‘…a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”’
- Matthew 22:35b-40
In the matter of fact reply to an expert in Old Testament law Jesus provides an answer to a most difficult question. The question? Which is the great commandment? When the importance of the commandments are weighed, which one stands out as the quintessential command? Which one, if kept, brings the approbation and pleasure of God? And here Jesus gives an astounding and provocative answer. The great commandment actually has two parts and it’s really quite simple. We are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind. And then we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves. Pretty simple, huh? But truth be known, also pretty impossible. Anyone that is halfway honest with himself will soon realize that self-love and idolatry are the prevailing interests with every son of Adam. Me, love God and neighbor? Forget it. They always take second place. Witness our lives strewn with the wreckage of relationships gone bad. The two great commandments are not the way of life for us; rather they are an indictment to us. In ourselves we are alienated from God and from one another. We are by nature lawbreakers, not lawkeepers, and we can’t help it. We will be the kings of our own kingdom surmising that the duty of God and our neighbor is to serve us. To turn a phrase from the Shorter Catechism, we think that God’s chief end is to glorify us, and for Him to be at our beck and call forever. Bottom line - we love ourselves too much.
Thankfully, in the wisdom of God the gospel speaks to our greatest need. Jesus doesn’t simply rehearse a set of rules to help us get by. He lays bare the desperateness of our condition. He shows us our complete disregard for the two great commandments in one fell swoop. We may think we are lawkeepers, but when we see it in its simplest form we fall woefully short. We desperately need help.
In the gospel our greatest need has now become our greatest hope. Where the confluence of the two great commands and my voracious self-love meet the gospel speaks and does. I need a King powerful enough to dethrone my self-appointed exaltation and put the universe back in its proper order. I need a Lord that can remove the idol of me and replace it with an unfeigned love of my neighbor. Where I’m caught betwixt and between the gospel comes with an answer to my tragic and appalling deficiency. The gospel speaks of One whose life trajectory was not self-interest, but rather a grand mission of obedience and rescue. The entire focus was not self-love, but other-love. The one pointing to our law-deficiency has Himself met the unrelenting requirements of the two great commands. You see, I don’t need a life coach that gives me a little pep talk to do what’s right. I need an all-powerful Lord that can dethrone my idols of self-interest and self-love. To love God with even a fraction of my heart and to love my neighbor without self-interest I need to be delivered from the kingdom of me. Thankfully this is what Jesus has done and what Jesus will do. In the dethronement of self the two great commandments lose their threatening power and become instead a pathway of life. What was once an indictment has now come with the promise of help. Loving God and loving my neighbor becomes a way of life because in the enthronement of the true King He brings me under His reign and power. In this I have hope for glad obedience to the two great commands.