Matthew 22: 35-40 (NIV) – One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
Jesus replied, “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.
The religious people tried to trick Jesus. They thought because they had positions in the church, wore nice clothes, were greeted by people in the market places, and prayed lengthy prayers in front of people that they had God on their side. They knew the words of the law, but did not know how to implement the law. They were so high and mighty in their denomination that they refused to listen to anyone. God sent them prophets to wake them up. The Pharisees killed them. Anyone who opposed them was eliminated, even if the Pharisees’ justifications could not be backed up biblically. And they thought they were doing God favors.
So, Jesus made it simple for the all the people – including the religious ones. It’s easy to follow all of the laws if you love. Put God first and love Him, that’s the first thing Jesus instructed us. Why? For one thing, if you truly love God, with every ounce of your heart, soul and mind, guess what? You will not want to break God’s laws. You will want to try to please God. But, why did Jesus say the second part?
I think it’s easy to assume that Jesus did not like what the religious (Pharisees) people were doing. Yes, they loved God, yes they understood the law, yes they knew how to go through all of the doctrinal motions at church; prayer, who sits where, who is a worthless sinner, who dressed right and who didn’t, and how to follow all of the “man -made rules” for religion.
So, Jesus hits everyone on the head with something that the religious people were not doing. They didn’t love everyone, which would include homeless people, non-believers, people of other religions, race, creed, color or belief systems, etc. It’s not really that hard to learn to love. You put aside all of the pre-judged attitudes and focus on the person. That doesn’t mean you have to like their sins, shortcomings, the way they look, dress or behave, but love them because God created them and loves them too.
I believe that Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves because despite all of our faults, we have the love of Christ in us. That’s the one thing we can share with someone and it won’t cost a thing. Jesus loves us, even though each of us is full of sin in one way or another.
Lastly, by loving God and our neighbors as ourselves, how hard would it be for us to break other laws and commandments? If you show love to your neighbor, would covet what he has? If you love the way Jesus loves, will you murder, lie, steal, disrespect your parents, or cheat on your husband or wife? No, it won’t happen. Because the love you have in you, from Jesus will stop you from breaking those laws.
Loving your neighbor as yourself will also stop you from becoming a religious Christian, and help you to become a Christ-follower. It stops you from becoming a hypocrite to the world. Religious people are seen as hypocrites and Jesus knew that. He wanted us to stop being hypocrites and start loving the way He taught us and showed us by what He did on the cross.