Author: Ron Graham
When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" he replied, "'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 foremost commandment, and there is a second like it, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. The whole Law and Prophets hang on these two commands." (Mtt 22:37-40, Mrk 12:28-34).
In this lesson I offer for your consideration four clear principles evident in what Jesus says.
We sometimes hear comparisons made between love and law, which seem to place love and law at odds, and make love transcend law. The truth is that love and law are inseparably bound up together. The law of God comes from the love of God, and our love of God is expressed in obedience to his law.
Jesus was asked to name a commandment in the law which he considered to be the great commandment. He was not asked to name something which was greater than the law, stood outside of the law, or transcended the law. He was asked to name a commandment that was "in" the law. It was to be the first and foremost commandment, certainly, but a commandment nevertheless, a law in the law, not something apart from the law.
It is interesting that the person asking Jesus the question agreed with Jesus, and he added that the two commandments Jesus cited were "much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mrk 12:32-33). This does not mean that offerings and sacrifices were unnecessary. It means that there was no point in them unless they were offered out of a wholehearted love for God.
What the scribe realised was that one who offered a little bird with wholehearted love for God, offered much more than one who offered ten thousand bulls and goats without such love. Love does not cancel the lesser laws, but the lesser laws would be pointless without the love. God is not impressed by the quantity of the offering, but rather by the quality of love in the giver. This is exactly the point Paul makes at the beginning of his famous chapter on love (1Co 13:1-3).
So we see, in our first point that love is the greatest law in God’s law, and it is not correct to say that love is greater than law.
If we were asked to identify the greatest principle in the gospel of our salvation, we might answer "faith". After all, have we not been taught, and rightly so, that we are justified by faith? However faith is not the greatest principle.
When Paul spoke of the chief elements of the gospel, those things which should fill the heart of the Christian, he named, "Faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1Co 13:13). So we see that love is the greatest commandment in the gospel, just as it was in the law and the prophets.
Why is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31) a lesser commandment than "Love the Lord your God" (Mrk 12:30)? The answer to that is seen when we look at the origin or source of faith. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17).
Now obviously that does not mean that if you preach the word of God to someone they will automatically become a believer. They need something in their heart before faith can come by hearing. Paul tells us what they need. It is "...a love of the truth so as to be saved" (2Th 2:10).
To be saved by faith one needs a love of the truth, and without a love of the truth one cannot hear the truth in a way that produces faith. Since a love of God’s truth will accompany a love for God himself, we see that faith depends upon a wholehearted love for God. That’s why love is greater than faith.
The foundation of the Protestant movement appears to be "faith alone". The term "faith alone" is found only once in the scriptures, and there justification by faith alone is categorically denied (Jas 2:24). The question of faith versus works can only be understood when we consider it in the light of the first and foremost commandment, to love God with the whole heart.
Clearly that will produce not faith only, but "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5). Nothing less would result from, or demonstrate, a genuine and wholeheated love for God, which is the greatest commandment of all. Faith, as essential as it is, does not stand alone, nor does it stand above all else.
So we see, in our second point, that love is greater than faith, and it is not correct to speak of being saved by faith alone.
So far in this lesson we have been looking at misconceptions and correcting them in the light of the great commandment. Now we will look at two principles that enhance and deepen our understanding of, and obedience to, that great commandment.