What is the greatest commandment?

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Jesus was asked this same question by the rabbis: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Jesus answered the rabbis saying, ”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment (v. 22:37-38).

The Ten Commandments are divided into two sections. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God (Exodus 20: 3-11) and the last six commandments deal with our relationship with mankind (Exodus 20:12-17). The rabbis, who arranged all the commandments of the law in a hierarchy of importance, exalted the first four commandments as being more important than the last six. As a result, they failed when it came to practical religion.

In Jesus answer,  He was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 ( see also Luke 10:27). For the first four commandment that deal with God, there must first be love in the heart before a person can, in the strength and by the grace of Christ, begin to keep the commandments of God’s law (Romans 8:3, 4). Obedience without love is impossible and worthless. But when love for the Lord is present, a person will automatically set out to order his life in harmony with the will of God as expressed in His commandments (John 14:15; 15:10). Love for God will be revealed in every aspect of one’s life.

Then Jesus added, “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus here quotes from Leviticus 19:18 where “neighbor” refers to a fellow Israelite. However, Jesus widened the definition of “neighbor” to include all who are in need of help (Luke 10:29–37). It is the nature of man to put self-first, without paying attention to the obligations he has to God and men. So, to be completely selfless in dealing with others, a man must first love God supremely. This is the very foundation of all godly character. And Jesus summed it all up saying, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

The law of love toward God and man was not new at all. Jesus was the first to unite the thoughts of Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 and Leviticus 19:18 as summing up “the whole duty of man.” Thus, Jesus confirmed the truths of the Old Testament which is love for God and love for man.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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