Summary: This final message in the Ten Commandment series looks at Jesus’ response to a question about the greatest commandment. He concludes with one word: love.
THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
We have explored the liberating limits of the Ten Commandments through several chapters. Now we must conclude by looking at the New Testament passage where Jesus responds to a scholar’s question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He sums up the whole moral and spiritual law with one word: love.
Our culture defines love in too many ways. Tim Kimmel writes of these bewildering messages:
We live out THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES as THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS realiz-ing that we only have ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and AS THE WORLD TURNS we want to search for the GUIDING LIGHT that will keep us from falling in love at a GENERAL HOSPITAL in SANTA BARBARA . . .The bizarre definitions of “love” portrayed to millions on the daily soap operas are no laughing matter. Like heat at a fruit stand, these daytime dramas accelerate the decay at the core of our cultural values [Tim Kimmel, Little House on the Freeway (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1987), 152].
Judith Viorst, with her tongue firmly embedded in her cheek, says, “Love is much nicer to be in than an automobile accident, a tight girdle, a higher tax bracket or a holding pattern over Philadelphia. But not if he doesn’t love you back.” Then she describes the difference between infatuation and love:
Infatuation is when you think he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Connors. Love is when you realize he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger and nothing like Robert Redford—but you’ll take him anyway [quoted by Cecil G. Osborne, The Art of Becoming a Whole Person (Waco: Word Books, 1978), 74].
Jesus uses the Greek word agape, for love. Agape love cannot be earned; it takes its subject as he is. Agape transcends other forms of love by providing its own stimulus. It is a liberating love that offers the security not found in other types of love.
CLASSIFYING THE LAW
The lawyer approached Christ with a question about the Law. He asked literally, “What sort of commandment is great in the Law?” The scribes and Pharisees sought to classify the commandments by their relative importance. Their scholars had determined that there were 613 commandments in the Law, as there were 613 separate letters in the Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments. They divided these into affirmative and negative commands. They taught that 248 were affirmative, or one for every part of the human body, as they counted them. Three hundred sixty-five were negative, or one for each day of the year.
The “experts” realized that no one could be successful in fulfilling all the demands of this heavy legalism. To make it easier, they identified some commandments as “heavy” or profound and others as “light” or peripheral. Some held that the law of the Sabbath was the greatest commandment, others contended for circumcision, the wearing of special apparel, or other teachings.