Jesus and the mega commandment

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

(Mat 22:36-40 NET)

I love looking at passages like this because the word greatest is translated from the Greek word megas.  It is kind of fun to think of someone asking Jesus “What is the mega-commandment?” There is nothing terribly profound about the word, it just means great, big or important.  I just think it is fun to say.  I think we would be better off thinking about how to fulfill the mega-commandment rather than creating a mega-church.

There are a couple of clear things from this passage.  Jesus affirms the Jewish thinking that not every commandment in the Torah (Law) should be emphasized the same.[1]  Some things are more important than others.  This is really important to remember.  I’ve seen too many Christians caught up in tangled mess of rules and expectations that can even contradict each other.  Even the Rabbis of Jesus time attempted to simplify things in to an overarching guiding principle.  Not too long before Jesus was born a very important Jewish rabbi Hillel wrote “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”  It is very likely the scribe asking Jesus the question would have known of Hillel’s view.

Jesus turns the predominate view on its head.  Following God isn’t avoiding doing bad things to other people.  It isn’t about what not to do.  It is very active and driven by love for God and love for others. The two commandments are both regarded as fully important.

Where does this leave us?  Well every practice we put in place and every decision we make should have this check.  On more than one occasion I’ve pondered a decision that might negatively impact someone and had to return to what could be called the love check.  I realized that my course of action was perfectly legitimate and fair but love required more patience and more gentleness.

I helped a good friend build a house addition a few years ago.  We followed the plans, cut our boards and put them in place but before anything was established permanently we would check to see if what we just constructed was level.  We would take our level and place it on the narrow part of the board and then on the wide part checking to see if the board was indeed completely straight up and down. Sometimes it isn’t possible to get perfectly level reading because boards can be wavy but it is always a good practice to construct things as level as possible.

While it might seem expedient to construct something that isn’t level it can come back to haunt you later on.  Everything from windows to drywall just goes on easier when everything is level.  It is often way more work to try to compensate for an unleveled wall later on than it is to fix it when you are putting up the wall.

It is much the same way in the life of the church.  Every decision we make that is unloving results in yet another injured Christian.  Often these injured Christians become even more dysfunctional and end up as a “problem” in another church.  I know of a church that decided to move to a seeker model a few decades ago.  The leadership of the church encountered significant resistance in the congregation. In response they made a “line in the sand” and asked everyone to follow their direction.  It didn’t go over well and they lost more than half of the congregation.

Here we have the legitimate leaders of the church attempting to follow what they sincerely believed to be God’s direction for their church.  As the leaders they do have the right to set the direction and ask people to commit to that direction. The love check might have made them rethink their approach, forced more patience or found more innovative ways to address people’s fear and concerns.  I learned about this story from someone who was still wounded by the experience years after the fact.

[1]              Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (574). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.