By: Daniel Shultz
Baby don’t hurt me. A depth of information can be encapsulated in such simple a phrase. I often wonder what exactly it means to love? Of course many today talk about love as a feeling, but what does it mean to love? And does the Christian have the option to determine that on their own?
The Scriptures say a lot about love including a phrase we all know, love your neighbor as yourself, but what does that actually mean? The truth is that many people will isolate that verse from the text of scripture and use it as a lens to read their own understandings into Christian ethics. If loving myself means tolerating my own sin then I can love others by tolerating the sin of others. If loving myself means ignoring God’s standards for our lives then I can ignore it when people violate those standards. However the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” has a context in which it must be understood.
 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “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 22:35-40 (ESV)
We are so familiar with the bulk of this passage that we miss one of the most vital portions: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” When studying scriptures we must think deeply about what they are saying and not just gloss over things, or read them in a surface level way. Instead we must spend time to understand what exactly is being said, to whom it is being said, and why it is being said.
In Chapter 22 of the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus is being tested by the religious leaders of his day. First the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection (V.23), ask a question regarding the resurrection. Jesus cites the Old Testament scriptures to prove that God has testified that He is “not God of the dead but of the living,” (V. 32) meaning that all the Old Testament saints are, in a way, still living, and therefore pointing to a future resurrection. After the Sadducees have their questions answered the Pharisees get together to try to question Jesus, this question has to do with the most important Law. (V. 36)
Once again Jesus quotes the Old Testament in order to answer the question. This time he quotes from the book of Leviticus. Then Jesus in V. 40 says that in “these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Here Jesus is saying that the two passages are the summation of all the law and the prophets. Or in other words these two statements are the broad outlines of what it means to live rightly. In V. 37 we are told our duty before God as broad outline, “to love… with all [our] heart…soul…and …mind.” In the rest of the law and prophets this duty to God is explained and exposited, leading us to know exactly what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
The second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” likewise is explained in the law. We know what it means to love our neighbor as our self not through our selfish desires but through the proper conduct that God requires of us in His law. If one looks at the Ten Commandments they can see two types of laws; the first table, or group of laws, explains certain laws pertaining to our conduct towards God, and the second table explains how we should conduct ourselves towards our neighbors.
So when Jesus said that we are to love our neighbors as our self He had a certain point in mind, that all the law and the prophets explain what exactly it means to love someone in that way. Therefore to separate the verse from its context and utilize it to spread one’s own ethics and morality is contrary to what Jesus intended in His words and denies the very ethical standard Jesus upheld.