encouragement theology

What is the Greatest Commandment?

Thoughts from Matthew 22…

“Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 
You shall love the LORD your God 
with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

During a time of great controversy, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ with this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Lord had just answered the leading religious thinkers of His day, silencing His critics, when the man came with this request. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws and they debated heavily regarding which laws were important to keep. How would this teacher answer this great debate? Would He weigh in on which laws were most important?

Jesus’ answer was immediate: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But also, don’t forget the second commandment — to love your neighbor as yourself! Every other one of the laws point to these two commandments. Every other law is to instruct you to love God or love your neighbor.

The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day failed both of these commandments. They were so caught up in their rules and their power that they totally missed when God himself walked by! They showed no love for God when they refused anything other than what fit their own agendas. They showed no love for their neighbors when they refused to show forgiveness or compassion to the needy multitudes around them.

Both of these religious factions came to Jesus that day, hoping to entrap him with their difficult questions. The Pharisees put the first question to Him, whether they should pay taxes to Caesar’s Roman government. The Lord‘s answer brought them back to the greatest commandment. They showed love for their fellow man by submitting to the government and giving them their due service. They showed their love for God by likewise submitting to God and giving Him His due service.

The Sadducees approached Him with the next question, expecting to find a hole in His theology. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they had created a scenario where it conflicted with the laws on marriage. Seven brothers were each married to the same widow before they each died, so who would be her husband in the resurrection?  But in this question they show their ignorance and a lack of a love for the Lord. A love for the Lord would have brought them to His Scriptures, where they would have better understood the resurrection. We will be changed, with no longer a need for marriage relationships like we currently have on earth.

The lawyer had then come to Jesus with his question regarding the greatest commandment, hoping to test Him and to push Him into controversy. If He weighed in on this religious debate, He would surely make enemies among the dissenting factions. But rather than angered, this young man was stunned by the Lord’s reply. Unlike the great religious leaders, he showed a genuine desire to understand his answers. And for that Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus started out His ministry teaching that He came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. As shown in the post on Matthew 5:17 here, the Ten Commandments are an expression of love. The first four are about love for God, and the final six are about love for each other.a 

Jesus then showed how we show love for God and for each other when we keep the commandments:

  • We show love when we show forgiveness toward those who offend us (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • We show love when we show purity in our thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • We show love when we show faithfulness in our marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • We show love when we show honesty in our word and our promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • We show love when we show humility and refuse to retaliate when we are hurt (Matthew 5:38-42)
  • We show love when we show kindness to our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48)

May we remember to love God and to love others!

Previous post: The Rejected Capstone