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What Is the Greatest Commandment?

November 01, 2023

What Is the Greatest Commandment?

What Is the Greatest Commandment?

By Brooke Holt

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus certainly got to experience the challenges of politics -- two parties normally on opposite sides of every issue and who sought to outdo each other converged on this day. For once, they shared a united goal. The wanted to disprove and dismantle the power of Jesus. No one could have anticipated the Pharisees and Sadducees finding any common ground.

The Pharisees and Sadducees put their best foot forward, too. They brought a renowned lawyer to Jesus. Who could do better at building a case against someone than an accomplished lawyer? This lawyer crafted his plan, likely shared it with his new colleagues, and then brought his best question to Jesus: “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

At the time of this question, the Israelites observed 613 laws. Jesus took all those laws plus the Ten Commandments, and he narrowed them down to two: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). These two laws would certainly be much easier to remember than the 613 laws the Pharisees expected the Jewish people to recall and to obey.

Why did Jesus simplify the law this way? If the people would truly love the Lord with their whole being, they would naturally fulfill the first four commandments: have no other gods, make no idols, do not take the name of the Lord in vain, and honor the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:3-11). If they would love their neighbors as themselves, they would fulfill the last six commandments: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet (Exodus 20:12-17). A believer has two relationships: the vertical relationship between him or her and the Lord, and then the horizontal relationship between the believer and mankind.

As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the law not only dealt with one’s actions but also with the attitude of each one’s heart. Jesus ushered in an inside-out kingdom. When the love of God changed one on the inside leading to a devotion to God, then his or her actions would be transformed to reflect that love and devotion. God says he looks at our hearts, because the heart informs one’s actions.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were intent upon trapping Jesus because their hearts were hard towards him. Instead of receiving Jesus as the promised Messiah from God and submitting to him, they resisted Jesus and refused his authority. Jesus perfectly upheld the law and fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy, but he did not meet the expectations and desires of the religious leaders. Thus, they rejected Jesus and missed the very one they had been looking for in their study and teaching of the Scriptures. If only they could have embraced these two commandments!


How does the Lord want you to embrace these two commandments? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Prepare the Way

Christmas is the festival of rejoicing at Christ’s first coming—the beautiful, unlikely start of our salvation! As the season ends each year, we pack up the decorations. Advent, on the other hand, is a bigger celebration—one we can’t box up and store in the attic. It celebrates the grace of Christ’s first coming, and then it reaches with restless anticipation for the fuller grace of his second appearing and the completion of our salvation! For 28 days, celebrate Advent. In Prepare the Way, join with St. Paul, King David the Psalmist, Zechariah, Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist, along with the crowds as they rejoiced in the good news of Christmas, and then look beyond it for the holiday that never ends!


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