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Love - "The first and great commandment" (Mt 22.36-39)

R Dawes, Pamber Heath

The Bible is full of commandments. They are all meaningful, but there are levels of relevance and importance. The legal system of the Old Testament contained a multitude of commandments. The majority, broadly speaking, were for the priests in the performance of their duties, ceremonies, and rituals. The Ten Commandments of the moral law, together with the complicated attendant legislation, were binding upon all the people. Many of these commandments (apart from the moral law) only had relevance at the time in fulfilling the purposes of God. Behind the laws of the Old Testament lurked the threat of retribution, but there are no underlying threats in the New Testament commandments; they are not grievous demands but gracious commands, for grace reigns. The Christian commandments are nearly all of a moral and spiritual nature: "be ye holy" (1 Pet 1.15,16), "Be ye not unequally yoked" (2 Cor 6.14), etc. The Lord was asked the question, "Master, which is the great commandment?", to which He replied, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind", and stated that "This is the first and great commandment" (Mt 22.37-38). He then added, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (v.39). The law of love, therefore, has priority (first) and is the most important (great) of all commandments.

The New Commandment

The first and great commandment has now been redefined and superseded by the Lord’s new commandment, thrice referred to in His farewell ministry: "Love one another; as I have loved you" (Jn 13.34 - see also 15.12,17). This lifts love to loftier levels - "as I have loved you", not, "as thyself"; the law of love reigns supreme, its source and spring is in Christ. The epistles emphasise its supremacy, for love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13.8-10; Gal 5.14); "the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13.13, RV). All divine commandments distil into one essence and that is love, the nature of God. Love is the full expression of living - to love is to live!

Its Importance

This commandment is new in character; known as the "eleventh" commandment. This Calvary love was unknown before it was seen in Christ; it is foreign to human nature. Love is the essential quality, it transcends all considerations; when difficulties and doubts arise love must be the overriding priority for "Love suffereth long, and is kind...Love never faileth" (1 Cor 13.4,8, RV). Nothing has value apart from love; truth alone is dead and legal, while love is living and warm – truth must be wrapped around with love to be effectual and acceptable. Love heals hurts, soothes sorrows, assuages grief, and stems tears. Love is the "more excellent way" (1 Cor 12.31), more important "than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mk 12.33), for love "shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4.8), and "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song 8.7).

Its Impulse

"Love one another, as I have loved you" (Jn 15.12). Herein is the new motive and measure of love. This love is not human sentiment, but a strong spiritual impulse proceeding from the will as well as the heart, manifesting its concerns for the needs and welfare of others. It is loving with the love of Christ, speaking in His tone, serving with His touch, sympathising with His tenderness. Contending for truth is hypocritical if we fail to show love to saints who are hurting and grieving. Some are excused for being judgmental, impolite, overbearing, because they are perceived to be "on the right lines". This is unacceptable behaviour! Do we disdain believers who do not see things as we do? "Love one another" excludes no believer, but impartially embraces them all, even although we may have different views on some issues. Remember, many who are criticised are godlier and more devoted than we are.

Its Impact

By this mutual love "shall all men know that ye are my disciples" (Jn 13.35); love is the only true badge of discipleship. The distinctive feature of Christianity is not a creed or a cross, but a living Christ; not about keeping commandments, but loving a Person, and showing the love of Christ. The world watches and reads our conduct and conversation. Practical, personal, sacrificial, forgiving, impartial love is more effective in testimony than all our preaching! The early church, by its unity, love, and care, was characterised by great power, great grace, and great fear (Acts 4.33; 5.11) resulting in multitudes being added to the Lord.

"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God;
And every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 Jn 4.7-8).



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