The Laws of the Kingdom
The Jews were required to keep numerous commandments, rules of conduct, rituals and regulations. They were burdened down with meticulous requirements that interfered and invaded every phase of their existence. On a daily basis, they had to be keenly aware of every act they performed lest they somehow break one of these rules and find themselves in the disfavor of their religious leaders. They were in need of relief and release. Jesus came to provide that relief – ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.’ (Luke 4:18)
The people flocked to Jesus to hear his message of relief. Several of the religious leaders also followed Jesus as he toured the cities preaching his message, but they did not comprehend how truly simple the message was. They knew Jesus did not subject himself to many of their burdensome customs (Mark 7:1-8), so they thought they could trick him into speaking against the Law of Moses which would cause the people would reject him. So on one occasion, after answering one of their trick questions:
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:35-40
By way of this response, Jesus explained that those who accepted his message are only required to keep those two simple commandments, and if we are successful in doing so, we will have fulfilled all other moral and divine laws.
The first commandment – to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind – is the easier of the two. People who seek a relationship with the Father do not have much trouble loving Him. He doesn’t “get under our skin.” He doesn’t slight us. He doesn’t irritate us. He doesn’t nag us. He doesn’t abuse us. To the contrary, He allows us the freedom to live our lives as we choose. And he is always ready with a blessing, even on our worst days. There are only two personalities involved in the first commandment, and one of them is absolute perfection.
But the second is easier said than done. The second commandment involves hundreds of diverse and imperfect personalities and, depending on our lifestyles, maybe even thousands! We are asked to love not only our family and friends, but our neighbors – those we may not know very well, those who we might not even want to know. And there is no requirement that they love us first or love us back. We are asked to keep that commandment in spite of the reality of its difficulty because it is the solution to the world’s problems.
Paul expounded on the far-reaching implications of the second commandment:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
– Romans 13:8-10
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:14
So it is exceedingly important that we find a way to apply both the first and the second commandments. But the truth is that it is really not as difficult as we might think. When we truly understand the interrelation of the two commandments, applying the second one is much easier. Let’s demonstrate:
If you are currently harboring any ill feelings for anyone, call that feeling to mind. If you are not having such feelings, reach back to a past event for the purpose of this demonstration. Remember what was done to you. Remember who did it. Remember how it made you feel. Now, in that mindset, if you were to try to apply the second commandment to ‘love that person as yourself,’ that might be difficult. Maybe you could muster some tolerance to “let it go,” but can you love that person as yourself? Depending on what occurred, it can be hard to forget, to forgive or to let go.
It is exceedingly difficult to love someone against who we hold a grudge. Nevertheless, that is exactly what we are commanded to do. So, how do we do it? This is where the power of the first commandment comes in – to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.