The Story: The Greatest Command

The Greatest Command – Mark 12:28-34

Question: Do you believe Jesus knows what He’s talking about? Do you think He knows what He’s talking about when He tells His followers about the way in which they ought to live? When Jesus says, “This is important,” does that get your attention? Do you believe Jesus knows what He’s talking about?

I believe He does. And in Mark 12:28-34, He gives us what amounts to a four word dissertation on ethics, worship, & the meaning of life.

Love God. Love Others.

It’s as simple as that. The question is: do you believe him?


Now, his reduction of the commands of God may be simple, but we shouldn’t mistake this for simplistic. I believe living this way – with a primary commitment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and a commitment to love your neighbor as yourself – is incredibly complex. It’s challenging. It’s hard. But I also believe it is truly the only way to live.

Because Jesus knows what He’s talking about. Because He’s willing to live it out himself.


A teacher of the law approaches Jesus; asks him, “Of all the commandments in the Torah, which one is the greatest?” This is a common sort of thing. In Jesus’ day, Jewish rabbis would spend a lot of time discussing and prioritizing the laws in order of importance. 613 OT Laws; rabbis were always debating on how to condense them. This is the equivalent of “talk radio” in his day; today we discuss trivial things like Who is the greatest NFL QB of all time, whereas 1st century Jews debated this kind of thing. (The answer is Joe Montana, by the way.)

Jesus replies to the question with what would have been a standard answer in his day. He recites The Great Teaching: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. This is the core confession of Judaism. There is no God but Israel’s God. And this God requires complete devotion: And you shall love the Lord your God w/ all your heart and w/ all your soul and w/ all your mind and w/ all your strength. Love and devotion and worship for YHWH are at the heart of Israel’s identity.

For Jesus, a 1st century Jewish Rabbi, to affirm Shema of Deut. 6 as the Greatest Command would have been no big news.

But what Jesus does next is certainly shocking, even revolutionary.

Jesus takes another passage of Scripture and puts it in the same rarified territory as Shema. The scribe comes to Jesus asking for ONE command and receives TWO commands that are inseparably linked. The second command is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

Leviticus 19:18 is the rather obscure verse Jesus quotes here. When you read it in context, it’s a part of a section of seemingly random OT laws.

The previous verses in Leviticus contain laws like this: Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.

The next verse: Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

The command to love your neighbor as yourself is kind of stuck in here with these kinds of seemingly random commands.

But Jesus dusts off this teaching and sets it right alongside Shema and says, “These are the most important commands in the world.”

So again, you have to ask yourself: Does Jesus really know what He’s talking about? Does He know what He’s talking about when he tells us to love God and love others?

The Hinge of Love

OIL_RUBBED_BRONZE_EXTERIOR_SINGLEThink of an ordinary door hinge. Like any door hinge it’s made up of two complimentary but interlocking pieces. Without these hinges, the doors in our homes would be basically useless. Walk through your home sometime and notice how many hinges there are: cabinet doors, closet doors, front door, back door…they each require two parts. One hinge part won’t suffice. You need two hinge pieces for a door to work.

Let’s think of these commands as the hinges upon which the entire Bible rests. Jesus distills the 613 OT Laws into these two commands, these hinges of love. In Matt. 22:40, Jesus says All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commands. Without these two hinges, the door doesn’t hang right.

These two commands connect the door of Scripture with the doorframe of our lives.

Let’s talk about these two a little bit more; both crystallize in the life of Jesus:

First Hinge: Love God

Two points to make here:

I. Jesus shows us what it looks like to love God with heart, soul, and strength.

In Deuteronomy 6, the Bible emphasizes the unity of God — God is one. The oneness of God is matched by the unity and totality of devotion He demands. Jesus transports this meaning into the NT by affirming the primacy of love for God. There is one God…and He doesn’t like to share you with anyone or anything else.

Your inner devotion should cause God to be loved through you.

  • HeartThe seat of decision-making in Jewish understanding. To love God with one’s whole heart is to love him by the decisions we make. A question to keep before us as we make our decisions: “Which decision expresses the most love for God here?” Jesus does this. Loving God through our inclinations can be a tremendous challenge. Our good desires, those are usually God honoring. It’s those evil desires that we have to harness; channel those toward more ethical actions.
  • Soul The seat of life and existence in Jewish understanding. The Hebrew word in Deut. 6 is nephesh, which has a variety of meanings: soul, life, existence, etc. Your very existence, your life, is an expression of love to God. In essence, the text is saying we should have a willingness to die rather than betray God…which is exactly what Jesus will do at the cross. This is what it means to love God with one’s nephesh or soul.
  • Might / Strength – We always picture someone’s muscles; loving God until you’re completely spent. But they say the word also implies the idea of resources, externalities. The idea here is to love God with everything available to you, things such as your wealth, relationships, influence, your time, etc. We are to love God with every resource He’s given us.

Jesus models this kind of love for God; He completely loves God with heart, soul, and strength.

II. Jesus shows us what it looks like to love God as “Abba, Father.”

Mark 14:36, at the critical hour at Gethsemane, Jesus prays to God, refers to Him as “Abba”, the Aramaic term for “Father.”

Some have tried to argue that this is similar to “Dada”, baby talk; that may be close, but it’s worth noting that this is a term that adults would use in reference to their fathers as well. Jesus isn’t speaking baby talk or gibberish.

In prayer, Jesus uses family language to describe his relationship with God. “Father” strikes the perfect balance between intimacy & authority, reverence, & warmth. Balance between respect and love.

There are plenty of ways to address God in prayer found in Scripture:

But this is the signature term Jesus uses in prayer to God: Father. In fact, other than His cry on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), Jesus always addresses God with the term “Father.” And He teaches us to pray in the same way.

Second Hinge: Love Others

Two points to make here as well:

I. Jesus shows us that love for God is linked with love for other.

The command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is mentioned eight times in the Bible: once in the OT, seven times in NT. (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8)

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the core Christian ethic for relating to others. Jesus places it in the same neighborhood as the most sacred OT teaching.

The Apostle John helps connect these two even more when he writes about “love” in the letter we call 1 John:

1 John 4:8, Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. If you claim to know God, you’d better demonstrate it by a life of love.

1 John 4:20, Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.

Love All. Serve All. Opportunity for these to touch the ground on Service Day a month from now. Hope it’s on your calendar: Oct. 20th

II. By telling us to love God and love others, Jesus is emphasizing the primary importance of our relationships.The most important thing in life is your relationship with God. A close second is your relationship with others. Everything else falls in line behind these two.

Quote in Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace: You really only love God as much as you love the person you love the least.”

Love for God should be forming me into a more loving person, someone whose relationships are saturated with selfless agape love.

Henri Nouwen: “Anger is what we use when we run out of love.” Let’s not run out of love. As the Hebrew writer says, “Let brotherly love continue,” (Heb. 13:1).

In these two commands, we see the hinge upon which all else depends.

In Jesus: the cross- centered life: both horizontal and vertical dimension here:

  • The vertical component is primary: your relationship with God.
  • But the horizontal dimension is right up there: your relationship with others. The idea is this: your relationship with God should form you into a person who expresses love for others.

But this Way of Jesus — this Way of loving God with all that is within me and all that is without me; this way of loving others with a relentless, unquenchable love; this way of loving others the way God loves them — it continues to challenge me. I’m more and more convinced that this Way leads to only one place: the cross. You can’t love like this without it leading to death.

This entry was posted in Devotional, Jesus, Love God, Love Others, Mark 12, Scripture, The Story and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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