Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Matthew 22:34-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
The Pharisees maintained huge libraries of commentaries about the Torah and believed themselves to be experts in the law. When they heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, another religious literate group, they gathered together and had a lawyer among them ask Jesus a question designed to “test” him (vv. 34-35). The test question, or “trick” question was “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (v. 36).
There were, of course, a lot of commandments to choose from and the view was that all the commandments were equal, with any ranking of them seen as the height of human arrogance. The lawyer may have been trying to get Jesus to make a statement that disparaged one part of the law over another, like declaring the moral laws as being more important than the ceremonial laws. It was really a trap.
Jesus answered with words that are known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-6—named for the first word of the passage in Hebrew. He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.”
Then, he said that the second commandment is “like” the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 39). This commandment is from Leviticus 19:18. For Jesus, love of God naturally works its way outward in love for neighbor, and love for neighbor can be an expression of love for God. If you put these two commandments together, says Jesus, you will boil down all the words of “the law and the prophets” (v. 40). All the law and the prophets—another way of saying “all the scriptures”—are summed up in these basics: love God and love your neighbor.
These words sum up Jesus’ teachings, too. When Jesus first disciples began to follow him, they began what would be for them a lifetime of learning. And what Jesus did time and time again is take them back to the basics. He taught them about love—the love of God, the love for God and the love of others. The Christian life flows out of that love. What Jesus taught them—and teaches us—is that the most basic, most important aspect of being a disciple is summed up in the greatest commandments.
I appreciate C. S. Lewis’ advice in his book Mere Christianity. He 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. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster