But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Although this Gospel passage is very familiar, it has always intrigued me. The Pharisees are challenging and testing Jesus, looking to discredit Him. Jesus’s answer to the lawyer’s question about the Law is fully consistent with the Old Testament, but I find the irony of it to be stunning—The rule-bound Pharisees are confronted by the heart of God, who uses law not as an end or the means to self-righteousness but as the means to His ends: love and relationship.
Jesus teaches that loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind is the greatest commandment. Since God is a spirit, it is not always easy to know what this looks like, how to do it. I believe that there are several components to loving the Lord. King David modeled a pursuit of God that while imperfect nonetheless enabled him to become a man after God’s own heart. It is also important to remember that love is fundamentally a God thing. God is love. Love is a fruit of His Spirit as He works in us. Our ability to love God is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Our ability to love God is also linked to our ability to love others, our neighbors. It is only as we pursue God and experience His life in us can we truly love others. We often try to separate the two or emphasize one over the other. But loving God and loving others are intimately interconnected. As we sink more deeply into the Lord’s presence and allow Him to transform us, we participate in His nature and become able to love others. And as actively engage in loving others, our primary relationship with the Lord is strengthened and stretched.
In some sense at least, loving others is more tangible than loving God. And as we seek to love others, we find that our failures in this arena expose our weaknesses and areas of brokenness in our primary relationship with the Lord. Although we may try to minimize or deny the exposure, it is God’s provision to help us repent and grow toward Him. If we find that we are looking at others with disdain, use their weakness to feel better about ourselves, struggle with impatience toward them, impose our expectations on them, or forget that they are image bearers of God’s eternal glory, we are in need of God’s work of sanctification within us. If we excuse our lack of love by blaming the other party or our personality, nature, or circumstances, we will miss the opportunity to meet the Lord in a powerfully healing way.
But if we embrace the exposure of our lack of love as God’s invitation to draw near to Him and open ourselves to the work of His Spirit, we free the Lord to do His work in us. As we come to recognize our pride and self-centeredness, we can allow our failures to love to drive us back to our Lord and Redeemer. We draw closer to our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, and as we do so, we find that we are able to love more truly and more joyfully.
Our text makes another association with loving our neighbor: we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This raises all kinds of questions, challenges, and difficulties as loving ourselves becomes incorporated into loving God and others. Please stay tuned for this aspect of loving God! Meanwhile, please consider that loving God and loving others is more than an expression of Old Testament Law and Gospel history. Loving God and loving others is at the very heart of who we are and who we are becoming in Christ and an integral part of our life in Him.