(Year A, Sunday closest to October 26, Gospel reading Matthew 22:34-46)
“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 22:37-40 (ESV)
What does it mean to love with all your heart, soul, and mind? The Greek word used in both verses 37 and 39 for “love” is agape, which the mature Christian should recognize as the all-encompassing love that transcends familial and romantic loves. This is the sacrificial love that looks for no gain for the one expressing and living it. The first and great commandment is to agape the Lord God, such that it suffuses our entire being and therefore our every word, act, or other fruit bears evidence of that love. The second commandment, which is like it, making it equally great and preeminent, is to agape humans as fellow bearers of the Image of God.
So, it’s that easy! Just like the Beatles sang, “All you need is love.” Love Wins in the end, so all we need to do is keep loving and not worry about any silly rules right?
Well… not exactly. Look back at Jesus’ words, in verse 40: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus is clearly not setting aside the Law of Moses here (as he says in the Sermon on the Mount, he came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it); he is refocusing the Law back to its original intent – Love God, and love your neighbor, and here’s how to do it. The Law of Love is the foundation upon which the statutes of the Law of Moses find their stability. The Law of Love does not supplant the Law of Moses, but it gives life to what would otherwise be a lifeless set of dreary rules that only served to make the Jews an “odd sort” to their neighbors, and which the Pharisees turned into a harsh yoke and a crushing burden.
If all the Law and the Prophets depend on the Law of Love, could it possibly be that the commandments of God are codifying and exemplifying how to love God and neighbor? Jesus says in John 14 that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He doesn’t say that if you fail to keep his commandments, it’s okay as long as you “love” him, because God knows our hearts, and knows the truth of our being, which is that we are what we do. By giving us the Law and rules of life, God gives us patterns of living which tune our hearts toward Him. If we say we love Him but then scorn those patterns of living, then we love our own expectation of personal sovereignty more than Him, and our will becomes an idol. But if we keep His commandments, we find that we are actively living out love for both God and neighbor.
Loving our neighbor is about seeking the true welfare of those around us. This is why evangelism is so important to Christianity – the Gospel is the ultimate message of Love for mankind from God, and must be shared to all who can hear it. This Gospel is not always well received because it requires an amendment of one’s life and sacrificing one’s will to God’s, both of which can be painful. But true love does not shy away from harsh truths and difficult realities when necessary to save lives.
Loving God is about earnestly seeking His will for us, and seeking how we can conform our will to His, rather than the other way around. Thanks be to God, for He has already given us the means to successfully find His will, in prayerful meditation on His Holy Scripture. Therefore, a love of God necessitates living a life informed by and seeking counsel from the Scriptures. A life lived in constant derision of Scripture, to include patronizing reformulation contorting the plain words of Scripture to suit my personal wishes, is one that gives lie to the statement “I love Jesus.”
It is important to note that while I can say “I love God; therefore, I follow His commandments,” or “I love my neighbor; therefore, I follow God’s laws,” or even “I want to love God and my neighbor; therefore, I follow God’s commandments to teach me that love,” I cannot say “I follow God’s commandments; therefore, I love God and my neighbor.” This is the error of the Pharisees: not that they painstakingly followed the Law of Moses, but that they did so with no regard to the heart of the Law (the Law of Love) and that they did so hypocritically. Following the Law is a consequence of loving God and neighbor, it is not a stand-in for that love.
Consider this week the commandments of God that you may struggle with understanding or following, and pray for an outpouring of grace and peace to help in sacrificing your will to Him. Consider also those commandments that you do follow readily, examining the heart behind that obedience, and pray for a heart that seeks to do God’s will out of earnest love for Him and His people.
Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.