The Two Greatest Commandments

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment in the Law, they did not expect the answer that He gave. They expected one of the 10 commandments, but rather He gave them the foundation upon which the 10 commandments are based. Everything that God commands us to do is based on this one law, the law of love.

The Answer Jesus Gave

This event is recorded in both Matthew and Mark. Looking at both passages, we realize that it was a Scribe (lawyer), who was a Pharisee, that asked Jesus to name the most important commandment in the Law. They were trying to get Jesus to say something that they could use against Him. But Jesus turned the tables on them and gave, not only the correct answer, but one they could not argue against.

Jesus said in Mark 12:30-31 (NIV): “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The Greatest Commandment Is Centered On Agape

The Greek word translated “love” in the above passage is “agapao” which is the verb form of “agape.” Agape is the word for love that the Bible uses to describe God’s love for us. It is a one way love. In other words, God has a great affection for us even though we do not return that affection or love. You can read more about this in my article on “What Is Love?

Jesus is telling us that this is the type of love that we are to have for each other. If we are going to obey the 10 commandments, or any of the other commandments of God, we must have this type of love for each other. In fact, if we are going to live as God designed for us to live, we must have this type of love for each other.

The Old Testament Passages

Jesus quoted directly from the Old Testament. Although as we will see, He did add one more attribute to it. Deut. 6:5 (NIV) says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Why did Jesus add the word “mind” to this commandment? I believe it is because, it is with our mind that we commit to obeying this commandment. Jesus wants to make sure that we are totally committed to loving God.

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV) says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Notice that Leviticus 19:18 is not the only place in the Old Testament where God tells us how we are to treat our neighbor. Zech. 8:17 (NIV) says: “do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.”

The New Testament Repeats This Idea

Romans 13:10 (NIV): “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Notice that this passage starts by connecting love with how we are to treat our neighbor. But the second sentence points out what Jesus is trying to say concerning the law.

We do not have to be concerned if we are obeying the law or not if we will only base everything we do in love. If we truly love other people (our neighbor), we will never deliberately disobey any of the law.

Romans 15:2 (NIV) clarifies this matter a little more: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Who Is Your Neighbor?

Another time a lawyer (probably a Scribe) asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. This story is recorded in Luke 10:30-37. Jesus answered him by asking him what he thought that the Scripture (our Old Testament) said. The lawyer then quoted the two Old Testament passages quoted above. Jesus then told him that he had answered correctly.

The lawyer was not satisfied and asked Jesus another question that was: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story that we know as the Good Samaritan Story. He starts out by saying “a certain man went down fromJerusalemtoJericho.” That phrase might not mean anything to us, but to His Jewish audience, they knew that Jesus meant that it was a fellow Jew making this trip. Jesus then said that this Jew was robbed and beaten by robbers.

Jesus then said that both a Priest and a Levite saw him but went on their way ignoring the poor man’s plight. Jesus then said that a Samaritan stopped and cared for his wounds. He even took the beaten man to an inn, gave the inn keeper some money to take care of him and told the inn keeper that if his care took more than he had given him, he would repay him when he returned.

He then asked: “Who do you think was a neighbor to the robbed man?” I am sure that his audience did not want to answer Jesus because a Samaritan would be the last man in the world that they would identify as a neighbor. The Jews actually hated the Samaritans. In fact, Jews would often go the long way aroundSamaria, just so they wouldn’t have to be anywhere near them. But the lawyer had to answer truthfully, so he said: “The one who had mercy on him.”

What is Jesus trying to tell us? He is trying to teach us that our neighbor is any other person on this earth, even our enemy.

The Message For Us

The 10 commandments found in Ex. 20:1-17 are very important. We need to learn them and live by them. However, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that following them letter by letter is not important. In fact, if we love like Jesus wants us to love, we will obey everyone of them without even trying.

What about you? What commandments are you using to be the guide for your life? If you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and have made love the guiding principle of your life, you will live as God intended for you to live.


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