What is the greatest commandment in the Bible?
Bottom line thinking is popular today: “Don’t confuse me with details, just give me the ‘bottom line’”. It was also popular during the time of Jesus, especially among the masses. The Jewish faith was saddled with 613 laws that covered a whole range of religious and civic duties. The rabbinical teaching tradition added even more rules that governed every aspect of daily life. These man-made regulations constrained human behavior beyond what God had originally intended (Matt 23:23). Many scholars debated which laws summarized God’s “bottom line” which summarized his will to obey.
During Jesus’ ministry, this question came up when an expert of Jewish law, a Pharisee asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt 22:36). Jesus’ answer combined ideas found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and actually named the greatest and second greatest commandment of the Law.
“You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27)
These two laws sum up the Ten Commandments, referring to one’s duty to God and duty to others. They emphasize a foundation of love to govern every relationship. The love one has for one’s fellow man is an expression of one’s love for the Creator.
The command to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength and mind is a broad reference to one’s whole person. Every aspect of one’s life is absorbed in a relationship with God. This greatest commandment states clearly that we belong to God physically, emotionally, intellectually, and volitionally. Let’s take a closer look at these concepts:
Physically: A Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because God lives with us, our bodies are to be set apart to represent and honor Him. The call to sexual purity is an important aspect of loving God (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:18-19).
Emotionally: It is easy to get excited about sports and parties. But Jesus calls us to get excited about knowing God. The emotions normally associated with love for human beings (joy, passion, even thrill) ought to part of our love for God (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Volitionally: Our wills play an important role in loving God by submitting to his precepts and denying those desires that are an expression of the sinful nature (John 15:10; I John 5:3).
Intellectually: God calls us to be smart for him. This includes learning His word and using our renewed minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23), our sanctified rational abilities to defend the Gospel against modern skepticism (Colossians 4:5-6; II Peter 3:15; II Timothy 2:15).
Loving God with our whole being is the greatest commandment. Just do it.