This article explores what in the universe is the highest law. Most religions have sacred texts including lists of laws – moral, ethical, and spiritual, and sometime other types. Do all those laws need to be kept, or is there a law that transcends and fulfils them all? Yes indeed. The highest law is the law of love.
Human activities on all levels can be boiled down to two ways of life – the give way and the get way. There are aspects or other expressions that can be used to refer to, or are embodied in these two ways, such as help versus hinder; love versus hate; and co-operation versus competition. Or we can call them the way of love and the way of fear.
The laws in sacred inspired books and human law books are intended to regulate human conduct for everyone’s well-being. If laws are kept, there is harmony. When they are broken, there is strife and suffering. We reap what we sow – if not immediately in this life, then ultimately in the next life. I want to show, however, that obedience to laws is not the highest law and can actually have a dark side to it – especially in religious circles. Law keeping, while important in a secular society, is often motivated by fear of punishment rather than love for others. The way of love, in particular Divine Love, transcends that and therefore becomes the highest law.
Obedience Seen as the Highest Law
The Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, has as one of the main themes running through it a covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (renamed Israel). The twelve sons of Jacob gave rise to the twelve tribes of Israel, who later became the kingdom of Israel, and still later split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah.
The terms of the covenant or agreement between God and the people of Israel are largely blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Lev. 26 and Deut. 28). Even though the Old Testament portrays God as gracious, loving and compassionate, He is also shown to be just. (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17-37). After multiple unheeded warnings from God’s prophets, who sometimes focused on the angry side of God, the promised curses kicked in. While seen as God’s punishment, this may have simply been the law of cause and effect.
The Old Testament history peaks with the twelve tribes receiving the Promised Land and ends with exile of both nations Israel and Judah from their lands. The kingdom of Israel was overrun by Assyria in 722 BC, and after that had totally disappeared from view. Some 150 years later, the smaller kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. After about 70 years of Babylonian captivity, some of the people returned to Judah and Jerusalem at the behest of the Persian King Cyrus, who had by that time conquered Babylon. Encouraged by the prophets Zechariah and Haggai, they returnees rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. Much later this temple was embellished by King Herod, and was the same temple that Jesus got to know. However, foreign domination largely remained the lot of those who were left from the original twelve tribes of Israel. The descendants of these people were the Jews that Jesus encountered centuries later.
The Jews in Jesus’ time were very meticulous about law keeping. They had to observe many rules in addition to the scriptural ones (the orthodox Jews still use a book with literally hundreds of rules about different things). The reason is that after the Babylonian conquest and exile, it was felt that the national disaster was a result of and punishment for the people’s disobedience to God. This especially focused on Sabbath breaking, which then led them away from God and into idolatry. To ensure that something similar would never happen again, the religious leaders created dozens of minute laws for Sabbath observance. All this was motivated by fear of another punishment as they saw it. The issue of law keeping then became the source of bitter conflict between the Jews and Jesus. His actions, such as healing on the Sabbath, were motivated by love and mercy, whereas the Jews made law obedience the highest law motivated by fear of punishment.
Jesus Taught the Highest Law
Jesus, as he was maturing and growing spiritually, remembered scriptural prophecies of a future new covenant being established between God and the people – not one based on written laws and regulations, but one where the laws would be in people’s hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). This would lead to a personal transformation – indeed a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). From his experience and God-given discernment and understanding, Jesus recognized himself as the pioneer and messenger of the new covenant – the Messiah (Heb. 8:6-13). He was the first to receive the new heart in the form of God’s Divine Love in his soul.
He then understood his commission as to make known the restored availability of the Divine Love and how it can be obtained. He was also to set the example of living this new way of knowing and relating to God the Father as his true son. He taught his followers to love each other as he loved them – with the Divine Love (John 15:12). This was a new commandment of the heart (John 13:34) which supersedes all laws. It can be seen as the Eleventh Commandment overarching and superseding the Ten Commandments that Moses wrote on tablets of stone for Israel in the wilderness (2 Cor. 3:3).
Jesus thus opened the way to God and to our eternal inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom – though not through a bloody sacrifice and death on the cross, but rather through his life-giving teachings (Heb. 9:15; John 6:63). He showed that love – Divine Love – is the highest law, and his words are spirit and life. Thus he brought eternal life and immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10).
The new covenant is of the spirit or inner transformation and is based on love. In contrast, the old covenant was of the letter or written code and was based on law. We are told that the letter kills while the spirit gives life (Rom. 2:29; 2 Cor. 3:6). The law only pointed to, or was a shadow of, ultimate spiritual realities (Heb. 10:1). With the advent of the new covenant, the old covenant becomes obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
Even though we are in the new covenant dispensation, some Christians in the present time still have the mentality of the Jews in Jesus’ time. They tend to judge others based on how well they keep laws – be it biblical laws and/or church laws and traditions. Judgment and criticism is often unloving and leads to divisiveness, discrimination and disunity. We are exhorted not to judge (Luke 6:37, Matt. 7:1-5), and reminded that in Christ, we are all one body (Eph. 4:1-6).
Two Mindsets Contrasted
While we are not to judge and condemn others, the Bible supports and encourages discerning. In fact, it advises us to watch the company we keep, for corrupt behavior in others does rub off, and we are warned to be on guard (1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 22:24-25). We are told in Matt 7:16-18: By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Fruit can include our own actions, as well as the results of our ministry to others (2 Cor. 3:2-6).
There is also a listing of the “fruit of the Spirit” (spiritual nature, following the highest law) and a contrasting list of the “works of the sinful nature” (the natural loveless proclivity) in Galatians 5:16-26: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit [motivated by Divine Love imparted by the Holy Spirit], you are not under law [the law is transcended]. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God [the Celestial Kingdom]. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus [have the Divine Love in their souls] have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Desires are the key to and seeds of our actions and their consequences. If our desires are motivated by love, we’ll do well, but if they are motivated by the “sinful nature”, including ego, the desires will come to fruition as sin. Romans 8:5-7 tells us: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit [Divine Love] have their minds set on what the Spirit desires [spiritual things]. The mind of sinful man is death [making the soul dead or dormant], but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace [Divine Love leading to immortality and peace that passes all understanding]; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
James sums it up succinctly: But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death [death of the soul without the Divine Love]. (Jas 1:14-15)
Fulfillment of the Law
As mentioned, ultimately the Law of Love is the highest law. Love fulfills all individual laws and indeed transcends those laws. In other words, if we love others, we don’t have to worry about the minute laws that the Pharisees were and some Christians are so particular about – sometimes at the cost of being unloving. Romans 13:8-10, says: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
In James 2:8, the second great commandment is called the “royal law”. It says: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
Law of Liberty
On more than one occasion, Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the teachers of the law about hypocrisy – outward appearance of righteousness, but inward pride, greed, self-indulgence and lack of love. They were also corrected for laying heavy burdens on the people that they themselves weren’t willing to bear – in the form of legal requirements. Jesus didn’t so much correct them for their meticulous law-keeping as for their hypocrisy and for neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Their conduct was a stumbling block to those who sincerely sought God, and they would be held accountable for that (Matt. 23:2-28; Luke 11:39-46).
By contrast to the heavy legalistic burdens of the Pharisees, Jesus invited the weary to follow a new and easier way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Compared to the proud Pharisees, Jesus exemplified a way of humility. He came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28; John 13:13-15). His followers were to obey him and to follow his example. He gave them a new, yet old command – to love one another. The Old Testament taught love for God and love for neighbour (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 30:16). But Jesus taught them a new way to love – with God’s Divine Love – a way that was not burdensome, because obedience came from within through divine soul transformation (1 John 2:3-11; 5:2-3).
Jesus’ closest disciple John, who understood his teaching better than the others, penned these words in his first epistle: No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. [Divine Love imparted by his Holy Spirit]. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God [through union with God as a result of the Divine Love], God lives in him and he in God [in the same way that this was true of Jesus]. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in [Divine] love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:12-18)
The Law of Love frees us from judgment or the Law of Compensation – reaping the results of our sinful actions from this life in the spirit life. This principle is found in Romans 8:1-7: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Divine Love], because through Christ Jesus [Divine Love], the law of the Spirit of life [Divine Love] set me free from the law of sin and death [the specific commandments which define sin, and down the line also the Law of Compensation]. … And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. [Through the Divine Love that came with Jesus – not Jesus’ sacrifice – the Law of Compensation is superseded. Divine Love in the soul replaces sin and thus fulfils/transcends the requirements of the law.]
The concept of freedom continues in Galatians 5:13-18 with a note of caution: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So I say, live by the Spirit [Divine Love], and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law [the law is fulfilled and transcended]. (See also Luke 4:18 and 1 Pet. 2:16)
So the highest Law of Love frees us from carrying heavy burdens of meticulous law keeping, from judgment (Law of Compensation) and from fear of punishment. Indeed, perfect love drives out the torment of fear.
Seeking the Perfect Love
To finish this article, here is Paul’s quote from the famous Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13: And now I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
So love – indeed Divine Love – is the most excellent way and the highest law. And the best news is that it is available for the asking.
© 2017, Eva Peck
Photo Credit: Miguel Ugalde
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- Divine Love versus Human Love
- Two Kinds of Love – PDF
- A New Hope – Reflections on Natural Love and Divine Love (PDF book)
- God is Love – PDF
- God’s Gift of Divine Love – PDF
- Divine Love Universality
- Working of the Divine Love
- Aspects of Love
- Types of Love – PDF
- Brotherhood of Man
- Salvation outside Christianity
- The Common Aim of all Godly Religions