Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do what He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn't believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handles their question. Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees are quickly followed by the Pharisees again. This time they raise a question concerning the Law – their area of expertise. "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’” (Matthew 22:34-36 NLT).
This was common debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they had imposed this staggering list of 615 precepts on their followers. With that many laws, it wasn't long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, "Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). The over in Exodus, it states, "…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath" (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, were you to do nothing? This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear breaking of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than them. And they seriously doubted that He did.
A Simple Solution
Jesus’ answer reveals His authority over the Scriptures. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT). He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV). This is the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But there was a second part. “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39 NLT). Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.
What Jesus presents is not new, but He provides it with new emphasis and meaning. While the love of God is supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for man. "If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?"(1 John 4:20 NLT). Why was this so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them. “For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4 NLT). In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves are divided into these two areas. There is a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other – they are reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.
Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT
But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT
Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.
Who’s Your Neighbor?
Take a look at Luke 10. Jesus has an encounter with “an expert in religious law” – probably a lawyer and likely a Pharisee, one the experts in oral law. He comes asking what he has to DO to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says? "The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27 NLT).
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT).
“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NLT).
He wanted a little qualification and clarification. As a lawyer, he wanted to limit his responsibility for loving. He wanted to justify himself as a keeper of the law and therefore, qualified for eternal life, so he was hoping Jesus would say, “Just love those who are righteous like you.” But instead, Jesus tells him a parable. It involves an unidentified man on a 17-mile road trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a long and dangerous trip, plagued by thieves. The story revolves around a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Two would have been well-respected, while the other was an outcast. As recorded in Luke 10, the man on the journey is accosted by thieves and left for dead. The priest sees him lying on the side of the road and crosses to the other side. The Levite passes by some time later, bothers to take a look at him, but leaves him just as he is. Finally, the Samaritan comes along and not only stops, he provides first aid. It says he felt compassion for him, soothed his wounds, bandaged him up and then put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he continued to care for him and covered the cost out of his own pocket.
After completing His story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits” (Luke 10:36 NLT). To which he replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37 NLT). And Jesus promptly replied, "Go and do the same!" Jesus has just clarified the question of who our neighbor is. It is anyone God brings into our life in need. It is anyone to whom we have the capacity or opportunity to show love. When we do, it is the fullest expression of our love for God.
Over in Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He uses the picture of a shepherd dividing between the sheep and the goats. This is an image what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith in God during that time. Their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NLT). Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will be evidence of their hearts having been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. All those who failed to do the same would be condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It is proof that we understand His love for us. So how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Like the lawyer, do you want to qualify who your neighbor is to justify yourself? Since you can’t put your arms around God and hug Him or show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him through others. How do you think you’re doing? Could you be tried in a court of law and convicted as a Christian solely based on your love for and treatment of others?
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:35 NLT
Father, I want to increasingly learn to love others as an expression of my love for You. It is so easy to dislike and even hate those whom You love. I can so easily forget that all men are made in Your image. It is easy to love those like me or those who agree with me. It is easy to love those who love me back or who love me first. But loving the unlovely or unloving is difficult. Yet that is exactly how You love me – when I was at my most unlovely and when I was totally out of love with You. Help me to love like You love. Amen.