The Great Commandment

Matthew 22:36-40 (KJV)

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Mark 12:32-34 (KJV)

32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Love Fulfills the Law

Jesus taught his disciples something revolutionary. He taught them that all the commandments of the law and the prophets were based on a singular principle and basis: love. Love for God and love for our neighbors. This revolutionary revelation is so powerful that it completely reoriented the lives Christ’s disciples.

The Apostle Paul went into great detail to explain Christ’s teaching in his epistles. (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:1-6) Paul told his readers that love is the fulfillment of the law, because a person who loves his neighbor will do them no harm. A person who loves their spouse will not treat them abusively. A person who loves their neighbor will not mistreat them. A person who loves Christ will stay near his side.

 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:10

Christ: Our Perfect Example

Jesus Christ explained to his disciples that he came to fulfill the law, which hung on the principle of love. (Matthew 5:17) An examination of the life of Jesus Christ which is recorded in the bible will demonstrate the perfect love of God. Jesus explained that the greatest act of love was for a man to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) And Jesus showed us sacrificial love in his everyday life. His desire to please his Father and to reach the lost took priority over other things in his life. (John 6:6, 31-34)

Jesus humbled himself to eat with sinners so that he could share the gospel with them. (Matthew 9:10-13) His love for people brought him to tears when they rejected the gospel. (Luke 19:41-44) His compassionate love moved him to heal the sick and feed the hungry. (Matthew 14:14, 15:32)

Of course, the greatest act of love performed by Jesus was in sacrificing himself for the salvation of lost mankind on the cross. Under no obligation whatsoever, he paid our debt of sin, simply because of love. (1 John 4:10)

Love: The Disciple’s Goal

Love one another as I have loved you … by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples…

John 13:34-35

In the upper room, before going to the cross, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment. He told them to love another, just as he had loved them. He went on to say that this love would be the way his disciples would be identified, and that expressions of love would be their witness to the world.

Christ calls us to follow his perfect example, and love one another. The Apostle John referred to loving one another as “the message that ye have heard from the beginning.” John went on to explain that loving one another is how we walk in the light. John called the command to love one another “the message” and he defined it as a central feature of the gospel. (1 John 1:5, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 2:10) The Apostle John concluded that having love like Jesus Christ is “how we know that we belong to the truth.” (1 John 3:18-19)

Loving one another was a central theme of the ministry of the apostles. The Apostle James pointed to love as being key motive behind our actions. (James 2:8) Jude commanded his readers to always keep themselves grounded with the love of God. (Jude 1:21) Both Peter and Paul said “above all” have love, marking it as the highest objective for the believer. (1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:14)

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

Paul gave what is perhaps the greatest statement on the necessity of love in the entire bible. He wrote that without love, we are nothing. Without love, all other aspects of our faith are vain. Though we understand all mysteries and prophecies, though we give all our goods to the poor, though we have great gifts of the spirit, yet without a genuine love for God and our neighbors, we are nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3) Paul concluded that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

What Is Love?

We live in a world were society and culture seeks to change the definition of words. Even a religious person seeking to justify themselves will find ways to redefine words and terms in an effort to cloak their deeds in a form of godliness. Thankfully, the scripture gives us a clear indication of what love is and what love is not.

If we should ever be confused about what love is or looks like, we can simply look to scripture to define the word love for us. Paul described the characteristics of love in his letter to the Corinthians.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Jesus also told his disciples about another characteristic of our love towards God: It would manifest itself in a willingness to obey his instructions. (John 14:23-24) Throughout the New Testament, the instructions and sayings of Jesus are recorded and explained to us. Through Jesus’s words, we understand that all his sayings are to be observed by love. Love should be the reason for our obedience. Love should be the lens through which we understand Christ’s sayings. Love should guide the way in which we fulfill his instructions.

Love’s Benefits and Challenges

When Christ’s disciples live a life of love, powerful things will happen. John told us that it will bring an assurance of salvation to our hearts. (1 John 3:18) Jesus tol us that it will cause the world to take notice of us. (John 13:35) Paul told us that it will cause the church to grow and bring maturity to our fellow believers. (Ephesians 4:16)

There is no fear in love.

1 John 4:18

John told us that perfect love casts out fear, and warned us that he who fears is not made perfect (complete or mature) in love. When fear, rather than love, guides our understanding of Christ’s commands, it can never bring about the perfect result desired by the Lord. We must be cautious to ensure both we and our hearers are being motivated by love. True spiritual growth cannot be achieved through fear, but only by love. (1 John 4:18, Ephesian 4:15)

Jesus gave a specific warning to his church concerning love. When his disciples asked him about the end of the world and the sign of his coming, he cautioned them that false prophets would arise and deceive many people, and people would become offended and hateful, and through the turmoil “the love of many will turn cold.” (Matthew 24:10-13)

Satan seeks to dampen our love because he knows it is a powerful gift for maintaining the health and growth of the body of Christ, and he also knows it is one of our greatest witnesses of Jesus Christ. Compromising or diminishing our love has a direct impact on our church and our witness. As love decreases, the health of the body of Christ declines. As love diminishes, our witness to the lost also decreases. Those are the biblical symptoms of a church with a love deficiency.

The loss of love is a great blow to the church which the wicked one has attempted exploit through his evil devices. In his message to the Ephesian church, Jesus warned them that they had left their first love and he called them to repent. (Revelation 2:2-5)

I have something against you, you have left your first love.

 Revelation 2:4

Just like Jesus warned, the Ephesian church lost their first love following a battle with false teachers. While they had been diligent in fighting for the truth, they had lost their first love in the process. The first love of any Christian is the love of Christ. We love him because he first loved us. This gives us a subtle indication that the Ephesian Church had allowed their focus and emphasis to drift away from Jesus Christ.

The Ephesian church seems to have fell into the very condition Paul warned the Corinthians about. They understood great mysteries, they did great works, but they had lost their love and were at risk of becoming nothing. Jesus warned the Ephesian Church that he would extinguish their light unless they changed course.

The warning of Jesus to the Ephesian Church is a stark example for us all to observe. Even though we may face trials and battles, it is important above all to maintain the love of God in our hearts. Victories where we lose our love, are not really victories at all.

Losing Love

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

The Galatian church offers us another powerful example of a church that drifted away from a proper appreciation for love. In their circumstance, they forgot that love was the fulfillment of the law and as a result they drifted into legalism.

According to Paul, the Galatian church became entangled in bondage, and subjected themselves to rules and ordinance that did not have love as their basis. They had revived keeping parts of the law of Moses and added new commandments of their own creation. In his rebuke of their error, Paul explained to them that all their legalism had no benfit. He concluded that the only thing that would profit them in their walk with Jesus was faith being expressed through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)

Close, But Not There

The scribe we read about in our opening scriptures was intrigued by Jesus’s answer to his question. Jesus showed him that the commands of the law and the prophets were based on the principle of love. The concept that all the law could be fulfilled in love made sense to him. (Mark 12:32-34)

Jesus beckoned to the scribe and warned him, “you are close to the Kingdom of God.” While the scribe grasped the concept which Jesus was sharing, he was not prepared to abandon his legalism and embrace the Kingdom of God. (Luke 17:20-21) He was close, but he was not there yet.

The same can be true with many in our day. They hear the words of Christ, they even grasp the meaning. They are close to the Kingdom of God, but they are not willing to embrace it. Their attachment to traditions, systems, lifestyles, or their own personal desires prevent them from taking the next step and letting their hearts be directed in the love of God. (2 Thes 3:4-5)

Jesus was not simply warning the scribe, but he was also enticing him. The simplicity of the gospel is not too good to be true. Love truly is the fulfillment of the law. Paul was correct when he said He who loves has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:10) We are only ever one decision away from Christ. We need only chose to follow. 

Christian Love: A Prayer of the Puritans 

O Lover of the Loveless,

It is thy will that I should love thee

    with all my heart, soul, mind, strength,

    and my neighbor as myself.

But I am not sufficient for these things.

There is by nature no pure love in my soul;

Every affection in me is turned from thee;

I am bound, as slave to the flesh,

I cannot love thee, lovely as thou art,

    until thou dost set me free.

By grace I am thy freeman and would serve thee,

    for I believe thou art my God,

    and that through Jesus I am redeemed,

    and my sins are forgiven.

With this freedom I would always obey thee,

    but I cannot walk in liberty,

    any more than I could first attain it, of myself.

May thy Spirit draw me nearer to thee and thy ways

Thou art the end of all means,

    for if they lead me not to thee,

    I go away empty.

Order all my ways by thy holy Word

    and may thy commandments be the joy of my heart,

    that by them I may have happy converse with thee.

May I grow in love and manifest it to mankind.

Spirit of love, make me like the loving Jesus;

    give me his benevolent temper,

    his beneficent actions,

    that I may shine before men to thy glory.

The more you do in love in me and by me,

    humble me the more,

    keep me meek, lowly,

    and always ready to give thee honor.

For Christ’s sake, Amen

The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers Edited by Arthur Bennet, 1975 

Study Questions

  1. Can you name a way in which Jesus’s disciples expressed their love towards God?
  2. Can you name a way in which Jesus’s disciples express the love of God toward one another?
  3. Can you name a way in which Jesus disciples expressed the love of God toward sinners?