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Christianity in a nutshell: The Greatest Commandment

By Richard Zowie

(This column was originally published in www.saworship.com)

When some people think of Christianity, they often visualize an endless, meandering list of do’s and don’ts. You know: don’t swear, don’t drink (and don’t even use alcohol for cooking), don’t watch movies, don’t smoke, don’t gamble, don’t wear a dress that goes above the kneecap in the sitting position, don’t listen to any music that has a drum beat to it. Men shouldn’t let their hair touch their collar or their ears ladies’ hair shouldn’t be any shorter than shoulder length. Don’t let your children watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Power Rangers. If they do, make them go straight to the church altar and get right with God. They should not pass Go, nor should they collect $200.

Looking at the list, while there are some that are things all Christians would probably agree on (such as not swearing), others on the list might prompt some to think that there must be an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not have fun.

But is that what Christianity is really all about? Hardly. Granted, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and inspired Moses to record in the first five books of the Old Testament the rules for life. Some were moral laws, which don’t change. Some were dietary laws, God’s way of protecting the Israelites from food products that would be harmful to them. Others were ceremonial laws, which were designed to teach about the meticulous details revolving around sacrifices and offerings and giving a picture of the perfect, spotless Messiah that eventually paid the debt for our sins on Calvary. I’m a supporter of Bible-based convictions, but I believe that there are personal preferences that some Christians—whether unintentional or not—try to pass off as convictions. Whenever someone gets saved or is a growing Christian, the best perspective to take is to help that person grow in Christ; as they grow, God will start to reveal to them (whether through the Bible or through sage advice) what areas of their life need to change.

This leads me to ponder something about Christianity. Legendary physicist Albert Einstein spent time trying to formulate the Theory of Everything. This theory, which modern physicists still pursue, is an attempt through theoretical physics to connect all known physical phenomena. In a loosely-comparable vein, I have wondered if Christianity can be boiled down to one single commandment instead of sifting through endless ones. As it is, I feel that these are the basics of Christianity: 1) to evangelize the lost and 2) to encourage or edify fellow believers.

But there is an even easier way of simplifying Christianity—a simple command to follow through which all of the commands in the Christian faith flow. Three of the Gospel writers mention it: Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-37. In these instances, Jesus was answering questions from the religious leaders of the day. Whether it was from Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees or other “spiritual intellectuals” trying to discredit Him, Jesus answered them all handily. In short, Jesus rightfully accused the intellectuals of majoring on the minors while disobeying God on the important matters.

But then, a lawyer approached Jesus after Jesus had silenced the Sadducees regarding the debate of marriage and the resurrection. He was a seeker, and Jesus treated him as such. While Jesus divested Himself of certain attributes when taking human form, He could spot right away that this lawyer was seeking the truth rather than just trying to trip him up.

Because this story is told by three different Gospel writers, we receive three different questions this attorney asked. Matthew 22:36 states that the lawyer asked Jesus, “Master, which is the great commandment of the law”? Mark 12:28 has it this way: “…Which is the first commandment of all?” Luke 10:25 has it this way: ” Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

These answers may seem different, but they remind me of a man who is anxious about the afterlife and is eager for an answer. So, as a result, it’s entirely possible this attorney may have said to Jesus, “Master, what is the first commandment of all, the great commandment of the law? What I’m trying to find out is what I need to do to inherit eternal life.” This attorney seemed to recognize something that the Pharisees and other religious leaders didn’t: simply obeying all the laws and traditions wasn’t sufficient for salvation.

“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” The second-greatest commandment, Jesus adds, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, all the other laws and doctrines of the Bible come from these two commandments. These two commandments represent the Doctrine of Everything, the idea that everything that comprises God’s command for us to evangelize the lost and encourage and edify fellow believers stems from these two commands. By obeying these two commands, all of God’s other instructions for us will come naturally.

To illustrate this, Jesus gives the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable tells of how a Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed by thieves, severely beaten and left for dead. As he lays there severely injured, both a Jewish priest and a Levite pass him and ignore him.

But along comes the unlikeliest of people, a Samaritan, who has compassion on this Jewish man. The Samaritan dresses his wounds, puts him on his own animal and takes him to an inn. After paying the innkeeper for the wounded man’s extended stay, he informs the keeper that when he returns he will pay the extra expenses incurred for taking care of the man.

Amazing compassion, when you consider the Samaritan had very little motivation for it. After all, he had to have known this man was a Jew, and the Jews at the time considered the Samaritans beneath them. Half-breeds, if you will. This reminds me somewhat of that episode of the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons where George Jefferson, an African-American dry cleaner mogul, saves the life of a racist white man who has had a heart attack.

This Good Samaritan, Jesus told the lawyer, was a man who loved his neighbor. This is the example of loving God with your heart, soul and mind and transferring that love to those around you. By transferring that love, you can show your unsaved neighbors the type of love God has for them and give them a reason to become a Christian. As for your saved neighbors, seeing the love God has for them may give them a reason to further their walk with Christ.

Hearing this, the lawyer (or scribe, as Mark calls him), answers in Mark 12:32-33: “…Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And that is Christianity in a nutshell.

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