Vaetchanan: The Greatest Commandment
In the New Testament, Yeshua (Jesus) tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the next greatest is to love your neighbor. Scripture even tells us that by keeping these two commandments, it is as if we are keeping the entire Torah. But what does this do for all of the other commandments?
The book of Matthew records Yeshua’s conversation with a Pharisee regarding the greatest commandment. The man asks, “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Some within Christianity have asserted that this passage and others which use similar language are meant to indicate that the many commandments found in the Torah have now been superceded by only two simple commands. Is this the case?
Looking back at the greatest commandment which Yeshua quotes, we can get a better idea of the context of His saying here in Matthew. The commandment to love God is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” This passage of Scripture makes up one of the central creeds of Judaism, called the shema. If one is to love God with all of their heart, soul, and might, then what exactly does this look like practically? Love for God is more than just a feeling you get or a temporal emotion. It must have action behind it. Throughout the Bible, we see that loving God is intrinsically connected to keeping His commandments. Several passages in Deuteronomy illustrate this connection: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments… If you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in His ways always… I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments” (Deuteronomy 11:1, 19:9, 30:16).
This is evident not only from the Old Testament, but it is explicitly stated in the words of the New Testament as well. John says, “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it” (2 John 1:5-6). We also see Yeshua tell us, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
So we see that the first and greatest commandment is the first and greatest commandment because it instructs us to obey God’s commands, yet it is distinct in that it also tells us the attitude we are to have in obeying God. We are to love the Lord with all of our heart and soul and might. Keeping God’s commandments is not a source of merit in and of itself, but only if our obedience is accompanied and inspired by an emotional love for God. If our love for God is selfless and without fault, then we will desire to obey Him.
Not only is this true, but following God’s commandments is for our own benefit. God’s commandments are His instructions for how we as redeemed people are to live blessed lives. Just as the Torah was given to the children of Israel after they were freed from slavery in Egypt, so too now that we have been redeemed from our former lives of sin, we have been freed so that we may serve God in freedom and love (Romans 6:16). Moses tells the people, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).
Yeshua tells us, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). Let us not content ourselves in love that does not bear fruit, but strive to abide in the love of our Messiah Yeshua as we obey Him by serving both God and our fellowman with love.