Author’s Note: Interested readers can find all previous volumes of this series here.
When I started writing this study, I planned to avoid mentioning the election. Besides, my last pre-election political/religious piece posted on Friday asked that our nation pray for a peaceful outcome. Meanwhile, I also planned not to reveal why “The Greatest Commandment” was chosen for today’s study. But since one of my favorite sayings is, “How do you make God laugh?” Answer: “Tell him your plans,” I did, and He “laughed.” Let me explain.
In church last Sunday, the Gospel reading was Matthew 22:34-40 — Jesus’ teaching about “The Greatest Commandment.” Immediately I was “dinged” and felt “called” to make today’s study about those verses. However, I planned to keep that private but did tell my husband the moment it happened. Fast forward to Thursday. While writing this study, I glanced at the list of RealClearPolitics op-eds. My jaw dropped when I saw “The Greatest Commandment Has Guided My Politics - Joe Biden, Christian Post.”
Aghast that Biden had “stolen” my Bible Study verses, my husband suggested finding an alternative. But I disagreed, saying that Biden drawing attention to The Greatest Commandment was more reason to keep faithful to my “calling,” and furthermore, the study was almost finished.
Having said all that, let’s open our Bibles.
The Greatest Commandment appears in three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Upon seeing the word “commandment,” one immediately thinks of the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses in the Book of Exodus.
Ironically, what Jesus teaches as The Greatest Commandment is not found among the famous ten, but rather is a powerful summation. Here is the passage as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 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” Matthew 22:34-40.
Jesus’ commands could not be more exact: Love God, Worship God, Praise God, Make Him your only God, Love everyone, and yourself.
Although The Greatest Commandment verses in Matthew are the most commonly cited, let’s read Mark’s gospel, which differs slightly but adds a significant verse that we will discuss shortly:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. 'There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:28-34).
Finally, The Greatest Commandment passages as written in the Gospel of Luke:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live" (Luke 10:25-28). (For more on “eternal life,” read Vol. 32 of this Bible Study.)
Let’s circle back to the “significant verse” added to Jesus’ teaching in Mark’s gospel.
The verse opens with the “Shema,” the most revered Hebrew prayer — an integral part of Jewish worship services and recited twice daily among the most observant. Known as the Jewish confession of faith, the Shema is recorded in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) Book of Deuteronomy, the third of the Five Books of Moses known as the Torah.
In Hebrew, the word “shema” means “hear” or “listen.” And reading the Shema, you will realize that Jesus’s Greatest Commandment is the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
For a more in-depth study of the Shema written by a Jewish theologian, click here.
What does it mean that Jesus includes all or most of the Shema in his Greatest Commandment teachings? Here is my perspective, having been born and raised a Jew, who at age 20 became a believer in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
I believe that when Jesus quoted the Shema, he was teaching about how the Israelites should think of Him. Let’s insert His name into the verse in Matthew:
'Love [Jesus] 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.'
Subsequently, when the love of Jesus is in you, then, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” naturally follows as the way you want to live your life.
For more insight and thoughts on The Greatest Commandment, I reached out to well-known author, Townhall contributor, and fellow Messianic Jew, Dr. Michael L. Brown, who replied:
“Everything of importance in our lives flows out of the answers to two simple questions. First, who is God? Second, what does He require of me? When we understand who He is – the one and only Creator; the Lord of heaven and earth; the perfect Judge; the merciful Savior Jesus the Messiah – we learn to love Him and serve Him and honor Him. When we understand what He requires of us – summed up by “love your neighbor as yourself” – we become a blessing to our fellow-human beings. Only good can come out of our love for God and our neighbor.”
Those are words to live by, and especially prescient for the week ahead.
Now you might enjoy watching this two-minute video, a reenactment of Jesus teaching The Greatest Commandment.
Amen! And pray for our nation!
Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. She is also Executive Director of www.SignFromGod.org, a ministry dedicated to educating people about the Shroud of Turin. Contact: MyraAdams01@gmail.com or Twitter @MyraKAdams.