Author: Ron Graham
When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" he replied as follows...
¶“'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 there is a second like it, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these. The whole Law and Prophets hang on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:28-34).
In this lesson I offer for your consideration four clear principles evident in what Jesus says.
We sometimes hear comparisons made between love and law, which seem to place love and law at odds, and make love transcend law. The truth is that love and law are inseparably bound up together. The law of God comes from the love of God, and our love of God is expressed in obedience to his law.
Jesus was asked to name a commandment in the law which he considered to be the great commandment. He was not asked to name something which was greater than the law, stood outside of the law, or transcended the law. He was asked to name a commandment that was "in" the law. It was to be the first and foremost commandment, certainly, but a commandment nevertheless, a law in the law, not something apart from the law.
It is interesting that the person asking Jesus the question agreed with Jesus, and he added that the two commandments Jesus cited were "much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:32-33). This does not mean that offerings and sacrifices were unnecessary. It means that there was no point in them unless they were offered out of a wholehearted love for God.
What the scribe realised was that one who offered a little bird with wholehearted love for God, offered much more than one who offered ten thousand bulls and goats without such love. Love does not cancel the lesser laws, but the lesser laws would be pointless without the love. God is not impressed by the quantity of the offering, but rather by the quality of love in the giver. This is exactly the point Paul makes at the beginning of his famous chapter on love (1Corinthians 13:1-3).
So we see, in our first point that love is the greatest law in God’s law, and it is not correct to say that love is above law or is greater than law.
If we were asked to identify the greatest principle in the gospel of our salvation, we might answer "faith". After all, have we not been taught, and rightly so, that we are justified by faith? However faith is not the greatest principle.
When Paul spoke of the chief elements of the gospel, those things which should fill the heart of the Christian, he named, "Faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1Corinthians 13:13). So we see that love is the greatest commandment in the gospel, just as it was in the law and the prophets.
Why is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31) a lesser commandment than "Love the Lord your God" (Mark 12:30)? The answer to that is seen when we look at the origin or source of faith. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
Now obviously that does not mean that if you preach the word of God to someone they will automatically become a believer. They need something in their heart before faith can come by hearing. Paul tells us what they need. It is "...a love of the truth so as to be saved" (2Thessalonians 2:10).
To be saved by faith one needs a love of the truth, and without a love of the truth one cannot hear the truth in a way that produces faith. Since a love of God’s truth will accompany a love for God himself, we see that faith depends upon a wholehearted love for God. That’s why love is greater than faith.
The foundation of the Protestant movement appears to be "faith alone". The term "faith alone" is found only once in the scriptures, and there justification by faith alone is categorically denied (James 2:24). The question of faith versus works can only be understood when we consider it in the light of the first and foremost commandment, to love God with the whole heart.
Clearly that will produce not faith only, but "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5). Nothing less would result from, or demonstrate, a genuine and wholeheated love for God, which is the greatest commandment of all. Faith, as essential as it is, does not stand alone, nor does it stand above all else.
So we see, in our second point, that love is greater than faith, and it is not correct to speak of being saved by faith alone.
So far in this lesson we have been looking at misconceptions and correcting them in the light of the great commandment. Now we will look at two principles that enhance and deepen our understanding of, and obedience to, that great commandment.
We all know that when God redeems us from slavery to sin, he owns us and we become his slaves. We are freed from sin only to become slaves of God’s righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). However, to be God’s slave is to be free indeed, for God treats his slaves as his adopted children, and gives them the status of sons and heirs in his household (Romans 8:15-17).
Becoming enslaved to Christ, and out of wholehearted love placing ourselves under his law, we find true life and liberty. Jesus himself said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32, John 14:6,15). What is "the truth" if not the law (teachings and commandments) of Christ, in which the great commandment is wholehearted love for God?
Now a slave, if given no better status than that of a slave, may serve his master faithfully, and may even love his master. But a slave who is given the status of a son and heir in his master’s household, will, out of overflowing gratitude, surely serve his master more faithfully and have a greater love for his master.
This is what John had in mind when he said, "in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atonement for our sins" (1John 4:8-10).
So we see in our third point, that when a Christian practices the greatest commandment, one does so with a special kind of love, a love better than that of a slave, a love of one who has been granted sonship?
We have been saying that the greatest commandment in the gospel or law of Christ, is one and the same as the greatest commandment in the old law. There is one important difference however, that we should notice before we close this lesson.
Jesus pointed out this difference when he said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34). This new commandment is the old second highest commandment in a new form (cf 1John 2:7-11).
The old commandment was, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:31). Note the wording: the standard of one’s love for others is one’s love for oneself. In the new commandment, the standard is not your love for yourself but Christ’s love for you. The commandment to love others remains, but the standard attached to it is new and greater than before.
It is reasonable that, if the second commandment has been modified by a new and higher standard, so has the first commandment. We love God not only with own own whole heart, but even better still, we love God with the heart of Christ. We love God even as Christ loved his Father.
So we see in our fourth and last point, that when a Christian practices the greatest commandment, one does so with a new standard of love, the love which Jesus Christ himself demonstrated while he was on earth among men.