The Two Commandments
34But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36″Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:34-40
This exchange between Jesus and a lawyer took place during the busy and intense last week before the crucifixion. Various groups of enemies arrayed themselves against Jesus, coming to Him with their challenges and trick questions. He perfectly responded to each one. And His purpose remained, to prepare people for the kingdom, by exposing sin, urging repentance and inviting all to obey God.
In this situation the question was, “which is the great commandment in the law?” This reflects the understanding that they (the Jews) were under law to God, specifically the law of Moses. God had given the nation a comprehensive body of law to govern them, not only spiritually but in their civil existence as a preparatory nation in God’s overall plan. In giving that law, God had said: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex. 19:5,6). Based on that law God gave to the Israelites, the question posed by the lawyer is, “which is the great commandment?”
Jesus responded, not just by picking out two commandments at random. He cited one commandment that pertains directly to man in relationship with His God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He said, “This is the first and great commandment.” This statement by the Lord identifies a priority that deserves our recognition today. First, get right with God. And don’t miss the totality of this: “Love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the total man loving the total God. God didn’t hold back in giving to us; we shouldn’t hold back in giving to Him. Hendriksen said, “God’s whole-hearted love must not be answered in a half-hearted manner.”
From Pulpit Commentary: “The love of God is the first of all the command-ments. We must not be contented with our spiritual state unless we are sincerely and earnestly striving to obey it. The measure of that love is the measure of the whole heart and soul and mind: the heart, the centre of our being; the soul, the seat of the affections and desires; the mind, the home of thought and reason. The love of God must dwell in all these parts of our complex nature, filling the whole man with its gracious sanctifying influence; we must try to love him with the whole strength of all our highest faculties. Such love, the first duty of the Christian, is also the source of his sweetest, holiest joy. There is no earthly joy like that which flows from the love of those dearest to us; and as the love of God is of all forms of love beyond comparison the highest, so the joy which streams from that love is of all joys unutterably the deepest and the most blessed. It is the foretaste of heaven, for the joy of heaven is to love God perfectly, and to know and feel the great love of God. Peter says that those who love him now ‘rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ And if that be true of those who now see him not save by faith, what must be the entrancing gladness of those who see him face to face, as he is, in his kingdom?”
But there was another command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is “like” the first in that love is enjoined (with all that biblical love expresses in attitude and action). This is to be directed to “your neighbor.” This expression is not narrow (the people across the street), but comprehensive of all your fellow human begins (see Lk. 10:25-37 & Gal. 6:10). This means, once we are right with God, that fellowship with God and acceptance of His authority provides a way for us to serve our fellow man in the highest sense. Loving God is first. Once that is settled and because of that, we are equipped to engage ourselves in the best service to others. God first, then others.
It is futile to attempt to serve mankind absent faithfulness to God. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jno. 4:20-21).
“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” (verse 40). Everything God obligated His people to do, as recorded in the Old Testament, was an extension of either loving God or loving man. There are really two things God requires: (1) to respond proper to Him, and (2) to respond properly to others. Some will ask, where is self in this? Loving God as you should (with all that means) will generate a healthy self-concept. And when that love for God prompts appropriate service to your fellowman, you will be loving your neighbor “as yourself.”
God is God, and man is man, so it behooves us to love God and make this our highest priority; out of this love for God, that must develop this healthy and active love for people — everything else relates to these two basics.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 13.2; February 2006