The Second Greatest Commandment
Consider again Matthew 22:34-40: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it is second greatest commandment. When you consider that the Law had over 600 commandments, to say this is the second greatest is to say quite a lot.
This commandment appears only one time in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in a relatively obscure location. Leviticus 19:17-18 says: “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
This comes on the heels of not stealing, dealing falsely, lying, oppressing, doing injustice, slandering, or murdering. It sounds a bit like that second half of the Ten Commandments, does it not? Honor father and mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet.
We may say that the command, “love your neighbor as yourself” is a summary of what these commands all represent: respect for family, life, marriage, property, the truth, and honoring of all people captures, at least in part, it means to demonstrate love for others. Combine that with 1 Corinthians 13 and, even more, the actions of Jesus going to the cross and we can have a pretty thorough idea of God’s definition of loving others.
Sometimes, when considering this second greatest commandment, the subject gets changed to self. We may hear, “Well, you cannot learn to love others until you love yourself.” The emphasis, then, gets placed on self, as if the command is “love yourself.” However, God defines what this means. This is no subjective, self-defined, self-love. Rather, it is a self-less love that seeks nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility of mind esteems others as more important than self, not looking out for our own personal interests, but for the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4). This is the mind of Christ (vs. 5). This is the love for others demonstrated by Christ.
This command is another way of stating what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Notice how “this is the Law and the Prophets,” and that loving God and loving neighbor form the commandments upon which “depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Loving neighbor as self is treating others as you would want to be treated.
Paul wrote, in Romans 13:8-10, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
And in Galatians 5:13-15: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
James wrote: “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jas 2:8-13)
I simply want to point out how 1) this is the royal law, the law of our King, and 2) all of these passages show the importance of fulfilling the entire law through love. Through love, serve one another. Do no wrong to each other; do not consume each other through fighting and strife. Do not be unfair and partial to each other; show mercy. Who better to illustrate the fulfillment of the Law through love than Jesus Himself, who fulfilled the Law completely and demonstrated love in the greatest of all possible ways, for there is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for others.
Love God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these commands hang the entirety of everything God has given us to think and do. May God help us to focus on Him through these, the greatest commandments ever given.