What are God’s Greatest Commandments?
The Bible has much to say about what God wants us to do, but it can all be summed up in just two great commandments. Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10 record Jesus telling what the two greatest commandments are. Simply said, we are to “love God and love other people.” These two great commandments were both given by Moses in the Old Testament and taught by Jesus in the New.
The Two Great Commandments in the Old Testament
Many Christians are familiar with Christ’s reply to the question of “what are the two greatest commandments in the law?” But have you ever wondered where in the law Jesus got His answer? When people asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, they were referring to the most important commandment in the Old Testament law that Moses gave the children of Israel.
The Greatest Old Testament Commandment
The greatest commandment is, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13; 13:3; 30:6; Joshua 22:5; Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
God’s greatest commandment was first recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5. Deuteronomy was given at the end of Moses’s life, before the children of Israel crossed over the Jordon into the promised land. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments and warned the people of Israel, saying:
You shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, . . .Deuteronomy 5:32-33 (NKJV)
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses elaborated on how the people should live to maintain obedience in the fear of God throughout their generations. Most importantly, Moses told them:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NKJV)
This greatest of all commandments was repeated in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 10:12; 11:1, 13; 13:3; 30:6; and Joshua 22:5.
If you truly love God with all your heart, soul and strength, then you will demonstrate your love by obeying the first three of the Ten Commandments.
- You will not have any other gods before the one true, creator God (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
- You will not make, worship, or serve any idols (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 5:8-9)
- You will not take God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11)
The Second Greatest Old Testament Commandment:
The second greatest commandment that Jesus quoted from the Old Testament law is found in Leviticus 19:18 & 34. Leviticus 19:18 applies specifically to “the sons of your people” (i.e.: their fellow Israelites). Leviticus 19:34 extends this principle to any strangers or foreigners living with them in their land.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is not one of the Ten Commandments, but it summarizes six of them.
If you love your neighbor as yourself, then:
- You will honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12)
- You will not murder anyone (Exodus 20:13)
- You will not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14)
- You will not steal (Exodus 20:15)
- You will not lie (Exodus 20:16)
- You will not covet (strongly desire) anything that belongs to someone else (Exodus 20:17)
This is why Paul said, “For all the law is fulfilled . . . in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).
The Two Great Commandments in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus answering questions about the two greatest commandments in the law. As noted above, in His response, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The next section will examine Christ’s response in each of the gospels.
The Greatest Commandments in Matthew 22:36-40
The scribes, pharisees, and other religious leaders often tested Jesus, trying to find fault in Him. The gospel of Matthew records a lawyer asking Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36).
In response, Jesus gave both of the two great commandments by directly quoting Deuteronomy 5:6 and Leviticus 19:18.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV)
Jesus went on to say, “On these two commandments hang / depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, all the laws and teachings of the Old Testament are summarized in these two great commandments. You can keep the entire law simply by obeying these two great commands. You cannot please God without doing so.
The Greatest Commandments Mark 12:28-31
Mark 12:28-31 relates the same or a similar event as in Matthew 22. Mark includes details, not found in Matthew. Mark 12:28 indicates that this questioner recognized that Jesus had answer His interrogators well, and may have been asking Jesus a legitimate question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (ESV).
In response, Jesus directly quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, saying:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”Mark 12:29-30 (ESV)
But Jesus did not stop by providing only the first and greatest commandment in answer to the scribe’s question. Apparently, Jesus thought it important for him (and us) to know the second greatest commandment as well. Jesus continued His answer by quoting Leviticus 19:18. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31). Perhaps Jesus added the second great commandment because you cannot truly love God without loving your neighbor (1 John 4:20).
Mark records that the scribe agreed with Christ’s answer, and responded wisely (Mark 12:34) saying:
“You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”Mark 12:32-33 (ESV)
The Greatest Commandments in Luke 10:25-28
The gospel of Luke also records Jesus teaching about the two great commandments, but without referring to them as great commandments. Luke 10:25 tells of a lawyer testing Jesus by asking Christ what he (the lawyer) must do to inherit eternal life. This time, instead of answering directly, Jesus turned the test around, asking the lawyer how he interpreted what is written in the Law (Luke 10:26).
In response, the lawyer answered correctly by quoting Deuteronomy 5:6 and Leviticus 19:18, saying:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”Luke 10:27 (KJV)
Jesus told the lawyer that he had answered correctly, and said, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). The full impact of Christ’s statement is not clear in our English translations. Jesus did not just make a simple statement saying that the lawyer would live if he did the commandments. In Greek, “DO this” is stated as a present active imperative, a command to keep on always doing, what he should already be doing (i.e.: loving God with all his heart and loving his neighbor as himself).
It appears that the lawyer was not confident that he was always loving his neighbor as himself. Because, to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
Jesus then told the story of the good Samaritan to explain who one’s neighbor is (Luke 10:30-37). Our neighbor is anyone (even an enemy) who needs our help. In Christ’s example, the Samaritan was the loving neighbor who sacrificially helped a Jew who had been wounded and left half dead by robbers. Jesus commanded the lawyer, saying he should go and keep on doing likewise (Luke 10:36-37).
Our neighbor is anyone (even an enemy) who needs our help
The two great commandments summarize the whole law. If we want to please God, then we will always keep these commands. We will love God and acknowledge Him in all our ways. And we will love all other people because they bear God’s image and God loves them.
Love God Greatly
In the gospels, Jesus clearly taught us what God’s greatest commandment is. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, we are to love God greatly, with our whole being. We must seek to please God in all we think, say, and do.
If you truly love God, you will:
- Prioritize Him above all else. You will shun any form of idolatry. No one and nothing else should come before your devotion to Him. (Exodus 20:3-5; Deuteronomy 5:6-9)
- You will always honor and glorify His name, never using it in vain. (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:6-9)
- You will keep God’s commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:2-3)
- You will love other people as yourself (Galatians 5:14; 1 John 4:20)
Love People as Yourself
When asked what the greatest / most important commandment in the Old Testament law was, Jesus always added the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. God loves all people (John 3:16), and all people are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6). We cannot honestly say we love God unless we love all people, because God loves them and they bear His image (1 John 4:20).
Love God and Love People
If we want to please God, we must love God with our whole being and love other people as ourselves. We must love both God and people.
Danny Gokey summarized the two great commandments this way, “Love God and love people.” In his contemporary Christian song, “love God, love people”, Danny Gokey sings, “Gotta keep it real simple . . . It all comes down to this, love God and love people.” You can find his music video on YouTube if would like to hear it.
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