A Great Question

“What command is the foremost of all?”

We ought to be impressed that in Mark 12:28-34 there was actually a scribe who was willing to sit down with Jesus and look at the scriptures with Him. Very few of the scribes and Pharisees were interested in serious discussion, only trickery, deceit, and even murder. But in our text, this teacher of the Law, first of all, recognized that Jesus was answering questions well, and desired to know more about His teaching.

Perhaps the question that he proposes to our Lord was one that he used to test men who claimed to be from God. He is so pleased with Christ’s response that he says, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that…” (12:32-33).

Christ’s response to the question about which of the Laws was the greatest is so simple, yet so misunderstood by His contemporaries. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. Why would this be the greatest commandment? What is it about the necessity of loving God that leads Christ to conclude that this is, above all else, the most important act of obedience? Indeed, everything else in the Law is contingent on our love of God. If we do not have love, after all, all the acts of righteousness mean nothing (1 Corinthians 13). If we love God, then we will have a desire to fulfill all the other aspects of the Law. If we have no love for God, then what would motivate us to be disciplined, righteous, pious people? “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39). If we love God first, and love everybody else second, then the last person left to love is oneself. “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (22:40). It can be stated no more simply than that. There is not a command in the Bible that does not have to do with either loving God or loving our neighbor.

“And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (12:34). Being a teacher of the Law, this scribe was aware of what the scriptures spoke concerning the greatest commandments. He also adds that he understands the vital relationship between faith and works (“much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”).

Sadly, though, we are never given the ending to this man’s story. Did he ever obey the Gospel? Did he become a disciple? Or did the pressures of other scribes and Pharisees bend his will into submission?