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The Greatest Commandment

When Jesus was on earth, on a certain day people gathered together to hear from Jesus and question Him, He was asked "what is the greatest commandment"?

Matthew 22: 35 - 40 (New International Version)

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus gave the instruction, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God doesn’t desire a love that is superficial, but one that permeates our being. Let’s examine each of these aspects of love.

To love God with all of our heart is to love Him affectionately. The Greek word for “heart” is kardia, which means the thoughts and feelings, with an emphasis on what is felt. The individual who loves God with all their heart will desire to please Him, and not cause Him pain. This kind of love is what causes us to live for Him with the highest devotion, and is a MUCH better motivation than the fear of discipline, or fear of His correction.

The Greek word for “soul” is psuche, which basically translates into a person’s “everything”, or their life. The person who loves God with all their soul would be willing to give up anything for Him, including their earthly life. Right now, Christians around the world are being martyred at the highest rate in history. Of course, they do so knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with God, in heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:8 (New International Version)

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

The Greek word for “mind” is dianoia, which means our deepest thoughts, along with our imagination and all aspects of understanding. Simply put, this means that we love God by submitting our intellect to His will, and ordering our thoughts, ideas, and imagination around and by His word. We trust in God’s wisdom at all times, even if we don’t understand the direction in which it takes us, and we agree that His word (the Bible) is right, even if we find some things difficult to accept. We trust that, with time, study and prayer, He will help us see His wisdom.

In Mark 12:30, recording the same event, Jesus included the admonition to love God “with all your strength.” Let’s address what that means, and then we’ll speak to the difference of the two scriptures.

The Greek word for “strength” is ischus, which means forcefulness, ability, might, power, and intensity. Taking directly from this definition, it follows that we are to love God powerfully and intensely. Our love should be deeply passionate and committed. When it is, be warned, some will even call it extreme. However, if ever you begin to doubt that passion for God should be our most intense passion, remember Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:33 to “seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Emphasis added.).

But, what accounts for the difference between the two scriptures? There are a couple of possible answers. In some instances of the Greek, the word “mind” was sometimes combined with the word “strength”. This was a literary device to save time and space, and some have even called Matthew 22:37 an abbreviated quote of Deuteronomy 6:5, where the command first appears.

Another possibility is that the author considered that anything which was primary in the individual’s affections, priorities and intellect would logically be followed by a complete devotion of their effort. For example, my love for my wife largely determines my actions toward and for her. I don’t necessarily WANT to wash those dirty dishes and filthy pots and pans when she can’t, but I know it will please her for me to do so, and I do it (Most of the time.).

Critics pounce on any perceived contradiction in scripture, in an attempt to discredit God’s word. However, an honest intellectual pursuit of such differences generally produce simple and understandable reasons for them. Thankfully, God’s word can be trusted, and so can He.

About The Author

Mark Nickles is a husband, father of three, and a pastor in Northeastern Oklahoma.

(c) Mark A. Nickles.


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