Jesus’ Greatest Commandments

Matthew relates the story of a group of Pharisees questioning Jesus about the greatest commandment.  Jesus’ reply was probably not what they expected.  He replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”1

At the last supper, Jesus instructs his disciples, saying, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”2  Ponder that last sentence for a moment and let his message really sink in.  Some who would like to avoid responsibility for what Jesus is commanding us, might claim that he is just referring to the group of disciples when he said, “one another.”  But that shallow interpretation fails completely when set against his declaration that all who believe in him are his brothers and sisters3, his well known proclamation that “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”4 [emphasis added]  John confirms this again, saying, “He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”5   So Jesus loves ALL of us – enough to give up his own life to pay the price for our sins (including sex offenses).  Our challenge is that he is commanding us to love ALL in the same manner, including our enemies6 and those who we hate and despise7.  I confess that that makes me uncomfortable.

Now, let’s focus on that concept of love that Jesus is talking about.  In the English language, we have badly muddied the word by giving it many different meanings, ranging all the way from the sacrificial love that Jesus showed on the cross to raw sex.  But the Greek language of the original Scriptures does not suffer from this problem.  It has three (at least) separate words that split up the things we lump together.  The word that Jesus always uses is the verb agapao.  Encyclopedia Britannica explains it’s noun form agape, as “the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God.  In Scripture, the transcendent agape love is the highest form of love and is contrasted with eros, or erotic love, and philia, or brotherly love.”8  In Paul’s words, it is a love that “values others above yourselves.”9

Paul further expounds on the characteristics of this love in a beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians 13, which has informally become known as “The Love Chapter”.  Unfortunately, the church has usurped the passage for use in weddings, perhaps helping to muddy the significance.  But when Paul wrote the passage, he wasn’t talking about marriages.  He was talking about living our faith and more specifically, how we are to treat each other.  To move directly to the point, Paul tells us that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”10  Now the Sex Offender Registry, for practical purposes, says, “We’re going to make sure that nobody forgets what you did by advertising your sins on the Internet for all to see.”  That, my friends is exactly the opposite of what Jesus has commanded us to do.

1 Matthew 22:37-40 NIV  (Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)

2 John 13:34 NIV

3 Matthew 12:50 NIV

4 John 3:16-17 NIV

5 1 John 2:2 NIV

6 Matthew 5:43-45 NIV

7 Luke 10:25-37

8 Encyclopaedia Britannica Online

9 Philippians 2:3

10 1 Corinthians 13:5

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