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The Great and First Commandment

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The Great and First Commandment

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Matthew 22:36

The Jews had studied God's laws exhaustively and this one wished to test Jesus to see what answer he would give him to this question. At once Jesus said:

"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." Matthew 22:37-38

The command to love God is therefore the greatest and foremost of all his commandments. All other laws and all the teachings of the prophets are summed up in this one law to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls and minds. No other law can faithfully be kept unless it is kept in a spirit of love.

What, however, is love? Can we say that by our a efforts to obey God's laws we automatically show that we love him? That obedience to his commands is an essential aspect of love towards him is not to be disputed. No one who disobeys his commands loves him. Nevertheless the mere performance of religious duties is not proof of the presence of love. Men who endeavour to serve God may do so through fear, pride or prospect of reward. Love, therefore, is not necessarily the motivation behind such service. We must serve and obey God if we love him but this service must be done out of love, and must be motivated by love. One of the closest disciples of Jesus, the Apostle John, put it as follows:

"And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love." 2 John 6

There is clearly something intensely deep about obedience that grows out of love. When we analyse the basic principles of love, we find certain essential features which must be present for this love to be truly exercised.

Firstly, love must be genuine (Romans 12:9). It must be an uninhibited expression of the affections of the heart. There must be complete freedom for such love to be genuinely exercised. If there is any presence of fear in the heart, love cannot be openly displayed. The fear of punishment will automatically disqualify the one who has it from genuinely loving the one he fears. All his service towards that person will be done with the purpose of alleviating the wrath of that person towards him. Such service, therefore, springs not from love but from self-motivation. The man who serves God because he has no assurance of forgiveness from God, and seeks by this service to obtain that forgiveness, has his own welfare at heart. He most certainly does He not truly love God for love is selfless. Love, as a motivation of the heart, knows no partners. For love to be genuine there cannot be any other factor affecting the service of the one who seeks to express that love.

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