This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
And [Jesus] 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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Christ is asked by a Pharisee, “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?” (Matthew 22:36) to which He replies our text, verses 37-40. This question was an ill-motivated test (vv.34-35), to which Christ responds in kind (vv.41-46) yet not before answering richly and honestly. He does not, as some suggest, summarize the Law. Instead, He points to the most essential, fundamental part of the Law. This point is a cornerstone upon which the entire Old Testament (“all the Law and the Prophets”) depend – which is to say, the Old Covenant and redemptive relation to God. With this cornerstone moves all the Old Testament, such that if it is removed the rest is likewise – yet if it is established, so is that which follows. If truly you love the Lord your God and love your neighbor, then you have the cornerstone of the law written on your heart and abide in a sustaining covenant with God.
First, consider the great and first commandment: the law of God requires we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Christ recites Deuteronomy 6:5, part of what the Jews called the Shema. To love God with your “heart… soul… mind,” is essentially to love God holistically – there is not part of you which is not devoted to God. God doesn’t want fragmented love: a love with words but not with actions, a love with intentions but not with obedience, a love on Sunday and Wednesday but not on Thursday and Friday. God says, “Devote your whole self to me, or nothing at all.”
The Jews developed the practice of reciting the Shema twice daily, to engrave it upon their minds. However, memorization does not ensure practice. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel became a national example of an unfaithful wife (enter Hosea). It is one thing to know you should love God, but quite another to actually love God. How does your own weekly activity compare to the Shema, which is certainly still an applicable command for us today? Are you half way or fully devoted to God? Is there a section of your life which you don’t care to submit to God in obedience? Are you a Sunday Christian, but not so much a Monday-at-work-or-school Christian? God’s law requires you dispense with the games and bow your whole self before God.
Are you a Sunday Christian, but not so much a Monday-at-work-or-school Christian? God’s law requires you dispense with the games and bow your whole self before God.Tweet
Second, consider the second great commandment: the law of God requires we love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ quotes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” The essence of the command is communicated in “love your neighbor,” but clarification is quickly added as to what exactly this “love” is. We are to love as ourselves. The care and concern with which you watch over yourself must be mirror in how you watch over others.
This concerns matters of need. You would not allow yourself to starve, why allow your neighbor? This also concerns matters of honor. You want to be respected, appropriately and readily – why dishonor your neighbor? The genius of this ethic is incredibly practical. Self-preservation is imbedded in everyone (which is not a bad thing), and this command calls us to extend this sense of preservation outward to work for the flourishing of others.
By drawing our attention to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 as cornerstones of the entire Old Testament, Jesus also clarifies explains the marrow and substance of the Old Testament. Often we hear the God of the Old Testament seems different than the new: He is angrier, stricter, more inclined to punishment. This claim is always dependent upon a superficial reading of the text, but moreover Christ directly contradicts the notion in Matthew 22:37-40. The bottom of the Law is love. The Old Covenant is a palace built with pillars of love and devotion to God, revealing a holy Creator Who is graciously providing a means for sinners to enjoy Him. The problem in the Old Covenant was not the Covenant, it was the Covenant breakers. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are not flawed, overbearing commands – men are simply flawed, wicked creatures.
Question: What does the law of God require?
Answer: That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves.