05 January 2010

"And the second is" — not in competition with it, but rather... (Part One)

by Dan Phillips

We begin with my off-the-cuff translation* of Matthew 22:34-40 —
Now the Pharisees — when they heard that He had muzzled the Sadducees — gathered together; and one of them (an expert on the Law) questioned Him as a test: "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

And He told him, "'You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your intellect.' This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You are to love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments all the Law depends, and the Prophets."

A wiser and godlier man could quite literally spend the rest of the year in this blog, twice a week, on just these seven verses. After about two posts, my clip will be spent.

What our Lord singles out as the premiere and central commandment is chosen with the inerrancy of divine wisdom. Literally any other choice would have turned God's universe on its head.

Of course the most important command must be a love for God that rages like a fire through the whole forest of our beings, equally igniting our thoughts, our beliefs, our values, our passions. Of course the majestic One who is of all the universe both center and goal, both source and destiny (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:10-11; Colossians 1:16-18) — of course that One must be all those things to us as well.

The second commandment may not be as immediately transparent. Not to us, anyway. To God, it is immediately transparent.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (James 3:9)

And so, while I'm still commenting and haven't yet commenced meddling, I observe that our Lord does not set these commands up as competitors, nor as polarities.  He does not say, "Love the Lord your God... yet love your neighbor," nor "but also love your neighbor," nor "nevertheless...."  It is not "A, but B"; it is "A, and B."

To the divine mind of Christ, the two imperatives are in harmony. They are inseparables. I cannot really love God if I am not loving my neighbor. But if I do not love God, by the same token, I cannot truly love my neighbor.
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  (1Jo 4:20—5:2)
How is the second commandment "like" the first? The most obvious similarity is formal similarity: both commands begin with ἀγαπήσεις, "You [singular] are to love," "You shall love," with the future indicative used in the sense of a command. Both have a personal object. And both those objects are similar, in that the second is modeled after the first (see the logic of John 4:20, compared with James 3:9).

The second command grows from the first and neither may nor can be isolated. With the first command, Jesus sends us to the God of Scripture. It is that very God who then sends us to our neighbor. If we love Him, we shall keep His commands (1 John 5:3). If we love Him, then, we shall love our neighbor, for "this is His commandment, that we ...love one another" (1 John 3:23).

We can try to surround this idea by various phrasings, all of which are textually warranted:
  • We do not truly love God if we do then not love our neighbor
  • We do not truly love our neighbor, if we do not first love God
  • If we love God, we must consequentially love our neighbor
  • If we are to love our neighbor, we must first love God
  • A God-hating people-lover is under God's condemnation
  • A people-hating God-lover is under God's condemnation
  • True love for God will necessarily blossom in love for our neighbor
  • To be healthy, love for our neighbor must be an outgrowth of love for God
So. There we go. Clear, no? As crystal!


Okay, then. Let's close in prayer. "Heavenly Father...."

See, this is where too many Bible teachers would leave off, and many churchgoers would let them. In fact, I can't listen to some Bible-talkers without mentally prefacing or appending that very word: "Theoretically." It may very well be a sad, revealing commentary on me, but such teaching strikes me as if it came straight from the drawing-board to me, without the teacher ever actually done the difficult duty of field-work.

Which is my intended focus in the next post.(Update: this way to part two.)

*That means nobody should quote it as authoritative, or teach on the basis of it. It's ad hoc — for the purpose of this discussion only.

Dan Phillips's signature


SandMan said...


I am experiencing a dilemma here. I am really looking forward to part two, but have a very strong suspicion that it is going to hurt...badly!

Bring on the pain, brother.

Frank Turk said...

It's one thing when I start up the "love one another" organ.

When Dan brings it, I fear for our readers. In a completely good-for-the-soul but hard-on-the-flesh way which will cause many people the right kind of pain.

And a spectacular use of the Hassidic Ninja.

Van said...

Years ago when I was in the Army I remember when one of the mechanics came to me to ask where on a Hummer the starter was. He knew that was where he should start testing, he knew the theory behind the testing, he just didn't know what an actual starter looked like, or where to find it.

I heard once that a teacher should first explain, then demonstrate, and finally assist a student for learning that lasts. With the guy above I was able to do that. The example sermon you used stopped right where this guy's instructors did though... without practical knowledge theory is just words.

This should be interesting. I will look forward to the rest of the story.

DJP said...

That's a great analogy, Van. I bet it finds its way into sermons and lessons via our readers.

Don't get your hopes up too high; the next post will be by a guy who has as much trouble "finding the starter" as anyone else.

DJP said...

(Next post in this series, I mean.)

David said...

I'm trying to think about how many times, as I was growing up, I heard, "See, to love your neighbor, you have to love yourself."

Preachers said this.

I drank too deeply of that thinking, and I'm still not fit to be behind the wheel.

DJP said...

Yes, David, that was huge. Probably still around. Bad math. "The second is," He says. Not, "The second and third are..."

Mesa Mike said...

I agree. When preachers and teachers stop right where Dan stopped today, then the message is only half-complete, and leaves us in despair, because none of us can find that darn starter on the Hummer.

Looking forward to the Good News in the next post.

John said...

Frank, that is not a ninja. A ninja is a Japanese assassin who practices ninjitsu, while the Jew is practicing a form from the Chinese mantis style of Shaolin kungfu. Wrong style, wrong country, wrong century. :-)

Sir Aaron said...


That is used by a lot of self-help people too for marriage advice. You've got to be happy to make your spouse happy type nonsense.

MSC said...

"After about two posts, my clip will be spent."

So your'e really gonna shoot this passage up.

DJP said...

Not the passage.


David said...


Rachael Starke said...

Wait a minute.

You mean to say that reading a verse or two about love,

and then doing all kinds of grammatical and linguistic gymnastics with it,

and throwing in an illustration or two,

isn't all there is to it?

But that's the way preachers do it all the time!

You're so unloving.

(And by "that's the way preachers do it all the time", I mean to say that they try to do it this way. You've done it here way more skillfully and Biblely than a lot of brothers I've heard. Oh dear. Now I'm being unloving too.)

Apeleutheros said...


That's awesome

Respectabiggle said...

I'm looking forward to the pain that the second post brings.

But it should be "magazine", not "clip".

Stefan said...

Thanks, Dan, for pointing out that the second half of the Great Commandment is part and parcel with the first half. I've never seen it quite so clearly before.

This will definitely be a hard less. It's easy to say we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—especially for us Biblical Calvinists, with a high view of the sovereign glory of God.

But we're also humans, which means we're also sinners, and not only do we imperfectly love God, but we even less perfectly love our neighbour. And who is our neighbour? Oy gevelt. Not only is there Luke 10:29-37 (which follows immediately on from the Great Commandment), but then there's Matthew 25:34-46, or 5:43-48—and that's just for starters!

Then there all the hundreds of Mosaic laws—and Proverbs!—illustrating how to love our neighbour...the ramifications are enormous...everything from protecting others from physical harm; to honest business dealings; to caring for widows, orphans, and strangers.

Not to mention that 60% of the Ten Commandments are subsumed in "Love your neighbour"!

Stefan said...

2nd paragraph should read "Hard lesson," not "hard less."

Frank Turk said...

It's a typo. I meant "Ninjew" not "Ninja".

Sorry everyone -- back to dan's point.

MSC said...

I knew what you mean't. Just pokin' fun - :)

Bobby Grow said...

Starter = I John 4:19 :-).

If we don't ground this discussion there, then we will end up somewhere else; like ourselves.

olan strickland said...

Dan, what are you trying to say? Are you saying that the Manhattan Declaration fails at loving your neighbor because it fails at loving God?

We do not truly love our neighbor, if we do not first love God....

Oh! And you're also saying that loving God in ivory tower fashion (in theory only) but not loving ones neighbor in practical ways is also a FAIL.

If we love God, we must consequentially love our neighbor....

Very good!

DJP said...

Okay, folks, no need for a second post! Just read Olan's! You've been great, good night, now! Drive carefully out there! Tip your waiters!

olan strickland said...

Dan, I hacked your "unpublished draft" to see what the next post would be about :). Just kidding! I can barely get into my own computer.

Delete mine and do yours! I for one am looking forward to your application of these two inseparable commandments.

TAR said...

Help me here..I believe Christ was the only one that could keep the law perfectly, and that He kept it for me, because I am incapable of keeping it.
This scripture is law and not grace..

No matter how hard I might WORK to love God and my neighbor,I will fail .

Christ in me the hope of glory!!

David said...


You mean Jesus, our Lord, spoke non-grace?

F Whittenburg said...

Of course, it is God who first creates in us this love for our neighbor and even love for God! Aren't you glad it is not left up to us to generate this level of love!

And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. (Deuteronomy 30:6 KJV)

There is your starter, and now another couple of verses to keep the engine running.......

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: (Romans 15:8 KJV).

And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in Baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Colossians 2:10-13 KJV).

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3 KJV)

Good topic Dan,

Rachael Starke said...

Love according to God looks a lot different than love according to Harlequin, Janette Oke, Rob Bell and all of Hollywood?

Rachael Starke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachael Starke said...

F Whittenburg,

Respectfully, I would be helped more if we were to go even further back than that.

But I won't say anymore until I read Dan's take tomorrow. And then I'll say that's what I was thinking. :)

DJP said...

TAR — Help me here..I believe Christ was the only one that could keep the law perfectly, and that He kept it for me, because I am incapable of keeping it.
This scripture is law and not grace..

Sure, I'd be glad to help. It's very simple.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15), "and his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Mesa Mike said...

"...his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3)."

Theoretically, of course.

Bobby Grow said...

It's true, if we love God we'll keep His commandments. But since we didn't Jesus had to do that for us first --- i.e. our mediator. Any love we love others comes out of Christ's love first; it's all grounded in His humanity for us, we live out of His love.

If we don't we live out of our 'old man'; which we all do as Christians. We fail and succeed, but our succeeding can only be attributed to Christ's humanity for us and in us by the Spirit Gal 2:20.

I think as long as this is the framework this post is thinking out of I have no problems with this open-ended post . . . and I realize intentionally so (e.g. pt 1).

Craig and Heather said...

Definitely interested in your take on this, Dan.

Post 1 kind of sets a person up to start focusing on performance (in my mind, anyway).

On the one hand, I totally understand that God's commands are immovable. On the other, I know I've never truly loved God with all my heart (much less, my neighbor).

It basically has left me reeling and screaming "Then, who can be saved???"

And the only hope I can see is in the risen Christ who has lived the Law perfectly, tasted death completely and triumphed over it unquestionably.

Regardless of how hard I try, I still have to turn to Him and ask to be covered and protected from the Holiness of the Almighty.

Still, I'm curious as to where you're going with this...


David Rudd said...


I really enjoyed this post,

if olan's comment really is where you're going i'll be sorely disappointed.

mike said...

SO, does the doctrine of Grace mean that i do not have to keep the Lords commandments?

and if oncwe having bent the knee, and maybe even going all the way down front, i find that i really not only do not keep those commandments, i even get annoyed by them?

what would I, could I, should I surmise about any of this?

is it really that Jesus was perfect so, SELAH?