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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Yahweh commands you to love your neighbour as yourself
Text:Leviticus 19:17-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 92:1-4

Psalm 32:1,2 (after the law)

Hymn 72

Psalm 141:1-4

Psalm 92:6,7

Scripture reading: 1 John 3:11-24

Text: Leviticus 19:17-18

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Imagine for a moment we’re with the Israelites in the wilderness.  We’ve left Egypt and we’re on our way to the Promised Land.  And there are these two men we see in the camp.  They’re neighbours, and they’ve been friends for many years.  One of them, let’s call him Nathan, is richer.  The other, let’s call him Ethan, is not so well off.  Ethan runs into a situation where he needs some extra shekels.  Ethan goes to his friend Nathan and asks him for a loan.  He promises to pay back the money by the end of the week.  Because they’ve been good friends for a long time, Nathan trusts Ethan and doesn’t ask for a pledge or guarantee.  He gives him the loan, no strings attached.  The end of the week comes and goes and Ethan didn’t repay the money.  Another week comes and goes and Ethan still hasn’t paid Nathan back. 

Now Nathan is getting frustrated with Ethan.  He wants his money back.  One night he is with some other friends around the campfire and tells them what happened.  Nathan tells them how angry he is with Ethan.  Another week goes by and Ethan still doesn’t pay.  And he’s nowhere to be seen.  It’s like he’s avoiding Nathan. 

Finally, Nathan bumps into Ethan and they start talking.  They’re talking about the weather and how it’s so hot and dusty compared to Egypt.  Then Nathan says, “That reminds me of a joke.  Did you ever hear that one about how Pharoah ripped off his brother?  Pharaoh took out a loan and didn’t repay it.  I guess you could say Egypt him.”  They both have a laugh at the lame joke and then go their separate ways.  But Ethan still doesn’t pay back what he owes.  Nathan is so angry -- Ethan just doesn’t get it.  Nathan is fuming inside.  He decides he’s never going to talk to Ethan again.  Okay, he’ll be civil, but their friendship is over.  And that’s the way things stay. 

Notice three things in that scenario:  first, Nathan thought that talking to other people about the problem would solve it.  He thought that if he talked to his friends, then maybe they would somehow get the word to Ethan of how Nathan is feeling.  Second, Nathan thought that using a clever joke with Ethan himself might send him the message.  He thought that Ethan would pick up on the fact that the joke was not just a joke.  Finally, Nathan figures that if he never talks to Ethan again, maybe then he’ll figure out what he did wrong.  But in each instance, Nathan avoids speaking directly about the problem to Ethan.  By responding like that, he becomes part of the problem.

It’s this kind of scenario that our text addresses.  It’s not the kind of thing that only took place in the ancient world – no, these kinds of things happen today too.  Here in Leviticus 19, God’s Word confronts this and exposes it.  In other places, God’s law exposes borrowing and not paying back as a sin.  But here God’s law exposes harbouring a grudge as a sin.  Here we’re confronted with what God commands for us when inter-personal relations break down and there are problems between people.  As we look at this passage this morning, we’ll see not only the law laid down to condemn and prevent sin, but also the encouragement the gospel offers concerning righteousness and the forgiveness of sins.  I’ve summarized our text with this theme:

Yahweh commands you to love your neighbour as yourself

We’ll see that:

  1. It must start in your heart
  2. It must work out in your life

We’re all familiar with what it says at the end of verse 18.  “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” is well-known because Jesus also said it.  In Matthew 22, a lawyer wanted to test Jesus, so he asked him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  I think you know how Jesus responded.  He said the first and greatest commandment is to love God with everything in your being.  Then Christ added that a second is like it:  “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  He was not inventing this commandment, but simply quoting it from the Old Testament and putting it in its proper place.  Following his example, we find Paul and James quoting our text as well in the New Testament.  New Testament Christians have long recognized that loving your neighbour as yourself is a permanent demand of God’s moral law. 

But what does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself?  The focus is on your neighbour in this command.  However, today many flip it around and turn the focus on you.  Some even go so far as to say this is a command for us to love ourselves.  However, that’s not the case.  Rather, the commandment here assumes you do love yourself.  It assumes that as being normal or typical.  But then we need to ask:  what does “loving yourself” mean here? 

It doesn’t mean you have warm, fuzzy feelings of affection for yourself.  It doesn’t mean you’re feeling like you need to send a Valentine to yourself each year on the 14th of February.  If all that were the case, we would have to say that our Form for Public Profession of Faith is on the wrong track when it asks if we truly detest and humble ourselves before God because of our sins.  We would have to say that Paul was wrong in Romans 7:24 when he said, “Wretched man that I am!”  Look, Scripture encourages us to have an accurate view of ourselves – we’re humble and we recognize that we are poor, miserable sinners.

When the Holy Spirit says, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” he is assuming we already love ourselves in a sense that’s different to affectionate feelings for ourselves.  What he means is that we normally do what we can to avoid being hurt.  If you step on a nail, you’re going to pull that nail out of your foot.  We normally do what we can to avoid being uncomfortable.  If you’re cold at night, you’re going to pull a blanket over you.  If you’re dehydrated and your lips are parched, you’re going to look for water to drink.  The love for yourself that’s assumed here as being normal is really what we call self-preservation.  Normally, people take care of themselves.  You want to avoid pain and discomfort.  That’s normal – we can grant that there are abnormal situations where people pursue pain or discomfort, self-harm, even suicide.  But self-preservation is the normal, typical human behaviour. 

And so just as we take care of ourselves, we are to take care for those around us as well.  Just as we try to keep ourselves from pain and hurt, so we ought to do the same for others.  We ought to be looking not only to our own needs, but also to the needs of those whom God has placed in our lives.  That’s the basic meaning of the commandment in our text.  The so-called Golden Rule captures the sense of it.  Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  That’s what it means to love your neighbour as yourself.  Treat others as you want to be treated and as you treat yourself.  Brothers and sisters, that’s God will for our lives.  Note that at the end of verse 18 it says, “I am the LORD” or “I am Yahweh.”  That reminds us that all of this is said on his authority.  This is not the will of people, but the will of God.

And our text explains how God’s will is to be done.  Outward actions are not enough.  God is looking for the proper attitude.  He’s looking for a heart pointed in the right direction.

We see this in our text right at the beginning of verse 17:  “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…”  Notice that this is speaking about what happens in the heart.  This is something going on inside you, internally.  You could go about pretending you love everybody.  Other people look at you and say, “Oh, she’s so sweet in how she just loves everybody.”  Meanwhile, it could all be a show.  In your heart, you could be filled with hatred and bitterness towards someone.  In your heart, you could have malice – malice, which as Matthew Henry says, “malice is murder begun.”  We saw that in our reading from 1 John 3 as well.  If you’re hating someone, filled with malice, you’re on the road to murder. 

But God’s law says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…”  This was addressed to the Israelites in the wilderness as they lived in community with one another.  That was their world, a world of closely bound brothers and sisters (“your brother” in verse 17 shouldn’t be understood as only referring to males).  From elsewhere in Scripture, we know that this commandment applies across the board to anyone.  You can’t say, “Well, I don’t hate any of my fellow believers in the church, but there is that lady across the back fence.  That’s okay, because she’s not a brother or sister in the Lord.”  No, that’s not biblical, not Christian.  It says in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…”  Hating someone in your heart is not doing good.  If you’re doing that right now with anyone, you must repent.  You need to hate that sin and turn from it.

Verse 18 goes a little further with our hearts.  It says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people…”  The Hebrew word translated as “take vengeance” can include the idea of harbouring vengeful feelings.  God is saying that his people are not to be going around thinking of ways to get back at those who have wronged them.  Nor are they to carry grudges.  A grudge is when you have hard feelings against someone.  They did something wrong against you, and you keep it fixed in your mind.  You’re not going to forget that wrong, but keep coming back to it.  It keeps you in a position of being against that other person.  Again, it might not be visible to others, but God knows your heart and he sees it.  He sees the grudge, the bitterness, how you hold on to it and coddle it.  You don’t put it to death, but nurture it and even let it grow.  God’s law addresses you:  you’re in the wrong if you harbour a grudge.  You’re sinning if you keep bad feelings towards another person in your heart.  This too is an evil which calls for repentance.

The demand of God’s law is clear.  It all relates to holiness.  The Israelites were to be holy as Yahweh is holy.  “Holy” means separated from all sin, including sins of the heart.  This demand for holiness remains for us today.  Peter repeats God’s demand in 1 Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  Like the Israelites of old, we are a royal priesthood and a holy nation and we’re expected to show it.  Yet how often don’t we fail?  I think about what God says here in Leviticus 19 and I have to be honest.  I have harboured hatred and ill feelings in my heart.  Call it what it is:  it’s evil.  I have thought about the best way to get back at someone – that’s wicked.  I have carried grudges, sometimes for years and that’s iniquity.  I have not loved my neighbour as myself.  I’m a sinner and I stand convicted before God’s law.  What about you?  Think about it. 

Then think also about our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Think about the forgiveness that is yours and mine through him.  If we hate our sins and turn to him with true faith, all our sins of past, present and future, are covered in the sight of God.  The gospel announces release from the curse of God attached to the ways in which we’ve broken his law in our hearts.  The good news assures you that these sins too were nailed with Christ to the cross.  They’re cancelled and they will never be used against you.  So loved ones, when you think of your guilt, think of the cross.  Despise your wrongdoing and trust in the Saviour. 

Trust him also for your perfect righteousness.  His blood shed on the cross gives you forgiveness.  His death gives you atonement.  And his perfect life gives you righteousness.  Did Christ ever harbour hatred in his heart for fellow human beings?  No, on the contrary, he loved his enemies and even gave himself for them.  Did Christ ever entertain feelings of vengeance against his neighbours?  Never.  Did he bear a grudge?  No, instead, he bore our grudges.  When you look at Christ and look at his perfect heart, his perfect track record of obedience, there’s something important to remember:  he did it for Christians.  He did it for all who believe.  If you trust in him, he did it for you.   His heart of obedience is imputed to you, credited to your account before God. 

When we consider that, it puts this passage in a new light.  We love God for first loving us.  We want to thank him for the salvation we have as a free gift in Christ.  We want to live in the way that’s described here in Leviticus 19.  So we pray for his strength and help.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to shape us into the image of Christ.  We pray the Holy Spirit would force out all the deadly hatred from our hearts.  We pray the Holy Spirit would dissolve those remaining poisonous feelings of revenge.  We pray the Holy Spirit would drown our toxic grudges.  We pray that he would instead fill us with the love that fills Christ, so that we can live in peace and harmony with one another and with all people.  Brothers and sisters, let’s desire these things laid out for us in God’s law and pursue them with prayer. 

Our passage also speaks of how these things are to work out externally in our lives.  Leviticus 19 is not only about your heart, but also about your conduct.  What starts in the heart has to show itself in how we act.  So not only are we to be putting sinful feelings to death, we are also to be bringing righteous behaviour to life.  Love doesn’t just stay in the heart. 

In our text, God tells us how to show love to a neighbour when there is an offense committed.  When someone does you wrong, how do you show love to that person?  You’re not showing love by hating in your heart or bearing a grudge.  But how do you turn that into positive action?  That’s what we find in the second part of verse 17, “…but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour, lest you incur sin because of him.”  There are two parts to that.  Let’s look at each one. 

First, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbour…”  That is God’s command here.  It’s in the context of a problem.  You have a problem with someone.  Perhaps they did something to offend you.  It could be a situation like from the introduction, where Ethan failed to pay Nathan back.  Or it could be a situation where you know someone has done something sinful or is living an ungodly life.  Perhaps they haven’t hurt you or offended you personally, but you have witnessed that this person claims to be a believer, but yet acts like an unbeliever.  They live a worldly life that stands in contrast to their confession.  They seem to deny with their lives what they confess with their lips.  This is a problem.  It’s the kind of problem addressed here in verse 17.  What do you do? 

“You shall reason frankly with your neighbour…”  That’s what God says.  He calls for you to approach your neighbour and speak with him or her directly.  Moreover, it’s not enough just to speak to him or her directly.  You also have to “reason frankly.”  You give straight talk.  You identify the problem clearly, you explain exactly why it is a problem, and you speak concretely about the way forward.  Let me say that again.  Straight talk means:  identifying the problem, explaining the problem, and showing the way forward.  That is what it means “to reason frankly.”

Leviticus 19 is not the only place in Scripture which speaks about this.  I think many of us automatically think of Matthew 18, that passage where Christ speaks about church discipline.  In Matthew 18, it all begins with mutual accountability – mutual accountability is when believers address one another directly when there’s a problem.  We hold each other accountable for how we live.  We should also think of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in a transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…”  We need straight talk, but we also need gentleness and humility when we address one another.  We need to go with the attitude of “There but for the grace of God go I…”  We need to go with words that communicate that we’re coming as fellow sinners.  We’re not the righteous telling the unrighteous how to behave better, but fellow sinners concerned for other sinners.  Ephesians 4:15 is similar to Galatians 6:1.  Ephesians 4:15 says that God wants us to speak the truth in love.  So, straight talk has to always come with compassion and care.    

“You shall reason frankly with your neighbour” – let’s also look at what that doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean going around talking to others about the problem with your neighbour.  Talking to others and then hoping that they’ll do something about it.  “You shall reason frankly with your neighbour” – the “you” there is singular.  It’s directed at the individual.  You know about a problem, you have a problem, you deal with it.  It’s your responsibility and talking to others about it in the hopes that they’ll do something is contrary to God’s command.

Reasoning frankly with your neighbour doesn’t mean trying to do it anonymously.  For example, anonymous letters are not the way to reason frankly.  That’s reasoning in a cowardly way.  Reasoning frankly means reasoning to your face, with honesty and integrity.  It takes courage, but it is the right thing to do.

Reasoning frankly with your neighbour also doesn’t mean doing it passively or passive-aggressively.  Passively means you have a problem, but you just avoid that person and you no longer speak to them and just hope they figure out the mess they created with you.  After all, it’s their problem.  That’s not love and that’s not reasoning frankly.  That’s being lazy.  And the passive-aggressive approach is like what we saw with Nathan and Ethan in the introduction.  You tell a joke that’s not just a joke.  You make a snide comment.  You use sarcasm.  All along, you’re thinking that maybe now the offender will get a clue and get the message.  “I don’t have to be direct, I can be indirect.”  The problem is you’re disobeying what God says here:  “You shall reason frankly with your neighbour.” You can’t get around those words.  They mean what they say.  Deal straight with people, not passively or passive-aggressively.                         

Now let’s look at the second part of this, the reason:  “lest you incur sin because of him.”  If you do not reason frankly with the problem person, you’re also going to be guilty of sin.  That problem person may have a sin problem, but because you didn’t deal with it properly, now you do too.  Why is this? 

Simply because it is not loving to ignore the problem.  It is not loving to avoid the problem.  If a brother or sister or anyone else has a problem, the loving thing is to point it out directly.  Yes, as I said before, with compassion, but also with straight words.  If you don’t use straight talk, you’re going to incur sin.  This too is taught elsewhere in Scripture.  The clearest place I can think of is Proverbs 27:5-6, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”  You got that?  Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  Straight talk is going to hurt sometimes.  But it’s faithful and loving.  When you dance around and fail to use straight talk, you’re like an enemy, killing them softly with kisses. 

Brothers and sisters, again you need to feel the pinch of these words.  How many times haven’t we taken the easy way out?  How often haven’t we killed our neighbours softly by failing to reason frankly with them?  As a pastor, as a husband and father, as a friend, I have so often not followed what God’s Word says here.  It grieves me and your failures here should grieve you too.  Not so much for what it does to us, but for the way that it hurts other people.  When we are weak, cowardly, or lazy, we’re hurting those around us.  Our disobedience to God’s Word here shows a lack of love to fellow sinners. 

Loved ones, do not let past disobedience and failure discourage you and leave you in despair.  God’s law is meant to lead us to the Saviour.  We see our sin and misery, and we’re meant to find it all addressed through the suffering and death of Jesus.  Look at your sin, it’s awful.  Look at your Saviour – he’s wonderful.  Hate your sin and look to the Saviour.  When we lean on him, he promises that our burdens are rolled away.  Our guilt is addressed. 

Moreover, when we look at Christ revealed in Scripture, we also see his straight talk.  He reasoned frankly with everyone.  When there was sin, he called it out and didn’t dance around it or avoid it.  For example, in Mark 7, he called out the Jewish religious leaders because of their hypocrisy.  He told them straight to their faces, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  He used straight talk with his disciples.  Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for speaking about his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:23, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  That’s straight talk.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes letters to seven churches.  In those letters, you find the same approach.  Jesus reasons frankly with his people.  He did it out of love.  In that way, he fulfilled the commandment in our place.  His righteousness is ours through imputation.  Imputation means that God credits his obedience to us as if we had done it.  In God’s sight, we are seen to have done everything his law requires.  We’re perfectly obedient.  That’s an important part of the basis for God’s declaration that we are righteous.

Our standing with God doesn’t depend on our works, but on what Christ has done for us.  But having been redeemed by grace, God wants our lives to change.  That goes for this commandment in Leviticus 19 as well.  He wants this part of his moral law to be implemented in our lives.  We can think about it again in connection with Christ.  I just told you of how he loved others by using straight talk.  Remember:  he is our Master.  We’re his disciples.  That not only means that we learn information from what he says and does, but we also aim to follow his example.  The lives of disciples are supposed to look like that of their Master.  We want our lives to look like that of Christ.  God wants our lives to look like that of Christ. 

So, brothers and sisters, as disciples of Jesus, strive to reason frankly with one another.  Love one another and use straight talk, rather than gossip.  If you have a problem with someone, don’t avoid them, but seek them out.  If you see someone going down the wrong path, love them enough to pull them aside and warn them directly.  All of this is going to be hard, I know.  But the right thing to do is usually the hard thing to do.  So what do we do when faced with hard stuff?  We pray and ask for strength to do it.  This is how we will grow as individual disciples of Christ, but also as a congregation of disciples. 

Failure to follow this commandment in Leviticus 19 creates toxic relationships.  It poisons life when we refuse to listen to God.  It pleases no one but Satan when we follow our own ideas about inter-personal relations rather than God’s will.  Look, our God is good, and he has a good law for our lives.  Let’s listen to him.  AMEN. 


Merciful Father,

We confess to you how often we have failed to love our neighbour as ourselves.  We have harboured hatred in our hearts.  We have borne grudges.  We have thought about revenge and sometimes even committed vengeful acts.  We are so broken.  Father, we confess that we have not always used straight talk when dealing with inter-personal problems.  We are weak and we find all this challenging.  We confess our rebellion and ask for your forgiveness through Christ.  Please wash us in his blood and look upon us in his righteousness.  Father, please also help us with the Holy Spirit to truly love one another and all people you’ve placed on our way.  When we see problems in other people’s lives or are offended by them, please help us to approach them directly.  Help us to speak with love and compassion as fellow sinners.  But help us too to use straight talk.  Please work with your Spirit and help us all to hold each other accountable and build each other up.  We pray that because we care about one another and we also care about your glory among us. 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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