The Greatest Commandment

    34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

   37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

For the religious leaders of Jesus' time religion was a very complicated business, much as it became over time in the Christian church. It was full of rules and regulations, often so many no one could even keep up with the list. It had become so complex that a great many people could not hope to fulfill the demands of the Law or experience peace in practicing their faith. It is not surprising then to find a devout man asking Jesus about this in Matthew 22. He seemed to genuinely want to know, "What is most important in all this detailed instruction about living?" 

In his reply, which we read in the text above, Jesus goes to the core of the matter. All true religion and spirituality (including morality) depend on man's loving God with his whole being (his self, his inner essence, his personality) and then loving his neighbor with the same love that he had for himself. 

The Apostle Paul said the same thing in Romans 13:8-10 where he says that all moral and religious demands are not found in determined human effort but in a heart opened fully to the love of God and prepared to love other people.

Love Fulfills the Law

    8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

"Love is the fulfillment of the law." 

I hear some Christians say, in essence, "We cannot fulfill the law. Only Christ can." True, in one sense. But not true in another. This clever theological shell game misses the point here and denies the reality of Christ's love working in us by the Spirit. 

Whatever denomination or group you belong to it behooves you to go back to the heart of the matter at the end of 2011. All our creeds, formulas, mission statements and programs are worth nothing if we do not fulfill the most basic command of all, the love God and our neighbors. 

Is Jesus watering-down the moral law here? Is he weakening the Ten Commandments? If you think this then you have not followed the way of Christ or understood what is going on here at all. If you follow Jesus in the coming year I promise you that you will surpass the demands of any set of laws and your actions will surpass those of people who try to follow the Law of Moses. The Ten Commandments may produce law-abiding people, albeit people who fail to keep the Law at every point, but the Law of Christ produces those who live as sons and daughters of the living God. 

I recently read a post in which a friend asked people to say what family characteristic is important to focus on in 2012? I was amazed at some of the responses. I wrote: "Love." Nothing else comes remotely close. Don't you think I'm right? And if not please help me understand why. "The greatest of these is love." 



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  1. gregory December 31, 2011 at 8:38 am

    ” If you follow Jesus…the Law of Christ produces those who LIVE as sons and daughters of the Living God.”
    Brilliant! Thank you John.

  2. George C December 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I once heard someone say that a better translation of the greatest commandment would be that instead of “And the second is like it” is “and the second is the mirror image of the first” or even the “reflection” of the first.
    This translation does more justice to John’s teaching of loving God BY and THROUGH loving others rather than making them two seperate and teired things.

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