The Greatest Commandment

“And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I Jn 3:23).  This, in my opinion, is the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  Believe in Jesus and love one another.  Accept Christ and love one another.  Embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ and love one another.  Or said another way, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).  Faith and love summarize the two part aspect of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for faith to enter His kingdom, to join His family.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn 5:24).  “They said therefore to Jesus, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn 6:28-29).  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (Jn 6:47).  Faith equals belief and gaining eternal life is synonymous with entering the kingdom of God.

Jesus introduced the second part of the greatest commandment in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This commandment may seem commonplace to us, but it was radically different and incredibly new to Jesus’ disciples.  They were used to the Old Testament consequence method of eye-for-an-eye where good people are blessed and bad people are punished.  But Jesus has been building up to something completely new as He has been introducing in various ways the idea that, in His kingdom, his citizen’s basic stance toward one another is love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

We have a hint of this in the conversation between Jesus and Peter in Matthew, chapter 18.  Peter, apparently beginning to embrace this idea of love and forgiveness, asks Jesus if this love should extend so far as to forgive his brother seven times.  Now, because we know the rest of the story, we think Peter was being a bit stingy at seven.  But think of Peter’s background in the Old Testament consequence model and we see that Peter’s offer to forgive seven times is actually quite generous in context.  Of course, Jesus blows Peter’s attempt at generous forgiveness out of the water by recommending unlimited forgiveness toward our brother in light of God’s great forgiveness of us (Mt 18:21-35).

The reason I bring this story up is because Peter did eventually fully grasp the love and forgiveness message of Christ.  He would later write, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8).  Love one another; its part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  And we will continue on this path to explore what love looks like when “kept fervent.”