A. The Great Commandments
The Pharisees heard that Jesus silenced the Sadducees in their question about the resurrection [23-33], so they come together to plan to trap Jesus [34-35]. The lawyer  was an expert in the Mosaic Law. His question is a test or trap in the sense that he did not really want to learn or even examine Jesus’ theology. The purpose was to undermine Jesus’ authority, because they presume that no matter how Jesus responds they can accuse Him of neglecting other important commands. The lawyer refers to Jesus as “Teacher”  which is a polite greeting, but is distinct from Rabbi (master) or Lord (Messiah). The question is, “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” . The Old Testament has 613 commandments, 248 “positives” (do) and 365 prohibitions (don’t do). Interestingly, there are 613 Hebrew letters in the Ten Commandments [Ex. 20].
Before we discover which is the greatest commandment we should consider whether we are willing to do what Jesus commands us to do. It took me a long time to come to grips with the reality that I wasn’t really living the Great Commandments, but once I did my life changed. Are you willing to discover your next step?
1. Love God supremely [37-38]
You are called to love God with all that you are, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus quotes from Deut. 6:4-5, the premier prayer of Judaism referred to as the Shema. The heart is associated with emotions, soul is the spiritual realm, mind is the intellect, and strength is the body sphere. Deuteronomy is Moses’ swansong where he would remind Israel of all that God had done for them in delivering them from bondage in Egypt, how God had redeemed them to Himself, cared for them in the wilderness, and all that God would do for them in giving them the Promised Land. In light of who God is and all that God has done, it is only reasonable for us to respond by loving Him as the master passion of our lives. In the New Testament [NT] it is only reasonable to love God supremely because of the gospel. God has delivered us from bondage to sin, redeemed us to God at the cross, cared for us in this life and given us eternal life with Him. We receive greater spiritual blessings than the Promised Land through yielding our life to God through faith in Christ. It is important to note that what follows in Deut.6:5-9 is God’s instruction that parents are to teach God’s commandments to their children.
We should do what God has commanded, simply because He is God and we are called to obey. Nevertheless, God appeals to us to love Him supremely because of His Supreme love for us. Some of the ways that we can display love for God include: prayer, worship, Bible-learning, obedience, service, sharing the gospel, and loving others. But there is another important way to show love for God …
2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself [39-40]
Jesus was asked the greatest commandment (singular) but volunteers the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Lev. 19:18]. It is interesting that neither of these commandments are part of the Ten Commandments [Ex. 20]. The second great commandment is linked to the first such that they cannot be separated. You cannot properly love others without loving God and you cannot truly love God without loving others [Jn. 13:35]. Jesus observed that these two Great Commandments were the distilled essence of all the Law and the Prophets (i.e. all that God had spoken to man) . In the parable of the Good Samaritan [Lu. 10:25-37] Jesus helped us to discover who is our neighbor. To the Jews of Jesus’ day, a neighbor (pleision) was a fellow countryman, and would likely be a friend or someone in common. Jesus made clear that the neighbors we are called to love will often have little in common with us (including religious beliefs). We must also appreciate that loving “neighbors” is related to but distinct from loving others or one another. And neighbor also has a geographic proximity idea. Somehow as Christians we have been able to assume that we are living the Great Commandments without even knowing, befriending and building relationships with people who live near us. In the post-Christian culture that we live in, most people are unlikely to be receptive to the gospel without first building a genuine relationship. We can build relationships and show love in countless ways including, but not limited to: getting to know their names, offering to help, asking for help, listening to their story, sharing coffee or a meal, and praying with or for them. Certainly, the greatest demonstration of love is displayed by God at the cross through the gospel. Accordingly, as relationships are developed and as prompted by God’s Spirit, we must look to share the gospel with neighbors where we live, work, study, and play. This is not a project or program, but a value that God has commanded us to live.
I confess that for years I had been so busy supporting ministry or programs at the church that I had no time to befriend and build relationships with neighbors. Following my rediscovery of the Great Commandments, my next step was to create margin in my life to have time for neighbors. Befriending and building relationships often starts with simple random acts of kindness, but it shouldn’t end there.
The other day, my friend Lynn was observing that at our multi-generational church some of the older folks are upset that the music is too loud, and some of the younger are upset that it isn’t loud enough. She had the profound thought, “If they just talked with one another and understood each other then, Christ’s love would prevail.” Similarly, to love your neighbor you need to take time to talk, understand, and trust Christ’s love will prevail. Living the values of loving God and neighbors has produced the most satisfying time in my Christian life, because I know it is pleasing to Jesus.
B. Jesus’ authority as Messiah [41-46]
1. Jesus has the authority of God to command you to love God and neighbors.
Jesus asks them a question . “What do you think about the Christ?” . It is a good question for us to consider [see also, Matt. 16:13-18]. What authority does Jesus have to decide the greatest commandment(s) and tell you what to do? Jesus asks, “Whose Son is He?” And they provide a partially correct answer that Jesus is a descendant of King David [2Sam. 7:16]. A correct understanding of Jesus’ identity is critical to yielding to His authority. The cults and all false religions misidentify who Jesus is, just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. When David wrote Ps. 110:1, by God’s inspiration, he refers to the Father as Lord (YHWH) and the Messiah as Master (Adonai) [43-44]. Parents don’t call their children Lord or Master. Thus, the Messiah must be more than a mere human . Jesus is not only human as the Son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God and God in the flesh [Is. 7:14, Is. 9:6]. The religious leaders were unable to answer, and realize Jesus’ wisdom. So, they stop trying to trap Him with their questions .
Conclusion: Your willingness or unwillingness to love neighbors relates to love for God and submission to His authority. We don’t want to rationalize, justify, or deny that reality. It is not about introverts and extroverts, or good or bad neighbors, or how much time we think we have. It is really about yielding to Jesus! Here are some next steps to consider:
1. Pray: Pray and ask God to help you love Him and neighbors better. Pray for your neighbors.
2. Create margin: Look to create margin in your life for more time with God, family, and neighbors.
3. Belong: Join a Neighborhood Group [NG] where you can learn to love God and neighbors better.
4. Build: Grow as a disciple and/or as a leader prepared to lead a NG.
5. Befriend: build relationships, and share Christ’s love with your neighbors where you live, work, study and play.
Are you willing to discover and take your next step to live the Great commandments?