The Greatest Commandment: Christ's Blueprint For His Church
by Theodore Allen Purcell, Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies
Today we have Roman Catholics who will not commune with non-Romans. We have Evangelicals who tolerate no variations in themes. We have Episcopalians who are not in communion with Anglicans despite their common histories but commune with Lutherans. The “gay issue” is driving a wedge amongst otherwise loving Christians and the list of denominational “walls” continues to grow. In scripture we find the blueprint for His body given by God through Christ to Christians and pagans alike.
In Matthew 22:15-46, we find the author narrating a series of attempts by the contemporary religious establishment to trap Jesus into making statements that would incriminate him with the Roman authorities discredit him before His followers, and firmly re-establish the control of the status quo. In verses 22-23, Jesus stymies the Sadducees with His forthright and astute knowledge of the Bible and theology. In verses 34-40,an expert lawyer from the Pharisee party attempts to paint Christ into a corner by testing Him again:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Without hesitation 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 unto it; Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Clearly intended to be a trick question, Jesus’ answer was short, and to the point, and absolute genius. First, instead of quoting one of the Ten Commandments, as His audience might have expected, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5; very familiar word which framed a Jewish prayer, the Shema, which pious Jews recited twice daily. Then Jesus added a second commandment as a corollary, this time taken from Leviticus 19:18, indicating that genuine love for God involves seeing people as God sees them, and viewing all people without exceptions, as objects of his unconditional love.
It is important to note Jesus’ lack of response regarding style or form. He in no way addressed the differences which have become institutionalized and denominational. In Leviticus 19:18, the “neighbor” is defined as “one of your own people”, that is, a member of the covenant community of Israel. When Jesus later reiterated this fundamental principle of the Law, as He did on several occasions, He widened its scope to include all people, even our enemies. At no time did our Lord draw distinctions between believers. His intention was clearly to draw together, under His on single greatest commandment, the full Body of believers.
You and I may speak a different language. We may dress in a different style than the people who surrounded Jesus that day, but spiritually we are no different. We are all essentially the same creations as Adam and Eve! While your aesthetics may dictate your pastor be dressed in street clothes while your neighbor’s aesthetics dictate his priest wear vestments; while your brothers’ church tradition dictates grape juice while your sisters’ church dictates only wine, we are mandated by the very words of our Lord and Savior to Love unconditionally. To do anything short of this refutes God’s Word and rejects His unconditional grace and love for us.
Why de we find it difficult to love God absolutely and unconditionally? I submit the primary reason for this inability is attributable to our early church training. The core issues related to “loving God” re defined very early for us by our pastors, parents, relatives, and friends, We are taught to disobey God’s word, as interpreted by those in our personal environment, is tantamount to a death sentence. All too often denominations stress their strongly held doctrines to the point of becoming dogmatic unyielding, and exclusive. Many times we grow up only fearing God’s retribution for every transgression and seeing God only as the boogey man on the seat of punishment and eternal damnation. We learn we’d better “do it all right all the time!” The gravity of these issues gives rise to fear, which drives these worries deep into our psych. They are never spoken of; they are seldom modified lest the secrets escape. If it be church leaders or parents who instruct us, if the environment is not a “safe” one in which to ask questions, if even asking the question itself is a mark of disobedience and therefore displeasing to God, who in their right mind would pursue such a God? Can we wonder then why we encounter so many Christians who do not attend church anymore.
Many find it difficult to love others unconditionally, especially those “different” from themselves, because, among other factors, we cherish our individuality and self-sufficiency. This leads us to forge relationships with those who generally share common ethnicity, class, age, or faith. By so doing, we are unlikely to appreciate our solidarity or brotherhood with all humanity. It becomes a case of “us verses them.” In short, we violate Christ’s greatest commandment. If, as Jesus suggests, the greatest commandment epitomizes the message of the Old Testament and is normative for Christian experience, we ought to obey it, not out of our sense of duty but out of our desire to please God and experience the wholeness of the Body.
The command to love others is the fundamental tenant in our identification as disciple of Jesus Christ. The sign that you followed Abraham was circumcision. The sign that you followed Moses was keeping the Sabbath. The sign that you followed John the Baptist was baptism. The sign that you follow Jesus is that you love others as He commanded.
Love is an action, not merely an attitude or aspiration. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor, act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” In life we are free to express or withhold love as we wish. Martin Luther profoundly articulated the Christian is both “lord of all, subject to none, and servant of all, subject to all.” To open my heart to God will free my spirit to worship God, but I need also to open my heart to my neighbor. It’s a free choice, but it is God’s will. To keep the first half of the greatest commandment without keeping the second half is intrinsically impossible. Jesus did not give us option “A” and option “B.” He told us, “the second is like unto the first” 1 John 4:20-21 tells us, “If anyone says, I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has not seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command, whoever loves God, must love his brother.
God requires a religion of the heart as well as of the head. He desires his love to us be conveyed through us to our neighbors. The essence of Christianity must not be defined by the doctrines of man, nor by dogmatic adherence to denominational prejudices. God wishes us to love from the heart naturally inclusive, and available to all of God’s children. The true essence of Christianity is expressed in that short statement of Jesus: love God, and love your neighbor. Christ did not delineate amongst groups of Christians. Did He not know denominations would proliferate among modern man? Was He not able to better express His intent in more specific terms? Was God having a bad day when He inspired His Son to give us the blueprint for His children? God also wishes us to employ the faculties with which we have been blessed. We are to apply our thinking to contemporary issues. God’s final words to us are permanently etched into a rugged Roman cross. The words, written in Christ’s blood, are screaming to be heard across the centuries in spite of the din of denominational debates, bickering, and finger pointing. Their simple elegance continue to say, “I love you!”
Have you truly experienced the deep abiding love of Jesus Christ? Do you really appreciate what God has done for you in Christ? If not, ask God to reveal his love to you! If you have, I challenge you to step outside denominational boundaries. Visit a new church, regardless of denominational affiliation. Seek the Holy Ghost. Look for the love of Christ in each congregation. When His love is present, no matter Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Congregationalist, Evangelical, or Charismatic, you will feel it! We are Christians by choice, His children by adoption. Demolish every wall an obstacle standing between Christian brothers and sisters with the only possible effective weapon, the love of our gracious heavenly Father. Do as He directs.
“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 unto the first; love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law of the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”