The greatest commandment: Mark 12

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Today’s reading: Mark 12-13.

“Do I still have to follow commandments in the Bible?”

I heard Erwin Lutzer preaching recently about the fact that the new covenant of grace does not eliminate commands from God’s word. He was speaking on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Three commands in that one sentence: rejoice, pray, give thanks. He could also have referenced today’s passage where Jesus is asked to define the greatest commandment.

“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.” Mark 12:28-31

One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus the question. It was a very Jewish thing to do, arguing over the tiny distinctions of the law. Was it most important to honor the sacrifices, to be circumcised, to repeat the scriptures contained in the phylacteries, or something else? Jesus made it clear that the most important issue was not the repetitive reading of the verse contained in the phylactery (the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 which Jesus quoted) but actually loving God wholeheartedly as the scripture commanded.

Love God with all your heart. Here heart refers not to the physical organ but to the center of a person’s will and emotion, their spiritual core. Our heart should not be divided between competing interests. Our love shouldn’t be half-hearted. Our devotion should be sincere and complete.

Love God with all your soul. The soul is the eternal essence which is distinguished from the body, but it is also the breath of life from God that animates the body. To love with the soul is to love with our life.

Love God with all your mind. The mind is our thinking and understanding. Our thoughts should be directed to God above all other things, and our love for him should not be blind but based on reason.

Love God with all your strength. Our strength is our ability. It is the force we exert to accomplish a task. It is the physical complement to the non-physical qualities of heart, soul, and mind.

Charles Spurgeon summed up the command this way. We are to love God:

  • supremely, above all other loves
  • heartily
  • with all our soul, that is with our whole life
  • with all our mind, prizing our belief in God
  • by activity

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” says the Law, “with all thy heart,” or, with perfect sincerity; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul,” or, with the utmost fervor; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind,” or, in the fullest exercise of an enlightened reason; and “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength,” or, with the whole energy of our being!” Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

“Lord, I thank thee that this law can not condemn me, for I believe in Jesus. But now, Lord, help me from this time forth for ever to keep it. Lord, give me a new heart, for this old heart never will love thee! Lord, give me a new life, for this old life is too vile. Lord, give me a new understanding; wash my mind with the clean water of the Spirit; come and dwell in my judgment, my memory, my thought; and then give me the new strength of thy Spirit, and then will I love thee with all my new heart, with all my new life, with all my renewed mind, and with all my spiritual strength, from this time forth, even for evermore.” Charles Spurgeon

Image by Iryna Yeroshko on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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10 thoughts on “The greatest commandment: Mark 12

  1. I always thought the challenge laid before Jesus, was to pick to most important of the Ten Commandments. Actually, the challenge, given their attention to detail, was probably to pick from among the 613 commandments, or mitzvot, from the Torah. I am sure they were stunned to hear such an answer from an uneducated rube from Galilee, which may be why ” from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

  2. Why is it that most “Bible-believing Christians” don’t know, or won’t give a straight answer, to the following simple question?

    QUESTION:
    Is the “most important commandment” found in Deuteronomy 6, or in Leviticus 19 ?

    Poem – What is love?

    Two men came to Jesus
    With different motivations.
    They asked Him the same question
    Relevant to all the nations:

    Which is the Most Important?
    The answer was the same.
    Jesus did not manipulate
    He was not there to play a game.

    “Love the Lord your God” said Jesus
    as He quoted from The Law –
    to fulfill and not abolish
    was His purpose, full of awe.

    Jesus did not make all Scripture
    Into one new great commandment.
    He summarized The Law and Prophets
    “First and Greatest” and “The Second.”

    The Love of God is higher
    Than the love of any man.
    Receive from God, give back to God-
    Then to others, that’s His plan.

    The Love of God involves much more
    Than simply “love your fellow man.”
    Worship, trust, and pray to God,
    and obey Him – that’s His plan

    To worship and pray to neighbors,
    Whoever they may be,
    Or trust and obey our enemies
    Would be idolatry.

    The love of God is first and greatest,
    And the love of man is second.
    “All we need is love” are words
    of dead Beetles on the pavement.

    “The entire law is summed up in a single command”
    are not the words of Jesus our Salvation.
    It’s false teaching of Paul the Pharisee
    an “accuser of our brethren.”

    “Love” without God is Satan’s word through Paul
    in his chapter to the Corinthians.
    “I will show you the most excellent way”
    is the road to eternal perdition.

    Where is God in Paul’s chapter on love?
    Nowhere in view of the eye.
    Paul sings about himself like a Mexican Mariachi
    “I, I, I, I.”

    Jesus is The Most Excellent Way
    Not the words of a Pharisee.
    The words of Jesus are very clear.
    Jesus said, “You must follow ME.”

    ANSWER:
    They are not listening to Jesus of the Gospels, they are listening to Paal.

    • A similar idea from John 6:27-28: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

      • Dear bwdell,
        Thanks for your response – but I don’t see how this is “a similar idea.”

        So what do you think – Is the “most important commandment” found in Deuteronomy 6, or in Leviticus 19 ?

      • “I don’t see how this is ‘a similar idea.'” I just meant that it is another example of a commandment from God and Jesus. The work we are commanded to do is to believe in Jesus.

        As for your question about Deut. 6 and Lev. 19. Deuteronomy 6 describes the rationale for our obedience (The Lord our God, the Lord is one) and the way we serve Him (basically wherever we are and whatever we do). It also contains verse 5 which Jesus quoted as the greatest commandment. I wouldn’t go against Jesus’ judgement. Leviticus 19 lays down specific commands for Israel as part of their covenant relationship with him.

  3. This article is about “The Greatest Commandment – Mark 12”
    I need a little more clarity- pardon me but your answer is a bit cloudy to me.

    Jesus was asked twice which Commandment is the greatest or most important one, in Mark 12 (and also in Matthew 22)
    Both times Jesus answered quoting the same two commandments, from the Law of Moses.

    Jesus said that one of these two commandments is the first and greatest most important one. Which one is it?
    The one in Deuteronomy 6, or the one in Leviticus 19 ?

  4. Many self-professed “Bible-believing Evangelicals” won’t listen to the words of Jesus, because they are brainwashed through reciting their “mantra” – “all scripture is God-breathed.”

    This “Evangelical Mantra” has been accepted by the collective subconscious mind of “The Evangelical Church” without thought, question, reflection, or even 2 witnesses from the Scripture itself. It’s based on a misinterpretation, out of context, of one verse in one letter written by one man, Paul the Pharisee, who was unfamiliar with the personal ministry and teaching of Jesus.

    But, “Once an idea has been accepted by your subconscious, it remains there and it governs your behavior until it is replaced or changed.” [ as a pastor named Bishop Dale C. Bronner observed in one of his sermons]

    (Definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.) Mantra (noun) (Hinduism.) A sacred formula believed to embody the divinity invoked and to possess magical power, used in prayer and incantation.

    When cult members repeat their mantra, it makes them deaf to the voice of God, unable to hear God. Instead, it puts their focus on their one “special man” above all others – his personality, words and teachings, character, life example, feelings, experience, intentions, mind, will, emotions, etc. Their cult leader is their hero – he is always right, could never be wrong about anything specific, and he must be obeyed in all things and never questioned. He will give himself a special title, write at least one special book, and claim special authority, with no need for a second witness to back him up.
    Here are 3 examples.

    .1) Fuhrer. The title of Adolf Hitler as the leader of the German Nazis, author of “Mein Kamph”. Mantra: “Heil Hitler.”

    .2) The self-appointed Prophet Muhammad, author of The Koran. Mantra: …..”and Muhammad is his prophet.”

    .3) Paul the Pharisee, the self-appointed Apostle to the Gentiles, whose 13 letters comprise one third of what, today, we call the “New Testament.” (The first, original “New Testament” was composed by the second century heretic Marcion, and he coined the term “New Testament.” His new “book” contained nothing except 10 of Paul’s letters and an abbreviated Gospel of Luke. There were no other “New Testament” books, and the Hebrew Scriptures were the “Old Testament” which was irrelevant, according to the heretic Marcion.) Mantra: “All Scripture is God-breathed….”

    I got my Masters Degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was attracted to the school because they put Paul’s mantra of “All Scripture is God-breathed” above everything else, and I wanted to heed Paul’s command and “Preach the Word” like Paul….

    This mantra is a misinterpretation out of context of 2 Timothy 3:16. It ignores the previous verse, 2 Timothy 3:15, which clearly indicates that Paul was NOT referring to his own letters when he wrote the words “All Scripture.”

    Paul was probably making reference to some of the Hebrew Scriptures, quite likely including the Law and the Prophets. We cannot be completely certain exactly which “Scriptures” Paul meant in “All Scripture”, and what Paul meant by “God-breathed.” Why can’t we be certain?

    Because we must establish a matter by the testimony of two or three witnesses, especially something as important as “What is the Word of God.” No one else in the pages of the Bible besides Paul ever said anything like “All Scripture is God-breathed”. And Paul only said it here, one time, in the middle of a personal letter.

    The Apostle Peter made reference to “Prophecy of Scripture,” not “All Scripture,” and no it’s not the same thing at all. Jesus never said anything like that. And no one, not even Paul, ever said that all Scripture was equal.

    I remember the general approach to the Bible at Dallas being that “every word in the 66 Books is the Word of God”….. and we should interpret it based on “the intended meaning of the author in the historical grammatical context.”

    That is the basic idea of the heavy-duty seminary language we were being trained in. It sounds so right, so intelligent, so professional, so “godly”….. but it is fundamentally flawed.

    When we look at Paul’s teachings and testimony about himself, (in his letters that make up 1/3 of the New Testament,) we should NOT immediately ask ourselves; “what did Paul say, what did Paul mean, and how does this apply to my life?” The fundamental question is NOT “what was in the mind of Paul?”

    Before any of that, the FIRST question to ask is; “does Paul agree with Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets?”

    Paul contradicted himself, and his teachings and testimony about himself don’t harmonize with the teachings of Jesus (or with Luke’s record of his life.) Let’s not waste our time with endless debates about “what Paul really meant” with his wacky teachings about “baptizing the dead” or “there is neither male nor female.” Paul was wrong. Jesus reminds us from The Law “at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.” [Matthew 19:4, Genesis 1:27]

    As to the question of “whether the Bible is ALL truly Gods WORDS”…

    The underlying unspoken assumption is that “The Bible” (66 Books) was given to us by God as “one book” and it’s all “equal” in level of authority, priority, and importance. This comes from unconsciously believing Paul’s mantra, the “Evangelical Mantra”, that “All Scripture is God-breathed”, and falsely assuming Paul was referring to every word in the 66 Books of the Bible. Yet even here, not even Paul, not even once, ever said that “All Scripture is EQUAL” in authority, priority, and importance.

    No one in the pages of the Bible ever said or wrote that “all Scripture,” or “the Bible,” is “all truly God’s words”. Jesus never said anything like that, and Jesus did not see it that way. Jesus did not see even the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the “Old Testament”, as a whole unit or book that was all equal or “all truly God’s words.” Jesus spoke of The Law, or The Law and the Prophets, holding these 2 sections of the Old Testament above the third, least important sections the “Writings.” And Jesus held the Psalms, the first book of the “Writings” section, above the other books in the “Writings” section in importance, since some parts of some Psalms are prophetic.

    Obviously, the New Testament Scriptures were not written when Jesus was walking the earth. But if we want to get closest to The Source, Jesus himself, it makes sense that we should look first to the eyewitness testimony of two of His appointed Apostles who walked with Him faithfully for over 3 years, Matthew & John. (Also to other eyewitness testimony, recorded by Mark and Luke.) This is more accurate, important, and authoritative than personal letters written by Paul the Pharisee, who never knew Jesus personally, had no part in His ministry, and had no eyewitness testimony.

    We should follow the Jesus of the Gospel writers. We should not follow the “jesus” of Paul the Pharisee or Muhammad or any other man, who had their own ideas of who “jesus” was and what He did.

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