What is the second greatest commandment?


In Matthew 22, one of the experts of the Law asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Right before that in Matthew 21, Jesus was in the Temple courts and had a series of interactions with religious leaders: Pharisees, Sadducees, law experts and Herodians. It is easy for us sit in our armchairs some 2,000 years later and criticize these men. I think we owe a lot to the guys – really. These men kept trying to catch Jesus in a religious trap. In doing so, they asked Jesus some great questions. As a result, we get a lot of Jesus’ teachings where Jesus reveals His mission and His way of thinking. For example, we get questions like, “By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?” (21:23); “Is it right to pay taxes?” (21:17); and we get teachings like the Parable of the Talents (21:33); The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1) and the teaching that we will be angels in heaven (22:23). We may not have known these things without the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus. Like a chess match, they would make a move and Jesus would make a counter move. Finally they quit trying (23:46).

However, in this chess match we get this great passage of Scripture (Matthew 22:34-40). I think it’s humorous. In verse 34, the Sadducees get stumped. I can just imagine that when they all huddled up to try and figure out their next move, someone got the bright idea: “We’ve been trying to trap Jesus on the miniscule points of the law, let’s try the big picture approach.” They broke the huddle and the spokesperson stepped forward. “OK Jesus, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

I’m not sure how the Sadducees expected this question to test Jesus. Maybe they were simply testing Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures, but I don’t think so because Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures was well known. Perhaps they expected Jesus to pick one of the Mosaic Laws and the law expert would give a rebuttal to whichever law Jesus picked. If Jesus picked “honor your father and mother” the rebuttal would have been “What about keeping the Sabbath?”. There were over 600 Jewish laws with over 1,000 applications of those laws. This expert was probably ready to pick apart Jesus’ answer regardless of what it was.

Which law did Jesus select? The Shemah. “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.” Jesus gave the one answer that could not be refuted. They were all in agreement for perhaps the only time in Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus continued, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So what can we learn from this encounter?

  • First of all, it’s all about love. A spiritual mentor of mine was known for saying this. Not only did she say it, she believed it and she lived it. She was able to show me what it looks like for nothing else to really matter. When she said “it,” she meant everything – relationships, religion, life, creation…everything. It’s NOT about being good, not being bad, Bible knowledge, pleasing God, happiness or obedience. When I began to believe this myself, everything changed. It especially changed my ministry. As a minister on staff at a church, my job was to provide opportunities and create environments for people to experience God’s love. PERIOD! All of the Bible classes, Bible studies, worship, preaching, fellowship, prayer, etc. should lead to experiencing God’s love. If it doesn’t lead to experiencing God’s love, then don’t do it!
  • Second, love is the greatest. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. The apostle Paul reinforced Jesus’ teaching. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes about showing the most excellent way and then describes the importance of love and ends up declaring that love is even greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). Scripture goes on to tell us that love is greater than my circumstances (Romans 8:35, 38-39); love is greater than my fear (1 John 4:18); and love is greater than my sin (Romans 5:8).
  • Finally, did you notice what the second greatest commandment is? Most people say that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. They read “as yourself” as the fine print. Here is what I believe to be true: The extent to which I learn to love myself is the extent to which I am capable of loving others.In other words, the more I learn to love myself, the more I am able to truly love others. Therefore, I believe that the second greatest commandment is to love yourself.

As a perfectionist, I don’t like to make mistakes. It’s not the mistake itself that’s the issue. It’s the exposure I feel when I “get caught” – when my mistakes are noticeable to other people. I used to beat myself up when this happened. The self-contempt was malicious: “You are stupid! You should know better than that!” The messages would play in my head and I would want to hide.

Over time I have learned to give myself grace. I have learned to drop the unrealistic expectations I have of myself and love myself for who I am. In doing so, I have learned to be less critical of and more compassionate towards others.

Some questions to consider, men:

  • Why is loving yourself important?
  • When is loving yourself selfish? Dangerous?
  • What characteristics in other people drive you crazy?
  • What parts of yourself do find difficult to love?
  • What can you do this week to love those parts of you?

– By Barry Thomas

Barry is Chairman of the Board for The Crucible Project. He has been a catalyst in bringing and growing our ministry throughout Texas. He is a senior operations engineer for Concho Resources in Midland, Texas. Prior to that, he served in ministry for 13 years at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. Barry holds a master’s of divinity from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He also holds bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Barry completed his initial Crucible weekend in August, 2005.

Photo Credit: Andreanna Moya via Creative Commons