The Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:28-31 (NIV): 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the teachers of the law were trying to trap Jesus by asking him various “loaded” questions. They were intent on trying to “catch him in his words” in order to turn the tide of public opinion against him. Some Pharisees and Herodians had asked Jesus, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” (Mark 12:14-15). Knowing they were trying to trap him, Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). The Gospel writer Mark tells us that the people were “amazed” at him and his answer.

Jesus tells us to love God with all of our soul, mind, and strength; that is a commandment that most of us can keep. However, when it comes to loving our “neighbor”; well that’s a different story. It is certainly easier to love those neighbors who are like us. We love those who think like we do, look like we do, and vote like we do. But to love those who look, think, or vote differently; this commandment to “love thy neighbor” is a little more difficult to keep. Most of us would rather ignore this commandment from Jesus, but we do so at great peril. This isn’t a “suggestion” from Jesus, this is a commandment. This is how we should go about our daily lives, loving everyone that we come into contact with. But we so often fail miserably at this! We just can’t let go of old hurts and we refuse to forgive others who we feel have wronged us. We also refuse to love those whom we judge “unworthy” of our love.

How can we love someone who is a “sinner” or who doesn’t love us in return? We can and must love if we consider the words of the Apostle Paul from the letter to the Romans: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved us in spite of our sin and he sent his one and only Son to die on the cross for our sinfulness. How can we not love other people when we consider the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made, to die for our sins? God didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up or to start living a more upright life. God didn’t wait for us to change, because he knew that we would never attain a “perfect” life, at least not in this world. Instead, God loved us just as we were – sinners living in a fallen and immoral world.

Jesus spent time with the “sinners” of this world, showing compassion while he healed and taught many people who longed for some mercy. The teacher of the law recognized that loving your neighbor is more important than any sacrifice or offering that you could bring before God. And Jesus replied to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

How far are you from the “kingdom of God?” Are you willing to love others at great risk to your own self? We are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory, but loving others can have a great reward for believers. The Apostle Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). I don’t know about you, but I have a multitude of sins that need to be covered over. By loving others, you demonstrate your love for God and your willingness to follow Him.

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