34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.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.”
When asked which commandment of the law was most important, Jesus quoted the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5) with the assertion that this was ‘the first and the greatest’ commandment. Then Jesus followed up with another commandment that, He said, was like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
LOVE GOD, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR
“All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Jesus said. So, it should not be a surprise to see these commands echoed in the beatitudes.
COMMAND #1: LOVE GOD
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
How does a person love God with the totality of his or her being? Turning to the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 we find a list of core attitudes of the heart for which the citizens of the kingdom of heaven must be known.
Contemplating an infinitely holy God we realize our brokenness and our reaction is poverty of spirit (vs. 3). It is our sin that has separated us from God so we mourn the loss (vs. 4). Turning to God for help we meekly choose to sacrifice our own will and strive to live by His with all we have (vs. 5). To do this we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and not our own by feasting on His word, listening for Him in prayer and joining with other seekers as they worship Him and encourage each other (vs. 6).
Having addressed the most important commandment Jesus mentions that there is another command that ‘is like it’. In fact, it is as important as the first command because it is not possible to love God without also loving other people who are also created in His image.
It is important to resist seeing the first part, loving God, as isolated or detached from the second part, loving one another. The bridge links the two to highlight how they are compatible with each other, not to contrast them one against the other.
So, we find that the second part instructs us about how the first part works itself our in our interactions with other people. In other words, as we love others as ourselves, we illustrate God loves others because of our love for God and our desire to be like Him.
COMMAND #2: LOVE OTHERS
“Love your neighbor as yourself” might simply be stated to love others the way that God loves you and other people. And so, the second set of beatitudes instructs us both about God’s mercy and how we are to extend mercy to others (vs. 7). God’s purity or holiness is without hidden agendas or deceitfulness; therefore, we strive to be like Him by keeping our focus upon Him as we serve others honestly, with integrity and without guile or trickery (vs. 8).
Loving others is also characterized by a desire to bring peace to conflicting people just as God has reconciled us to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (vs. 9 – see also 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Finally, loving others as God loves them goes against our natural tendencies of self-serving, self-preservation and self-promotion in order to please others. Consequently, peacemakers will find themselves in situations where they are open to persecution, criticism and condemnation from others, just like Jesus did (vs. 10).
So, bridges are important tools for helping us relate one set of values with another. They show us the importance of each and they link their interrelationships to each other. This is especially true with Jesus’ teachings because “All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” These two truths are timeless and they critically undergird our understanding of God’s love for us.