The Great Commandment

in God's Commandments

On one occasion Jesus was asked: “Master, which is the great commandment of the law?” (Matt. 22:36). He answered: ” . . . Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (vv. 37-40). What Jesus described was the Ten Commandments, for they teach exactly that-how to love God and how to love our fellow man. The first four teach us how to love God, and the last six tell us how to love our fellow man. So in reality Jesus placed love toward one’s neighbor second to love toward God and said it is great also.

Jesus used the word “love.” What does love mean? The word love is an English translation of the Greek word agapao. It means “to love,” “value,” “esteem,” “feel or manifest generous concern for,” “be faithful towards,” “to delight in,” “to set store upon.” It carries no sexual connotation. In fact, no Greek word used in the New Testament suggests this, though there are other words found in Greek literature that do. The word Christ used for love implies a feeling stronger than friendship and can exceed any physical limitation. In a physical relationship, it could be described as “outgoing concern.” The confused but common notion today defines love as a kind of sick, dreamy eyed, gushy, nostalgic emotion that actually blinds the eyes to reality.

The Bible says a great deal about the love Jesus mentioned in Matthew 22:36. The Apostle John was inspired to write: “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it” (2 John 6). Even more emphatic is 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” In brief, God defines love toward Him as obedience to His Law. This is why Jesus said that on the Great Commandment, which includes love toward both God and one’s neighbor, hung all the Law and the prophets.

Love God with Heart, Soul, and Might

The Old Testament instruction for the nation of Israel was this: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). So Jesus simply repeated what had been recorded in the Scriptures many years before. This instruction is emphasized over and over again in the Old Testament.

For example, we read:

And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? (Deut. 10:12-13)
In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. (Deut. 30:16)
That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deut. 30:20)
But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. (Deut. 4:29)

Remember, Jesus called the commandment to love God “the Great Commandment.” Love for God must exceed love toward anything else. There can be no equality of affection even for our loved ones. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).

Jesus gave this instruction:

If any man come to me, and hate not [love less by comparison] his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)

This is plain language, and many are not able to bear it. But unless God is absolutely first in our lives, eventually a choice will have to be made that may force us to compromise God’s Truth. Those who have made the decision to place God first will never regret it over the long run. The long run includes what will take place after our sojourn on this earth is over.

Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves

When Jesus was asked about the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:36, He replied that the second commandment was like the first. “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (v. 39). Is this command in the Law? Yes, indeed. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Jesus specifically instructed the disciples to have love for one another. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

The Apostles continued this New Testament instruction for Christians. Peter wrote: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22). The Apostle Paul adds: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:9-10). Love is something that is a continual debt. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).

The spiritual intent of the Law, however, goes even beyond this. Here is what Jesus charged:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48)

This command is very difficult, if not impossible, for most. It is more natural to hate (Gal 5:20), and to place our selfish interests first (2 Tim. 3:2). We are told: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). A true disciple of Christ will not hate anyone, yet some professing Christianity harbor hatred toward their brethren. This is why the Apostle John wrote: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:10-11).

How to Love God

The first principle to remember is that love for God means keeping His commandments. Recall what we read in Deuteronomy 10:12-13. “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” Love for God is equated with obedience to His Law. The Apostle John emphasizes this rule. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).

The first and second commandments tell us how to love God. When we consider them, it is clear what they define. The first two commandments instruct us to make God the sole object of our worship. The spiritual intent of the law helps us to understand that this devotion exceeds the worship of material objects or images. The spiritual intent of the law tells us that anything we place ahead of God becomes an idol, including wrong desires. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

The third commandment teaches us how to have reverence and respect for God. We must honor His name and not abuse it in any fashion, neither by using it lightly nor by profanity, nor by using His name when swearing falsely. The Bible instructs: ” . . . For the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). His name is to be revered. “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Ps. 111:9). God’s name must never be misused.

The fourth commandment emphasizes the need for regular worship. If we do not keep His Sabbath each week, it will only be a matter of time before we become indifferent and lackadaisical in our obedience. Worshiping God on a weekly basis is absolutely essential in order to maintain contact with Him. We are commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to refrain from our normal work routine. The Sabbath day is day for physical rest, a day for spiritual rejuvenation, not a day to seek our own pursuits and pleasures.

Concerning the Sabbath, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa. 58:13-14)

The failure to observe this day, or to observe it properly, has led to much emptiness and lack of fulfillment in the lives of millions. We love God by keeping His commandments, and the first four of the Ten Commandments give us specific instruction how to do this.

How to Love One’s Fellow Man

Since loving our fellow man is included as a Great Commandment of the law, how does the Bible instruct us to accomplish this? There are some New Testament instructions that are helpful. One of the major reasons many find it difficult to love others is that they are too much in love with themselves and their feelings self-importance.

Here is what Jesus told His disciples about this attitude:

. . . Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them [the Gentiles], and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:25-28)

The attitude of service toward others is a mark of love, although one should always be sure he is not being taken advantage of. The Apostle Paul wrote: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom. 15:1-2). “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s [welfare]” (1 Cor. 10:24). These instructions are hard for some to take. They find it very difficult to think of the best interests of others, but this is what true Christianity is all about. The Apostle John expressed the true Christian attitude as follows: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).

The Apostle James related good deeds to faith. He gave this example:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (Jas. 2:14-17)

This is why the Bible admonishes: “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). The above are just a few examples of how to manifest love. Much more could be stated, but this should give us enough insight to help us understand how to love both God and our fellow man.

When we look at the last six of the Ten Commandments, we learn the following: (1) They teach us the value of family relationships, because charity begins at home. (2) They show the value of human life. (3) They teach the value of personal and moral purity. (4) They illustrate the rights of property. (5) They emphasize the value of one’s reputation. (6) They emphasize the need to curb unlawful desires. The violation of any or all of these principles leads to much sorrow and hurt. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves if we treat these commandments with disrespect. God is love. His commandments are the epitome of His character. If we are godly, we also will endeavor to practice love toward God, and love for our neighbor. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

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