The Great Commandment

If you were to ask a group of believers, “What is the greatest commandment in the New Testament?”, the most likely response would be a quote of Matthew 22:35-40.  “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And Jesus said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is the great and foremost commandment.  And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (quoting Leviticus 19:18).  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’ ” (Mt 22:35-40).

Notice the fine print in the question and Jesus’ response.  The lawyer requested “the great commandment in the Law.”  And Jesus’ reply highlights the command to love God and love your neighbor as the foremost commandment in the Old Testament, i.e. “the whole Law and the Prophets.”  In short, Jesus is giving us the greatest commandment in the Old Testament.

What is left out of the “great commandment” from a New Testament point of view is the community aspect of loving one another that is developed later in Jesus’ ministry and explained in great detail in the subsequent New Testament epistles.  If you think about it, the two great commands of Matthew 22:35-40 have an individual mandate.  Only you can know, sense, or feel how much you love God.  And in regard to the second command, the “love your neighbor” illustration Jesus uses in the parallel Luke 10:25-37 passage has the good Samaritan working alone to help the fallen traveler.

So how do these commands, the greatest in the Old Testament, affect the New Covenant believer?  Consider these New Testament passages:  “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal 5:14).  “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is a fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10)  “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).

The New Testament teaches that love is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.  And with His focus on loving God and loving your neighbor as the great commandment of the Old Testament, Jesus is laying the foundation for the greatest commandment of the New Testament.  We will find out what it is next time.

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