35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being [Deuteronomy 6:5] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Jewish rabbis debated: were all commandments equal or were some greater than others? Asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus chose not one but two. The first was Deuteronomy 6:4: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.” But he added Leviticus 19:18: “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Psychologists today identify the inner mechanism that made it so important to include “as you love yourself” by noting that our “superego” is the inner “critic” that leads too many of us to hate ourselves. If we hate ourselves, we surely will find it hard to love our neighbor. Jesus said the point of all other truths is to lead us to love God and neighbor more fully. God wants us to show contagious love to all we know.
Gracious God, thank you for loving me unconditionally. Help me to recognize the times in my life when I need to relentlessly extend your love to those around me. Amen.
In today’s Bible verses, Jesus says that loving God and loving others are the two greatest commandments. In fact, He says all the law and prophets depend on them.
This fall, my Sunday School class is reviewing how the prophets warned people against things that displease God, such as:
Insincerity: being hypocritical – pretending to worship God, but really just going through the motions.
Idolatry: turning to anything other than God for satisfaction or relying on anything other than God for a sense of security. (For example, hoping a vacation or new car will satisfy; counting on a savings account or insurance plan to feel secure).
Immorality: lying, cheating, stealing – mistreating others in any way.
Tolerating injustice: being indifferent to unfair situations that cause others to suffer.
In other words, the prophets urged people to stop living in a way that doesn’t fully love God and others. No wonder Jesus said the law and prophets depend on those two things.
At first glance, both commandments seem straightforward. In fact, if I don’t ponder them too deeply, I might tell myself, “Sure, I love God and others. I go to church, pray, read the Bible; I give money and time to help people in need.”
But then I read Jesus’ words more closely. Jesus said we’re to love God with all our heart and mind. Hmm. If I love someone wholeheartedly, I make it a top priority to know them better. To be in regular communication with them. To focus on things that are important to them and avoid doing things that upset them. If someone were to talk badly about my loved one, I wouldn’t ignore it – I’d stand up for them! Am I doing all those things for God? Am I making it a top priority to regularly talk with God and listen to Him? To focus on what’s important to God and avoid things that displease Him? Am I standing up for God when someone speaks badly about Him? Or am I just going through the motions as a Christian, looking to something other than God for my sense of security or satisfaction?
Jesus said we’re to love others as we love ourselves. If I love myself, I make it a top priority to be safe and healthy; to have shelter, food, and clothing; to have people in my life who care for me. Am I doing all those things for others? Am I making it a top priority to help others be safe and healthy; to have shelter, food, and clothing; to have someone in their life who will care for them? Or am I indifferent to others’ suffering – tolerating injustices in the world because I’m too busy, too focused on my own concerns? To love God and others the way Jesus describes is incredibly beautiful and exceedingly difficult. I can’t do it through my own willpower. Instead, I need to humbly, repeatedly, pray: “God, please help me love you wholeheartedly. Please help me love others as deeply as I love myself.”