The Foundation of our Moral Obligation


Love God wholly and love your neighbor as yourself. According to Christ, these two commandments are the summation of the entire law of God (Mark 12:28-31). Paul even tells us that our only obligation to anyone is to love them, because love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:8-10).

But why? Why are these commandments, and not merely suggestions, or guiding principles? Why ought we to love God and love others? Why is this binding on us, and enforced by God? To put it another way, what is the foundation of our moral obligation to love God wholly and love our neighbor as we love ourselves?

I have some ideas, but would like to hear from others.



That’s an interesting question.

My first reaction is to say that each person has worth, and deserves to be loved.

Another reaction is to say that our own happiness is bound up in the happiness of others.

I want my kids to love me and each other. I would be very unhappy if they didn’t. But to define ‘why’ they should is not easy. If one of my kids asked me why they should love another, my answer would likely be, “Because she’s your sister!” If they asked why they should love me, my answer would be, “Because I love you!”

Obviously, I haven’t put much thought into this, but it’s definately something worth thinking about. I’m curious to know what you’re thinking.


I sure don’t have time to go into this in any detail. :wink:

But, speaking as someone who believes trinitarian theism and positive aseity is true: if the foundation of all reality is itself an eternally coherent interpersonal relationship (in a corporate singularity)–if God is essentially love–then I think it becomes very understandable why the two greatest Commandments involve loving other persons, acting to fulfill fair-togetherness (dikaiosune_, or “righteousness”) with them. When we do that, then we’re acting in cooperation with the very ground of our own (and everything else’s) existence. When we act to fulfill non-fair-togetherness instead (“unrighteousness”, “injustice”, “inequity”/“iniquity”), then we’re acting against the very ground of all existence (including our own). Self-annihilation (at least as persons) would be the result–unless the ground of all existence chooses to keep us in existence.

Why would God save us? In order to act toward fulfilling all fair-togetherness concerning us as persons, between us and Him and between us and other derivative persons. If God annihilated us, or authoritatively allowed us to self-annihilate, He would be acting to fulfill non-fair-togetherness with us. In short, He would be acting unrighteously. And there wouldn’t be anything to graciously save Him (or the rest of reality, dependent on Him for existence) from the results of doing so. (That’s the negative way of putting it, though. The more positive and accurate way, is just that we can expect God to continue coherently acting according to His own essential self-existent essential characteristics. True love, righteousness, positive justice between persons, is what God most basically is and does.)

While that’s a lot of technical points crammed into two relatively short paragraphs, I hope the logical connection of universalism as following necessarily from the truth of ortho-trin (if ortho-trin is true) is obvious anyway. :wink:

I’m very slowly working my way toward all this in my Bite-Sized Metaphysics series here on the forum. But you can click on the Sword to the Heart link in my signature for a contents-linkset page at the Christian Cadre for prior versions of the upcoming arguments that I posted there several years ago. (Scroll down to where Section Four starts.)

Back to ‘work’ work…


Aaron, one short thought is that the world is mess because those commandments are not followed. And many people might not like eternity if those commandments were not followed.


Sheesh, Aaron, you might as well be asking what the meaning of life is! As Jason graciously held off writing 900 feet of scroll, I’ll do the same…

Jason touched on the essential language within the Trinity and it is Love. And just as essential, God (the Trinity) wants to share that Love with us and express the same to our fellows.

Of course, the rub is: Love cannot be legislated (we try that everyday in our courts) and there is no definition of love that makes sense without free-will.

Even Mother Tersea confessed that after a lifetime of viewing injustice, poverty and pain - she did not love God. Let’s take her at her word. She was no hypocrite.

To echo Paul, who then can be saved?

We need to be changed. Viola! The Resurrection. After this mess, God enables all to love freely and without reserve. How that is done is beyond my understanding - but those commandments will be fulfilled.

In the meantime, let’s try, but not fool ourselves - I haven’t gladly sold all that I have (left) and given it to the poor. Until I’ve done that, I can’t honestly say that I love God with all my heart; unless ‘reservedly’ or ‘safely’ counts. The excuses we make not to love like that would fill another 900 foot scroll. Talk is cheap.

I think impossible commands including ‘Ye shall be’ of one mind and one faith point to our perfection via the resurrection.

Bottomline: We need to be changed to truly fulfill our moral obligation. Major change - we must be reborn.


I think it’s interesting however, that Jesus gave us a new command. Not, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself”. (Which sums up the LAW and the PROPHETS, Old Covenant) But rather, “Love one another as I have loved you”. Which is the New Covenant!

How many of us are still trying to live out the old covenant in our own strength, vs. the new covenant in His!


Ah, but did not Christ perfectly obey what he called the second “greatest commandment” (and which his brother James called the “royal law” - James 2:8). If he did, then what he did by laying down his life for us was this: he loved his neighbors as much as he loves himself. And if he’s asking us to love one another as he loved us, then he’s asking us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, too - which is what the spirit of the law has always demanded. Thus, I submit that this commandment to love others as Christ loved us is the same commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves that had been commanded long ago (Lev 19:18), and that it is only called “new” because it had never been perfectly practiced by any man (and in this sense had not yet been truly revealed to us) until Christ lived it out.

As far as how this relates to Old Covenant/New Covenant, I think the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, is an unchanging, ever-binding law that will never be superseded by another. My understanding of the Old Covenant is that it is God’s agreement to bless man in response to conditions that we must meet, whereas the New Covenant is God’s agreement to bless man in response to conditions that God himself meets. In this sense, I agree fully with your next statement:

Indeed! Even our faith is a gift from God (Rom 12:3; Eph 2:8).


I like the way you think, Sonia! I think loving others is all about *ascribing worth to them *- and we do that by promoting their happiness (i.e., their well-being or best interest). And we cannot neglect this privileged duty (I say “duty” since it’s commanded by God) and expect to be happy ourselves.

As to why its a commandment, I think Jason hit on some important points. Whatever the reason, it has to be bound up in God’s nature and thus a part of the very “fabric” of reality itself (since God, by necessity, defines reality). I firmly believe that God is just as obligated to love as we are. But again, from whence does the “ought-ness” of the command to love derive? I think the answer is simple (if correct, of course!): I submit that the foundation of our obligation to love God and others is because happiness, or the well-being of others (which is the “goal” of love - i.e., that which love is always seeking to promote in others by ascribing worth to them) is intrinsically valuable. Thus, the “ought-ness” of the command to love is derived from the intrinsic value of happiness itself. Being something that is valuable in itself, happiness (and all that is conducive to happiness) therefore ought to be affirmed, willed and promoted by all beings capable of experiencing it.


Is being love beyond God’s control to change?


Hi Jeff,

Good question. Assuming the Bible is a reliable source of information concerning the existence and nature of God, I’d have to answer your question in the affirmative. Moreover, it seems self-evident to me that if rationality is essential to God’s nature, and the intrinsic value of happiness is an a priori, first truth of reason, then God could no more cease willing the good of all than he could cease to exist.

What are your thoughts?


If the theology I was describing is true, then the answer would be: no, it isn’t (strictly speaking) beyond God’s control to change; but it also isn’t something that God can change without ceasing permanently to exist. Which the ever-self-existent isn’t ever going to do. (Which we can be sure about, since His doing so would obliterate all natural reality including our past, present and future. Yet we’re still here discussing the question.)

I have been told by a Calvinist, that somewhere in the OT, God is reported as stating that if He ever broke His promise (or acted in an unjust manner or something unfaithful like that) then He would cease to exist. If he was remembering the verse right (I haven’t been able to confirm that yet myself), that’s substantially the same idea as I’m talking about here.

This question is strongly connected to the question of whether it is possible for God to sin, and if not then why is it possible (or is it possible??) for us to do what even God cannot do? Most theologians answer no, it isn’t possible for God to sin; but my studies have taught me (if I’m correct) that the situation is a little more complex than that. God cannot do injustice and still continue to exist; and we can be sure that He won’t ever do injustice (because we’re still here to talk about the topic). But it isn’t simply impossible for God to do injustice. Consequently, there is no conceptual problem with us mere derivative creatures being able to accomplish that which is principly impossible for God. (Relatedly, the reason we continue to exist as persons, including while also being sinners, is not due to any power or achievement of our own, but due to the grace of God in our favor. There wouldn’t be anyone to ‘save’ God, if God sinned, though. As previously noted, this idea has huge connections to universalism.)

Other people may have different (even exclusively different) answers, of course.


One of the great things about orthodox trinitarian theology, is that it nicely (I would say uniquely and exclusively) resolves the is/ought conceptual distinction (along with field-goaling right between the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. :mrgreen: ) Commands, after all, are not quite the same thing as declarations about oughtness. “Do this” is not the same statement as “this ought morally to be done”. If we ask where the oughtness of a command comes from, we’re really going back to asking what the ground of any oughtness is–obviously it isn’t in the command itself (despite what Divine Command Theory would have us believe), or the question would be a meaningless non sequitur. Just as clearly though, it’s a pertinent question, since we recognize that it’s possible to give amoral or immoral commands.

But, putting together the elements of your prior acknowledgment with your question: from where (“whence” means “from where”, by the way, so “from whence” is redundant) does the oughtness of the command to love derive? Answer: the oughtness has to be bound up in God’s nature and thus a part of the very “fabric” of reality itself (since God, by necessity, defines reality).

This is why I presented the answer in terms of a relationship to existence at all, whether from God’s perspective or from the perspective of us derivative creatures: a relationship that is personal each way. (God can have a personal relationship, being personal Himself, with rocks and muons, but they aren’t necessarily personal themselves; consequently, God can act toward non-personal objects in ways that, if He did so toward personal objects, would involve fulfilling non-fair-togetherness with the personal objects. Some Calvinists, though not many in my experience, take this notion to the logical conclusion within their system and deny that the non-elect are personal objects at all, but rather are what philosophers call zombie entities.)

But, suppose we now consider your continuation in light of the resultant combination of your acknowledgment and subsequent question: “I submit that the foundation of our obligation to love God and others is because happiness, or the well-being of others (which is the “goal” of love - i.e., that which love is always seeking to promote in others by ascribing worth to them) is intrinsically valuable.” (your emphasis)

Okay. I myself wouldn’t recommend ascribing moral foundations to abstract concepts, such as the intrinsic value of happiness might be considered. But perhaps that isn’t necessary here. The relevant question now would be: how does the intrinsic value of that which love is always seeking to promote in others (i.e. the well-being of others, or ‘happiness’), relate to God’s nature and thus a part of the very “fabric” of reality itself (since God, by necessity, defines reality)?

I think when the answer is pressed on this, we’re going to be back to relational existence: the relational self-existence of the Trinity (God self-begetting, God self-begotten, God proceeding as gift-action), which grounds all relational existence of derivative not-God persons (to each other and to God). God is What He is; and we can either act in cooperation with that, or not.

This is connected strongly to love being first and foremost an action, of course.


Of course he perfectly obeyed it. He had to fulfill the law! And I would add that he more than loved his neighbor as himself. He loved his neighbor more than himself, which is why the new commandment is greater.

My point was that the first statement in scripture is a summary of the Law and Prophets, which is the Old Covenant. The New Covenant, represented by the new command, takes things to the next level.


If “orthodox trinitaian theology” did in fact resolve the Euthyphro Dilemma, I’m afraid it would be the only great thing about it! (sorry, I couldn’t resist betraying my unitarian bias there! :smiley: )

Actually, I find the concept of the trinity (along with the related doctrine of the “dual-nature of Christ”) to be much more abstract (as well as problematic) than the notion that the happiness of all sentient beings is intrinsically valuable (which I would argue is a self-evident truth). And I may have simply overlooked something in your response, but it would appear as if your changing the “relevant question” was simply a means of dodging the original question. :wink:

To try and answer your question, I would suggest that the idea of the intrinsic value of happiness relates to God’s nature in the same way it relates to all rational beings that God has created - namely, the idea springs from reason. The main difference between us and God (insofar as the idea that grounds all moral obligation is concerned) is that this idea would exist irrespective of our creaturely existence, but could not exist without God. But because God does exist and is a rational being with rational thoughts, the idea that happiness is intrinsically valuable makes benevolence the law of God’s nature, governing all that he does. Thus, in response to the Euthyphro Dilemma, I would say God wills something because it’s good - and it’s good because his reason has always said so.

I found the following (from interesting:


I’ll have to chew on that thought, M. I’d always thought that loving your neighbors as you love yourself would necessarily include a willingness to risk (or lay down) one’s life for them if necessary - but perhaps I’ve been mistaken on this! So how would you understand James 2:8 and Romans 13:8-10 in regards to “old commandment” vs. “new commandment?”


I’ll look those up, and get back to you!

…As far as I can tell, James 2:8 in context doesn’t seem to have much to do with our comparison. It’s contrasting loving your neighbor as yourself with playing favorites.

Romans 13:8-10 Seems to be saying the same thing (in a different way) as the other “sums up the law and prophets” statement you quoted earlier; so again, I don’t think it really has any bearing on whether the new command is greater or equal.