The Greatest Commandment

By Kristen Entwistle

“How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ – the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own family with whom I can’t seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed?  If we believe that, as Jesus said, the two greatest commands are to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ then this passage has a lot to teach us.  Basically, Christ is connecting the command to ‘love God’ with the command to ‘love your neighbor.’  By loving ‘the least of these,’ we are loving God himself.”  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love)

Throughout the Gospels, the writers record conversations that Jesus had with teachers of the law.  These teachers thought they had it all figured out.  They had their laws and their ceremonies and their rituals and customs.  They thought that if you followed everything to a T, that you’d be fine.  You’d be delivered from your sin and in right standing with God.

Then Jesus came and turned their world upside down.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.  But He had a different way of doing things than the teachers of the law.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners rather than the kings and priests.  He wasn’t afraid to heal a sick man on the Sabbath.  He walked with sinful people rather than try to prove He was better than them.

I love Jesus’ answer to the teachers of the law in Matthew 22.  The expert in the law is trying to trap Jesus, as they so often did, and asks, “Teacher, what 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.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The teacher of the law knew that there were hundreds of laws in the Old Testament that Jesus could have chosen.  And to the teachers of the law, all commands were important.  You couldn’t be right with God unless you upheld not just one, but all of the commands.  The teacher of the law was probably a little stunned by this answer from Jesus.  It probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him because it wasn’t about sacrifices for sins or not working on the Sabbath.

Unless you just love to study Leviticus and Deuteronomy and all of the hundreds of laws that the Israelites were given by God, you’ve probably not cared about the command to not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19) or to not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19).  So why do we care about these two commands that Jesus mentions in Matthew 22?

All of the laws that the Israelites had to follow back in the day hang on these two commands.  All of the laws and customs and seemingly insignificant verses in the first few books of the Bible were to turn the people’s attention to God alone.  To give them parameters to live by so that they would love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It wasn’t possible for them to do so on their own.  All of those other commands of not stealing, not lying, not coveting what your neighbor has – those fall under the second greatest command – to love your neighbor as yourself.

The laws that the Israelites were given weren’t to make them annoyed by all the little details.  They were to create a framework in which the Israelites could live together as a people and could worship the One true God with everything they had.  Now, I’d be a horrible teacher if I didn’t point out that they failed miserably on many occasions.  But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t still continue to pursue them, his chosen people, and continue to give them chance after chance after chance to turn back to him.

All of the laws and the things that the Prophets said were to fulfill the two commands that Jesus mentions in Matthew 22.  So it makes sense that Jesus would remind the teachers of the law that this was what they were really after.  Not making sure that no one did any work on the Sabbath.  Or inspecting the clothes their people wore to make sure it wasn’t some polyester blend.  But loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving their neighbor as themselves.

But what does that mean for us?  We don’t live in the age when we have to make sacrifices at the temple or worry about what we eat or wear.  Those rules don’t apply to us anymore because Christ came and was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the greatest commands.

To many people, these two commands seem disconnected and disjointed.  What does one have to do with the other?

“By loving the least of these, we are loving God himself.”  (Francis Chan)

How would your view of these commandments change if you thought of each person you came into contact with as Jesus?  Each annoying student in your class, each person you pass on the street, each child who cries in the middle of the Sunday service.

My challenge to you (and to me) is to keep the two greatest commandments connected, not separate.  To love God, and to love people as if they were God himself.  To keep these commandments in everything we do.

I never said it was easy.  But it is what we have been commanded to do.

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