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(37) Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
(38) This is the first and greatest commandment.
(39) And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37–39, NIV
Lord our God, through Your spirit help us to live in love to You. Open our eyes to see Your goodness and truth surrounding us Your children, even in this troubled world. We look to You, Almighty Father. Protect us in these difficult times. We plead for our country, entrusting it to Your care so that love to You may be awakened. Where shall we turn except to You? Where shall we find help except in Jesus Christ, whom You have sent to us to win the victory, to subdue and end all evil in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and to become Lord, to the glory of Your name. Amen.
Matthew 22:34–40 describes a question to Jesus from a Pharisee described as a lawyer. In this context, this means someone well-versed in the Old Testament. He asks Jesus which is the great commandment in the Law. Jesus upholds Deuteronomy 6:5, indicating that loving God with everything about us is the great and first commandment. Christ then volunteers that the second greatest is closely related: to love your neighbor as yourself. Every command or law from God is distilled from those basic principles. Luke 10:25–28 and Mark 12:28–37 also describe this challenge.
Continuing a dialogue with hostile religious leaders, Jesus tells a parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast which ends up being attended by those not initially invited. He answers trick questions about taxes, marriage, resurrection, and the Law of Moses. These responses are the source of common English idioms such as "render to Caesar…" and "many are called but few are chosen." Finally, Jesus asks how the Messiah can be both the son of David and the Lord of David. None can answer Him, so they stop challenging Him in public.
"Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"."
It's common to read through these exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders and focus on the conflict and tension. We see Jesus' brilliant answers to the difficult questions meant to trip Him up. It's helpful, though, to stop and think for a moment about what is happening on another level. They don't know it, but Israel's religious leaders are asking these hard questions of the very Son of God. They are taking some of the most troubling issues of the day and getting a response straight from their Creator. Jesus was not simply good at answering questions about the law; He was there when the law was given!
The lawyer who asked Jesus which is the primary commandment in the law may have been trying to trip Jesus up. He certainly doesn't realize he is asking the Son of God the question he might very well have chosen to ask God the Father, given the chance. It's a powerful moment, especially for these men who had made understanding and teaching the law their entire life's work.
For us, and for the exact same reason, Jesus' answer carries an enormous opportunity. This answer is not merely the wise response of a human interpreter. His is not just another opinion among the debates of religious leaders. Jesus' answer reveals the heart of God in giving the Law of Moses to His people Israel.
Jesus doesn't hesitate to answer this question, either. He doesn't respond with a counter-question or tell a parable or ask for object to use for illustration. Jesus answers directly from Deuteronomy 6:5. The great and first commandment in all of Scripture is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.
God wants His people first and above all to love Him with every part of their being. The heart and soul and mind may describe the centers of emotion, action, and thought. The point of the command is not to separate them, though, but to join them together with every aspect of a person fully committed to loving God. A pure, uninterrupted commitment to God and His will is the very basis of a proper relationship with Him.
"This is the first and greatest commandment"
A well-educated expert in Old Testament law has asked Jesus to identify the single greatest commandment in all of Scripture (Matthew 22:34–37). Jesus does not often answer questions from Pharisees without conditions or return questions or a challenge of His own. He does this time, though. Without hesitating, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
Here, Jesus even adds clarity to His answer. He says emphatically that this is the great and first commandment. Commentators stress that "great and first" are not two separate descriptors, but one thing. This command inseparably has the highest priority of all the commandments because it is the greatest. God's highest priority for His people is to be fully and completely loved by them without holding anything back. Every other act of belief, faith, or obedience depends on this single fundamental idea.
"And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisee who tested Jesus did not ask about the "two greatest commandments." He asked for Jesus' take on which was the single greatest (Matthew 22:34–38). Jesus, though, decides the second commandment is so essential that it must be mentioned along with the first one.
Both commands focus solely on what a person does with his or her affection and attention and actions. The greatest command is to love God with every aspect of our being. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. The second greatest commandment comes from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus says that it is similar to the first commandment, likely because it is about who and how we love: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The second greatest commandment assumes an obvious fact of human nature: that human beings naturally love and care for themselves. This perspective is the basis for what has come to be known as the Golden Rule. Jesus taught this in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1–2), and it helps to explain what it means to love another as we love ourselves: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12).
This first and second commandment were woven deeply into Judaism and Jewish life. It's unlikely that anyone was greatly surprised by Jesus' answer to what is the greatest commandment, but the fact that He gave it makes the answer meaningful for all time.
Pharisee asks Jesus about the Great Commandment in the Law
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