God gave the people of Israel many commandments and laws. What they did with the commandments and laws determined their righteousness before God. However, by its very nature, the law was given to show how impossible it is for us to fulfil. Of all the commandments however, one was universally acclaimed as the greatest of all.
Matthew 22:35-40 (KJV)
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,  Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Here Jesus Christ clearly identifies the greatest or first commandment and also adds the second. He further adds that the whole Law and the prophets are based on these two commandments. This shows how important these two commandments are. These commandments were not just first in order, but the first in weight and dignity. Without them, every other commandment and prophecy loses its meaning. The word used for ‘first’ in the original Greek language is the word ‘protos’, which means ‘chief or principal’. That is how important this law is. You may call it ‘the mother of all laws’.
Even the lawyers, who were always at odds with Christ, also agreed that it was the greatest commandment. Interestingly, one of them linked the Great Commandment with eternal life:
Luke 10:25-29 (KJV)
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.  And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.  But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
Today, many religions all over the world have as their cardinal objective to love God with all their hearts and souls. This agrees with what God originally gave to Moses [Deut. 6:4-9 (KJV)], and confirmed by both the Lord Jesus Christ and his opponents. So we see that in Judaism, Christianity, and in many other world religions, there is total agreement that the greatest law is to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
How do we love God?
If loving God is the greatest commandment, how do we then show or demonstrate our love to God? Many peoples and religions have their own way of demonstrating their love for God and man. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and Scribes developed elaborate ways to do this for all to see.
Matthew 23:5 (KJV)
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
Phylacteries were prayer boxes. Modern day Jews call it tephillin.
They consisted of strips of parchment on which were inscribed these four texts: Exodus 13:1-10; 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-21, and which were enclosed in a square leather case. These were worn on the forehead or on the left arm near the elbow. The Scribes and the Pharisees enlarged their phylacteries to be prominent, thus showing their zeal or love for God. But Jesus said this was only for a show. Other things they did included making long prayers and even making some converts to Judaism. They had special rites for washing hands before eating. They were so meticulous with the Law of Moses that their interpretation of it produced voluminous books that received more credence from them than the Law itself.
Most of the great religions we know today also have their own ceremonial rituals and rites that are supposed to show their love for God and demonstrate how close they are to Him. These include the use of religious paraphernalia in prayer, wearing of particular attires, prayer a number of times each day. Some also believe that giving to the poor shows their love for God, so they have become philanthropists. Some have created their own moral code, which they believe shows their love. So they boast of not doing such and such immoral acts. Others have made a religion of social justice and believe that so long as they fight for the cause of the poor and needy, they are demonstrating their love for God. Yet others include taking communion at church, being constant at church, regularity at confession, and reciting certain prayers so many times a day. The list may be endless and it must be emphasised that most of these things are not bad in themselves. However, do these things really show our love for God? More importantly, does God accept these things as indications of true love for Him? Are these ‘works’ proof that one has fulfilled or is striving to fulfil the Great Commandment? And if so, has anyone ever succeeded in loving God to that extent? I beg to differ on biblical grounds.
Jesus Christ told some people in the book of Matthew:
Matthew 5:20 (KJV)
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees were the limit in human attempts to please God through self-effort. They were so scrupulous in their attempt to love God. However, it was only an outward show. Such efforts are called religion, and it is the human attempt to reach out to God in order to gain His favour. The Pharisees’ weakness was that they were content to obey the laws outwardly without allowing God to change their hearts (or attitudes). No matter your religious creed, the Bible describes such attempts to prove our love for God as filthy rags.
Isaiah 64:6 (KJV)
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Jesus was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether (love and obedience), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ righteousness (legal compliance). Our love for God must:
(1) Come from what God does in us , not what we can do by ourselves,
(2) Be God-centred, not self-centred,
(3) Be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and
(4) Go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law.
Salvation is entirely the result of grace. It is something we receive. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
Ephes. 2:10 (KJV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Good works do not produce salvation, but they are the product or result of salvation. Put in other words, without Christ, good works are but filthy rags. John Stott wrote: ‘Good works are indispensable to salvation – not as its ground or means, however, but as its consequence and evidence’.
The condition of the human heart
The Great Commandment expects us to love God with ‘all our hearts’. A study of the scriptures however convinces us that with the natural condition of the human heart, it is impossible to love God as expected. The prophet Jeremiah gave us a glimpse into human nature when he stated:
Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)
The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?
Darby’s Translation makes interesting reading:
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable; who can know it? (DBY) [Emphasis added]
The book of Ephesians also gives us an idea of how God sees the natural human heart. Every man born of woman is:
- Dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Without Christ we are dead and hence cannot communicate with or respond to God.
- Without God. [Gk. Separately/apart from.] This is a terrible situation to be in, but that is where a person is without Christ.
- He lives under the influence of the prince of the power of the air. (Eph. 2: 3). Without Christ, Satan controls you. Not many ‘good’ people realize this frightening reality.
- Without hope. (Ephesians 2:12) There is absolutely no hope for us without Christ.
- Children of wrath by nature. The man without Christ is bound for destruction. Eph. 2: 12.
- Lives according to the dictates of the flesh and mind.
- Children of disobedience. We have no real capacity to obey or love God. Ephesians 2:2.
- Understanding darkened. [Gk. To obscure]. It is not possible for the man without Christ to understand the things of God. Eph. 4: 18.
- Vanity of mind. [Gk. Inutility, transient, empty, profitless]. Eph. 4: 17.
- Alienated from the life of God. [Gk. Non participant. To estrange away]. The life of God is not in him. He is alien to God’s nature. Eph. 4: 17.
- Blindness of heart. [Gk. Stupidity of callousness] Eph. 4: 18.
- Blinded by the enemy. Veil placed over spiritual eyes. 1Cor. 4:4.
- Past feeling. [To become apathetic]. Eph. 4:19.
Clearly such a person is not capable of loving God so as to fulfill the Great Commandment.
Psalm 14:1-3 (NLT) For the choir director: A psalm of David. Only fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; no one does good!  The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if there is even one with real understanding, one who seeks for God.  But no, all have turned away from God; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not even one! [Emphasis mine]
Psalm 14 also describes our condition without God’s help;
The apostle Paul sums it all up for us:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: Romans 3:10 (KJV)
As to love, the Bible even makes it clear that it is only the Holy Spirit that brings the love of God into our hearts. So it is humanly impossible to love God as He ought to be loved, on our own initiative and power. See what the word says:
Romans 5:5 (KJV)
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. [Emphasis mine]
Now the question is if God knew that we could in no way fulfil the Great Commandment, why did He put it in His word and make it the foundation on which all the Law and the prophets hang. I believe the primary purpose of the Great Commandment was to reveal to us our utter helplessness to please God on our own, and to point us to the One who alone had the ability to fulfil the Law. This person is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He said;
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (KJV)
Matthew 5:17 (NLT)
"Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfil them.
 Deuteronomy 6:25
 Mathew 23:14-15.
 Mark 7:8-9
- Quote paper
- Abraham Quarcoo (Author), 2017, The Great Commandment. Can We Fulfill It?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/386095