The Two Ways of Keeping the Law and Why it Matters Most

October 25, 2018

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.


613 individual laws together accounted for THE Law. We are back to Final Jeopardy with another major question. Of all the 613 laws, which one was the greatest?

What is law all about anyway? When you have fallen human beings in the same vicinity laws become necessary. The essence of fallenness is selfishness. It consists in a person’s inability to see beyond themselves to others. In its raw form, human fallenness leads to a complete and utter inability to recognize and respect the boundaries of other people (consider theft, murder and adultery for starters). This creates chaos. Laws delineate order.

The law intentions to train fallen people to see, respect and come to revere the sacred worth of other people.  Stepping outside of the biblical context, take for example speed limit laws. Speed limits aim to protect people from one another. So why do I speed? I speed because I think my need to get where I want to go outweighs the similar needs of other people. I disregard their needs and their safety in the interest of advancing my own self interest. For me, observing the speed limit has nothing to do with preserving the security of others and everything to do with me not getting a ticket. Speed limit laws aspire to train me in placing the safety needs of others on the road ahead of my need to beat the yellow light. Unfortunately, speed limit laws are powerless when it comes to changing my orientation around other people.

I think it’s why Jesus chose this commandment as the most important:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

You see, I can keep the speed limit laws to perfection, yet my efforts could be completely self-serving and have nothing to do with anyone else’s well-being. This is why Jesus cites the law of Holy Love. One cannot keep the Holy Law of Love without it being about other people. To keep the law of Holy Love of God and neighbor implies and requires me to get beyond myself and into the realm of serving others for their sake.

Are you tracking with me? When Jesus raised this command to the status of the most important commandment he essentially said, “This law of the holy love of God and neighbor is the whole tamale. The rest is just commentary.

Discipleship designs to liberate us from the bondage of ourselves freeing us to give ourselves to others. One of the most simple and practical every day ways I can give myself to others just might be slowing down and driving the speed limit. I am not this mature at the moment. It’s got me asking a lot of other questions of myself. Is the fundamental orientation of my obedience about protecting myself, my image, my reputation and my stuff? Or is the fundamental orientation of my obedience about protecting others. If I’m honest, I’m not thinking one whit about the strangers in the cars all around me. I don’t want to cause a wreck, but then that’s about me too.

Some famous theologian once said something to this effect, “The Law was given so that the grace of the Holy Spirit might be desired. And the grace of the Holy Spirit was given so that the Law might be truly obeyed.

Again, today’s laws and the biblical law are not the same thing, but I do see some of the same governing dynamics crossing the chasm between then and now.

What about your posture toward the laws of our every day lives? Is that about observing the law for your own sake or have you reached a place where observing the law is for the sake of others. That’s what the greatest commandment is all about; liberating the law from self serving observance into the Light of the Love of God and others. This could change everything. I’ll be thinking about that on my drive to work today.


Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Lord Jesus, thank you for bring the whole Law into the Light of Love. Thank you for the holy law of love. I so want to be re-formed in this way, this light, this life. I know your Cross is core to it all. Lead me. Please, step by step, lead me. Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me. For the glory of your name, Jesus. Amen.


Where are you in this? Is keeping the law (or not) about yourself or others? HOw does this line of thinking re-shape your understanding of law? Of love? Of God? Of Neighbor?

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For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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