Quick – what is the most important thing to Christian faith? Whether you are a Christian or not, have studied the bible or not, you probably have an opinion…you’ve seen what Christians emphasize, or not.
Now let’s see what Jesus said:
…a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Love God, love neighbour. Jesus says loving our neighbour is the second most important commandment in the world. Depending on your interpretation of “like it” the commandments may even have equal stature!
This was a testing question – the Pharisees, religious lawyers, would have been happy to see Jesus was giving their enemies the Sadducees a hard time just before this story happened, but would be very concerned not to support him unless he was orthodox – teaching the right things. He was risky – he seemed to be a religious rebel, too creative and original. Was he really one of them? Was he really a devout Jew?
So they asked this question to see if he was law abiding. Their faith had 613 laws – all equally valid – so they asked him to pick one that is most important, hoping he’d fall into their trap and say some laws are not important, or invalid, and contradict God himself in the process.
To answer their question, Jesus quoted directly from two separate sections from the Old Testament part of the Bible. He gave the perfect answer, in many ways it was orthodoxy in a nutshell. The first was said every day by a devout Jew, so very familiar. It’s possible Jesus was the first to put that familiar saying together with the commandment to love one’s neighbour, but it has a beauty and elegant symmetry to it. Love God, people.
He didn’t dismiss anything and prove himself to be a heretic. All ten commandments, and all other 600+ laws can be seen to “hang” under these two “hooks” or as this translation says, “depend” on these two commands.
Question: Make two columns on a piece of paper, or in your phone. One column says “love God” and the other “love neighbour.” Go through the ten commandments below and try to fit them in.
- “You shall have no other gods before me.
- “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
- “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
- “You shall not murder.
- “You shall not commit adultery.
- “You shall not steal.
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Exodus 20:3-17 ESV