“And 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 great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
—Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV)
Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37–40, known as the Great Commandment, have inspired and challenged believers for centuries. Jesus spoke these words in response to a cleverly crafted question from a Pharisee lawyer who wanted to test and discredit Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees had previously tried to trap Jesus with questions about his authority, taxes, and resurrection, but had failed. Prior to this passage, Jesus had silenced the Sadducees with his answers, which led the Pharisees to make one final attempt to trap Him. A lawyer from their group asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, hoping that whatever answer Jesus gave could discredit Him.
In response, Jesus stated the great commandment as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). This commandment is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5, known as the Shema, which was recited by devout Jews twice daily and even inscribed on doorposts. Jesus quoted this verse to emphasize that the ultimate commandment is to wholeheartedly love God, dedicating every aspect of our being to Him and making Him our top priority.
Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, but He went on to mention a second one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). This is a call to treat others with the same love and respect with which we would want to be treated.
Moreover, this second command is closely connected to the first, for it is impossible to truly love God without loving our neighbors. In the words of John, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Jesus also emphasized that His followers will be known by their love for one another. He said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Jesus further stated, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). The essence of all commandments lies in loving God and loving others. The other commandments serve as applications of these foundational commands. Paul emphasized this concept in Romans 13:9, stating that commandments such as, “‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37–40 draws our attention to the unique relationship between law and love. Loving God is our primary directive. Any further obedience to His commands stems from our genuine love for Him; we willingly obey Him because we truly love Him.
Our love and our obedience must be exclusive and complete. We direct our devotion solely toward God, cherishing Him above all else. Keeping Him as the supreme authority over our mind, we strive to align every thought with His will (2 Cor. 10:5) and renew our minds to live a life that pleases Him (Rom. 12:2).
As we submit our time and energy to Him, our obedience to God extends to loving our neighbors. We cannot claim to love God genuinely while remaining indifferent to the needs of those around us. The parable of the good Samaritan illustrates this principle, where a priest and a Levite prioritize their religious obligations over helping an injured man they pass on the road. They seemed focused on loving God, yet they failed to offer His love to others. This manner of devotion does not please the Lord. The second command is like the first because by loving the people He brings into our lives we make manifest our love for Him.
We cannot generate such pervasive and profound love from our own good will. We sinners are undoubtedly incapable of motivating ourselves to love God and our neighbors in this way without relying on God’s help. Our ability to love rightly is a result of God’s love for us (1 John 4:19) and a fruit of Him enabling us (Gal. 5:22). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He empowers and equips us to love in the radical way He commanded.
Paul Masih lives and serves in northwest India with his wife, Kristi, and their children, Emma and Caleb. Paul is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Chandigarh and the executive director of Uttermost International. Uttermost is a US-based nonprofit organization founded by Paul to help facilitate ministry partnerships with their church network in northwest India.