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 12:32-24 (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. 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 neighbor. This revolutionary revelation is so powerful that it completely reoriented the lives Christ’s disciples.

The Apostle Paul went into detail to explain Christ’s teaching to the Galatian church and the Roman church. (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:1-6) Paul explained that love does no harm, which makes love the fulfillment of the law. A person who loves their spouse will not commit adultery. A person who loves their neighbor will not steal from them. A person who loves Christ will stay near his side.

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 his life as recorded in the bible will demonstrate the perfect love of God to us. He explained that the greatest act of love was for a man to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) The sacrificial love spoken of by Christ is the love he showed himself in his everyday life. His desire to please the Father and 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 as he lamented over their rejection of 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, his greatest act of love was 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. The expressions of love would be their witness.

Christ calls us to follow his perfect example, and love another. The Apostle John referred to loving one another as “the message that ye have heard from the beginning.” He 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 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 Christ’s 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. 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 perhaps the greatest statement on the necessity of love. He wrote that without love, we are nothing. Without love, all other aspects of our faith are vain. Though we understand all mysteries and prophesies, though we give all our goods to the poor, though we have great gifts of the spirit, 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?

The scripture gives us a clear indication of what love is and what love is not. 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.

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 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 his 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 tells us that it will bring an assurance of salvation to our hearts. (1 John 3:18) Jesus tells us that it will cause the world to take notice of us. (John 13:35) Paul tells 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. 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, 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 both a powerful gift for maintaining the health and growth of the body of Christ and one of our greatest witnesses of Christ. Compromising or diminishing our love will have 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 decreases.

The loss of love is a great risk 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. In his warning, he revealed some of the symptoms of diminishing love. (Revelation 2:2-5)

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

 Revelation 2:4

Just like Jesus warned, the Ephesians’ loss of their first love followed a battle with false teachers. While they had been diligent in fighting for the truth, they had lost something in the process: their first love. 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 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 them that he would extinguish their light unless they changed course.

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 lost sight of love being the fulfillment of the law and 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 would profit nothing. 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 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 both beckoned to the scribe and warned him, “you are close to the Kingdom of God.” His words warned the scribe that he was not quite there yet. 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)

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. 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 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 in Jesus,

    and that through him 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?