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Jesus on the Commandments

Matthew 22:35-40

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Commandments. Most people don’t like to discuss the commandments. If they do, they discuss them in light of Mount Sinai, in light of a list of do’s and don’ts. There are whole debates as to which church keeps all the commandments of God. When it is discovered that some perceived life or death rule has been ignored, the accusation is then leveled that the individual believes in cheap grace: grace that covers one from sin, but does not empower one to keep the law, stopping the sin. 

However, when Jesus speaks of the commandments with this lawyer (in Mark’s gospel it is a scribe), His take on the commandments is a little different. Firstly, there is no mention of the negative. Jesus does not speak of the law of God in terms of what one should not or cannot do. The law of God for Jesus is not the great negation of life. Instead, the law of God is a divine command to love. It is a command to relationship:

  • Love God with all the heart, soul,  and mind (Mark adds strength)
  • Love your neighbor
  • As (Love) yourself

We are commanded to love God.   This is an interesting command, since the Bible says that the natural man is an enemy of God. Romans 5 informs us that we are all without strength and ungodly (vs. 6), sinners (vs. 8), and enemies (vs. 10). To undo something is to work against what was done, so to be ungodly is to be against God, His enemy. How can we love him?

We are commanded to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Matthew 22 doesn’t answer this. However, Luke 10 29-37 says it includes those whom I dislike, whom I shun. How is this a positive commandment? Isn’t it simply easier to focus on the “thou shalt not’s”?

We are commanded to love ourselves. Considering all the depressed, insecure, emotionally needed, suicidal, and self-depreciating, this commandment from Jesus should be welcome by all. Yet why is it so many Christians fail to value themselves? There seems to be this false self-martyrdom syndrome covering Christians, as if it is the Christ-like thing to place no value on yourself. 

Love is problematic for sinners, because God is love (1 John 4:16) and we are ungodly sinning enemies (Romans 5). Thus the commandment to love God demands that one must be in possession of God. It is interesting that in eating the fruit, in attempting to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), we were seeking knowledge of good and evil, when the Bible informs us that God is love. We were created for love, intimacy and relationship with God and with each other. We were already like God. Thus, Jesus, in telling us the first great commandment is pointing us back to our original design and purpose. Jesus gives us our original commandment: the positive life affirming commandment to love.

To love our neighbor is equally hard for sinful people. Genesis is again insightful on this point. When mankind sinned, their once vulnerable and intimate relationship of mutual equality and fulfillment (Genesis 2: 23-25) was changed into one of fear, shame, guilt, and blame. Those equal to me are now my enemy. Jesus’ commandment to love the neighbor forces us to hold each other as equal with us. We are not allowed to see them as separate from us.


Jesus accomplishes this by saying “as thy self”.  According to Jesus, the 3rd point of the Law is for me to love myself. When I consider my personality, I am very hard on myself. So I think in my mind (I have actually had this conversation with myself) that if I am hard on myself, and everyone knows it, then everyone should also expect and accept that I will be hard on them, because I am only being fair. The challenge is that we never learn to love ourselves, because we always let ourselves down. We likewise never learn to love others, because they will also let us down. 

The only one who has never let us down is God. And it is from God’s love for me, that I learn love Him. It is from God’s love for me, and the value that he placed upon me when he gave me Jesus, that I learn to appreciate and value who I am once I have accepted Jesus. It is from God’s love for me, and realizing that He loves others who are just as messed up as me, seeing others in as much need of Jesus as me, that I am able to love them as I love myself. 


As I end, I find it interesting that this love is the agape love, the sacrificial love. God so loved us that They sacrificed 1/3 third of Him to becoming incarnated and dying to bring us back into relationship with Themself. As a sinner, for me to love myself is for me to sacrifice myself for God, allowing Him to change me more into His likeness (there is Genesis again!). This change is sacrificial for me because I am not Godly. I am therefore sacrificing myself, because I love myself, so that God can save me by conforming me into his image. Thus, when I obey God’s “thou shalt not’s” I am lovingly sacrificing myself to His conforming grace. I am loving myself. The type of also love calls out to me to give of this new love I have received to those who have not received it…to my neighbors. Especially since I have accepted Jesus, there will be those who are my enemies. Loving them will be a sacrifice: 1) my old self will want to reject them  and 2) my new self must be willing to suffering and die for them to know the love that has taken hold of me. We are given the ministry of reconciliation, and it is the Law.

 Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation {creature}; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we beg {pray} you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him(2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

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