Two Commandments

By J. L. Leifeste

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ (29) Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. (31) And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (32) So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. (33) And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ (34) So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared question Him.” (Mk. 12:28-34; see Matt. 22:34-40)

      This event probably occurred in Jerusalem during Christ’s last public ministry upon the earth. We notice from Mk. 14, Matt. 26, and Lk. 22 that Jesus would soon face His trials and crucifixion. The Mosaic law was still in effect. And, at the time of the above incident, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees had questioned Christ in attempts to discredit Him through His words. Now, one of the Pharisees who was a scribe, or a man well-learned in the law of Moses, asked Jesus a very provoking question. He asked Jesus to name the first, or greatest, commandment. Rabbis claimed that the Mosaic law held more than 600 precepts. And there was great contention concerning which commandment, or commandments, carried more importance or significance than the others. So, how would Jesus answer this question?

The First Commandment

      Jesus answered in a manner that could not be denied, ignored, or even questioned. He spoke from God’s inspired word (see Deut. 6:4-5). His words were part of the basic, accepted law of Moses for Jews. He evidently answered without hesitation. His answer was respectful and authoritative, which suited the subject. Furthermore, His answer contains principles which are also in His New Testament for Christians today (see Matt. 6:33; Jn. 14:23; 15:12; Rom. 8:28; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Jn. 4:19-21; 5:2-3; Jude 21).

      His opening statement quoted that God is one. Our highest love must be toward the one, true God (see 1 Cor. 8:4; 1 Tim. 2:5; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Jn. 5:7). The word translated “love” is not an infatuation. It refers to a high, noble attitude, which includes reverence, respect, and honorable affection. Other emotions such as fear, trust, hope, and selfishness may be limited by personal needs and the desire to please self. But the love to which Christ referred is limitless. It seeks to please its object in a spontaneous, voluntary, and happy manner. God created us so that our obedience to this commandment produces fulfillment within ourselves. Whom should we love in such a way? We should love the One Deity who deserves such love — the One who made us, sustains us, and wants to save us eternally. To divide this love to any created being or to more than the one God, or to ignore this essential need of our spirit, is to be deeply ungrateful (1 Jn. 4:19).

      Many people have questioned the actual and complete meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” and “strength.” These words involve many parts of an individual. They point to the center of the being, the force of life, the personality, the will, the affections, the desires, moral reflection, thought, reasoning, intelligence, understanding, sincerity, the purest purpose of each personality, and the realm of Divine influence upon each of us. Also, as this love is to be given in strength, it means loving God with the best of all our qualities and abilities. True religion begins with a committed love to God. The one, true God is to be the object of the noblest and most powerful love of the whole being — the entire person.

The Second Commandment

      Jesus added more to His answer. He taught that a commandment of second importance was similar to the first. He again went to God’s word (see Lev. 19:18). This commandment is not equal to that of loving God. It is similar because it emanates from loving God. Love is the highest moral duty (Matt. 7:12; 1 Jn. 4:21). Man is created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). God is love (1 Jn. 4:16). So we should be like Him and love our neighbor with a great and noble love. Who is our neighbor? Christ explained this in a parable (Lk. 10:25-37). We cannot divide men into groups: those who deserve godly love and those who do not deserve it. By following the teachings of Christ, we offer the noble, godly love of Christ to every person (Lk. 6:27-38; Matt. 5:43-48). This is one reason that we offer the gospel message to every person (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:47; Acts 1:8). Love is the basic principle of serving God through Christ (Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 13). The gospel shows pure love (Jn. 3:16-17; Rom. 5:5; 8:2-4; Eph. 6:23-24; Heb. 10:12-17; 1 Jn. 2:1-11). God is the first object of our love because He deserves and demands it. Mankind is the second object of our love because we cannot separate the second commandment from the first (Rom. 8:5-6; 1 Jn. 4:20-21). Christ’s answer showed that a pure devotion to the one God and loving service to mankind is the true religion (see Jas. 1:27).

The Scribe’s Reaction

      Regardless of the original motive of the scribe’s question, he admired Christ’s answer and apparently realized the basic truths in it. The scribe’s admission that God is one God was to be expected. He also agreed that man must love God with the complete personality. He admitted that man should love his neighbor as himself. And he voiced his understanding that these two commandments outweighed all of the offerings and sacrifices required by the Mosaic law. Because of his understanding, Christ told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God.


      Christ summarized all of the Mosaic law in two essential commandments. His listeners already accepted the statement that God is one. That will always be true (Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40:28; Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). The principles in Christ’s answer are also included in the New Testament for Christians, even though God removed the Mosaic law (2 Cor. 3:6-13; Gal. 3:24-25; Col. 2:14; Heb. 7:12; 9:15-17; 10:1-10). We must love God with our entire person. And, because we — and all people — are made in God’s image, we must also love mankind. 

      Christ died to save men and women from their sins. God has revealed Himself to man through His works, His word, and His love. The Bible shows this. Love must be given voluntarily. God has offered His love to us. We must return love to Him. When the love of God fills us, it then flows out to mankind around us. Godly love produces godly love. Therefore, it bids us to the spiritual and selfless life upon the earth, which is the true Christian life. By answering this scribe’s question, Jesus Christ delivered, in obvious and uncontestable wisdom, a concise and total definition of true religion. “And after that no one dared question Him.”