What Is the Greatest Commandment?
Loving God with All Your Being
There was an article in the New York Daily News and in the Reader's Digest that was written in 1996 about a young woman named Mary Ann Dennis. She was walking her bull mastiff dog Buz in the park when she came upon an elderly gentleman who told her a man had just robbed him. She offered to help and wanted the old man to come along but he was unable to do so due to his age. So she took off on her own, with her dog, in search of a person in black jeans and a tank top.
She saw the suspect race out of the park and get into a cab. Dennis yelled wildly at the cab to stop and waved her hands but the taxi pulled out anyway. She kept running but was losing hope when a white van pulled up next to her and told her and Buz to get in.
When they caught up with the cab driver they found out that the passenger had gotten out and fled again. The driver told Dennis where the suspect had gone so she picked up the search on foot again. She saw the man get into another cab so she leaped in front of it and yelled: "Stop! This man robbed somebody!" The suspect jumped out of the vehicle and threatened Dennis before running to a third taxi. Dennis lunged in front before the traffic light that the cab was sitting at changed to green.
Within moments the police arrived and handcuffed the suspect, charging him with third-degree robbery and criminal possession of stolen property.
When asked if she would do it again, Mary Ann Dennis replied: "Definitely! Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. If the whole world lived that way, this wouldn't be a cold city."
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. And because man, on His own, is so far away from God and His standard, what Jesus taught always seemed so revolutionary in His day. It still seems that way today, because it is.
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' judgment 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.
With all that being said, what did Jesus conclude about the matter?
II. Jesus' Answer
It is interesting that in Jesus' time there was a common expression among the Rabbis. One teacher would ask another to summarize the law "while standing on one foot." This was just a way of asking the other Rabbi to be as brief as possible in his answer.
Jesus' summary 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 continues by combining Deuteronomy 6:5 with 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.
When you read all of Scripture, it should be obvious that what Jesus and John are saying is extremely important. Eight times, the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And any time God's Word repeats something we should take special note of it. The places where this commandment is found include Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8.
The common human response is selfishness when encountering others. Loving our neighbor is the complete opposite of what the world does and therefore reflects our God and His character. So when the world sees us they see the reality of the God that we serve.
IV. Who is My Neighbor?
In Luke 10:25-37 we have the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus was asked by an expert in the law how one obtains eternal life. Jesus asked: "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" The expert replied by summarizing it the same way as Jesus did, by loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus told him this:
"You have answered correctly, Do this and live"
Of course, both Jesus and the expert in the law knew that this was impossible for him to do since the expert was a sinner. That is why Jesus had to come to earth to die. However, the expert in the law refused to acknowledge his need for the Savior. Instead, he tried to justify himself by asking: "Who is my neighbor?" Apparently, he had previously let himself off the hook, so to speak, by limiting those whom he considered to be his neighbors.
It is then that the Lord gave this brilliant parable. in which a man was attacked by robbers and left half dead. Two "holy" men, a priest and a Levite, passed by the poor fellow without helping. The third person, a Samaritan, not only helped him and saved his life but took him to an Inn for him to stay until he got better and paid for all of the man's expenses. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews, which made this story more interesting.
Then Jesus switched things around, not by asking if the hurt man was our neighbor. He asked:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (36).
The obvious answer, which the expert gave, was that it was the one who showed mercy on the man.
Our Lord simply answered: "Go and do likewise." (37).
Jesus' reply to the man indicated that a neighbor is anyone who happens to be near me. He is anyone who has a need that I can meet. As followers of Christ, we should not even ask the question like this. We should take a clue from Jesus and always be asking ourselves: "How can I be a neighbor to that person the Lord has brought into my path?" "How can I meet this person's need?"
"This is the person that I am to love as I love myself!"
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 indeed 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. As the Body of Christ, we are His hands and His feet. And we are His mouth to bless those in need. What a wonderful privilege that we have to be the ones who demonstrate the love of God to our neighbors!
© 2012 Jeff Shirley