Has anyone ever seen a sign in a restaurant declaring that the eating establishment was voted “Best Restaurant in Town” or “Best Ribs In The City” or something similar? It’s pretty common for newspapers, magazines, or websites to run contests each year letting readers choose “the greatest” in many different categories. I want to do something real quick. Come up with your own “The Greatest List” of things that are important to you.
Write down your top 3 in each of these categories: fast food restaurants, sit-down restaurants, cereals, movies, T.V. shows, and sports.
Now, imagine you were in a group of 2 other people. Would it have been easier or more difficult to create a top 3? In my experience, I have found it to be more difficult to even choose a favorite when more people are involved. After all, these lists aren’t based on fact, they are based on our preference; our opinions.
Everybody seems to have an opinion about the greatest things in our world. A simple google search of “The Ten Best” resulted in over 25 million results. There was even a Top Ten: Best Top Ten Lists List. Our culture and society love to point out what they think is the greatest. Cars. Phones. Restaurants. Movies. Songs.
Clearly, there are a lot of opinions out there, right? And the majority of them are simply based on preferences.
But I know of one list that is not based on preference or opinion.
I found it in Matthew 22. It’s Jesus’ list.
First, let’s get some context.
A group of Jewish religious leaders called the Pharisees and the Sadducees despised Jesus. They were comfortable with their system of laws and standards and hated the fact that Jesus was preaching a new message that challenged their authority and threatened their political standing in the community. There were many confrontations with Jesus and these religious leaders but this one happened near the end, between Palm Sunday and the resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees double-teamed Jesus. They each took turns trying to get their shots in and trip Jesus up.
These religious leaders had an elaborate 3-step plan to trap Jesus this time. First, they tried to trick Jesus into saying something wrong about paying taxes to the Roman government. Next, they tried to entrap Jesus into saying something wrong about marriage in Heaven. Lastly (and this is where we see Jesus’ list of greatest), they asked Jesus to pick one law above the rest and the greatest.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” | Matthew 22:34-36 (ESV)
The question that they asked Jesus was, “Which is the greatest commandment of the law?”
Did you know there are over 600 commands or laws Jews were supposed to follow? So, they were asking Jesus to give his version of the “Top Ten Laws”.
Their thought was simple. Get Jesus to say which law is more important than the other laws. Once he answers, ask him how that one law can be placed above the other laws. If one of the laws were more important than the others, than wouldn’t the others not matter at all?
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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” | Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV
It’s always important to remember the context of what we are reading. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees. This meant that they would have had great knowledge about what we call the Old Testament. They called it the Pentateuch.
Jesus is also quoting Old Testament scripture in verses 37-39.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” | Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)
In Jesus’ reply, we get to see his answer and his “Best of the Laws List”. It’s only two deep. It’s not a long list. The first one is to love God. The second one is to love others.
Simple, yet extremely important.
You see, the command to LOVE GOD has always been important to God. After all, it is why we were created in the first place. But Jesus, by adding the second greatest commandment, is saying that loving others is as equally important.
This is why Jesus put such an emphasis on loving others.
“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” | Matthew 22:40 (ESV)
Jesus said that loving God and loving others is the greatest commandment because first, all the other commandments are based on those two things.
Some theologians believe this to mean that the ability to, or a duty of, living the Old Testament law is based on a person’s love for God and love for others. So, if you love God and love others you will fulfill the law.
Next, Jesus said that the demands of the prophets are based on loving God and loving others. Since the prophets in the Old Testament used the law to point out sin and wrongdoing at different times in history, Jesus’ great commandment covered the words of the prophets as well. We might even say that loving God and loving others sums up just about all of the Bible’s ethical and moral teachings.
So, if keeping the law was what made a person right with God before Jesus and love are what fulfills the law after Jesus, then love is what makes us right with God now.
So, what changed when it came to being right with God in the New Testament? Jesus’ death on the cross forever paid the penalty for our sinful nature. The need to constantly keep the old sacrificial law has been done away with.
The Love of God perfectly fulfilled the old law requirement of sacrifice once and for all. With this one act, God showed us how we are to love others and the importance of loving others. It was important enough to God that he sacrificed his only son. (Read John 3:16).
So how can we live out these two “greatest commandments”?
We have to start with “LOVING GOD”. We can do this by reading our Bibles. Praying. Going to church. Worshiping and praising God. Obeying God. Trusting God.
Then we move onto “LOVING OTHERS”. We can do this by going on mission trips both internationally and locally. Doing service projects. Sponsoring a child overseas. Encouraging your friends and family. Volunteer.
I do believe we need to add one more thing to the LOVING GOD part.
We can LOVE GOD by LOVING OTHERS.
People see the love of God when we minister to their needs. Since God created all people, when we love His creation, we are expressing love to Him as well. If God impresses us to show love to someone we are obeying Him which is a way we love God.