The Greatest Commands Ever Given
34 Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
That is one of the most important statements in all the Bible, and it is very likely the most important statement Jesus made on earth. If you wear the name Christ, let that sink in.
This is one of the most important statements in all the Bible for Christians because Jesus answered the question categorically. What’s the most important thing, Jesus? There are so many particular commands in the Bible—don’t gossip, be bold, control your lust, be pure, stop fighting, give generously, don’t worry, seek the kingdom! You could just get totally overwhelmed, asking yourself, “Where do I start!? There are so many things I’ve gotta work on!” How about, “Love God with all of you, and love your neighbor as though he is you?”
When I was early in college—10 or 11 years ago—I was struggling with anxiety, and sometimes my mind felt like fog, trying to get everything to make sense. I confided in a wise older man, and he just smiled and said, “Daniel, relinquish and enjoy.” There was great power in the simplicity of that. That’s what Matthew 22:37-39 should be for us—a way to tighten our spiritual direction and focus.
I wonder what ground level idea stimulates all of your Christian strivings. Perhaps more importantly, I wonder what Jesus would say is the greatest command resting over your life (?).
The Law, the Prophets, and the Mountain Under Them
Of these two similar commands, Jesus said this in verse 40: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So, the Law and the Prophets depend on something for their value, namely, the two commands (1) Love God and (2) Love neighbor. So, in the same way that a child is dependent on their parents, all of the Law and the Prophets rested against these two underlying ideas. To make that image even clearer, the Greek reads it this way, “On these two commands, the whole law is hung—and the prophets.”
So, you’d think the Law of Moses and the Prophets are self-sustaining and self-supported, but Jesus says, “They’re hanging onto something else,” which means they don’t stand on their own—not entirely—not if it weren’t for these other two ideas. In Acts 5:30 it says, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” That word “hanging” is the same word used in this Matthew passage. The Law and the Prophets are hanging on this mountain, which is “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
For the sake of today’s message, I’d like you to visualize a multifaceted mountain around which we will hike to see various angles and insights into the most important commands ever given.
As we come to learn from Jesus, imagine a towering Everest of a mountain, rising 29,000 feet straight out of the ground. The mountain is the idea “Love God and love neighbor.” It’s going nowhere—not ever. There are other ordinances of Law and external religion that may change and have changed, but these two ideas are eternal and constant. And as you gaze upon the majesty of this mountain, over the first side is hung a 28,000 foot banner, with each corner secured by anchors driving five miles into the side of the mountain. This banner is elaborate and beautiful and intricately woven—indeed, it is the greatest work of art every made. It is the perfect standard of God in explicit code of law.
It is glorious, however its every word clings closely to the mountain behind it. Love God with every fiber of your being; love neighbors as you love yourself. It clings closely. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—the Law of Moses—with every moral law, every sacrificial law, every cleanliness law, every tabernacle instruction, every example of sinful mankind, all of it clings to these two ideas, and from there it draws its life. And as you look closely into each detailed ordinance, you can see through the ordinance and are able to see the real thing over which the ordinance clings and out of which it grew. The Law along with Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi—all of the Prophets who testified to the Law and called Israel back to the Law—they’re all saying, “Love God! Stop slaughtering bulls and merely burning incense! Love God, and love your neighbors for God’s sake! Jonah!” Jonah didn’t love his neighbors—had he really loved God he would’ve loved his neighbors.
Divinely Ordered Strata
That was the south side of the mountain. Now we head around to the East facing side of the mountain. With the banner of the Law and the Prophets out of view, we gaze now on the mountain itself, which consists of two layers. Which command do you suppose upholds the other? Love God! The whole world gets that wrong, worshipping people rather than worshipping God. The only safeguard against worshipping God’s creation is if you love God more than the creation. So just visualize this first layer of the mountain sinking hundreds of miles into the ground and spanning the breadth of the whole earth.
You come here before you go anywhere else. Jesus said the single greatest command in the world is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Don’t even attempt to do anything else until you come here. Don’t even try it. If you do, you’ll be a Pharisee in only a few moments. Because if you don’t love God first, you won’t care to do the things he wills, which means, you won’t know how to love people in a meaningful way.
I look around and all I see and hear is the word “love,” but I see so little of it! Hip hop artists speak of love but its never the kind that sits in a hospital room, gripping the hand of a spouse to whom the person has been married for sixty years, weeping as they say good bye. And I think the reason we don’t see that kind of love is because people set out to love the creation without a standard given by the Creator! And so they had no idea how to truly love.
The reason marriages fail, and affairs are common, and abuse is common, and harsh husbands speak thoughtlessly to disrespectful wives is because most people aren’t grounded by an abiding love of God. Without God, who’s the arbiter in a relationship? Who provides the standard? If I love God, then I’ll listen to him when he says, “Be faithful to your wife!” I’ll hear him when he says, “Deal with her in an understanding way.” I’ll be willing when he says, “Love her like Christ loved the church.”
The greatest service to humankind is to love God more. Here’s why that works: God loves the world no matter what they’re doing (John 3:16); and because he loves the world, he made a large portion of his word about how we are to behave toward the world in love. Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Now, let me give an illustration: In 1 Samuel 24, after David had been pursued by Saul to near death, David had a moment when he could have killed him, and Saul would have deserved it! But this was David’s response: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed…Out of the wicked comes wickedness. But my hand shall not be against you.” Do you see how David’s love for God stayed his hand against Saul, his enemy?
Imagine, then, what the love of God would do toward cordial neighbors! If the love of God kept back David’s hand from slaying his mortal enemy, what might the love of God do to ignite passions in marriage? What might the love of God do to create warm hearts toward the oppressed? How might a love of God change our outlook toward needy people with heavy baggage? I think it would help us learn to do for others as we would have them do for us.
All Your Heart, All Your Soul, and All Your Mind
As we round the east side of the mountain, heading towards the north face, we look up and see a series of steps ascending to the very top. One step says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart;” the next says, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul;” and the last says, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind.”
I spent a considerable amount of time this week meditating on those separate aspects of the greatest command. Here’s what I think it means: Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind means he fills your heart, he drives your existence, and he consumes your thoughts. Put another way, it means you adore his beauty, you forfeit self-governance, and you take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
What might happen if a person adored the beauty of God but didn’t forfeit control to his command? They would become hopelessly lost in a frenzy of emotionalism. Or what would happen if a person slavishly followed him but didn’t adore him nor recognize the beauty of his majesty? They’d become hopelessly bitter and contemptuous and maintain all sorts of false notions of his nature. So there’s value to each aspect of our love for God. Let me spend a few minutes commenting on each of them, after which I’ll provide a closing admonition.
Loving God with Your Whole Heart
I think this means that he occupies the fullness of your heart in that you couldn’t think a remotely bad thing about him. There would be no room for bitterness. You adore him. There’s no animosity or rigidity. You are simply filled with praise for him, no matter your earthly circumstance—like Paul who said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
The mature Christian, then, should be allocating time to meditate on the beauty of God’s majesty. This may be a walk through nature, and it would certainly be a scouring of the promises of Scripture.
I wonder how many here are filled with adoration for God. I’ve spoken to a good many people in the past who still have a rather naive idea of who God is, so they envision him like a stoic. Or they had a bad father, and they just can’t help but associate those traits of their father with God. If that’s you, then Jesus is calling you to give him the love of your entire heart! I believe the best starting point is to spend time studying Jesus—he and the Father are identical.
Having studied Jesus for these past few years, I not only love him and want to obey him, I adore him. He’s perfectly beautiful.
Loving God with Your Whole Soul
The soul is the eternal part of mankind—the inner you—the real essence of your person. So, loving God with your entire soul means you grant him complete control over your life. It means, “God, you’re in the lead now. All the areas in life that matter most, I’m handing the control over to you. My whole soul trusts in you, believes in you, loves you.”
So practically speaking, there’s the underlying assumption that such a person would know the will of God for their life and would be actively seeking after it in the Word he’s revealed. I think to love God with all your soul means you spend time regularly in his word, meditating like David did.
Listen to what David said in Psalm 103:1: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless is holy name!” Now doesn’t that sound like David is loving God with all of his soul? Sure. He’s telling his entire soul to bless the Lord, which is synonymous with loving God with all his soul.
But how do you do that!? Listen to what he said in the closing three verses of that same Psalm: “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion, Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
What a testimony! The Lord is blessed by those who do his word, obey his voice, do his will, and exist under his dominion. This is why I say loving God with all your soul means you grant him access to drive your life.
Loving God with Your Whole Mind
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What better way to love God with all your mind?
If you’re driving along, and out of the blue an unwholesome thought comes into your mind, what do you do with it? Do you entertain it? Or do you smash it! Loving God with your whole mind means, if an unwholesome thought comes into your mind’s eye, you say, “Out! There’s no room for you in here.” And you then turn to God and say, “My God, I’m sorry my flesh even considered such a thought. I love you. Please lead me.”
Binding this Command On your Hands and Head and Heart
I spent a little bit of time studying Deuteronomy 6 this week—the passage from which Jesus gave the greatest command. Moses told the people of Israel before they crossed into the promised land, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
What will you do to keep this command before your eyes always? Are you teaching your children? Do you speak of these things at the dinner table? Are you thinking of these things while you drive and when you walk and while at work? Love God!
I told Miranda the other day that my goal for Judah is this: I don’t want him to be a Pharisee; he doesn’t have to keep every tradition we keep; on matters of opinion he may have his own. I want him to grow up with a fiery passion for the Lord, and I want him to be kind to others. If that’s who he grows up to be, I will be very proud.
Love God with all you have; love your neighbor like you love yourself.
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