The Greatest Commandment

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In His last week of ministry on Earth, Jesus was pelted with questions by three different groups whom He had constantly confounded. The Herodians, who advocated that collaboration with the ruling party was the best course, asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes. His unexpected answer silenced them (Matthew 22:16-22).

The Sadducees, known for their liberal watering down of the Jewish faith, were next. Using a scenario that stumped most people, Jesus not only answered them but rebuked them for their lack of faith (Matthew 22:23-32).

Finally, the Pharisees stepped up. Their name meant “pure ones,” and while many were sincere followers of God, most showcased a religious conceit borne of the conviction that only they knew the true essence of religion. They were particularly noted for their keeping of the law as revealed to Moses, which they had divided into 613 precepts, 248 of which were commandments, while 365 were prohibitions. They were further divided into those considered “weighty” and those that were “light.” However, there was constant disagreement as to the order of importance. This perplexing issue seemed like a good one for Jesus to consider.

A teacher of the law asked, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses? Jesus replied, ’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus said we were to love the Lord with all our hearts. In biblical days, it was thought that the heart was the seat of the emotions and the will. The Bible accepts that people have emotions which are important to being fully human. Emotions reinforce our decisions and empower us to move forward. They are God-created, and as such, each emotion is valid. In fact, some things can only be seen properly through emotions. Being a parent is more than following a book that tells what time a child eats, sleeps and plays. Parenting only works through love.

When Jesus spoke of loving God with all our hearts, He meant that all of our emotions can be engaged in loving Him: joy, sorrow, fear, hope, shame, anger and contentment. God wants our lives in Him to engage the fullness of our feelings, so that we love Him with everything and in every way our hearts can feel and act. Adam Clarke noted, “He loves God with all his heart who loves nothing in comparison to Him and nothing in reference to Him, who is ready to give up, do, or suffer anything in order to please and glorify Him.”

Then Jesus said we are to love God with all our souls. This involves the development of our spiritual lives to please God and devote ourselves for His glory. It means to have allegiance to Him above all others with no rivals. At a time when many gods were worshipped, Jesus said that there was only one true God who demanded His exclusive place in their souls and who demanded all their worship.

An alternative idea is to love the Lord with all our lives. That’s all of life’s energy, all of the days allotted to us and all the best that I am, whether I am 25 or 95. Through all the stages and circumstances of life, we are to love God steadfastly with all our souls. An old Salvation Army chorus conveys this idea.

All my days and all my hours,
All my will and all my powers,
All the passion of my soul,
Not a fragment but the whole,

Shall be Thine, dear Lord,
Shall be Thine, dear Lord.

– Edward H. Joy

The Song Book of The Salvation Army #566

Finally, Jesus said we were to love the Lord with all our minds. The original Greek indicates that this referred to our intellects and thinking capacity. This means that we love, not because we can’t help it, but we love God as a deliberate and voluntary choice. It is to subject our ways to Him, our thoughts and our plans. It is to set ourselves on giving our best efforts to Him, to develop whatever skills, talents, education and resources for His glory. It is to embrace self-discipline and self-denial in order to seek God in all things.

Jesus added another commandment to this one. We are to love our neighbors.

That means we are to seek our neighbors’ good, to look out for their interests and to promote actively what is best for them. Above all it is to seek their salvation. Our regard for our neighbors must reflect our acknowledgement that they have been created in the image of God and are fully deserving of God’s love and all God has for them.

Love like this extends beyond those close at hand. The Bible is quite clear about the social component of holiness. In the Old Testament law provision was made for the poor. Grain in the corners of the field and unharvested fruit were to be left for the poor. Hebrew servants were to be freed after a specified time. The poor man was to be given back his cloak each day to warm him at night. All of this means we have an obligation to live differently in the world. That primarily is shown in how we treat people.

We must change the world in which we live. We are to love as Christ loved – for love’s sake alone. We must love them whether or not they treat us well, whether or not they accept our Savior, whether or not we are noticed or appreciated, even when doing so means loss to us. If there is no love of our neighbors, there is no genuine experience of God in our hearts.

The measure of what we are is in what and how we love.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.