The Greatest Commandment – Matthew 22:37-40

The last few Bible studies have focused on the basics of following Christ. We’ve looked at the importance of the Word of God in our lives and the necessity of commitment to a local church.  I thought in this study it might be good to study what should be the most basic action of all believers…love.

Those who have known Christ and served Him for any length of time are familiar with love and use the word daily as we interact in our families and communities.  But sometimes we forget what the word should mean to us.  I use the word “action” above because that is the context that we have from the Bible as to how we are to experience love.  It is not a warm gooey feeling (at least not only a warm gooey feeling) it is something that we do…an action!

Take a look at Matthew 22:37-40:

“…‘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.”

As with many of the questions that Jesus answered in the Gospels this passage is an answer to a question posed by the Jewish leaders in an effort to trap and indict Jesus with His own words.   Obviously, Jesus knew their hearts and intentions and turned the ambush into an opportunity to share the most basic premise of the Christian faith.  He simply said that love for the Lord and love for others is the greatest act of service. 

The first part of this passage is a paraphrased quoting of Deuteronomy 6:5 and essentially tells us that we are to love the Lord with everything: with our heart (the seat of our thought, will and emotion), with our soul (what makes us who we are), and with our mind (the way we reason). Every part of our being should be devoted to loving Jesus and the Father.  Jesus uses the familiar Greek word agape but in a verb form in the future tense.  By using agape in that manner He’s essentially telling us that as we serve the Lord—from this point on (future)—our will needs to be focused on finding our ultimate joy in Him and nothing else!  What a powerful thought!

Loving the Lord with Everything is Finding Our Ultimate Joy in Him!

The second part of this passage is a quote of Leviticus 19:18 which was, in the Leviticus context, a contrast of the two major aspects of most people’s relationships.  The full quote of Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.”  If we are honest with ourselves then we can see that most of us (myself included) throw nearly everyone we know into one of these two camps:  grudging or loving.  And we act out (action word again) our relationships to varying degrees depending upon which camp our acquaintances are in. 

Jesus tells us that if we are truly to serve the Lord we are going to love others as we love ourselves.  How do we love ourselves?  When I am at my most selfish the way that I love myself is by doing whatever pleases me first and foremost.  I put my needs above everyone else’s.  If we are to love as Jesus wants us to love then we have to turn that around.  Biblical love is placing someone else’s needs before our own!

Loving Our Neighbors is Placing Other’s Needs Before Our Own!

Jesus ended this passage by making the bold statement “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  The Law would have been understood to be the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the Prophets would have been understood to be the remainder of what we know today as the Old Testament.  At the time, it was like He was saying “everything you believe in is centered on love for God and love for others.”  The truly amazing thing is that we have no record of the Jewish leaders contesting this idea for even they new that love was the most important act of worship to the Lord!

Today we can say the same thing.  There are a whole lot of things we need to study and learn and do as we serve Jesus but love is the foundation for them all.  Loving admiration and service to Jesus and loving service to others is unique to Christianity.  It is the one thing that the world should see when they look at us.  In fact, by loving others we are acting out the love that Jesus showed the world when He placed our needs before His own and endured His sacrifice on the cross!

Love is the First and Last Word in Christian Theology!

As you continue to serve the Lord in your family, local church or community I encourage you to evaluate your “action” of love!  Do you love the Lord?  Do you truly love others? 

If you’d like to study further I encourage you to search the Bible for the word “love” and search out other passages that answer these questions:

How does the Father love us?  (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-11)

How do I love the Lord?  (1 John 5:3)

How should I love others? (1 John 4:7)