Matthew 22:35-40

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.”

Personally, I never really cared much for tests, but I do understand their value. As an educator by vocation, testing is an objective instrument for determining how much students know, have retained, or understand about a particular subject. So in that sense, testing is important.

Apparently the Pharisees thought testing Jesus was a good idea too, that is until Jesus turned the tables on them. They posed the question to Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In essence, if we do these two things then it would seem that we have fulfilled the Law and passed the test, right? Let’s see exactly what Jesus meant.

According to Jesus the greatest commandment is to love God completely. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. It seems then, we are to love God with our total being and hold nothing back in terms of expressing our love for God. The question then is how do we accomplish this? There are actually five steps to accomplishing this command. First, put no other gods before God. Second, do not make any graven images or idols. Third, do not misuse or profane the name of God. Fourth, set aside at least one day to celebrate and spend time with God. Fifth, honor God by giving honor to our parents. Do these things sound familiar? Actually they are the first five commandments in the Law of Moses. We learned them as children in Sunday school. The first five commandments teach us how to love God completely, but they also lay the foundation for loving others.

The second command that flows out of the first according to Jesus is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are to see ourselves in our neighbor. In other words, do not do things to your neighbor you do not want done to us and do not give our neighbor’s anything we do not want or would not accept. Here again there are another five steps to accomplishing this command. First, do not kill. Second, do not commit adultery. Third, do not steal. Fourth, do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Fifth, do not covet or want anything that belongs to your neighbor. If these things sound familiar that is because they are the remaining five commandments that make up the Law of Moses. These last five commandments help us to put our love for God into practice by extending love to others.

Essentially, Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments and presented them in summary form. If we look closer at the first five and the last five, I believe we will see a connection. In the first five we learn how to love God and in the last five we put our love for God into practice by extending love to others. However, if we take the ten together we will see that the way we treat God informs the way we should treat others. Let’s revisit them and see if you too can identify the connecting threads. In the first commandment we learn that priorities are important and God needs to be our first priority (have no other gods before God), and in the sixth commandment we exhibit our understanding by putting a priority on all life (do not kill). In the second commandment we learn to keep God first (do not make any graven images or idols), and in the seventh commandment we demonstrate our understanding by keeping the trust other’s place in us (do not commit adultery). In the third commandment we learn that respecting person’s begins by respecting their name and when we respect God’s name we are respecting the person of God (do not misuse the name of God), and in the eighth commandment we show our respect for others by respecting what belongs to them (do not steal). In the fourth commandment we learn that it is important to take and make time for the important people in our life beginning with God (remember the Sabbath day), and in the ninth commandment we practice this by remembering other’s have feelings too (do not bear false witness against our neighbor). In the fifth commandment we learn the importance of honoring God by honoring those God has placed over us starting with our parents (honor thy mother and father), and in the tenth commandment we demonstrate we have learned our lesson well by honoring what other’s have worked for and acquired (do not covet).

If we understand the commands Jesus’ gives us in purely practical terms we see that, if we lift God up we will never put another person’s life down. There are many ways to kill a person. We can kill another person’s dreams, hopes, aspirations, and their spirit. All of these have the same effect as taking their life. Killing by definition means to take life. Therefore, anytime we take life from another person we are in effect killing them. When we realize though, that God is the giver of all life and the power of life and death rests in His hands it becomes clear that we must do everything in our power to support life rather than take life. If we give the giver of all life the highest priority in our lives we will respect all life that comes from Him.

It also becomes clear that if we keep God up we will never put another person’s trust down. I remember when my sister was born, my mother was very protective of her and would not let anyone outside the immediate family touch her. In much the same way when we keep God elevated and protect His position in our lives we will learn how to protect the trust that other’s place in us. The issue here is about value and assigning value. God places a high value on His relationship with His people and we should place a high value on the trust other’s place in us.

Some would say, what is in a name? Names are important. They help us to identify and distinguish one person from another. The name of God is also important and if when we learn the value of God’s name and then exalt God’s name we simultaneously learn to never bring the value or devalue the things that are important to others. One of the things that absolutely infuriates me is when someone moves my something that belongs to me without consulting me. It suggests to me that you have no value for the things that are important to me. People who have trouble allowing others to enjoy their moment in the spotlight also bother me. In both cases there is a total disregard for things that are important to others. Likewise, God wants His people to respect and revere His name and when we do this we also learn to respect and value the things that are important to others big or small.

Today everyone is always so busy. We barely have time for ourselves let alone anyone else. However, taking time out is important and it is necessary. It is important that we take time out for God to lift Him up and let Him know how special He is to us because when we do this we learn never to belittle or put down the feelings of others. Imagine if we took more time to actually listen to each other how many disagreements and arguments could be avoided. Everyone feels passionately about something, and we are all entitled to our feelings. I believe that if we took time out to grant each other the hearing we want for ourselves while we will not agree on every single issue, we probably will find that we are not really that far apart either.

Honor is given to those who deserve it. The reality is that beginning with our parent’s God places people in position of authority over us. While we may not always agree with their decisions or the way they choose to go about their business, the fact still remains that they are where they are because God has placed them there. When we come to accept this fact, we also learn to never bring down the value of what people have worked for or acquired. You and I have no idea what any person did to get to the position they are in or what they have to do to say there. Therefore, we should not desire their position, celebrity, or anything else they have. If God wanted us to be where someone else is, God would make the way for us to get there. If it is our lot to succeed someone it will happen when it is supposed to happen, and until that time we would do well to give everyone their due in the same way we would want them to respect us if we were in their position.

What can we say then? Love begins with God and then flows outward through us reaching and touching the lives of others. When we learn how to love God we can then apply and put into practice what we learned with others. We learn to love God by looking up to God and never looking down on others. In other words, when we lift God up we also will lift our neighbors up and we see and treat each other as equals. If we do this then we have passed the love test.

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