Christians generally understand that God expects us to live according to His ways. But when we read the Bible, this can sometimes seem complicated and unclear. Commandments are just that: commands, not options we can choose if we want to. So which are the most important commandments according to Jesus?
The Most Important Commandment
In the book of Mark, Jesus and some religious leaders were discussing religion. Most of these leaders were looking for a way to trap Jesus in His words so that they could get rid of Him; Jesus was stirring things up with His teachings, and they didn’t like it.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’”
What Jesus quoted in this passage is part of the Jewish Shema, one of the most important prayers in Judaism. Jews would say this prayer in the morning when they got up and in the evening when they would lie down. All of Jesus’s listeners would have recognized the Shema when Jesus spoke it, and they wouldn’t disagree with Him.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and to do that with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. But what does that look like?
The heart is traditionally considered to be the very essence of who we are. Our innermost desires, attitudes, and beliefs are found in our heart. So to love God with all our heart is to love Him with the very essence of who we are, submitting our desires, attitudes, and beliefs to Him.
Generally, our soul encompasses our will, emotions, and personality. So loving God with all our soul refers to loving Him with our feelings, honoring Him with our personality, and submitting our will to His will.
To love God with all our mind obviously means to honor Him with our thoughts. Our thoughts can be evil or good, pure or impure. And loving God with our mind means allowing Him to change our mindsets and opinions to reflect His.
Finally, to love God with all our strength refers to loving Him with our physical abilities and resources. To love Him, we must give our energy, money, talents – even the breath in our lungs – our life!
We are expected to love God with our whole person: emotionally, mentally, and physically. Additionally, God doesn’t want us to keep His commandments out of fear but out of love. He wants our love for Him to motivate us to keep His commands.
The Second Most Important Commandment
Jesus didn’t stop at the greatest commandment; He went on to explain the second most important commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.
The truth is, we are all pretty good at loving ourselves; we are generally self-seeking, selfish and self-centered. We feed ourselves, bathe ourselves, and do what feels good to us. We entertain ourselves with many things. We always make sure our needs are taken care of, we often pursue our wants, and we rarely go without.
What Jesus meant by the Second Greatest Commandment is that we should care for our neighbors the way we care for ourselves. We must be careful not to be so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t pay attention to the people around us and how we can help or encourage them.
In order to love our neighbor as ourself, we must resist being selfish and “in humility value others above [ourselves,] not looking to [our] own interests but each of [us] to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
It’s All About LOVE
The two most important commandments in the Bible have one thing in common: love. The greatest commandment is love.
From songs to movies to novels, everyone has a different definition of love. However, the Bible gives us a clear description of how God defines love in 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Obviously, God describes love much differently than the entertainment industry does. According to this passage, love is not a feeling; it’s action. This is the definition we must use when determining how to love God and love our neighbors.
And to be clear, the Bible never states that we are to extend love only when we feel like it or when the other person deserves it (in our opinion). And who is our “neighbor?” Family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else around us are our neighbors.
To show love to our family the way God wants us to, we must be patient with them and kind to them. We should not envy what others have or boast about what we have. These are attitudes of the heart that we must reign in.
If we dishonor our spouses, children, other family members, coworkers and boss, or fellow believers, then we are not loving the way God desires us to love. Instead of getting angry quickly, we need to have patience. And rather than keeping track of all the wrongs people have done to us, we need to forgive and release them.
When we consider this definition of love, it may seem impossible to live like this. But notice that when Jesus explained the two most important commandments, He said first that we must love God. When we truly love God with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength, then loving our neighbor is much more achievable.
This post is part of a 2-part series on the most important commandment. Read Part 2 Here.
~ Written by Jennell Houts