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What is the Greatest Commandment?
Loving God with All Your Being
We are living in a society that values "looking out for number one" and seeing how we can get ahead in life. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, it is all about us. Well, the Lord Jesus Christ, from the time He began His ministry, always went against the establishment. Because man, on His own, is so far away from God and His standard, what Jesus taught always seemed so revolutionary. It still does today.
I. The Great Debate
In Matthew 22:34-40 we get one of those revolutionary teachings from our Lord. It happened when a lawyer came up to Him to test Jesus' judgement by asking a question. He said:
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?"
By the law he was referring to the 613 commandments which were in the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah to the Jews. Searching for the one most important commandment actually was a big topic of discussion in Jesus' day. The Jews divided the Law into greater and smaller commandments. But they couldn't agree on determining which was most important. Some believed that it was the law respecting sacrifice. Others claimed that it was the law of washings and purification. And, of course there were other beliefs as to which was greatest as well. But no person was said to have the definitive answer.
II. Jesus' Answer
Jesus' reply was a direct quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 which says:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment" (22:37).
However, our Lord takes the answer one step farther. He was the first person ever to combine Deuteronomy 6:5 withe Leviticus 19:18 in order to summarize the Law. He tells them this:
"And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (22:38).
This was brilliant. The Pharisees prided themselves on meticulously keeping the law. They made sure not a jot or a tittle was missed. But the truth is, they missed the point entirely. The reason a person should want to keep the law of God in the first place, is that they love Him. Without love for who and what God is, and a desire for a deeper relationship with Him, any law a person may keep is just empty ritual. Loving God starts with God cleansing the inside. And out of a heart of love and gratitude, the Law is kept. But as implied in the second greatest commandment, it includes another love.
III. The Irrevocable Connection Between Love for God and Neighbor
From a love for God comes a fundamental love for the things, and the persons that He loves. The two cannot be separated in the law. The commandments deal with both God and people. We don't just blindly follow the commandments that say: "You shall not steal", "You shall not kill" or "You shall not commit adultery." We follow them because we love God and want to please Him. But we also follow them because we desire to see that our neighbor is treated well, and prospers in life. Just as any normal person would protect and nourish himself, and see that he receives the best that he can get out of life, a person who loves his neighbor as himself, wants that for his neighbor as well.
The Apostle John, in taking Jesus' message of love for God and for neighbor, fleshes it out. He states in I John 4:19-21 that:
"We love Him, because He first loved us. If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he that does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also."
What John is saying is that these are two commandments that are forever connected. We can't have one without the other. Having a love relationship with God means that we love the people whom he created, even if they aren't loving to us. We treat them as we ourselves would want to be treated.
The truth is, that none of us is capable of loving in this way by ourselves. Not any of us is able to keep the law, due to the fact that we are sinners. The type of love that Jesus is speaking of here is Supernatural. And only one person on this earth has ever loved completely in this way. That person is the Lord Jesus Himself. It is this type of love that sent Christ to the cross (Romans 5:8).
But thanks be to God that believers in Jesus Christ have the Supernatural living in them. We have the Spirit of God who gives us the ability to fulfill these two great laws. Of course, while we are in these fleshly bodies, we will not do it perfectly. That will happen only in eternity. But we still have the possibility to come close as we mature and become more like our Lord and Savior.
This world would be a much better place to live in if we all obeyed these two great commandments of loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. It is my hope that we who follow the God of the Bible will put them into practice on a daily basis. By seeing us doing this, the world will know that something is different about us. And they will glorify our Father in Heaven. What a wonderful priviledge that we have!