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.
Jesus’ reply is marvelous. He will not concentrate on minors, but expresses the main point of the commandments by quoting two passages, one from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, the other from an obscure corner of Leviticus 19. Each expresses the principle of love. Loving God and the human family fulfills the Law.
LOVE FOR GOD
Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment”(vv 37-38). He quotes from the Hebrew statement of faith known as the Shema. Every orthodox Jew recited these verses, beginning with Deuteronomy 6:4, on a daily basis. Devout men copied these verses on small pieces of parchment, and wore them on their foreheads and left arms in little containers known as phylacteries.
The Hebrew word for love used here, refers to love that expresses itself in acts of the mind and will. Emotion may be involved, but this love is notable for dedication and commitment. It cares for the welfare of others. It is the Hebrew equivalent of agapao, the Greek verb of concerned, committed love that is motivated by the will, not emotion.
Genuine love of the Lord involves thought and sensitivity, purpose and action. The text in Matthew differs slightly from Deuteronomy 6:5. The Hebrew of Deuteronomy has “heart, soul and might.” Matthew substitutes “mind” for “might” while Mark 12:30 speaks of “heart, soul, mind and strength.” There is no real difference. Each passage, using various terms, calls for a total commitment of love for God.
General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army is an example of this. When asked for the secret of his success, Booth replied, “From the day I got the poor of London on my heart and the vision for what Jesus Christ would do for them, I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was; and if anything has been achieved, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will and all the influence of my life [John C. Maxwell, Deuteronomy [The Communicator’s Commentary], (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 107].” All his faculties—heart, soul, mind, and strength—were obsessed with God. He refused to return God’s whole-hearted love halfheartedly.