I’ve always believed that the author of a book is the best interpreter of it. Critics and other readers can debate back and forth about the deeper meaning and symbolism of a novel, but the author is the best person to ask about this.
So when a Pharisee came to Jesus and asked him what was the greatest commandment, the answer should be pretty important to followers of Christ. As the One who wrote the Torah, he’s the best interpreter of it.
Before we delve into his reply, it might behoove us to examine what he didn't say, and compare it to how we might have answered. He didn’t say “Don’t murder.” He didn’t say “Don’t commit adultery” or any other commandment regarding sexuality. His reply didn’t say anything about lying or honoring one’s parents. All of these are important (they made his top ten list, after all), but they’re not the most important commandment.
But his answer is the perfect one, since everything else in the Law falls under one of these two categories. If you love God, you won’t worship idols. You won’t treat his name lightly. You'll obey his commands. You will want to declare his praises and tell others about him. The same goes for the second command: If you love your neighbor, then you won’t murder him, lie to him, or steal from him. More than that, if you love him, you’ll want to tell him about the Savior and how he can be reconciled to God. If he’s a brother in Christ, you’ll be looking out for his interests instead of just your own. And of course my “neighbor” is anyone I come into contact with who needs to be shown God’s love. Paul echoed Jesus on this last point.
By the way, I’ve actually seen this passage used as a witnessing tool, for which I have to give credit to Dr. Sproul. Let’s say that you’re talking to a person who isn’t convinced that he needs a savior: “I’m not that bad a person. I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t cheated on my wife. In fact, compared to some people out there, I’m a pretty decent guy.” I'd then ask him, “So do you think that’s the most important thing to God? What did Jesus say about that?” I point them to this passage, and ask them, “So do you do that? Can you really say that you love God with everything you have and everything you are?” Of course not. “So this is like coming into a court of law on an accusation of murder. Your plea is ‘Yes your Honor, I did kill that guy. But in my defense, look at my great driving record. And I have been on time every year in paying my taxes.’” In a court of law, murder is much more important than keeping a good driving record. In the same way, you just admitted that in the most important commandment that you just read, which is most important to Jesus, you’ve failed. Of course, this would lead into why God’s standards are much higher than ours, and why we desperately need a Savior.
But on a note to fellow Christians, I’m convicted by this every day. I know that I don’t love him anywhere close to what he deserves. That’s why I need his grace, every day. I’m so glad that his displays of compassion are “new every morning,” aren’t you?
Lord Jesus, your standard is so reasonable, but I fall so far short of it. Please forgive me, and help me. Change my heart, my mind, my soul to what I should be.