When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Anyone familiar with the Bible knows the law and the prophets Jesus was referring to are complex, hard-to-interpret works that don’t seem to condense that simply. How on earth does this statement make any sense? While the answer isn’t immediately straightforward, a closer examination of the Old and New Testaments help us understand what this verse is actually saying.
Examining the entire Old Testament for every reference to loving God would take weeks. Thankfully, the first four of the 10 Commandments give us a pretty good idea of what loving God looks like:
- Praying to no other gods
- Making no idols or images to worship
- Not misusing God’s name
- Honoring the Sabbath day
Interestingly, Jesus’ summary of the law is a direct quote from the law itself: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) With this in mind, the commandments seem like behavioral cues of how we feel about God. Someone who truly loves God will freely worship only Him, honor the Sabbath, and demonstrate a regard for what God tells us to do.
The rest of the 10 Commandments refer to our relationship with others:
- Honor your father and mother
- Do not commit murder
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not steal
- Do not provide false testimony (the language used here is legal, but is usually interpreted for everyday life as well)
- Do not covet another’s belongings (not a ban on jealousy, but on the kind of jealousy that leads to plotting theft of said belongings)
Similar to the commandments about loving God, the actions forbidden here are not things you would expect from a loving neighbor. Someone who respects you would never steal from you, lie to or about you, and of course never kill you. God expects the same regard for others from each of us.
Pro Tip: The Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 is just another way to write the Greatest Commandment. In your everyday life, how can you treat others with the same respect you want for yourself?
Interestingly, the 10 Commandments include nothing about our regard for ourselves. The Bible as a whole generally assumes that people already have basic self-love. However, it’s important to remember that the absence of a specific chapter and verse on a subject doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t address it. The entire Bible is one long story of how much God loves the whole world and gives us the chance to be saved. Being loved by God is certainly a reason to boost your self-esteem!
Honoring God through the Greatest Commandment
The Old Testament and the Law are full of thousands of minute details and instructions, some of which are impossible to fulfill in a modern environment. However, the rest of the book reveals the bigger picture. God communicates that He cares far more about our attitude toward Him and each other than about whether or not we attend services every week. The Greatest Commandment is simply to treat others with the same love we want for ourselves.