The Hopelessness and Hope of the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22:37-39)
And he said to him, “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” —Matthew 22:37-39
There are no commandments in the Bible more devastating than these two. If I ever thought I was a pretty good person, they destroy that delusion.
I have never once kept even the first clause of the foremost commandment: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” At the very best moments of my life, when my affections for God have been the highest and my devotion the strongest, my heart has been polluted with the indwelling sin of selfishness. And I am rarely at my highest and strongest.
When added to all my heart is all my soul (everything that animates my physical and emotional being) and all my mind (every thought and intellectual desire), I am thrice condemned. Heart, soul, and mind overlap to cover my entire self. I have never, ever loved God entirely.
And then, if one impossibility wasn’t enough, Jesus adds to Deuteronomy 6:5 the impossible command of Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I have never once loved my neighbor as myself. The pathological selfishness resident in me makes loving even those I love the most impossible to love as myself. I have to repent almost daily for some way I sinfully put myself before them.
When held to the standard of these commandments,
I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? —Romans 7:22-24
The answer is almost too good to be true: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!
God himself saves me—and you—from the condemnation of these two commandments in that,
[He] has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. —Romans 8:3-4
Jesus loved the Father with all his heart, all his soul, and all his mind on our behalf. And he loved us, his neighbors, even while we were still sinful enemies (Romans 5:8), as he loved himself—truly as he loved himself. He became sin for us that we might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). This made us no longer just neighbors, but actually part of himself—his body (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Outside of Christ, we are only wretched. The two greatest commandments completely lay bare our condition.
But in Christ we are forgiven our constant failure to keep them because Jesus has kept them for us. And someday we will keep them perfectly just as he does.