And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
And he said unto him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).
We like short and sweet. Lengthy explanations and excessive details are considered boring and tedious, even when we recognize that complexity exists.
Succinct explanations help when they keep the “big picture” in mind. Especially in religious circles, many have missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Jesus came face to face with many such people in His ministry: the Pharisees were condemned for focusing excessively on details while neglecting the weightier aspects of the Law (Matthew 23:23-24).
Jesus provides the “big picture” of the Law: love the LORD with all of our faculties, and love our neighbors as ourselves. As summations go, there can be no better; in truth, not a detail is lost. All of our missteps, difficulties, sins, and shortcomings come from a lack of love for God or neighbor.
Why love? The virtues of love are exalted in 1 Corinthians 13; we may summarize Paul’s message by saying that love is seeking the best interest of the beloved (cf. Romans 13:10). Love for God is seeking His will and not our own (Hebrews 11:6). When we love God, it is no longer we who live, but God in us (cf. Galatians 2:20). If we live lives of sacrifice, as we are charged to do in Romans 12:1, we easily avoid iniquity.
Loving our neighbor can be challenging; after all, our neighbor often wrongs us, cheats us, or perhaps is entirely indifferent toward us. Yet the power of the “Golden Rule” of Luke 6:31 haunts us: if we view our neighbor in such stark and dismal terms, how does our neighbor look at us?
How would we want to be treated? Such dictates how we should treat others. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what it takes to be a good neighbor (Luke 10:25-37): sacrifice and humility, helping without expectation of commendation or reward. After all, this is what we seek from God, is it not?
It seems so easy to talk about “loving God” and “loving our neighbor,” and yet so difficult to put into practice. It is far easier to be as the Pharisees, so devoted to the trees of various doctrines and technicalities that we neglect the important things. If we have not love, we face condemnation. Let us lay aside our own interests and instead put God’s interests and the best interest of our neighbor ahead of ourselves!
Ethan R. Longhenry