Real Love Requires a Command

Strangers and enemies don’t come naturally.

In a familiar passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus gets asked what matters most. Embroiled in a cauldron of theological unrest over taxes and what happens after we die, Jesus impressed with agile wisdom. An Old Testament Law professor, overhearing, interjected his own question: “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” (Mark 12:28). There were over 600 commandments in Old Testament Law, the Torah, addressing practically every aspect of Jewish life. Earnest followers of God wanting to live morally had a hard time keeping track. Distill it down for us, will you?

Typically with law professors, Jesus presumed a trap. He’d answer their questions with questions or tell parables with punch lines to trap them. This time, however, at least here in Mark, Jesus perceived his inquirer to be a straight shooter. So he answered plainly: “The most important one . . . is [to] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (vv. 29–30). Orient your entire self in worship to the Lord and everything else falls into line.

This first command is known among Jews as the Shema, from the Hebrew word meaning listen. The Shema hangs on observant Jews’ doorposts, is recited twice every day, and is sought to be the last words spoken at one’s death. I knew a sweet Christian saint who sang the Shema three times a day with his wife. He said he sang it so often because he didn’t want to forget to do it, since, as we all know, loving God is one of those things that if not done deliberately never happens by itself.

Jesus proceeded to add a second commandment, which he equated with the first: “‘You shall love your …

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