This is a passage that we each learn in confirmation. What is the heart of the law? Love of God, and love of neighbor. But why is love the heart of the law? Well that’s simple enough. All of the law is derived from these two great commandments. Each and every expression of the law is an expression of one of these two commands. But does that mean that if we do the things demanded in the law, then we truly love God and our neighbor? No! If that were true, then one could be saved by total obedience to the law. You see even if you can – through commitment and self-dedication – keep the law to the very letter, that does not mean that you can keep the law. Why, because we cannot love.
When we look at these two great commandments, we see expressed in two simple sentences God’s will for all mankind. He made us to love Him and to love one another. Now we’re not talking about friendship, or kindness, or attraction, or affection, or blind acceptance. These things that we associate with love are not love. Love is a whole hearted commitment to the other in all things. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Now while this may be a beautiful sentiment – most often recited in weddings – Paul is actually writing a very clear and concise description of love and through it a clear description clarifying these two great commandments.
The first and greatest commandment is to – in relation to God – be patient and kind; not envy or boast; not be arrogant or rude; not insist on our own way; not be irritable or resentful; not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth; bear all things; believe all things; hope all things; endure all things; and never fail. And then the second is this. In relation to your neighbor, be patient and kind; not envy or boast; not be arrogant or rude; not insist on our own way; not be irritable or resentful; not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth; bear all things; believe all things; hope all things; endure all things; and never fail. Love is a whole hearted commitment to the other in all things. Do you think – if you are truly honest with yourself – that that you could measure up to that? In fact the very act of trying to measure up to all of that means you have violated it. This understanding of love demands a total disregard for the self and an absolute focus on God and your neighbor. If you for even an instant stop to consider how well you are measuring up, you have failed. To truly keep God’s law demands that we always look away from ourselves and look only at God and our neighbor. This is God’s will for us. This is the purpose for which we were made; to look away from ourselves in love toward God and our neighbor. Now Augustine developed the theological precept called Incurvatus in Se which Luther more fully developed during the Reformation. Incurvatus in Se means the curving inward toward the self. When we say we are by our very nature sinners, this is what we mean. That we always, from our birth, from Adam and Eve, curve inward toward ourselves. No matter what our intention, no matter how hard we try, we curve inward toward ourselves. If we were not curved inward by our nature, there would be no need for a written law, because we would – by our very nature – do all that the law requires at its very heart and from our very heart. The very issue of disobedience would be inconceivable because the very consideration of whether one should obey or not is a curving in toward the self and sin is born in the heart.
This week, I want to ask you to sin. I want to ask you to look in toward yourself and see how you are curved in toward yourself. Can you find even one thing you thought or did this week that was not in truth curved in toward yourself. Even your most selfless and noble acts, were they not motivated by the desire to be selfless and noble? Were they not curved in toward the self? You see, we are not what we were made to be. And we cannot become under our own power what we were made to be. It is only through the free gift of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are saved from the consequences of this Incurvatus in Se and it is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that we might slowly – oh so slowly – begin to take our eyes off our self and begin to turn out to Him and to our neighbors in love. You were made for a purpose, and you were saved for a purpose.