Jesus, the Son of God, gave us a new commandment telling us how to be Christ-followers and how to build healthy churches.
I spent many years of my Christian walk in frustration because I didn’t know how to keep the Great Commandments. I wanted to love God, but I knew in my heart I wasn’t loving him “with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind.” Neither was I loving my neighbor as myself. A closer look at Matthew 22:34-40 sheds some light. Notice some important points.
After astounding the Sadducees with his discussion on the resurrection, Jesus was tested by several Pharisees. A lawyer asked the question. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Notice the question is about the commandments in the law. Jesus responds by quoting the Torah. First, he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Every Jew was familiar with this because it was part of their daily devotion. Then Jesus adds, “A second is like it,” as he quotes from Leviticus 19:18b, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But that’s not the end of the discussion. He finishes by saying, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, all of the old covenant and all the prophecies of Jesus hang on these two commandments.
We know that later Jesus said he fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Does that negate the two great commandments? Not at all, but Jesus also saw the necessity to give us a new commandment. I believe it’s because the emphasis of our love needed to change.
Jesus, the Son of God, a member of the triune God, the Savior and Redeemer, the Atonement, said he was giving us a new command. I stress these identifiers of Jesus because it seems if the Son of God says he is giving us a new command, we need to pay attention, and we need to give that command our full attention.
In the two great commandments of the law the focus is on us. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul (or strength depending on the translation), and we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Who can do this? Who is even close to doing this? Do I love God with all my heart, mind and soul? No. I’d like to, and it may be what I aspire to, but I cannot do it. Can I love my neighbor as myself? Again, no. I ‘d like to, but I’m not even sure how. And what if we struggle to love ourselves? What if our self-love isn’t pure, honest, or respectful? One of the biggest struggles is the struggle of identity, we see this struggle everywhere. How can someone who is struggling with their personal identity (and especially with their identity as a beloved child of God), love someone as they love themselves?
The effort to keep these two commandments can easily be self-focused. Am I loving God as much as I can? Am I loving my neighbor as I love myself? What does that look like? How do I do that? What am I doing wrong? How can I do better? I suck at this, I’m no good. I can’t even love myself. How can I be expected to love someone else? Woe be unto me, wretched man that I am. And on and on it goes … until we change our focus.
I believe Jesus was quoting the commandments of the law and then pointing out later that he fulfilled the law and the prophets because he alone is able to fulfill those two commandments. He alone can love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He alone can love his neighbor as himself. He answered the question about what was in the law, and, as we know, he continually pointed to himself as a fulfillment of that law.
Again, before you think I’m throwing the commandments out, I’m not. But I believe we need to add Jesus’ new commandment into the mix. Jesus said to love one another, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The focus changes from loving someone like I love myself to looking to Jesus to see how he loves. He’s the example of love that I can learn from. He’s the one who knew God and was able to love God with all his heart. He’s the one who was able to see people as they really were, and to identify them as God’s beloved. He was able to see past all the messiness in someone’s life and see the pain and the longing for relationship.
I want to love as Jesus loves, and I want to love with his love. And I can because he lives in me. My love will never be sufficient. His love is full. His love is pure. His love is honest. His love is respectful. The more I look to him and walk with him, the more I am able to love God with all my heart, and the more I am able to love my neighbor as he loves my neighbor. Further, the closer I get to Jesus, the more I understand about who I am in him, and the more I am able to understand who others are in him. This will finally put me on the right track to loving my neighbor as myself – because I realize I am a beloved child of God and so is my neighbor.
The only way we can be true Christ followers is to identify who Jesus is, and who he is in us. It is then we can love as he loves. We reach out to our neighbors because we want them to experience Jesus – his love, his acceptance, his forgiveness, his mercy, his joy, his hope, his faith. You get the picture. And this is what a healthy church does – it loves as Jesus loves. A healthy church has a healthy Love Avenue (in cooperation with a healthy Hope Avenue and a healthy Faith Avenue) that reaches out to the neighbors because we want our neighbors to know Jesus.
Bottom line, I believe quoting the two commandments is powerful and good, but I suggest that whenever we do, we add that Jesus is the only one who can fulfill those commandments and he wants us to look to him. That’s why he gave us a new commandment. Surrender to him, follow him, watch him, learn from him, and love as he loves. It keeps our focus on him.
Still learning to love as he loves,
PS Check out the podcast I host with Josh McDonald, Geocaching Scripture – finding tiny truths in the big book. We are on Spotify.