Human beings love to rank or list things in order of importance. If you want to buy something, you might Google, “What is the best camera, computer, TV, washer-dryer, chain saw, electrical drill, toaster oven, or whatever?” Google will spit out articles for us to click on for the top 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and so on for whatever we’re looking for. There also seems to be differing opinions how things are ranked. For example, I might think that something is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it might not even make your top 5 or 10. In this day and age, there is so much out there that it is virtually impossible to come up with a definitive lists that everyone agrees on.
I think most people would agree that the most influential or greatest rock and roll artist or bands of all time would probably include Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. Before you get all charged up because I left someone out, I got this list online. Let’s just say, by some miracle, that this was “the list” that everyone agreed on. Who would be #1? Basically, it would be impossible to get consensus on the order or ranking from 1-10.
There was a time when even Jesus was asked to name or rank something. He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”
“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 NIV
First of all it was a trick question. It was a test. The Pharisees, or religious leaders, knew that it was an almost impossible question for a human to answer, but they didn’t understand whom they were dealing with. From the book of Genesis to the book of Deuteronomy there are 613 commandments, even if they expected Him to pick from the 10 commandments in Exodus the odds were still good that He would get it wrong. It’s kind of like guessing, “How many fingers am I holding up behind my back”. The Pharisees could change the number or make up anything they wanted. They were probably snickering quietly to themselves and thinking, “He’ll never guess. We’ve got Him now.” They hated Jesus. He was causing all kinds of problems for the religious establishment. They wanted to humiliate, discredit, and get rid of Him permanently. The best way to do that was to trip Him up on religious matters.
Anyway, Jesus omnisciently and wisely responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “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.” He then adds a little extra kick by adding an equally powerful #2, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Microphone drop. Debate over. Jesus wins again. Mark says that no one dared to ask Him that question again.
I’m not sure that God ranks things like we do. I know Jesus gives us #1 and #2 in Matthew 22, but He says that #2 is “like” #1, which could mean equality. Then Jesus adds in verse 40 that “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The ranking stops at #2. All the rest are connected and/or dependent on the top 2. However, He doesn’t diminish, nullify, devalue, or dismiss the rest of the commandments. The subject of commandments came up earlier in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 NIV
The “law” that Jesus is referring is the “Mosaic Law” or “Pentateuch” found in the first five books of the Bible, which includes the 613 commandments I referred to earlier. These are the laws that God gave verbally to Moses on Mt. Sinai; God himself inscribed the top 10 on stone tablets. The “prophets” that he is referring to is basically the rest of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. For me this passage is pretty clear, but there are some who would disagree with my interpretation. When Jesus says, “Until heaven and earth disappear” and until “everything is accomplished”, it sounds like He’s all in with the “law and the prophets”. Thumbs up. It’s interesting that Jesus begins this passage with “Do not think”, like He wants to be clear so there is no mistake or misunderstanding about the importance and His support for God’s law or the Hebrew Scriptures. He valued them. So much so that He adds, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” and “not the least stroke of the pen will by any means disappear.” I would call that an enthusiastic endorsement and even a warning to those who would disagree.
Jesus refers to commandments again in John 14:15 when He says, “If you love me, keep my commands”. He repeats it in verse 23-24, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” Which commandments is Jesus referring too? Some would say we only have to obey the ones that Jesus gave specifically during His earthly ministry, which include “love one another” (John 15:17), “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27-28), “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29-30), “forgive others” (Luke 17:3-4), “be reconciled” (Matt 5:23-24), and “treat others as you wish to be treated.” (Luke 6:31). Somehow, nullifying all the “law and the prophets”, but I don’t believe that Jesus intention was to contradict Himself.
There is something about love, commandments, obedience coexisting in the same space that is very difficult for us to wrap our heads around. “If you love me, you will obey”. If God loves unconditionally, then why are there commandments or conditions? Does your brain hurt? Mine too. It just shows us that the mind of God is much more complex than we can comprehend. Love is #1. To love God and others is indeed the greatest commandment, but I’m not sure we’re always on the same page with God when it comes to our understanding of the relationship between love, commandments, and obedience.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
Hope you have a great week!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management