Before we discuss the “greatest commandments”, have you watched my latest testimony? It’s below last weeks message “A Beautiful Life“, in case you missed it.
In almost everything, the greater the number, the better. “Two heads are better than one”, “There is strength in numbers”, “Four of a kind beats three of a kind”… I think you get it.
What am I alluding to you may ask? I am comparing the two greatest commandments with the Ten Commandments. This may be one of the more controversial topics that I’ve written about, but I also think it is one of the most important topics to discuss.
Much of what I’ll be discussing in this message can be found in Romans (chap. 7, 8, 14), Galatians, Ephesians 2, Hebrews (chap. 9 & 10) and various passages scattered throughout the gospels. Since a lot of the New Testament is simply a commentary of the Old in addition to the revelation of the Messiah, it would be good to have an understanding of the Old Testament.
The Ten vs. The Two
It seems to me that Cecil B. DeMille and Charlton Heston have left quite an impression over the past generations with the masterpiece of “The Ten Commandments” movie they produced in 1956. As a nation we seem to be very nostalgic and defensive when it comes to the Ten Commandments. After all, it is what our laws are based on. Our founding fathers saw fit to place them in the halls of institutions, courthouses and on monuments.
I’m not saying this is wrong. I have no problems with what the founding fathers have done and I have enjoyed the movie many times. What I do have a problem with is when this adoration of the 10 commandments seeps into our personal theology as something to place special focus on. As if to say that some might worship the law more that the Law Giver.
Our focus should never be on these 10 commandments. Our focus, at least for those proclaiming to be Christ followers, should be on Jesus Himself. Jesus did not contradict Moses, but He placed the emphasis on relationships rather than self-righteousness and faith rather than obeying the law.
Let’s compare The Ten Commandments vs. The Two
The Ten Commandments
They are found in Exodus and restated in Deuteronomy 5:6-21…
Exodus 20 (Abbreviated)
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image…”
7 “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
12 “Honor your father and mother.
13 “You must not murder.
14 “You must not commit adultery.
15 “You must not steal.
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house.
The Two Commandments
Matthew 22: 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
These OT commandments are:
Deuteronomy 6: 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
Leviticus 19: 18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
If our focus is on the law and keeping the law then there was no point in Jesus’ death on the cross.
Galatians 5: 1 So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.
Instant Replay: “So Christ has truly set us free!”
What is important to understand about Jesus’ work on the cross is that He fulfilled the law completely.
Matthew 5: 17 “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 accomplish their purpose.
Matthew 5: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (NIV)
And did He?
John 19: 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.
At this point His work was done, the law was fulfilled. Their purpose was so that the Jews might have life:
Deuteronomy 30: 15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.
But that system was only a shadow…
Hebrews 10: 1 The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
The author of Hebrews goes on to state:
Hebrews 10: 8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses).9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.
Did you catch that?
The first covenant with the laws and the sacrificial system has been canceled!
12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.
It is because of His death we are “made perfect” and “made holy”. Not by our ability to obey His laws, but by His obedience and work on the Cross.
We read on that in Jeremiah 31, the prophet said this of the New Covenant:
Jeremiah 31: 16
“This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
In other words, we don’t have to be told what to do (or what not to do).
Our faith requires that we be proactive, not passive
But what is excellent about the two commandments that Jesus focused on is that they require a proactive faith and is basically commanding us to have a relationship with Him.
If we really understand these two “Greatest Commandments” and Jesus death on the cross, then we’ll know what sets Christianity apart from all other beliefs, philosophies, and religions. Why did Jesus come?
John 10: 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
This “rich and satisfying life” is to be had here, on this planet, now! No other belief system or religion offers this. This freedom that Christ has given us from the law is to be enjoyed today. Not that we would abuse it, but to live life abundantly.
Galatians 2: 17 But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. 19For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.
20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13: 13b)
So the focus here is to love and live for God, rather than “trying to follow all the rules”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with “not breaking the rules”, but if we miss out on the loving relationship that God desires that we have with Him then we’ve missed the boat completely.
Keep this in mind:
Matthew 7: 12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.
If our focus lies on loving God and others, it covers all the “laws” anyway. Do you see how the shift of “focusing on the person of Jesus Christ” rather than “focusing on His law” simplifies things, draws us closer to God, and gives us a greater peace? Let the relationship begin!
Paul puts it this way…
Galatians 5: 16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
And he seems to restate it here:
Romans 7: 5 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
There is so much more that could be said and many more scriptures that support this idea, but I think what I’ve included here is enough for now. I have found a great freedom in focusing my attention on loving God rather than simply trying to “obey the law”. If you focus more on relationships with Him and with others I guarantee that you will have a much more satisfying life and an eternal one as well.
Galatians 4: 12a Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.
Will you focus on Him?
“Thank you, Jesus, for the freedom that your death on the cross has given us; so that we may enjoy life here and now! Your commandments are very challenging to me and I’m trying my best to love you and others. But I need your help. Please continue to reveal yourself to me as I read your Word, so that I might have a greater understanding of you and how to relate to others. Your love is like the mighty mountains and I rejoice in my relationship with you! In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Photo by Greg Becker on Unsplash