The Great Commandment

Bob Brannon, DPhil   -  

As an evangelical church, we talk often about the Great Commission. Many of us can quote it from memory: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Jesus’ last words are our first priority. That’s what we say, anyway. And we are pretty good at giving money to send those who “go” across cultures and oceans with the good news.

I wonder sometimes, though, if our emphasis on the Great Commission overshadows another important passage of Scripture – the Great Commandment.

To test Jesus, an expert in the law asked him, Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). The Great Commandment is to love; to love God and to love our neighbors.

But who is our neighbor? That’s the question the law expert asked. Unfortunately, his query was merely an unveiled attempt to justify himself. He had no real interest in loving anyone he didn’t know.

In response, Jesus told him a pointed story about a Good Samaritan. The story follows the perilous saga of a man falling prey to bandits who beat him, robbed him, leaving him half dead along the roadside. About that time a priest happened by. Unmoved or too busy, he simply passed by without helping the bleeding victim. Then another religious man came along, a Levite. Like the Priest before him, the Levite callously walked by, refusing to stop and offer assistance. Then along came a Samaritan. But this man was different. He took pity on the poor man lying in the ditch. He picked him up, put him on his own donkey, and took care of him.

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers, Jesus asked the legal expert. The man who had mercy on him, he replied. Go and do likewise, Jesus told him.

Why do we find that so hard to do? It’s much easier to throw money at needy people, isn’t it? That way we can keep a safe distance and control our entanglement. But Jesus made it clear that loving our neighbor means getting involved in their lives. A true neighbor is willing to be interrupted. A true neighbor cares enough to spend time and money to help someone in need. And being a true neighbor is not an option. It is a command. Jesus called it the greatest commandment.

While we continue praying and giving to complete the Great Commission, let’s not forget to obey the Great Commandment. And remember, we love because he first loved us.

God loves everyone. Every single one of us. He loves you. Because He loves us, we are called to love as He does. That is who we are, children of a loving Father. “The Great Commission capsulizes what we do while the Great Commandment embodies who we are” (David Ferguson).