Which Is the Greatest Commandment?

The gospel writers tell of a barrage of questions brought to Jesus in His final week. One of these was asked by a lawyer in today’s text, Matthew 22:34-40 (cf. Mark 12:28-34).

“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”

History suggests that the scribes commonly debated the relative weights of various commandments. This question was an effort to draw Jesus into the discussion. Matthew says it was a test, although as we will see, this lawyer was not hardened as some were.

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. Wholehearted devotion is what God requires. He who has given all to us insists that we give all to Him. Loving God is more than feelings or emotions, and it requires more than verbal expression. Loving God means living God—living His will in every aspect of life. One who loves Him will not concern himself much about a commandment’s relative weight because his aim is to keep all of them as best he can (note Deuteronomy 6:2). And let no one suggest that obedience is just an Old Testament concept. John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

Jesus completed His answer by citing Leviticus 19:18. We must love our neighbor as well as loving God. These two foundational commandments go together. As John observed, “. . . the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Jesus concluded that all the commandments hang on these two. In other words, they tell us how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Love is never some nebulous, self-defined concept. It is the highest regard for another, prescribed by the character of God who is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

Mark records the lawyer’s response to Jesus’ answer: “The scribe said to Him, ‘Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is one, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’”

Jesus saw in the lawyer’s accepting response one who was “not far from the kingdom of God.” What is your response?

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