We’ve started a new series on Biblical love called A New Kind of Love. We’re studying Scripture together to learn about this great mystery called love. Last time, we introduced the ideas we’re going to cover through the rest of the series, and talked about the history of love: Why it was created and the purpose it was designed to serve, how the sin of humanity has distorted it, what God’s law said about love, and how Jesus changed everything with a new kind of love.
Today we’re going back to the part about God’s law in order to dig a little deeper into the idea that God’s people have been called to love. We were created for it, and though sin has distorted it, God re-affirmed the importance of love with what Jesus called the greatest commandments. So let’s see what we can learn about that!
The Law of God, and the Greatest Commandments
Sometimes, as we read through the Bible, it can be easy to sort of skip over, or miss certain important concepts. At least, in my own experience, one of the easiest places for this to happen is in the books that make up the law: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
It’s easy for me to see the importance of certain aspects of this law, like the ten commandments. But then there are other parts, like the rules about woven fabric, or clay pots that make me scratch my head and think, “Why? Why did God care about these things? Why were they important? And why would it condemn people as sinners if they wore a garment made out of two different kinds of thread woven together?”
And this is where I am prone to miss the point. So, before we can discuss what Jesus called the greatest commandments, we have to understand the purpose of the law so that we’re sure to put those commandments in their proper context.
Pin it for later!
The Purpose of the Law
Like I said, it’s easy to get hung up on the minutia of the law, and our questions about God’s reasons. So much so, that we completely miss the purpose of the law.
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. Romans 3:19-20
The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
The purpose of the law was not to be a set of standards that we obsess over, and spend our lives striving to keep. Rather, it was meant to be a light, shining into the deepest darkest corners of our hearts, revealing to us the reality of our own depravity. It was meant to bring us to our knees before a holy God, admitting our inadequacies and how desperately we need His salvation.
Once we’re saved by grace, we will live, not under the law, but under the power of our freedom in Christ, which will make us willing slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:14-23) God does have standards that He has revealed to us through Scripture that help us understand what righteousness looks like, so even though our salvation makes us free, true redemption will create in us a deep interest in what the Bible says in the way of standards of right and wrong – or, the “law of God.”
In other words, when Jesus says there are two commandments that are the greatest commandments, we’re going to perk up and pay attention, because as His redeemed children, our desire is to do His will.
The Greatest Commandments Reveal God’s Standard of Righteousness
The thing is, God’s standard of righteousness for those who belong to Him has so much more to do with the state of our hearts than with the letter of the law. Let me rephrase. God’s standard of righteousness has EVERYTHING to do with the state of our hearts and NOTHING to do with the letter of the law.
For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. Romans 2:28-29
When Jesus was here on earth, some of the religious leaders asked Him to point out the greatest commandments, trying to trick Him into saying something they could use to condemn Him. His answer further reveals the truth in the idea that what really matters to God is our hearts. Not our adherence to rules.
One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:35-40
Called to Love
You see? Jesus’s answered by saying it is all about love! He said, basically, that His people are called to love, and that if we can love God with our whole hearts, and love the people God created in His image, all the rest of the rules and regulations will sort of just fall into place.
The thing is, we are absolutely incapable of loving, either God or people, with an unchanged heart. The greatest commandments require heart change!
Surely many of us know this, because many of us have tried! We’ve tried our hardest to love the people who matter to us most, and we have failed. Miserably. Many of us have tried to fall in love with God too, tried to do and do and do to prove to Him and to ourselves that we love Him, and again, failed miserably!
But many of us have also experienced the wonderful reality of a changed heart. We know from experience that when we surrender all the striving, and look full into the face of God, our hearts are broken and we are able to just let go. From that place of humility, we’re finally able to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, and the result is LOVE!
True, unspoiled, selfless love.
We find ourselves falling desperately in love with the God who pours out His grace and mercy upon us. And, we find ourselves seeing people differently too! We suddenly find that the grace and mercy God so freely gives to us bubbles up from within our hearts and begins to spill out onto the people in our lives.
Love the Lord and Love Your Neighbor – The Greatest Commandments
So, let’s (finally) look a little deeper at those two commandments – the greatest commandments. Let’s dig into what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Love the Lord Your God
I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I’m going to bet I’m not, so here goes. I’m going to admit something to you. There have been many times in my life when loving God seemed like a ridiculous goal. Honestly, I would even go as far as to say that for most of my life, the concept of loving God was something I wanted to have, but I just didn’t understand how I could “love” something so far away or abstract as the God of the universe!
There were seasons when it seemed like maybe I was falling in love with Him. Times when I “felt” something deep and wonderful and warm and fuzzy, and thought, “Hey, turns out I do love God SO MUCH after all!” But those seasons always passed, the warm fuzzies went away, and I was left wondering, once again, if loving God was even possible.
And then life brought me to a place where I was completely undone. Wrecked.
From down there, in the bottom of the darkest pit of depression and self-loathing, I found a wonderful truth. (Well, I found a lot of wonderful truths, but let’s just talk about this one for now.) I had been looking for a version of love that had been defined by a corrupt and sinful world. And I wasn’t just looking for that love from people. I was looking for it from God too!
Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Listen, o Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9
Do you see what I see in that command? Loving is not about feelings. It is about actions, and about the posture of our hearts. John 14 (click to read) talks even more about that. (We’ll talk about it later in the series, but you can definitely check it out for yourself now!)
To love the Lord with all our hearts doesn’t mean we’re going to experience a constant ooey-gooey feeling every moment of every day whenever we think about Him. What it DOES mean, is that He is going to consume us. We’re going to live our lives with Him always before us. We’re going to obey Him. He is going to motivate everything we do. We’re going to talk about Him… like a lot!
Deuteronomy 6 goes on to talk about how important it will be for Israel to remember always to fear God, and to serve Him only. It warns against putting other things in the places where only God belongs. (Idols) To love God IS to fear Him! To love Him is to put Him above everything else.
As I realized these things, I realized, not only that I did indeed love God, (though admittedly very imperfectly) but that my life had been marked by love (His for me and mine for Him) for a long time. And as I have allowed Him to define both how I’m loved and how I love, my love for Him has only grown.
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Meaning (Leviticus 19:18)
Leviticus 19 opens with a list of laws about how the people of God are to act toward one another, and the list is wrapped up with verse 18:
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
When Jesus affirmed this command as the second of the greatest commandments, He reminded us that as His followers, we are a people called to love. We’re called to a selfless love in which we put others on the same plane as we put ourselves.
Again, when we love this way, it’s not about feelings. It’s not about getting all warm inside when we interact with people. It is ALL about ACTING, not out of selfishness, as the world does, but out of genuine concern for others that makes their well-being just as important as our own. It’s about a heart change that, once again, becomes a consuming drive that considers others – always.
Who is My Neighbor? Who am I Called to Love?
In Luke 10, we find another example of Jesus affirming the commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself as the greatest commandments. In this instance, He is speaking with another expert in religious law, and after the man declared the importance of those two commands, he asked Jesus a question.
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answered, as He so often did, with a parable. The parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
Now, in context, we can determine that the man believed the answer would be that his neighbor was his fellow Israelite, as the original law in Leviticus seemed to state. But Jesus’s parable made it clear that to God, our neighbor is our fellow man. That means, basically, everyone.
We are called to love everyone, in the same way we love ourselves.
*Here are a few posts from other bloggers about loving our neighbors that you might want to check out.
15 Practical Ideas to Love Generously (Part of the Love Your Neighbor Series) – Kristi Woods
When Loving Your Neighbor is Hard – Flourishing Today
How to Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself – Counting My Blessings
Selfless Love For All People
Now let’s very briefly talk about what that means. How do we love ourselves?
- Well, we are quick to show grace to ourselves. Quick to believe the best, and go easy in the doling out of justice.
- We give very high priority to our needs – feeding, clothing, and providing shelter for ourselves with extreme attention to detail. We want what’s best for ourselves. The best food, the clothes we like most, a house that feels like home, and so on.
- We tenderly care for ourselves, washing, grooming, and tending to our bodies with gentleness.
- We seek after our own pleasure. We take the time to discover our preferences, our talents, our aspirations, and so forth and then we make choices according to what will best serve those things.
And the list goes on and on… To love all people the way we are called to love them, is to do the same for them.
- We should be quick to show grace. To everyone.
- We should care about the comfort and care of everyone, and work to provide for it whenever we can.
- We should pay attention to the talents, goals, and preferences of all the people in our lives, and work to see those things fulfilled wherever possible.
Basically, we are called to care. Actively. In the second of the greatest commandments, we’re called to see people for who they are, and to care. Actively. We’re called to spend our energy working for the good of all people just as much as we spend our energy working for our own good.
Not more. The same.
At this point in our study, we are called to a selfless love for everyone. Not a sacrificial love. Not yet. But selfless love. And it is to be given freely to all people.
If you missed part one, or want to know what comes next, you can find the whole A New Kind of Love series by clicking the image below:
* How about you? What is hard for you about the greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself? What truths have you found to help you find a keep the heart change necessary to accomplish these things?