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)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."
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)
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
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.