Wednesday Night Lesson: ‘The Greatest Commandment’

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Matthew 22:35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it , Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tonight I want to begin a new series on Love. I have entitled this series – ‘Love Never Fails’, taken from the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. As we have just read, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God supremely, and second to it is to love others sacrificially. These two biblical principles sum up the entire writings of the Law and the prophets.

I.  What is the Greatest Commandment?

A. The Question

The Bible says that ‘one of them’ stood up to ask Jesus a question. We know from vs. 34 that this man was among the Pharisees. Scripture also tells us that the man’s intention was to ‘tempt’ Jesus. Most likely he had been put up to this by the Pharisees who hated Jesus.

The Bible says that he was a ‘lawyer.’ He was not a lawyer in the way that we think of lawyers today. He was not trying to file a class-action lawsuit. Instead, he was a lawyer in that he was an expert in the Law of Moses. He was a professionally student of the Old Testament Law. Through years of intense study of scripture, he became an authority on what the Bible says. It was because of his expertise that the Pharisees put him up to asking Jesus a difficult question.

The Bible says that he asked the question ‘tempting him.’ The word ‘tempt’ can mean one of two things:

1. Either it can be an enticement to do evil,

2. Or it can be a test to prove validity.

The Pharisees were using him as an enticement to cause Jesus to do evil, but maybe deep down in this man’s heart, he was asking his question in order to determine the validity of Jesus. Why do I say that?

Mark 12:32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, (wisely) he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God

Not all the religious men of Jesus’ day were hypocrites. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who later became a disciple of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathaea was a wealthy man who was a member of the Sanhedrin who also is called a disciple of Jesus, and in whose tomb our Lord was buried.

B. The Answer  

So what is the greatest commandment?  What is most important to God?

The Scribes and Pharisees had determined that there were 613 commandments in the law: 248 positive and 365 negative. (Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament) Yet even the Scribes and Pharisees recognized that no one could know or do all 613 commandments, therefore they decided that some commandments were more important than others. Some carried more weight than others. Consider that in light of our Lord’s rebuke of them –

Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment , mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done , and not to leave the other undone . 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

In other words, you focus on the commandments that will make you ‘look’ good without considering the commandments that are good. Instead you should clean up the inside and the outside will take care of itself.

So again I ask the question – ‘what is the weightier matter of the law?’ What is most important to God?

Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it , Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Jews called this commandment the ‘Shema’, which means  – ‘to hear.’

Deut 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Every orthodox Jew quoted this commandment daily. But then Jesus went a little bit further.

Matthew 22:38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.       

In other words, the second commandment carried as much weight as the first. It did not replace the first, but it corresponded to the first. Jesus did not make the second commandment up. He quoted it also from the Law of Moses.

Lev 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

The New Testament epistles reiterate the relationship between the two commandments:

James 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

1 John 4:20… for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

Then Jesus said –

Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In other words, the intent of all the Law and the writings of the prophets can be summed up in obedience to these two commandments. If a man loves God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, he will be doing what the Law and the prophets teach.

Concerning the Ten Commandments, many have said that Commandments 1-5 teach us how to love God supremely, and Commandments 6-10 teach us how to love others sacrificially.

II. Why is Love so Important to God?

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

A.  Love is a Part of God’s Nature

Love is a part of God’s holy nature. John points out two things to us concerning God’s nature of love:

1. God DEFINES what true love really is

The Greeks used three primary words to describe how we might express what we call love.

a. Eros

There was eros, from which we get the English word ‘erotic.’ Eros is a reaction of our senses. Synonyms to it would be: passion, desire, and lust.

b. Phileo

Phileo is a part of the word ‘Philadelphia’, the city of brotherly love. (Phileo – love, delphos – brother) Phileo is a response of our emotions. It is the love of friendship, companionship and closeness.

c. Agape

Whereas there is a time and place for eros and phileo, the love Jesus is referring to is agape love. Eros is a reaction of our senses. Phileo is a response of our emotions. Agape is a resolve of our will. We choose to love with an agape love. Some describe it as a self-sacrificing love that is concerned with the well-being of others.

2. God DEMONSTRATES how true love really acts

1 John 4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  (propitiation – appeasing sacrifice)

The greatest example of agape love creation has ever known was the love God demonstrated when He sent His only begotten Son to be the Savior of the world.

B. Therefore – Love Should be a Part of Our Nature

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

As we will see in a future study, agape love is a part of the Spirit’s fruit manifested in a believer’s life. One of the things that many of us noticed during last weekend was the love so many of you demonstrated towards each other and those who came to see the Passion Play. Why was love so predominate last weekend? It was because we were focusing on the love of God and experiencing that love in our own lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

III. Difference God’s Love Makes in a Man’s Live

In closing tonight I would like for us to focus for a moment on the impact God’s love can have upon a believer. Consider the Apostle John.

Luke 9:51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. 53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? 55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.  And they went to another village.

In the beginning, James and his brother John were sometimes called ‘The Sons of Thunder.’  Jesus gave them that nickname, no doubt because of the way they often acted. The word Jesus used actually meant – ‘the sons of rage.’ Apparently they were hot-tempted, impetuous young men, prone to more out of impulse than inspiration.

Yet later in his life, John’s nickname changed. Today most call him – ‘John the Beloved.’ Five times in the gospel of John, he refers to himself as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved.’ I don’t think that term meant that John believed that Jesus loved him more than all the others, but that John was overwhelmed that Jesus would love him at all. John was humbled by the fact that Jesus would bother to love a Son of Rage. Even more importantly, the love of God transformed him into the disciple of love.

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