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By Rosco Brong

The First Commandment
Matthew 22:34-40; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 6:1-5

We need to have priorities. Some things in life are more important than others. Intelligent people must agree to this generalization, though often disagreeing as to which are the more important things.

Likewise, among all the commandments of God, some are more important than others -- a fact unrecognized or even denied by many shallow religionists. This does not mean that any commandment of God is unimportant [see Matthew 5:19], but only that some commandments are more important than others.

Now, the question of which commandment is most important is not left to our personal opinion or choice. Jesus was asked this question, and He has given us the plain, simple, and final answer.

Jesus called the most important commandment "the first and great commandment." Historically it is neither the first given in time nor the first recorded, but it is first in importance. Too many Christians forget this fact, and too many fail to understand it. To outline the lesson we note:

1. Fullness, Matthew 22:34-40.
a. Legal louts, 34-36.
b. Lordly love, 37-38.
c. Lovely likeness, 39.
d. Lovely law, 40.
2. Fruitage, Leviticus 19:33-34.
a. Common courtesy, 33.
b. Common cases, 34.
3. Focus, Deuteronomy 6:1-5.
a. Divine duties, 1.
b. Divine discipline, 2-3
c. Divine devotion, 4-5.


FULLNESS, Matthew 22:34-40.
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" [Romans 13:10]. Contrary to the shallow thinking of lovey-dovey counterfeit Christianity, love is not a substitute for obedience. "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" [I John 5:3]. It is easy to say, "I love God," just as in human relationships it is easy to say, "I love you;" but in either case if we are telling the truth, that love will affect our conduct [I John 3:18].

So vital is genuine love to the Christian life that without it no service or sacrifice is of any value [I Corinthians 13:1-3], while with it we are constrained to everything else that is good [II Corinthians 5:14].

Legal Louts, 34-36.
Pharisees and Sadducees were the two leading sects in the Judaism of that time. The Pharisees were strict religious traditionalists; the Sadducees were something like what we might call rationalists, liberals, or modernists in our day. Jesus had put to silence the legal lights -- or louts! -- of the Sadducees, who denied the doctrine of the resurrection. The confusion of their religious rivals was of course pleasing to the Pharisees, who nevertheless sought in their turn to embarrass and discredit Jesus with hard questions.

Lordly Love, 37-38.
Jesus was asked practically the same question on other occasions, and gave practically the same answer [Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. There is no excuse for any reader of the Bible to be ignorant of which commandment Jesus considers most important. Jesus Himself is the supreme expression of divine love, and true believers in Him must have the outpouring of that Lordly love in our hearts [Romans 5:5; John 8:42; 13:35; I John 5:1].

Lovely Likeness, 39.
When Jesus declared that the second greatest commandment is like the first. He expressed truth too profound for our full understanding. We may get some grasp on the idea of this lovely likeness from other passages of Scripture such as I Corinthians 13; James 2:1-9; 3:9; I Peter 1:22-23; I John 4:7-21; etc.

Lovely Lay, 40.
Understanding that "all the law and the prophets," as Jesus said, "hang" on these two "like" commandments to love God and our neighbors will help us to appreciate and "delight in the law of God after the inward man" [Romans 7:22]. with the apostle Paul we can rejoice that the holy and lovely law of God is a true expression and revelation of the eternal love of our lovely Lord.

FRUITAGE, Leviticus 19:33-34.
Specific commandments requiring decent conduct in every phase of life are the natural fruitage of the law of love. If "a certain lawyer" pretended not to know who was his neighbor [Luke 10:25-28], it was not for lack of information spelled out in Old Testament law, as for instance in our present passage.

Common Courtesy, 33.
Mistreatment of strangers or foreigners merely because they are strangers is forbidden by the law of God. Common courtesy to all would seem to be a minimum requirement to maintain an attitude of love.

Common Cases, 34.
Anticipating Jesus' golden rule, God in the Old Testament called upon the Israelites to remember their sojourn in Egypt, and so to treat the stranger in their own land not as they were treated in Egypt but as they would wish to be treated, for "thou shalt love him as thyself." To clinch the command they are reminded, "I am the Lord our God" -- an apparent hint that God could pity and favor an oppressed stranger in the land of Israel as well as in the land of Egypt.

FOCUS, Deuteronomy 6:1-5.
Ranging in purpose and action from eternity to eternity and from the height of heaven to the depth of hell, the focal point of love is in God Himself, for "God is love" [1 John 4:8].

Divine Duties, 1.
Moses here was reviewing the commands which God had given to him to teach to Israel. God commanded this teaching, and the purpose was not merely to satisfy human curiousity as to God's wishes, but that the people might do what God commanded. Obedience is not optional, but mandatory. The commands of God set forth divine duties which His people must obey to enjoy His blessings.

Divine Discipline, 2-3.
Promises of such blessings as long life and material prosperity as rewards for obedience imply the withholding of these blessings from the disobedient -- an implication amply demonstrated in the history of Israel. God's holy laws, so far as they apply to us, set forth the rules of divine discipline for His children.

Divine Devotion, 4-5.
Since there is only one true God; Jehovah, further revealed to us in His Word as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He merits all our love in divine devotion, withholding nothing. With every part of our whole being, however named or described, we are commanded to love Him.

CONCLUSION [Luke 10:27]
No matter how we may try to separate these terms or put them together, clearly enough we are commanded to love God with all that we are and all that we have. As to loving our neighbors as ourselves, God knows that we do not need to be told to love ourselves. "For no man ever yet hateth his own flesh; but nourished and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" [Ephesians 5:29]. Well -- that is the way we are commanded to love our neighbor!

[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, November 24, 1977, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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