The Greatest Commandments
“Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these’ ” (vv. 29–31).- Mark 12:28–31
According to rabbinic Judaism, the Torah (the law of God) contains 613 commandments. Of these commandments, 365 are negative in form (“you shall not”) and 248 are positive in form (“you shall”). Given this complexity, it is unsurprising that the ancient rabbis frequently sought ways to summarize the law and to identify the most important laws, those commands that incurred the harshest penalties when violated.
Thus, when the scribe identified in today’s passage came to Jesus to ask Him which of the commandments was the most important, he was not posing a question that he or Jesus had never thought about before (Mark 12:28). Moreover, Jesus’ first response was not unique to Him. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the fundamental creedal statement of Judaism known as the Shema, Christ replied that love for God above all else is the most important of all the commandments (vv. 29–30). Our Lord’s second response, that love for neighbor is the second greatest of all the commandments, was also not unheard of, for many rabbis before and after Jesus’ lifetime summarized the Torah as teaching the love of neighbor. What was unique about Jesus’ response was the way in which our Lord combined the commandments. Though He gave a certain logical priority to loving God by mentioning it first, answering a question about the greatest commandment with two commandments shows that Jesus regarded the commands as distinguishable, not separable. That is, Christ held that we cannot truly love God without loving our neighbor and we cannot truly love our neighbor without loving God.
Jesus’ response indicates that we must love God in four ways—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that loving God with one’s entire heart means loving Him from the very root of our being; that loving God with one’s entire soul means loving Him passionately, not in a tepid manner; that loving God with all of one’s strength means loving Him with all of the power we can muster; and that loving Him with all of one’s mind means loving Him by studying His ways and His character as revealed in His Word. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess that none of us has loved God in such a way. We might love God more today than we loved Him yesterday, but we still do not love Him as we ought. That is why we must repent daily for our failure to keep the greatest commandment.
Dr. R.C. Sproul also writes in his Mark commentary, “We do not really progress in the Christian life until we understand that we are to love God simply because He is lovely and wonderful, worthy of every creature’s unqualified affection.” Love for God on account of who He is in Himself is the highest form of love that creatures can show. Let us pray that the Lord would give us such love for Him.
Passages for Further Study
2 Thessalonians 3:5