Over the past couple of months, we have been covering the commands of Jesus. Those Jesus says statements found in the Gospels. Some of them have been surprising, some familiar, and more than a few have been challenging. Today we arrive at the core command. The root from which all other commands flow from and must answer to. This command is both our greatest joy and our largest failure. What is this Jesus says command?
Matthew records a series of questions posed by the power players of the day designed in some way to trap Jesus. Lastly, a lawyer posed this question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” We know Jesus’ answer, but pause here for a moment and consider the question.
The Israelites of Jesus’ day were obsessed with keeping the Law of Moses. Large volumes were written to determine the lines of what was lawful and what wasn’t. This was surely the Lawyer’s life as he parsed the Law to stay in God’s good graces. But this question begged Jesus to take sides since the various factions within Israel each had their own answer. The Pharisees would lean toward the jot and tittle, the black and white of the Law. The Sadducees would lean towards humanity and peace. The Zealots would lean towards political purity while the Essenes would seek a different kind of purity. They were all striving to keep the Law, but it was colored by their worldview.
We find ourselves in the same kind of world with factions all around us. Left, Right, Libertarian, Socialist, Capitalist, Humanist, Harley-Davidsonist (just joking to see if you’re still with me). Each of them would answer the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment differently. The same holds true for the variety of Churches and often even groups with our churches. When we grasp this reality, we can see the brilliant wisdom in Jesus’ answer.
In response to the Lawyer’s question Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-8) It is important to know that Jesus quoted the Law (Deuteronomy 6:5) to answer the question. The Lawyer wouldn’t have accepted it any other way.
Jesus’ answer pushed everyone regardless of their faction to a whole new level. It blasted past the traditions, the doctrines, the religious, the sacred, the preferred, the disliked, and even pushed past the Law itself. It upset the paradigm of do’s and don’ts and entered the realm of being and relationship.
Think about it. The greatest law, the greatest commandment, the greatest action is to love God with everything we are. That’s it. If what we are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing don’t come from loving God then we are failing. This is truly our greatest challenge and our greatest failure. The Pharisees were expert law-keepers, and they failed. The Sadducees were expert humanitarians and peacemakers, but they failed. The Zealots were politically pure, and they failed. The Essenes were morally pure, and they failed. There are many motivations, but only one that fulfills the Law and that is the motivation of loving God first and foremost above everything and everyone else.
Jesus’ command is also our greatest joy. We are freed from the shackles of “have to” and run in the sunlight of “want to.” The command is to love. Agape love, a giving kind of sacrificial love. Jesus’ kind of love for us. Open, honest, giving, no strings, no expectation of return, no demands, just utter love.
Think of it this way – If God never answered another prayer would you still love Him? If your world fell apart financially, relationally, and in your health like Job’s did would you still love God? Those are hard questions. But if our answer is yes (or at least an “I hope so”) then God is our joy and keeping the commandment to love God with everything we are is not burdensome but lifting.
To be honest, keeping this Jesus Says command to love God changes everything. It changes the way we pray, read our Bible, do church, and relate to the world around us. It challenges us and frees us at the same time in everything we think, feel, say, and do.
Jesus says love God with all that we are.