What’s the Real Greatest Commandment?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“Matt, what’s the real greatest commandment?”
Before I came to understand the New Covenant, if I was asked this question, my answer would’ve been wrong. I’d reply, “Love God with all my heart, soul, and mind–and the second greatest commandment is to love my neighbor as myself.”
A majority of the Christian population would say, “What’s wrong with that answer? It’s biblical.” And yes, it is biblical, but just because something is biblical doesn’t mean it’s written to Christians. This passage is from Matthew 22:36-39, and we Christians should know it, but if we aren’t separating the Old and New Covenants as we read this section of Scripture confusion will happen.
Love God with everything I am? Love my neighbor as myself? This is not how God expects Christians to live. Why not?
- Because Jesus is being literal. He wasn’t saying, “Give it your best shot.”
- Because it is impossible to do this perfectly, which is required, in context.
- Because this was spoken to legalists, not Christians.
Other than Christ, nobody has ever expressed such a love in the history of humanity and that’s exactly why Jesus said it. This isn’t the true greatest commandment–for Christians–but instead for Israelites according to the Old Covenant, the Law. We have something much better because of Jesus; something much easier, much lighter. I’ll get to that shortly, and don’t worry, God has rigged it to where Christians have a love for Him and others which will never go away. We’ve been reborn with an incorruptible love in our genetic spiritual makeup. Like a fish in water swims, we love as we live (see Ephesians 6:24, 1 John 3:9, 4:20, Galatians 5:22,23).
What blew my mind was when I finally understood the context of Matthew 22:36-39:
This is the two greatest commandments in the Law.
Those three words–in the Law–are crucial to deciphering the context of the Covenants. Innocently, most people leave them off when asked about the greatest commandment because they just don’t know how important it is. It’s everything.
Jesus gave a Law-based answer to a Law-based question. Are Christians under the Law? No. Our only option is grace (see Romans 6:14, 10:4, 11:6, Ephesians 2:8,9). To be clear, the Law is still in effect for today but only to bring self-centered non-believers to their knees. Its sole usage is to cause rejectors of the gospel to say, “I give up on this! I need Jesus!”
This is why Paul said the Law is not of faith, the Law kills, and that it was a tutor until Christ came. Now that Jesus is here it’s obsolete for children of God. Obsolete means no usage is necessary because something better and more efficient has taken its place (see Galatians 3:12,23-25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:6,13).
We don’t use pay phones anymore, we have cell phones. Those who have trusted God don’t use the Law anymore, we have the Spirit of Christ within us for counsel.
What most Law-pushing people won’t tell you is what Jesus was asked before He gave His answer to the greatest commandment question:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36)
He’s talking to a self-righteous religious person who was trying to test Him (see Matthew 22:35); someone who thought he could do the “best parts” of the Law to be greater than others. Unfortunately for this yahoo the Law was a package deal of 613 commandments. Do all or do none. If you fail at just one command, animal blood must be shed to cover that transgression, that sin, at the next annual Day of Atonement (see Deuteronomy 4:2, Galatians 3:10, James 2:10, Hebrews 9:22, 10:3,4).
Do you think this sanctimonious jerk actually loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind? Do you think he loved others as himself? I’d say nope. This is why Jesus answered him this way. He knew his heart. Jesus gave him two unattainable commandments to show him his need to turn toward faith in Him alone, by way of grace. He needed to repent of Law observance and dead works. He needed life, Christ’s life (see Hebrews 6:1, John 14:6, 1 John 5:11-13).
He needed to get off the broad road of Law, which leads to destruction, and onto the narrow path of grace. Jesus was and is the gate to enter this path, and he needed to believe. 613 commandments is wide, one Man is narrow:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
Friend, as Christians, we don’t need the Law. We’ve already entered through the gate of Christ and found lush pastures of grace. The Law is the Old Covenant between God and Israel. Israel is the Jewish people group whom Moses guided through the Red Sea floor after freeing them from slavery in Egypt.
If we aren’t Jewish these passages about following the Law weren’t written to us anyway. They’d squint their eyes and laugh if we tried to obey any of Moses’ commandments–let alone the greatest. We were considered dogs and pigs, not holy enough for the Law. We were excluded from the first Covenant because of our lineage. We Gentiles, non-Jews, were not brought into the picture with any kind of covenant until Jesus died. Our righteousness only came by way of faith, by believing God, not by Law. Unbeknownst to a lot of Jews, that was their only way as well, even before Jesus came (see Matthew 7:6, Ephesians 2:12, Galatians 3:11,20,28, Romans 4:3, 5:20, James 2:23).
Sadly, even the Jews have been cut off from God if they refuse to believe Jesus is Messiah. Their heritage means nothing, in regard to favor, now that Christ has come. Only through belief in Him can they be grafted back in with us. If they choose to harden their hearts and trample on the Holy Spirit of grace–because of unbelief–no sacrifice for their sins is left. Therefore, they’ll be judged according to their Law worshiping and not the blood of Jesus (see Romans 11:1-22, Hebrews 3:15, 10:26-29).
So when Christ gave this answer, remember, He was just asked a question by a legalistic Israelite and the subject was Law. No one has ever loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind–ever. Only Jesus. And nobody has ever loved their neighbor as themselves–perfectly. Only Jesus. This is Law and Jesus said if you want to follow the Law you must be perfect like God, yet only He has accomplished this feat (see Matthew 5:48, John 14:9, Hebrews 1:3).
Has any human done this other than Him? No, not one (see Romans 3:10).
Consequently, the question we should now ask is, “What’s the greatest commandment according to the New Covenant?”
Jesus tells us:
“A new commandment I give you: love others as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).
This was flabbergasting to the Jews because new commandments were not allowed to be added to the Law. Moses gave strict instructions:
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
This is also why the Law-abiding citizens wanted to kill Jesus so badly. He was messing with their religion. They followed Moses, not Jesus, but Jesus said:
“If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.” (John 5:46)
“How dare you!” they yelled. “Crucify him!”
This new commandment in itself was blasphemous, and here He is claiming Moses wrote about Him?! What they didn’t understand was that Jesus was about to complete the Law in Himself at the Cross! He wasn’t going to do away with it, but finalize it! (See Romans 10:4, John 19:30).
Not the smallest stroke of the Law would ever go away (see Matthew 5:17,18). I don’t want to be misunderstood. The Law of Moses is still in full force this moment but it still has the same usage as it did thousands of years ago:
Show the unbeliever their need for grace–and sometimes–to remind the believer about the grace they already have.
So today, my friends, know this: The real greatest commandment is to love others as God has loved us in Jesus Christ. How do we do this? It’s very simple but we make it more complicated than it truly is:
Allow Christ’s Spirit to live through us, through our hands, feet, mouths, and minds. We are branches, He is the vine. Branches don’t force anything. Branches never stress or strain. They just live in complete dependence on the vine (see John 15:5, Galatians 5:22,23).
So live. The branch life is easy. There’s no pressure on you, Christian. Vines don’t pressure branches. He who began this good work in you—the work of renewing your mind to His great love—will surely complete it (see Romans 12:2, Philippians 1:6, Romans 8:38,39). You are secure and you’ll live out this new commandment without effort! Enjoy your life and be yourself! You’ve been recreated for this very reason!
A prayer for you: Father, thank you for revealing to me the difference in the greatest commandments. The pressure which has been taken off of me has changed my life. What a relief. Keep teaching me more about the love you’ve placed inside of me, naturally. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who are just beginning to walk in the truth of the New Covenant, let them know how perfectly secure they are. Ease their minds today in knowing they have all they need for life and godliness. Reveal their completeness in Christ. As they grow and mature, give them confidence in the peace which surpasses all understanding, as they enjoy your grace. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!