Walking In Truth Devotional Update
Which is The Great Commandment in the Law?
(Mat 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34)
This exchange took place during the busy and intense last week before the crucifixion. In New Testament times “lawyers” were religious leaders who were what we would call “experts” in the Mosaic Law, known as scribes. Their responsibilities were to study the Law, transcribe it, and copy it meticulously. These “scribes” went beyond interpretation to the adding traditions to what God had commanded and these interpretations were considered more important than the Law itself. Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy in Matthew 23 because they taught the Law but did not practice what they taught.
Upon our Lord’s arrival in Jerusalem He was confronted by the religious teachers who were attempting to entrap Him. But this scribe seemed to be more neutral than the previous leaders who attempted to entrap Jesus. Mark tells us, “and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He [that is, the Lord] had answered them well,” then asked Him this question about the law (Mark 12:28). In other words, the man’s question was not motivated by a desire to entrap the Lord, but rather because he saw that the Lord answered “well”. Jesus then said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom.”
The rabbis believed that, just as there were 613 separate letters in the Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments, so also there were 613 separate laws in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. They held that there were 247 affirmative laws, one for every part of the human body, as they knew it, and 365 negative laws, one for each day of the year. They also believed some commandments were heavy, absolutely binding, and the others were light or less binding. Therefore, to them the question, “Which one law is the greatest law or commandment” was appropriate.
Notice Jesus’ answer in verses 37 through 39. “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. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Obviously, this was a summary of the Law of God. At times the prophets also summarized the Law of God. For example see Micah 6:6-8: Verse 8 should be carefully observed: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love [d]mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Since the Jews had been trying to get Jesus to disagree with the great law giver, Moses, notice that Jesus quoted directly from Moses: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” That was the most familiar Scripture to all Jews. Jesus was not only confirming that we are to love God as the Jew taught, but that we are love Him in a comprehensive way. Our Father in heaven wants more than our believing in Him, He wants us to love Him with the totality of our life, and with a love that is always seeking Him through obedience.
But Jesus added to the first and foremost commandment a second one: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This command flows from the first. If we love God, then we will also love our neighbor. Jesus was also quoting from Leviticus 19:18. While the first great commandment embraced the first four of the Ten Commandments, this second command embraces the last six of the Ten Commandments. Clearly, we learn that we cannot love God without loving our fellowman because Jesus joined them together. This is also taught in the New Testament: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jno. 4:20-21).
Jesus concluded by saying: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, everything else God said in the Old Testament hangs on those two things. The Lord did not mean that we could ignore all the other commands. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). The gospel of Jesus doesn’t free one from obeying God! This applies now as well as under the Old Testament.
By Guy Roberson
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