Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).
It has always interested me why the Lord narrowed down these two commandments as the greatest. I have sometimes wondered how there could be “greatest” commandments, when all of the Lord’s commandments are important. For example, see Psalm 119:160: “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (emphasis is mine throughout).
Yet, when you think about it, the reason seems clear. All of God’s commandments hinge on one or both of these two commandments that Jesus listed in Matthew 22:37-39. For example, breaking God’s commandments against idolatry are an affront to our holy God, Who Alone is Deity. In like manner, breaking God’s commandments against thievery, adultery, gossip, and the like are affronts to other people who are harmed by those actions.
Also of note is the fact that the second great commandment hinges upon the first. If one does not love God with all his heart, soul, and mind, he surely will not be capable of loving his neighbor as himself. It is this second great commandment upon which we will now direct our attention. To do this, we will briefly look at the three main components of the commandment to love one’s neighbor as himself.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Greek word translated as “love” in this passage is agapaō, likely the most famous rendering of “love” in the Greek language. Agape love is oftentimes referred to as the highest form of love. Agape love is unconditional love. It’s the kind of love that a father and mother have for their child, even if that child grows up to dishonor them. It’s the kind of love that a person has for his spouse of fifty years, that causes him to stand by her side, in sickness and in health, as her strength begins to deteriorate.
It’s the kind of love that is being illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Although the word agape is not mentioned, it was surely present nonetheless. In fact, immediately after Jesus listed the greatest commandments in the Luke account (10:25-27), a “certain lawyer” asked Him, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). It was this question that prompted Jesus’ teaching the parable of the good Samaritan.
Jesus emphasized by way of the parable that neighbors are not always what we might expect. In the case of the good Samaritan, this good neighbor was one who was scorned by Jewish society as a whole. Samaritans, post-captivity descendants of the poor Jews that were left in the land (2 Kings 24:14) to be mixed with Gentile blood, were looked upon as the worst of the worst of the citizenry. Meanwhile, the priests and the Levites were looked up to as the religious leaders of the day. One can imagine the shock this certain lawyer must have felt as Jesus clearly taught that the Samaritan was the true neighbor of the injured man in the parable.
This brings us back to the point that Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to be neighborly. While it comes naturally to be a good neighbor to those who are neighborly to us, what about those who are our enemies? You see, Jesus not only taught neighborly love for our friends, but also our enemies He said, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:28), and, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12) applies just as much to our enemies as it does our friends.
The Golden Rule states, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This is the foundational principle upon which the second great commandment rests. Anyone can treat other people how they themselves have been treated. It is very easy to return evil for evil and good for good. However, it takes much love, self-control, and patience (aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, by the way—Gal. 5:22-23) to treat others who have treated one badly the way that one wishes they had treated him. To do this is counter-intuitive, but if one truly loves others as himself, he will work past the natural feelings of ill-will and will instead wish others well, even better than himself.
We need to think back to the love that Christ had for us, and then try to emulate that love for our fellow man. Notice how Paul put it in Philippians 2:4-11:
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When we reflect upon the unconditional agape love that Christ had for us, it becomes easier for us to love others with the same love that we have for ourselves. Again, Paul says, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). This is the essence of the second greatest commandment.
Chase preaches at the Marietta congregation in Marietta, OK.