The law of God is one big whole. We want to break it into simple parts, a list of rules, even a long list of rules, but a list nonetheless that we can obey and check off. But it doesn’t really work that way. God’s law is told in many places and many ways in the Bible. There is the 10 commandments of course. But Jesus tells us that if we just stick to them literally then we are missing the point (Matthew 5:21ff). And there are longer lists with more specifics in the Old Testament. But if anything these longer lists seem to do a worse job of actually summing up the law. Jesus tells us that the best summary is this: “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). These two short statements are the best summary of God’s law. And yet we want specifics. We want God to spell out for us what it all means. How do I love God? How do I love my neighbor? But as soon as we begin to give specifics we get further from the whole of God’s law. We begin to think the specifics are all there is and we forget all the shades of meaning. We forget that “don’t commit murder” means that I should not hate my brother or call him names.
I think of it like a picture by a great painter. You can try to tell someone what a Monet (for example) looks like by saying that it is a picture of waterlilies. You can add that there is a pond and a bridge in the picture. You can talk about the colors and the little lines and specks that make them up. But no matter how much you talk you are not going to sum up the picture. You have to see it to have a complete view of it. And it is the same with God’s law. We try to sum it up, to express it in more and more words. But to truly get it you have to look on the face of a holy, perfect God. We need not a code of rules but to have the law written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10).
And if one part of that masterpiece gets tarnished, the whole thing is ruined. It becomes imperfect. So it is with God’s law. If we break one part, we have broken the whole thing (James 2:10).