What commandment is the foremost of all?

by Mike Ratliff

28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34 (NASB) 

The rabbis of Jesus’ day engaged in an ongoing debate to determine which commandments of the Law were “light” and which were “weighty” (Matthew 23:23). It reminds me of the debate in certain circles of the visible Church today in which some are concerned with how far they can push their “Christian Liberty.” This concept is no more biblical than that of the rabbis attempting to compartmentalize their religion. Does our Lord’s answer to the Pharisee in Mark 12, Matthew 22, and Luke 10 have any significance to the Christian?

The daily walk of the Christian is one of sanctification in which God demolishes our love for our idols and draws us into a holy, spirit-filled life. The call is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1,2) by living and walking before God as living sacrifices. This may sound complicated, but it really is not. In fact, the key to making this work is found in our Lord’s answer to the Pharisees who were debating which commandment was the greatest.

The natural man, woman, or child walks through each day loving themselves. When one is hungry or cold or hot or tired, et cetera he or she will take steps to take care of the “need.” When one is injured or sick then he or she will become consumed with the pain and need to take care of what is wrong. The world is constantly reminding us of what we need to be concerned about and offers of solutions. We are constantly being bombarded with this stuff to the point that we can become so wrapped up in “meeting this need” that we will actually take steps to get what we “deserve.” This is loving self.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (NASB) 

Do you see that we already love ourselves? This is natural. God is not telling us here that we first must learn to love ourselves. No, the command for us here is that we must love others as we love ourselves and for this to be an imperative for us it must start with us loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds. If our hearts’ focus is here then we will also naturally love others as we love ourselves. What does it mean to love God this way?

1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2 so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NASB) 

This passage is the source for part of our Lord’s quote in Matthew 22. From the immediate context, we learn what makes up this love of God, which encompasses the Christian in every part. It starts with fearing the Lord our God and keeping all his statutes and commandments. We are commanded to be careful to do them in all our days. Moses also tells us here that we are to teach this to our children, their children, and their children. In other words, loving the Lord is manifest in us as we obey Him in fear, awe, reverence, and diligence. This is not talking about keeping rules in a legalistic manner, like the Pharisees were trying to do, but from a grateful heart full of Love for our deliverer we obey our Lord in all parts of our lives. If we are living this way, what will our relationships be like with our spouses, relatives, and neighbors?

9 ‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.
11 ‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.
13 ‘You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.
17 ‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:9-18 (NASB) 

Do you see that the one who loves the Lord with their entire being will also be generous, considerate, honest, full of love instead of hate, nor will they be vengeful. No, the spirit-filled believer shall love their neighbor as themselves.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,
“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:1-21 (NASB) 

The one who loves the Lord their God with their entire being will be an imitator of Him. He or she will walk in the love of Christ sacrificially. If you skipped this passage I exhort you to go back and carefully read it. This is how the Christian will interact with everyone. The one who belongs to God hears the truth of His Word and learns to obey it as God matures him or her. The more spirit-filled they become, the more Christlike they will be. This joyous, spirit-filled life is not defeated by circumstances. This life contains no guarantee of no trouble, but the Christian is promised that nothing can separate them from the love of God or take them from the Saviour’s hand. However, as we have seen, the genuine Christian is called to put to death their pride and self-focus by becoming humble and spirit-filled. They walk through each day with their focus on their blessed hope rather than an easy retirement.

My brethren, this is radical Christianity and it is what all who in Christ are called to. Those in this walk will have no concept of pushing the envelope of “Christian Liberty” or a form of Christianity that is carnal and fleshly. For those who have been lied to by their leaders that God doesn’t care how carnal you become, I pray that you will draw near unto God with a repentant heart seeking to commit your life to Christ’s Lordship. I pray that you will seek to enter the spirit-filled walk. I pray that you will learn to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “What commandment is the foremost of all?

  1. When I taught on the Law of Christ a while back, I stressed much the same points, bringing in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and Matthew 25:31-46 to show the tangible actions of loving one another in Christ. This is fulfilling the law of Christ, the law of liberty, the royal law – are focused on truly loving one another within the body of Christ in response to being love by Him. Many Christians are struggling to keep the Law of Moses, having a faulty guide for interpreting Scripture.

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