What Is The Greatest Commandment In The Bible?

“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 22:38-40

Once Jesus was asked a question by an expert in the law, what is the greatest commandment in the Bible? Jesus’ answer was simply brilliant. In essence, Jesus distills the entire Bible into one commandment.

The Greatest Commandment should be a foundational marker for every follower of Jesus. So let’s take a closer look at what it is and how we can apply it to our lives. 

What Is The Greatest Commandment In The Bible? 

Three gospels record Jesus talking about the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:27). There are small variations in each of the accounts, but the main details are the same. We will primarily focus on Matthew’s account in this blog post. 

In Matthew 22 Jesus is enthralled in a heated conflict with the religious leaders. They are throwing question after question at him trying to trap him in his answers. As this exchange unfolds a theme arises: They ask, Jesus answers, and they are astonished. This is making the religious leaders look foolish and they are getting angry. 

The Meaning Of The Greatest Commandment 

After a series of failed attempts to trip Jesus up the religious leaders select an expert in the law as their spokesman. This guy knew his stuff. He was an expert in theology and law, and he stepped up to test Jesus and prove his quality. (Matthew 22:34-35)

This Pharisee asks Jesus a controversial question that was commonly debated among religious experts. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36) 

The Mosaic Law contained 613 commandments. It would be nearly impossible for one to perfectly keep all these laws. So, typically the religious would divide the laws into the heavy (more important) and light (less important). The Pharisees taught the Jews needed to follow all the laws, but to pay closer attention to the heavy ones. In essence what this lawyer is asking is, which one of the heavies is most important? 

Jesus answers, “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 22:38-40

Jesus’ answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. He’s saying that the greatest commandment isn’t a single commandment, but rather two that are tied together. 

The terms Jesus uses (heart, soul, and mind) are used to cover the WHOLE person. In other words, we are to love God with our whole being. 

But that’s not all there is to the great commandment. Matthew 22:38 tacks on an “and” that serves to clarify how we live this out. The first command is great because it is primary. But the second is equal in character and quality. 

As we love God with our whole being we must love our neighbors. You cannot do one without the other. The rest of the Old Testament hangs on these two commandments. 

Dr Tom Constable says it this way: “All the other laws deal with specific applications of one or the other of these two commands. The prophets consistently stressed the importance of heart reality with God and genuine love for one’s neighbor. Without these two commandments the Old Testament lacks unifying summaries. These are the most important commandments, but they are not the only ones.”

So, what is the greatest commandment in the Bible? Love God, love others. Everything else in the Bible flows from these two commandments. 

Jesus brilliantly simplified and explained what we are to do. Everything else is just commentary on how we can love God and love those around us. That is what we are to do. These are our marching orders. 

How To Apply The Greatest Commandment To Your Life

So, how do we live out the greatest commandment? 

We mustn’t lose sight of our motive to live out the great commandment. We don’t do this to earn salvation but in response to it. We love because we were first loved. 

I see far too many Christians running around trying to do the right things to earn their keep. Unfortunately, many churches have taught this. But the Bible teaches a different approach. We don’t love to earn love; we love because we are loved. 

With the proper motivation in mind let’s look at how we can practically live out the great commandment. 

1. Love God 

When Jesus says to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, he’s talking how loving God with every single aspect of who we are. No part of our life should be left out. 

Maybe that seems a little demanding. And to be clear it is. But we have to keep two things in mind. First, God has given us the free will to decide to follow him or not. Second, it’s for our benefit. When we live for ourselves it never produces what we hope.

Be honest with yourself. That part of your life that you haven’t given over to God, is it life-giving or life-draining? When we ignore what God says is best, it doesn’t lead to a full life. Only in him can we find life and life to the fullest

The only way to get the true love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness that God promised is to give our lives fully to him. Those who choose to follow Jesus should submit every aspect of their life to God so that they can experience all that he has for them. 

Again, this isn’t to earn anything. This is in response to what Jesus has done. He’s proven his love and commitment to us. He’s shown us that he deeply cares about us. Now it’s our turn to show our trust that what he says for us is indeed what is best. 

2. Love People 

Our love for God should not stop with God, it should flow to those around us. You cannot love God while neglecting those around you. 

While most will certainly agree with the second piece to the great commandment, living it out is another story. Some people are easy to love, others not so much. And we are called not to just love our friends, but also those who are difficult to love. Lest we forget that we aren’t so easy to love either. Yet God still loves us. 

Our love for God should be evident in how we treat those around us. Including our enemies. This is what Jesus says will be the marker for Christians. We shall be known for our love for one another (John 13:35). 

We are to take the love that God has shown us and bring it to the world around us. 

The beauty of Jesus’ words is their simplicity. He sums up the entire Bible in a way no one else could. But that’s not to say the great commandment is easy. It’s simple to understand, but it takes a lifetime to master. 

And that’s where God’s grace comes in. We will all struggle and constantly screw this up. But God is faithful. He will lift us up when we fall and help us look more like him each day. 

Christians should continually strive to submit every area of our life to God and love those around us as a response to what God has done for us. We will never be perfect on this side of heaven, but we will make progress. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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