In a world where everything seems to be getting more complicated and our modern technologies are vying for our time and attention, sometimes it is healthy to take a step back and look at the big picture of the essence of life. Even our religions have become convoluted and confusing. Is there any way to strip away all of the extras and go back to the basics of what God wants from us in our connection to Him?
Fortunately, Jesus taught us how to do that through a conversation He had with one of the religious leaders of the day. This conversation is recorded in Matthew 22:34-40. Here, in an attempt to trip up Jesus, the Pharisee asks Jesus what the greatest of all the commandments of the Law was. The religious leaders of the day had listed out all of the Old Testament laws and requirements and ended up with a list of 613 laws that the Jews were expected to keep. Can you imagine trying to juggle living out 613 religious laws? Do this. Don’t do that. And, whatever you do, don’t mess up. These laws were a tremendous weight to carry.
Jesus takes the entire list of 613 laws and sums it up this way: “‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37, NIV). Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, Jesus boils the entire call of obedience down to the one simple to understand, though not always simple to live out, statement: Love God with everything that you have.
Anyone who wants to live like God wants him or her to live can do that by running every decision, every thought, every spoken word, and every action through the filter of “does this show that I love God.” If our decisions and thoughts and words and actions show that we love God, then it is right to do. Instead, if they do not show that we love God, then it is wrong to do. If our choices are God-pleasing and God-loving, we will be doing what God wants us to do. Jesus simplifies all of the commandments for us.
But then, Jesus takes it one step further. He answers the question that the Pharisee did not ask. What is the second greatest commandment? Jesus continues His answer to the Pharisee by saying: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39, NIV). If loving God with everything is the greatest commandment, loving others like we love ourselves ranks right up there as well.
In a matter of a couple of statements, Jesus reduces the entire Law of the Old Testament down to two simple to understand concepts: Love God and love others. Every time we do that, we are doing what God wants. When we don’t, we are missing what God wants.
Simple? To understand, yes. To live out, not always.
How are you doing at keeping the two greatest commandments?