Pop quiz: What opinion does the modern American Church hold about the Old Testament?
a) It is the sacred word of God, holy scripture, divinely inspired.
b) Interesting collection of character studies and poetry.
c) That's the old covenant. Now that we have Jesus, all that old stuff is irrelevant.
d) It's an archaic and barbaric text, which is why we prefer the New Testament.
e) Couldn't tell you, I fell asleep somewhere in Deuteronomy.
Let's be honest, depending on which church you enter, you might hear any of the five options above. Mainstream Christianity mostly falls into one of those camps; the passionate lovers of scripture, the culturally complacent, the Jesus people, the new covenant devotees, the blissfully ignorant.
But there is another that (in my experience) is more prevalent than any other. The cherry pickers.
These are the people who preach the message of Jesus. Other than the Psalms and Proverbs, they mostly ignore the Old Testament. Either they can't make sense of it or feel it's not relevant in today's world. Perhaps they read it once and once was enough. That is until it suits their needs. At that point in time, they'll pluck out an obscure verse and wield it like a blunt instrument to pound against someone's thick skull.
For these people, the Bible is their go-to choice of weaponry. It is not a book of good news. It is not the story of God. It is their sword, their gun, their bomb. It is their way of winning a fight or argument. It is their cop-out devise.
They can justify their ham–fisted approach to bruising others with Christianity's holiest book. After all, the book of Hebrews describes the Bible as being sharper than any double-edged sword, and that it divides joints and marrow. Ephesians states that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit when listing off elements of the armor of God.
In their eyes, weaponizing scripture is scriptural. It is logically mandated.
Funny that this method of cherry picking verses from the bible is most often used in political arguments. Rarely is this a theological strategy used in debate between pastors or in small group bible studies. One other observation about the cherry pickers: the obscure scripture they toss out is almost always from the book of Leviticus.
I have a proposal. If we are going to cling to a Levitical passage as more important than any other, we should all agree on which scripture to cherry pick from the many. My choice is lifted from Leviticus 19. Not familiar with the chapter?
This is the chapter that begins with the command to be holy because God is holy. Titled "Various Laws," this is a loose collection of edicts that governs the way we are supposed to treat other humans. Much of it repeats laws from the ten commandments. Here is a quick
Respect your parents.
Observe the Sabbath.
Leave a portion of your harvest from fields and vineyards for the poor and for the immigrants.
No lying, deception, false accusations, fraudulent claims, or slander.
Do not mistreat the disabled.
Be fair to everyone.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.
Avoid mediums and fortune tellers.
Respect the elderly
Treat immigrants as if they were natural-born citizens.
It all wraps up with God's command: "Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them."
Key word: ALL.
Which of God's laws are we supposed to follow? ALL OF THEM. Which decrees? ALL OF THEM. Even the inconvenient ones? ALL OF THEM.
That's hard. In fact, it is impossible. Ecclesiastes stated that no one on earth is righteous, does right, and never sins. That sentiment is repeated in Romans when Paul quotes the same words: "There is no one righteous, no one who understands, no one who seeks God."
God tells us to be holy like Him, to obey each and every one of His laws, yet other parts of scripture tells us that no one in all of history has ever accomplished this measure of perfection? This is why I believe that we need God. This is why we needed Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. Because we suck. We cannot do it on our own.
So let's go back to the verse I would like to cherry pick. The one Levitical decree that each of us should cling to above all else.
In the middle of this chapter explaining the fair, just, and kind way in which we should treat others, we come to the end of verse 18. It says "love your neighbor as yourself."
This concept is so radical and so vital that Jesus reiterated it again when all of the religious leaders wanted him to identify the most important commandment from all of the Jewish law. The greatest command, according to Jesus, was to love God. For the second greatest, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 - "love your neighbor as yourself."
Even Paul recognized the value of this lone command. In Galatians, he said that the entirety of law could be fulfilled in these words: "love your neighbor as yourself." And in the second chapter of James, we see the same thing: to do right, "love your neighbor as yourself."
One segment of ancient scripture, quoted in the gospels and in multiple epistles. This. "Love your neighbor as yourself."
I propose if you're going to cherry pick one verse from the Old Testament to brandish as a part of your Godly armor, let it be Leviticus 19:18.
Because love is a far more effective weapon than righteous indignation or fiery condemnation.