands us, not to profess a generalized love for an abstract humanity, but to perform actual deeds of kindness for the real flesh-and-blood people we encounter as we actively seek their good. That is what love for neighbor, as an expression of love for God, looks like.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Luke 10:25-37. What does this parable teach us about love for neighbor? List all the ways the good Samaritan provides us a striking example of that. How can you “Go and do likewise” in your own life?
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