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 neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The scribes had scoured the Old Testament scriptures and counted 613 commandments flowing out of them. The question then presented itself: Of all 613, which is the chief? Which best captures the essence of the whole?
The rabbis loved debate, so they eagerly plunged into this discussion. Rabbi Hillel, who lived just before Jesus, weighed in: “What you yourself hate, do not do to your neighbour; this is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” An interesting insight. But the debate continued.
So, the Pharisees bring the debate to Jesus. They’ve heard he has silenced the Sadducees, so they now band together seeking to get the upper hand, hoping to put him on the spot, hoping he’ll flub his answer. They’re testing him. So one of them puts forward the question:“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus responds. He brings forth two commandments from the Old Testament upon which all of the others hang. It’s not that the rest are to be disregarded, but rather that these two give the heart and soul and essence of all the rest. It’s interesting that Paul will later grab hold of this same theme – “love” – and say that every other accomplishment amounts to nothing if this one thing is absent (1 Corinthians 13). In essence, that’s Jesus’ point.
He directs it first toward God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Love of God is the foundation for the whole of life.
I remember this commandment coming alive for me in university days. I’d grown up in a faith-filled Christian home and been nurtured in a Bible-believing congregation. My roots were deep and faith was real. But this foundational commandment went further and touched my heart. Love, of course, is more than emotion, more than a feeling. It involves action and obedience and commitment. But somehow the affections of the heart hadn’t been highlighted in my younger days. So this commandment opened that door, inviting me to embrace the Lord with “all” – what an absolutely expansive word. Nothing is left out. The whole of my being is included. Love like that, Jesus says. Yes.
And then, of course, there is the overflow of love to those around me, some of it easy and some of it so difficult. I am to love others as I love myself, having their back, wanting their best, speaking well of them or holding my tongue. Washing feet. Serving like Jesus. Laying down rights. Embracing humility. Seeking their good.
I can never love my Lord as fully as he has loved me, but I can extend that love to those around me. To love others, then, completes my love of God himself.
“Love the Lord your God with all … Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Lord, thank you for your command that invites me into the fullness of deep, committed, obedient relationship with you. Thank you that you stretch me more deeply in human relationship, giving of myself beyond what I otherwise would. As you have poured out your love into my heart by the Holy Spirit whom you have given, by that same Spirit empower me to love in return. To Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Reflect: What is one new action you can take today to love God with all? What is one new situation in which you can love another like you love yourself?