Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV) Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Despite the plotting of many of the Pharisees, this one’s question was sincere. The Pharisees counted 613 discrete commandments in the law, and there was a constant debate among them as to which was the most important commandment of all.
Jesus instantly zoomed in on Deuteronomy 6:5, the verse after the Shema, which acknowledges that the Lord alone is the God of Israel. Since there is no other God than Him, and since He was the one who chose Israel, who saw them through the crucible of slavery in Egypt, and who brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land, then they were required to love Him with every part of themselves, heart, soul, and mind. There was to be no part of their lives that was not completely devoted to loving and obeying God, so no part of them would be available to worship idols.
The second most important commandment comes from Leviticus 19:18, and is in the midst of whole series of commands about how to treat others. This command, like the one above, is not about feelings, but actions. A person must demonstrate their love for God by obedience to His commands and a solid commitment to His agenda. A person loves their neighbor by doing them no harm, instead looking for opportunities to do active good to them. The standard for this love of others is love for oneself, again, not feelings, but actions. When a person is hungry, they feed themselves; they should feed their hungry neighbor in the same way. When they are cold, they add clothing; they should clothe their cold neighbor in the same way.
Jesus’ statement that these two commandments sum up all of the commands in the law and prophets is true and very easy to understand. If a person actively loves God with their entire being, there is nothing on earth that could move them to sin against Him by disobeying His commands or turning their backs on Him. And if they love their neighbors as they love themselves, there is nothing on earth that could move them to sin against their neighbor by stealing from him, killing him, coveting his stuff, or lying about him.
Father, this really is clear. And if we will obey these two commands from our hearts, we will find that we are naturally in compliance with every other command You have given us. Help me to live out both of these commandments today. Amen.