THE GREATEST COMMANDMENTS
THE WISDOM of the teachings
of the Lord Jesus Christ is seen firsthand over and over again in the gospel
records, as well as in the Spirit-inspired epistles that follow. Whether
it is the Sermon on the Mount, any of His profound teachings during his
ministry, or how he handled the questions of his insincere inquisitors
that last week leading up to his crucifixion, our reaction is the same.
Like the people back then, we never cease to be amazed (Matthew 7:28; 13:54;
Mark 1:22; 6:2; 12:28,33; John 7:45,46; etc.)
One question in particular that was thrown at Jesus that last week gets
our attention for this writing. On the heels of the others with their feigned
sincerity, trying to trip up Jesus, one of the scribes (lawyers) asked
Jesus a question about the greatest commandment. "Then one of them which
was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which
is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love
the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all
thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like
unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:35-40).
The greatest commandment involved loving God, and so that
the whole picture could be seen, the Lord also told which was the second
greatest commandment, loving one’s neighbor. We believe this twofold
answer is very significant. It not only sums up "the law and the prophets,"
but also anticipates the New Testament where we find parallel thought and
applications, only in a more amplified way. These are the twofold categories
of love in which we are to exercise ourselves.
And Their Practical Outworking
In pointing out the greatest commandment, Mark’s account (Mark 12:29,30)
more exactly identifies the Old Testament Scripture alluded to. It is Deuteronomy
6:4 and 5. The command to "love the lord thy God with all
thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all
thy might," is preceded with, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is
one lord." What is the significance of this statement? Even as
God is one, (there is no other), their devotion to Him should be singular.
He was/is the Supreme Deity. There are no others. He is everything. Therefore,
they were to love Him with ALL of their heart, their soul,
their might, etc. (their whole being). He was the supreme object of all
of their love.
The practical outworking of this commandment is implied in Exodus 20:1-17
in the giving of the Ten Commandments (and seen in Deuteronomy 10:12 and
13). Here God assertively identified Himself before giving the Commandments.
This seems to be parallel in thought to Deuteronomy 6:4. The lord their
God was one, singular, and obedience to the Ten Commandments should be
accordingly. Now notice Deuteronomy 10:12 and 13. "And now, Israel, what
doth the lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the lord thy God, to
walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the lord thy God with
all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the lord,
and his statutes, which I command thee this day for good?" Loving God with
all of their hearts would produce obedience to all of the other commandments
of God. Therefore, in relation to the others, this commandment would be
The Ten Commandments can be broken down into two categories, the first
directly involved God and the second, man. We have already noticed that
the greatest commandment about loving God would produce obedience to all
of the other commandments. The second great commandment, loving one’s neighbor
as self (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39)), likewise would produce obedience
to the other commandments that involved their fellowman. If they loved
their neighbors as themselves, they would not kill, commit adultery, steal,
lie, or covet, etc. They would treat them as they would want to be treated
themselves. Thus, the second category of the Ten Commandments would be
accomplished. So, we can easily see why the Lord would say this was the
second great commandment. What great wisdom!
New Testament Parallel
As we turn to the New Testament proper, the injunction to love God and
our fellowman are still intact, but only more so, expanded and amplified
by greater spiritual depth and meaning. God is still the One Supreme Being
who is to be the object of our undivided devotion. We still are to love
our neighbors as ourselves. But Christ, the Son of God, enters the picture.
In a sense now more fully revealed, we see that God is love, and God is
our loving heavenly Father. As reclaimed children of God, we love our Father,
and consequently love our brothers and sisters who are likewise children
of the heavenly Father. Love of the brotherhood is inseparable from the
love of the Father and the fatherhood of God. Loving the Father comes first,
and all other love emanates from this. The apostle Paul calls love the
"greatest" (I Corinthians 13:13), resonate of the words of the Lord Jesus.
Further emphasizing the priority of love, Paul admonished, "And above all
these things put on charity [love], which is the bond of perfectness" (Colossians
The apostle John makes it plain in I John 4:7–5:3 that love and love’s
practical outworking come from the Father, who is love. John asserts, "For
this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments
are not grievous." Jesus had said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments"
(John 14:15). (On the day of Pentecost, "they that gladly received his
word were baptized," Acts 2:38-41, and then "they continued stedfastly
in the apostles’ doctrine," verse 42). John further elaborates, "But whoso
keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know
we that we are in him" (I John 2:5). Also, the practical outworking of
the love of God is seen in loving our brothers and sisters. John questioned,
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he
that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom
he hath not seen?"(I John 4:20) Then he states, "Every one that loveth
him that begat [God] loveth him also that is begotten of him" (I John 5:1).
Paul says that we are "to love one another: for he that loveth another
hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou
shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly
comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling
of the law" (Romans 13:8-10). Consider the 13th chapter of I Corinthians.
YES, loving God with all of our hearts and loving our neighbors
as ourselves are the greatest commandments, whether looking at it from
the viewpoint of the Old Testament or the New Testament. From God’s perspective,
the purpose of true religion will be accomplished when we do this. The
commands are all inclusive. It will find us right with God and submitted
in loving obedience to His will for our lives. What Divine wisdom! Truly
this is a subject deserving of much study. Let us love as He would have
us love, even as John admonished, "My little children, let us not love
in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:18). May
our love be real. Amen!