Love for God and Neighbor
“[Jesus] 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’” (vv. 37–39).- Matthew 22:34–40
Having established that we obey God’s law to thank the Lord for our salvation, demonstrate the authenticity of our faith, and progress in our sanctification (Q&A 86–91), the Heidelberg Catechism looks at the summary and division of this law in questions and answers 92–93. The Ten Commandments make up the summary of the law that the catechism expounds on (Q&A 92) to outline a life that is pleasing to our Creator. This is in line with nearly every Christian theological tradition, as the church has always seen the Ten Commandments as an encapsulation of the duties that God requires of His people.
Jesus gives a more basic summary of God’s law in today’s passage, explaining that the most important commandments are love of God and love of neighbor (Matt. 22:34–40). Even this teaching, however, reflects the Ten Commandments. Broadly speaking, we can divide these laws into two categories. The first category, consisting of the first four commandments (having no other gods, making no images of the divine nature, honoring God’s name, and Sabbath-keeping; see Ex. 20:3–11), deals primarily with the love of God. Love of neighbor is emphasized in the second category, which includes the other six commandments (honoring parents and the prohibition of murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness; see vv. 12–17).
This twofold division, in turn, has influenced the way theologians have spoken of God’s law. Question and answer 93 of the Heidelberg Catechism divides the Ten Commandments into “two tables,” each of which corresponds to the division we noted in the preceding paragraph. Again, this is very common in church history. For example, John Calvin divides the Ten Commandments in this way (Institutes 2.8.11–12). Historically, Christian thinkers have said the stone tablets given to Moses (Ex. 31:18) reflected this division, with the first four commandments appearing on the first tablet and the second six commandments appearing on the second tablet. Archaeological discoveries, however, indicate it is possible that each tablet had all ten of the commandments inscribed upon it. In any case, the division of the Ten Commandments is sound theologically. If we want to know the specific ways to love God and neighbor rightly, we must look to the Ten Commandments.
Love of God and love of neighbor are connected. We cannot love God rightly if we do not love our neighbors, especially our fellow Christians, and we cannot love our neighbors rightly if we do not love God (1 John 4:20). As we grow in our sanctification, we must find ourselves loving both God and neighbor more and more. If we lack love, biblically defined, for either God or neighbor, we are not living a life that pleases our Creator.
Passages for Further Study