For the past little while on foundations, we’ve been learning about Shema and in particular the elements that make up Shema. What exactly is Shema? Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. (“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad. Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le’olam va’ed” (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)
I have to start by telling you ‘Al’s’ story.
Al hit rock bottom at the age of 22. He wrote a letter to his sister bemoaning the day he was born saying that he was nothing but a burden to his family. As a young child he was deemed to be retarded and was taken out of school several times, even the family maid nicknamed him ‘the dopey one’.
He eventually did finish school but couldn’t get into a tech school and there was no chance of him getting into college. He needed work but no one would hire him.
Finally, his dad’s friend – Fred Haller – gave him a probationary job at his office which was the Swiss Federal Patent Office and that’s where Fred realised that Al wasn’t as useless and clueless as everyone thought. Al was in fact a good worker, he just thought and learned differently and he went on to guide lesser minds through the intricacies of time and space.
Al became so inspired by his first ever success at anything that he eventually lived up to the genius that was inside him all along…from his first job came the incomparable genius of Albert Einstein!
Now we’ve covered ‘Shema’ for the little while and we’re not going to focus on that specifically but we will look deeper at what it means to ‘love your neighbour’.
Paul repeated what Jesus said about loving our neighbour.
Galatians 5:13-14, ‘You were called to freedom brothers. Only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole of the Law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”’
This is again getting back to that old rabbinical tradition of trying to boil the entirety of God’s Law into a simply summary statement. Paul loved the Law of God because he recognised that the Law is holy and if so, we have to learn to understand what it means to us. Peter emphasised this as well.
1 Peter 4:7-8, ‘The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.’
Above all…that’s what Peter taught in his letters. Be obedient, keep watch, be self-controlled and sober-minded….so be serious about your faith but ABOVE ALL…love our brothers and sisters in the faith over everything else.
John also emphasised the importance of believers loving each other righteously.
1 John 3:10-11, ‘By this it’s evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who doesn’t love his brother. For this is the message that you’ve heard from the beginning, that you should love one another.’
John is talking about godly living and Christian relationships within the church body. That doesn’t exclude biological family of course, but the context is talking about the body of Christ. James emphasises this as well.
James 2:8, ‘If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you’re doing well.’
The first church placed great emphasis on loving and caring for each other (Acts 2:42-47), they not only gathered together regularly, they were also very active in the general community as well. They didn’t isolate themselves from the world, but they continued to worship daily in the Temple as well. Sadly, it only took a few centuries for the church to become both greedy in its pursuit of political power and material wealth as well as being isolationist in its self-imagined piety through monasticism. All denominations and flavours within Christendom has done this, so no church is exempt.
While it’s very true that each individual will stand before God and give an account for themselves and no one else, and that when a person comes to faith in Jesus, it’s personal, it’s also true that when we come to faith in Jesus, we are born again INTO God’s family; we are adopted sons and daughters and we’re no longer isolated but are in fact part of a community, a family where we are supposed to be planted and grounded.
Throughout Jewish history, God always called His people to serve Him ‘together’, there was always a majority in Israel that rebelled against God, but the remnant was always called to stand together. The same was expected of the church after the resurrection and it’s that close family, the entity of the church that is described as a body that when close knit and loving, and committed to God and each other, that the testimony of Jesus through the lives of His people are the most impacting and striking to the eyes of the watching world.
This means that we’re supposed to stay in fellowship with each other. I’m not saying that you have to belong to a particular church that meets at a set location in a specific building. Not all churches are faithful to God’s Word, but we are supposed to be faithful in our fellowship with other genuine believers; that’s the focus of what it means to be in genuine community with our Christian family.
Judaism in its purest form and even today is very communal, it’s never solitary. Other national or ethnic people groups have disappeared from history, but the Jewish people are unique in that they’ve remained a ‘separate people’ to the rest of the world, but are very much a collective community, a fellowship if you will, a people that cares for, defends and looks out for the interests of their community not only in their own towns, but collectively around the world. That’s how the Christian church should function too.
Again, we as individuals are accountable to God for our sin, no one else will ever have to answer for what you and I personally do, but you and I were never called to be Christian’s alone. It’s not ‘I’, but ‘we’ who make up the body of believers in Jesus.
Next program we’ll look at how Jesus taught His disciples to pray and we’ll also look at the story of the Good Samaritan in the context of Shema and loving our neighbour as ourselves.