The Greatest Commandments

The Greatest Commandments (Mt 22:35-40)

Jesus was a Jewish prophet.  His ministry was largely a Jewish ministry.  As He preached from town to town, He was hounded by the religious leaders of His day.

At one point, Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  He answered immediately, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.”

Although He quoted the Law of Moses (Deut 6:5), Jesus’ answer was unexpected, after all, it was not one of the 10 commandments.   Nor was His answer appreciated; it was not a physical work, like male circumcision or keeping the Sabbath.    

Nevertheless, Jesus’ answer was definite.  And He gave it without wavering.

Also, Jesus volunteered another answer—a freebie, as if to say, “In case you were wondering ….”  The second greatest commandment, according to Jesus, was to “, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'

Like the greatest commandment, the second greatest was also from the Mosaic Law (Lev 19:10).  And like the greatest, the second greatest commandment was not one of the specific 10 commandments.

So, what are the lessons we can learn?

First, note the order.  We are to love God with everything we’ve got.  Our love of others, as important as that is, must come after to our love for God.  That means that there are times when “we must obey God rather than men.”  (Ac 5:32)

Second, note that our love of others comes before love of self. The same is taught in the New Testament.  Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  (Php 2:3-4)

Third, note that the love preached by Jesus had been commanded in the Old Testament.  When Jesus stated the two greatest commandments, He was quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus, two Old Testament books.  So then, love is not exclusively a “Christian thing.”  Yes, Paul taught that “the greatest of all is love.” (I Co 13:13)  But it was taught by Moses 1500 years earlier. The love of God and love of neighbors are timeless commands from God. 

In our follow-up posts, we will explore how to apply this command—how to be loving.  This love is more than a good feeling.  It is command that is obeyed by following other commands.  As John put it, “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)  And in another place, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”  (1 Jn 5:3)

Stay tuned as we explore the “how-to” of these great commandments.

Matthew Poppa