The Great Commandment

Jesus silenced the Sadducees who questioned Him about the resurrection, which they didn’t believe in (Matt. 22:23-33). Hearing this, the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. “An expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law’” (vs. 36)? “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” (vss. 37-40).

They didn’t ask Jesus for the second greatest commandment, but He gave it to them anyway. These two commandments define the whole purpose for the Word of God. We are to love God with our entire being. The second commandment necessarily flows from the first. If we loved God with our whole being, we would also love our neighbor as ourselves. The Pharisees knew that Jesus was right, but they struggled with the second part and asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor” (Lu. 10:29)? Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30-37). The Samaritans were foreigners and hated by the Jews, but in the parable the Samaritan proved to be the good neighbor by his deeds.

Loving our neighbor has no national boundaries, nor does it recognize any sectarian or religious differences. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For everyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn. 4:20,21). Our relationship with God is inextricably bound up with our relationships with others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).

Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). At the time the Jews practiced a negative form of the “golden rule.” “Whatever you would not wish done to you, do not yourself to another.” It was the law of retaliation. The golden rule is based on the law of grace. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lu. 6:35,36). We are to relate to others as Christ has related to us. Essentially that means, show mercy by not giving people what they deserve. But that doesn’t go far enough. We are to give people what they don’t deserve, i.e. love one another.

Dr. Neil

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