JESUS PROVES HIS AUTHORITY BY DEFINING LOVE AS THE HEART OF SPIRITUAL ETHICS – BOTH IN RELATION TO GOD AND MAN
Charles Swindoll: Some questions are asked to make us think . . . not to be answered. In fact, some of life’s best questions are those that leave us sitting in silence, pondering them, rather than rushing to an off-the-top-of-our-heads, quiz-show response. Some of the smartest and wisest people I know impress me not because they have all the right answers but because they know how to ask the right questions. My best mentors and teachers have been the ones who have driven me deeper into exploring the profound questions of life rather than making me jot down their bullet-point lists of answers.
Richard Gardner: According to rabbinic tradition dating from the second century, the Torah contains no fewer than 613 laws (365 prohibitions and 248 commands). Already in Jesus’ day, Jewish teachers were wrestling with the question of how all these commandments relate to each other, and whether the totality of them can be derived from one or more basic commandments.
Daniel Doriani: In Matthew 22 Jesus says that love for God is the first and greatest duty of mankind. This text marks the fourth in a series of questions the Jewish leaders put to Jesus, always intent on testing or trapping him. They have asked him questions about his authority (21:23), about taxes (22:15–17), and about the resurrection (22:23–28). Jesus has answered each one, and answered well. In fact, his answer to the last question from the Sadducees was so successful that they resolved to ask him no more. When they heard “that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together” to try one last time to test or trap Jesus (22:34).
William Barclay: To be truly religious is to love God and to love those whom God made in his own image; and to love God and other people, not with a vague sentimentality, but with that total commitment which issues in devotion to God and practical service of others.
Donald Hagner: The two love commandments belong together, covering the vertical (relationship with God) and the horizontal (relationship with others) dimensions. The first entails the second; the second presupposes and depends on the first. It is obvious, however, that the use of the verb ἀγαπήσεις, “you shall love,” does not mean the same thing in both places. In neither case is love construed as an emotion. Love for one’s neighbor means acting toward others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds. Such love is constant and takes no regard of the perceived merit or worth of the other person. Love of God, on the other hand, is to be understood as a matter of reverence, commitment, and obedience. It is at once an acknowledgment of his identity as Creator and Redeemer and a reflection of that reality in the ordering of our lives. With this orientation toward God and others, the law and the prophets have reached their ultimate goal. Further concern with commandments, further elaboration of ethical stipulations—these all depend upon the real manifestation of the love commandments for their legitimacy.
Stanley Saunders: This answer allows Jesus to affirm the two commandments as “great” and “first” without suggesting that they trump or diminish the rest. There is not one great commandment, nor even two, and then many subordinate commandments, but an integral whole that encompasses the law and the prophets. The greatness of these two commandments lies not in their distinction from the others, but in their capacity to articulate the root and foundation of the whole tradition.
I. (:34-36) THE FINAL EXAM
A. (:34) Final Attempt to Discredit Jesus
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence,
they gathered themselves together.”
Charles Swindoll: In Jesus’ muzzling of the Sadducees, the opposing party of the Pharisees saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. If they could swoop in and deal a blow to Jesus, they would not only put that rabble-rousing rabbi in His place, but they would also demonstrate their intellectual superiority over the Sadducees. A. T. Robertson even suggests that the Pharisees “could not restrain their glee” at the opportunity handed to them by the circumstances, as if on a silver platter.
But the Pharisees couldn’t afford to mess this up. If they, too, were soundly defeated by Jesus’ uncanny ability to deflect His opponents’ attacks, the end would be worse than the beginning. Remember, they were still licking their wounds after the “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” defeat, in which their disciples had gone away in amazement at Jesus’ teaching (22:21-22). This time they had to hit Jesus as hard as they could and make it hurt.
B. (:35) Final Confrontation Crafted by the Pharisees’ Top Legal Expert
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,”
Leon Morris: The restless attempts to trick Jesus into an answer that would discredit him either with the authorities or with the general public continued. His opponents never learned that they were on a futile quest.
John MacArthur: It’s unlike Matthew to use the word “lawyer.” In fact, some commentators think it shouldn’t be there because it’s so uncommon to Matthew. Well, that’s ridiculous. He can use a word he’s never used before, that isn’t any problem.
But I believe the reason it’s here is because it’s a word that may suggest that this guy was a cut above the average scribe. He was a law expert. And all scribes were, to some extent, lawyers, half attorney, half theologian because their understanding of law was that it was biblical law and traditional law, not just secular law, so they were sort of theologian attorneys and advocates and teachers. And so this may have been one who stood out from the many scribes as a real expert. And he is sent to ask the question on behalf of the rest of the Pharisees.
Charles Swindoll: The Pharisees determined to send one of their experts in the Law, whom the NASB calls “a lawyer” and the NLT calls “an expert in religious law” (22:35). The Greek word here is nomikos , literally, “a man of the law.” These “lawyers” were usually scribes, men who dedicated their lives to meticulously copying the Hebrew Scriptures to preserve them from decay or corruption. Consequently, their constant contact with God’s Word made them extremely knowledgeable, and they would be called upon to explain and apply the Law. We can imagine that the Pharisees, desirous of dealing Jesus a rhetorical death blow, found the best trained, most brilliant scholar they could. It wouldn’t have been difficult, considering that they were in Jerusalem, the center of the study of the Torah.
R. T. France: The question is not political like the previous Pharisaic question. Like the Sadducees’ question it is essentially theological, but this time with a focus on the law which gives it a more strongly ethical slant. As an issue going to the heart of the Mosaic law it is appropriately raised by a Pharisaic lawyer. . .
By bringing these two texts [Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18] together Jesus asserts that the one principle of love applies equally to the two main aspects of religious duty, one’s attitude to God and one’s attitude to other people. It is these two foci which provide the framework of the Decalogue, with its two “tables” covering these two aspects in turn. If the Decalogue is itself a sort of epitome of the law, these two quotations in turn sum up the Decalogue. Commentators discuss whether Jesus was the first Jewish teacher to bring the two texts together in this paradigmatic way.
C. (:36) Final Exam Question Allows for a Wide Range of Responses
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
This was not a simple Yes/No Question.
Warren Wiersbe: This was not a new question, for the scribes had been debating it for centuries. They had documented 613 commandments in the law, 248 positive and 365 negative. No person could ever hope to know and fully obey all of these commandments. So, to make it easier, the experts divided the commandments into “heavy” (important) and “light” (unimportant). A person could major on the “heavy commandments” and not worry about the trivial ones.
The fallacy behind this approach is obvious: you need only beak one law, heavy or light, to be guilty before God. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
II. (:19-24) THE FOCUS ON LOVE
A. (:37-38) Love for God
- (:37) Comprehensive Commitment
“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.’”
Donald Hagner: Jesus draws his answer from the Shema, which was recited twice daily by the Jews. After the opening words, “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” which are included in Mark 12:29, comes the commandment quoted by Jesus. The wording of the citation itself agrees nearly verbatim with the LXX of Deut 6:5.
Daniel Doriani: This passage [Deut. 6:5] fairly shouts, “This is the climax!” Moses tells Israel they have heard God’s law and must now obey him because he redeemed them and because he has the power to bless them with a good, long life. Moses says, in effect, “The one God is the Lord your God. Therefore love him.” On the basis of 6:5 and the sweep of Deuteronomy 4–7, Jesus says the first duty of mankind is to love God.
- We love God with heart and soul when we embrace him in our deepest convictions and commitments.
- We love God with the mind when we understand our past and our present as he does and dedicate our future plans and goals to him.
- We love God with our strength when we dedicate the physical body, its muscles and energy, to him. We love God with our strength if we follow him with a determined will and with moral resolve in the face of adversity.
Grant Osborne: Notice that it is not just “love God” but “love the Lord your God.” The object is Yahweh, the covenant God who never leaves or forsakes. Moreover, he is “your” God, so that one’s love for him is simply the response of one who has already been loved completely and absolutely.
2. (:38) Preeminent Priority
“This is the great and foremost commandment.”
B. (:39) Love for Your Neighbor
“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Daniel Doriani: All duties to our neighbor depend on love. The word translated “depend” (kremannymi) literally means to hang, as in hanging a necklace around a neck or hanging an ornament on a tree. This “hanging” or “depending” means that everything the law says about our duty to our neighbor serves love and explains it. Augustine said, “All God’s commandments . . . are rightly carried out only when the motive principle of action is the love of God, and the love of our neighbor in God.” So love is the motive for all we do. It is also the organizing principle for all we do. The church father Theodoros said, “Love unites and protects the virtues.” New Testament scholar Douglas Moo put it another way: “love has primacy within the law, not over the law.” Love is the greatest command, but not the only command. He adds, “Perhaps if love were perfectly sincere, it would indeed fulfill all the particular commandments rightly.” But “in this life our love is never perfectly sincere”; therefore we still need the other commandments. God’s law teaches how to embody the love command. . .
So Jesus calls us to love the Lord and to love our neighbors. All the rest of the law is commentary on those two principles. Love is the most basic and most vital demand of the law. It is the true goal of the law. Love integrates and informs all our duties. Ideally, all that we do is for the sake of love.
C. (:40) Significance of the Combination of These Two Commands
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Grant Osborne: It is commonly recognized that this is fulfillment language, and that these two complete and bring into fulfillment all of Scripture, “nothing less than a ‘hermeneutic program’ for the understanding and application of the law and the prophets.” In other words, following God in every area of life flows out of love for God, and that then makes it possible to love others, which itself is the basis for all relationships and ethical living on this earth.
Robert Gundry: The whole Law, plus the Prophets, “hangs” on these two commandments in the sense that they derive from and depend on these two, so that love for God and neighbor must permeate obedience to all the other commandments. This permeation keeps careful obedience from turning into mechanical rule-keeping.
D. A. Carson: There is no question here of the priority of love over law—i.e., one system over another—but of the priority of love within the law. These two commandments are the greatest because all Scripture “hangs” on them; i.e., nothing in Scripture can cohere or be truly obeyed unless these two are observed. Love is “the primary hermeneutical principle for interpreting and applying the law” (Mohrlang, Matthew and Paul, 95). The entire biblical revelation demands heart religion marked by total allegiance to God, loving him and loving one’s neighbor. Without these two commandments, the Bible is sterile. This pericope prepares the way for the denunciations of 23:1–36 and conforms fully to Jesus’ teaching elsewhere. “Love is the greatest commandment, but it is not the only one; and the validity and applicability of other commandments cannot be decided by appeal to its paramount demand” (Moo, p. 12). The question of the continuity or discontinuity of OT law within the teaching of Jesus is determined not with reference to the love commands but by a salvation-historical perspective focusing on prophecy and fulfillment.
R. T. France: The comprehensive nature of the love which these two texts demand makes them eminently suitable for the role of summarizing the law, as the Pharisaic lawyer has asked. Together they cover both the main foci of human responsibility under God. They summarize not only the law (which was the question asked) but also the prophets, since the whole scriptural revelation is understood to witness to the same divine will. For the graphic use of “hang” as a term for dependence cf. the famous rabbinic comment that the sabbath laws “are as mountains hanging by a hair, for Scripture is scanty but the rules are many.” (m. Ḥag. 1:8) By contrast, the two texts chosen by Jesus are together sufficiently strong to bear the weight of the whole OT. This does not mean, as some modern ethicists have argued, that “all you need is love,” so that one can dispense with the ethical rules set out in the Torah. It is rather to say that those rules find their true role in working out the practical implications of the love for God and neighbor on which they are based. Far from making the law irrelevant, therefore, love thus becomes “the primary hermeneutical principle for interpreting and applying the law.”