January 8, 2023 The Two Greatest Commandments

The Two Greatest Commandments

January 8, 2023


Read Matthew 22:34-40.

There is a doctrine that is popular among some Christian groups today called anti-nomianism. Nomos means law. Thus, antinomianism is the teaching that Christians do not need to follow God’s law in this age. It is as false as false can be. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t reply, “We are no longer under God’s law anymore. Just live by the Spirit.” Rather, he answers their question plainly. In fact, he quotes a verse from Deuteronomy. This is the verse that Jesus quotes:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [1]

Jesus changes one word. Instead of “might” (or strength) he substitutes “mind.” Both the original Hebrew and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Scriptures) have might or strength. The word “strength” is somewhat vague. Strong in what way? In our bodies? In our human will?

Our Lord specifies where our strength should be exercised. It is in our minds. God is after our hearts and minds.

As far as God’s laws are concerned as found in the Old Testament, God’s children today are still to follow them as Jesus made clear in Matthew 5:17-20. Only the ceremonial laws, such as animal sacrifices and circumcision, which are capable of being fulfilled by Christ, need not be followed. 

The Pharisees understanding of the law was outward. They thought we only have to control our behavior. Their understanding was assimilated by the common people. Jesus already corrected this misconception in the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:21-48. Here, he shows again that God’s laws ought to direct our hearts and minds, not just our behavior.

Our Lord reveals that the great and first (meaning most important) commandment is to love the Lord God. God is not merely to be acknowledged. He is not merely to be honored (but, of course, he should be). He is not merely to be worshipped (though he is worthy of it). He is not merely to be obeyed, though he must be. He is to be loved! The highest and best calling for any person, but especially of those who follow Christ, is to love God.

God is lovable. In truth, he is the most lovable person in the universe. Yet, because of the fall of man, people do not love God. They avoid him. Avoiding a person is a form of hating a person. The natural man hates God.

Yet, even the follower of Christ is not immune from this proclivity to avoid God. It is because we still possess a sinful nature. Therefore, the Christian must nurture his or her love for the Living and Loving God. Indeed, remember what Christ said to the church at Ephesus:

“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.[2]

Here was a church that was outwardly faithful:

  • They worked for the Lord. Do you know there are disciples today that do very little for the Lord? Maybe they read their Bibles. Maybe they pray. But they are not laboring for the Lord. Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for their work.
  • They endured. Do you know that there are Christians today that do not endure? They go along for a while. Then, as soon as things do not go well for them, they give up. They give up sharing the gospel with others. The Ephesians endured under persecution.
  • They did not bear evil. Do you know that there are Christians today that tolerate evil? They allow immoral shows or movies into their homes. The Ephesians did not tolerate evil.
  • They exposed false apostles. There are Christians today that have little or no discernment. They will watch some false teacher on television and embrace the false teaching. The Ephesian church exposed false teaching.
  • They did not grow weary. Its easy to get weary, is it not? They didn’t!

The Ephesian church had much to commend it. And the Lord does commend them. But he was still against them because they weren’t loving him! So, we see that a Christian can lose their love for the Lord. Oh! How we must be on guard for this! If it can happen to the Ephesians it can happen to you!

Let us, therefore, consider this commandment, the great and first commandment. Our Lord says that we must love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. The heart is the inward part of man, that is, it is the spirit and soul together. Our human spirit is our innermost part that was created by God to contain God. When a person is regenerated the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in their human spirit and intimate contact with God is established.  The soul is the remaining immaterial aspect of man. It is our emotional seat along with the human will and our mind. Thus, this command in Deuteronomy, and our Lord’s reiteration of it, begins with the most general commitment (all of who we are within – the heart) and narrows down to the mind, which is the leading and most predominant part of our soul.

Since we are to love the Lord with all that we are, I wish to reveal three ways with which we can experience a greater love for God.

[1.] How does one express love to another human being, say your children or your spouse or even someone with whom you are courting? Of course, there are many ways. You may have heard of the Five Languages of Love. These are the ways that people express their love to another person. They are all good. Let me share four of these five.

One is physical touch. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, arm-in-arm, hand-on-shoulder, and (for married couples only) sex are all expressions of love through physical touch. This is a needed and often neglected form of expression. But this does not apply to God since God is spirit.

Another is acts of service. The things we do for our family members or our courtship partner display our love for them. Things such as helping with the dishes, vacuuming, helping with the laundry, running errands, putting gas in the car even though it was your partner who used it last. These all show love. But, these things can also be done with a lack of love. Remember that the Ephesian church worked and toiled, but they were not loving the Lord as they should have.

Another is the giving of gifts. It seems that women moreso than men appreciate gifts. (Men do, too, of course!) And giving monetarily to the work of God, especially through the local church is, indeed, a display of love towards God. Jesus said that where our treasure is there will our heart be also. Therefore, when we give to God through the church our hearts will be more inclined towards God. However, this is not one of the three ways that I wish to emphasize.

Another language of love is spending quality time with the one you love. This is the simplest way and the easiest way and, in my opinion, the truest way to show love for another person. The more you love someone the more you wish to be with that person. And, this is true of God just as much as it is true of our spouse or our children!

This is the first of three ways in which we can experience greater love for God. Not only is spending time with a person the easiest way to show our love, but it is also a way of increasing our love for another person. Now, some people, even those we love, can have annoying habits or character flaws that actually mitigate against increasing our love for them. Spending too much time with someone with character flaws can actually inhibit our love. (Yet, many have had the experience that, once that person is gone for good, they miss even that person’s bad habits!) But, God is not that way, is He? God is perfect and the most lovable person in the universe! Therefore, spending more time with God always animates a greater love for him!

Therefore, we must ensure that we spend quality time with the Lord. It is both a measure of how much we love him presently and a way to increase our love for him. “Spending time with the Lord consists of four things:

  • Reading and studying his word.[3]
  • Praying
  • Private worship (praising and/or singing to the Lord alone or just with your family
  • Public worship (the meetings of the church)

The more we spend time with the Lord in these ways, the more that we will love him!

[2.] The second way to love the Lord more is by the fifth ”language of love.” That is by telling him. This is a simple and beautiful way to express love to our children or to our spouse. Husbands sometime get a bad reputation for not being more verbal about their love. Wives have a legitimate complaint if they seldom hear their husbands tell them that they love them. Husbands need to do that and they need to do it often without neglecting the other expressions of love. I knew a couple where the roles were reversed. The husband told his wife every day that he loved her but verbally she never reciprocated. This caused a big problem in the marriage. But, most of the time, it is the husband who neglects this expression.

Remember that God is a person! He desires that we tell him that we love him! This is true. But it is even more important for us. We need to express our love to God verbally. As with the other love languages, it not only reveals how much we actually love the Lord, but it also will increase our love for him the more often we practice it!

We can do this in formal prayer but it is even easier to do with short, spontaneous prayers. Back in October of last year I gave a message about “the Jesus Prayer.”[4] In that message I advocated for saying the Jesus Prayer in the way of repetition, that is, ten or more times consecutively. You can simply tell our Lord you love him with short, simple prayer such as, “Lord Jesus, I love you.” That’s it! But do not say it in a vain way, meaning don’t just mouth the words, but feel their import. Mean what you say. Like the Jesus prayer, say it many times. Again, I recommend at least ten times in a row. May experience has been that, when I say this short prayer, by the fifth or sixth iteration I begin to feel a noticeable increase in my love for him!

Similarly, we can tell the Father we love him with such a short prayer. For many of us God is the father we never had!

[3.] The third, but most difficult, of the three ways to increase our love for God is by obeying him. Consider these words of our Lord:


15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.[5]

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. [6]

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. [7]

Our Lord said plainly that if we love him then we will keep his commandments.

He also said plainly that if we do not love the Lord then the result will be that we will not obey him. Oh! How we need to simply obey the Lord and resist sin with all that we have!

The more we love the Lord, the more we will obey him. And the more we obey him, the more joy we will have (15:11)! And, yes, the more we obey him, the more love that we will have, too!

The three ways that we can increase our love for God are:

  • By spending time with him
  • By telling him we love him
  • And by obeying him

We must do these things! If we do not then we will not love him as we ought to love him. If we do not then he will do to us what he promised to do to the church at Ephesus: he will remove our testimony as a follower of Christ (Rev. 2:5) and we will not be allowed to eat from the tree of life in the next age (Rev. 2:7).[8]

Returning to our original text, when the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, he tells them what the second greatest is: to love our neighbor as ourselves. They lacked this. We lack this! Our lack of love for others is shown when people need our help but we find reasons not to help them.


How can we love others more? It is by the same three ways!

  • We spend quality time with those who desire us to do so.
  • We tell them that we love them.
  • We obey them or take their advice. More often than not, their advice will be for our benefit.
  • To these you may add the other three languages of love, too.

Love, then, is the driving motivation to our service to God and to others. It is the guiding star to our very life! Think about this: we are commanded to love. This means that our love is under our control. It is not just an emotion that we pretend to have no control over. No. We choose to love. We choose not to love. We choose how much to love. It is up to us. We may not be up to the task. Other desires draw us away from God. Some people have dispositions and idiosyncrasies that make it more difficult to love them. So, the Lord has given us his Spirit that we can love God above all and our fellow man as ourselves. Yet, we still must choose to love and we must choose how much to love.

Last week, because it was the first day of the newyear, I strongly encouraged you to commit to living in God’s word in 2023. May I do the same with respect to these two greatest commandments? Commit to making 2023 the year that you love God in a more intimate way than you have done before. Make 2023 the year that you love your children more or your spouse more than you have before.

“Lord, we confess that we can love you more than we have. If you are disappointed in us as you were the Ephesians, we ask you to show us mercy. We desire to love you more. We may be too weak to do so. We ask you to motivate us and empower us to love you more and to love each other more. It’s in Christ’s name that we ask this. Amen.”



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 6:4–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 2:2–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] See the sermon, The Precision of God’s Word, at nsbcwinfield.com, Sermon Notes for 1/1/2023.

[4] See Asking Jesus for Mercy at church website for 10/30/2022.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:23–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 15:10–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The tree of life in the next age does not signify eternal life, but rather an abundance of life. It is a reward for the faithful.