“…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (KJV, Matt. 22:37-40).
“…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God”
The context of the passage is one of doubt concerning Jesus as Messiah. Matthew 22:23-33 tells us the Sadducees came to Jesus and inquired about the resurrection. They did not believe in the resurrection and were only seeking to disprove the claims of Christ. As we approach Matthew 22:34, we are told that Jesus silenced the Sadducees with His answer, and as a result, a Pharisee stepped forward to ask Jesus a question. The Pharisee asked Jesus which was the great commandment in the law. To this, Jesus gives His answer in Matthew 22:37-40. The irony of the situation is that the Sadducees and Pharisees did not love Christ, but their questioning landed them between a rock and a hard place.
Jesus told them they were to love God. The Greek word Jesus used to depict love is agapao, where the common word agape is derived. Agapao is a love that comes from a sense of duty which is, therefore, a love of the will. The Christian must choose to love God even when he may not feel like it. This does not mean that love is devoid of emotion but instead that emotions are not the foundation for the love that God demands.
“with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”
When Jesus told the people that they were to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, He was not seeking to point toward various ways in which the people ought to love God. Instead, Jesus highlighted the totality of love that the Christian must demonstrate. Love toward God must be all-consuming. It must radiate through every fiber, in every moment, and in every way, the Christian must love God.
But what does loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind look like in action? For starters, it must be noted that loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind is another way of saying that someone must be perfect. A little later, Jesus tells us that to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind and love neighbor as thyself equates to fulfilling the law. Thus, to love God in the way Jesus describes is the perfect standard.
It is more like what Paul said when he told the church in Philippi, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:12). Here we see Paul realized he had not arrived yet. Instead, Paul was on a journey toward perfection which could be summed up in Jesus’ words of loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind and neighbor as thyself.
The grace of God is needed every second of every day. At no point is the Christian what he ought to be. Instead, the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica find their place in the life of the Christian. Paul saw that they loved others, but he encouraged them to excel more in their love.
But the question remains, “What does this love toward God look like in action?” It looks like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The will of the Father was heavy on Jesus’ heart. He came down to do the will of the Father, but the most challenging aspect of the will of the Father came to the forefront. It was the eve before the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus knew His hour had finally come. He turned to His Father and sweat drops of blood in agony over the events that were to unfold.
Was it the pain of the cross Jesus dreaded? No, it was not. Was it embarrassment that He longed to avoid? No, it was not. Jesus knew He would incur the wrath of the Father and experience for the first time separation from Him. However, Jesus said He desired the Father’s will to be done rather than His own.
Thus, to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind is to surrender to the will of the Father with a desire to honor Him and glorify Him above self. It consists of humble and obedient submission to His will and desires coupled with a personal desire to be near God at all times.
“This is the first and great commandment”
To love God as Jesus described is the first and great commandment. Thus, love toward God must be foundational for everything else. Only when the Christian learns to love God first will the rest of his life find its proper place. There is also rest to be had in loving God first. When someone learns to love God first, he will find that he is free from being swayed and influenced by the many pressures of life, as there is only one overwhelming pressure, love for God.
“And the second is like unto it”
Here we see Jesus telling us that the second commandant is much like the first. But why? Elsewhere we read, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal. 5:14). Why would Paul say this when Jesus gave us two commandments that sum up the entire law?
The reason is that when someone loves God, he will love others. However, someone cannot truly love others if he does not love God first. A genuine love of God is essential for love toward others; if there is a love of God, it will show in the love of others. The two cannot be separated. Thus, the second commandment is like unto it and could be seen as the fulfillment of the entire law when appropriately approached.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”
The second command is a simple command with profound implications. Jesus’ words conveyed the message of love toward thy neighbor. But who is one’s neighbor? When Jesus used the word neighbor life was much different than today. Jesus’ scope was more all-inclusive rather than remote. The people’s lives were intertwined rather than independent. The word neighbor in Greek carries a wider range of meanings than the familiar English word “neighbor.”
It also must be noted that Jesus was not promoting a self-focused pursuit of love when He stated that the Christian must love his neighbor as himself. Instead, we can read some commentary in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). In other words, the Christian should examine his love toward others with an eye toward what he would desire for himself, and in doing so, he will fulfill the law and the prophets.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”
To love God with all the heart, soul, and mind and to love neighbor as thyself is the fulfillment of the law. God summed up the law on two tablets when He gave the Israelites the law. The first command to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind is the fulfillment of the first tablet. The second command to love thy neighbor as thyself is the fulfillment of the second tablet. Love, by its very nature, is others focused. When someone turns his attention toward God and man with a desire to love in a way that he would want to be loved, he is on his way to fulfilling the law and the prophets.
Father, I thank You for Your grace along the way. I see that I have fallen short of the love You speak of in Your Word. Help me to love as You love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.