Mark 12:28-30 (NIV): One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”
Among the Jewish leaders and teachers that day in the temple, many were intent on destroying Jesus – laying traps for Him that would either destroy His credibility with the people who followed Him, or that would form the basis of official charges that they could bring before the Roman government officials. But some among these leaders were sincere and devout and craved the truth, wherever that truth might lead.
Among those who sincerely sought the truth was this man, a scribe, or teacher of the law, who had made studying and obeying God’s commands the very core of his life. The scribes had counted 613 discrete commands in the law, the first five books of the bible. And there was always a lively debate as to how do divide those commandments up. Which were critical to a life of godliness? Which were just nice to do if you could work them out? Which one was the most important? And over hundreds of years, the scribes and commentators had worked out many different organization systems, none of which truly satisfied those who genuinely desired to please God.
So this man, after listening to Jesus display His depth of scriptural knowledge, decided to ask his own question: Of all of the commandments, all 613 of them, which one is the most important?
To the surprise of many, Jesus didn’t go to the Ten Commandments for the most important one. Instead, He went to the book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ summation of God’s law and of God’s history with the Israelites, from the time of the Exodus to the day of Moses’ death about 40 years later. By the way, Jesus had already showed His deep respect and knowledge of the book of Deuteronomy three years earlier during His temptation in the wilderness. Every answer that Jesus had given to satan had come from the book of Deuteronomy.
Jesus went straight to what we now know as chapter six, verse four and five. The first line of these verses were very well known by the Jewish people, forming part of their regular synagogue liturgy: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. This basic statement reveals that God is the only true God, the God of not just Israel, but of the whole world. There is no other God besides Him, so He is to be worshiped by all of His people exclusively.
But that line is not to be separated from the very next sentence, which shows the natural outgrowth of the former truth, and forms the core of the commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Since there is no god besides the one true God, all of His people are to love and serve Him completely. Some have tried to break down what is included in each of these categories, but that is not necessary – the command is actually much simpler than a close analysis would suggest. God’s people are to love and obey Him in every dimension of their lives, and with every part of themselves: mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.
The reason why this is the most important commandment is simple. If a person is willing to acknowledge that God is the only true God, and if they will commit themselves to love and obey Him in every dimension of their lives, then everything else will naturally fall into its proper place. If, however, a person is unwilling to acknowledge who God is, or if they hold back any dimension of themselves from His lordship, it will open the door to every kind of sin and compromise that will ultimately reach into and contaminate every area of their lives.
Father, it really is very simple, isn’t it? If You are acknowledged as the uncontested God of every part of our lives, there is no possibility of us compromising our beliefs with other things, and allowing them to jump into first place in our lives (the definition of idolatry). And if we love You and are committed to serving and obeying You with every dimension of our lives, there will be nothing that could motivate us to willingly disobey You. This single command, elegant in its simplicity, really is the hinge-pin of a life committed to loving, following, and obeying You. Amen.