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Stuart Chase - 5 December 2021

Love’s Supremacy (Matthew 22:34–40)

The New City Catechism asks, “What does the law of God require?” It answers, “That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbour as ourselves.” When his opponents tried to trap him with a tough theological question, Jesus responded in precisely this way, stating that the entire law can be summed up in these two commands.

Scripture References: Matthew 22:34-40

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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It is said that there are certain topics that should be avoided in polite conversation. Typically, those topics include politics and religion. In our increasingly postmodern day, a third category might be added to that: ethics.

The reason it is advised to avoid these topics is because discussing them causes so much (often ugly) debate. Even among Christians, we find it difficult to lovingly disagree over political affiliations and religious identities. And, increasingly, we find it difficult to agree even over basic ethical issues.

These hot button issues are nothing new. Jesus faced the same questions. When his enemies wanted to “entangle him in his words” (Matthew 22:15) they knew exactly where to go. In Matthew 22, the Pharisees and Sadducees posed three questions to Jesus to try and catch him out. The first (vv. 15–22) was a political question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The second (vv. 23–33) was a religious question about the doctrine of the resurrection. The third (vv. 34–40) was an ethical question.

We do not have time to consider all three of these questions but suffice it to say that Jesus silenced his critics each time. I will leave you to study his answers to the first two questions, but I want to take some time briefly to consider the third.

At our church, we have been slowly working through the New City Catechism, trying to help parents train their children in the things of the Lord. Question 7 of the catechism reads, “What does the law of God require?” It answers, “That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbour as ourselves.” When his opponents tried to trap him in his words, Jesus responded in precisely this way, stating that the entire law can be summed up in these two commands. I want to take a few moments in this study to consider what it looks like, practically, to love God and neighbour.

The Lawyer’s Treacherous Question

The flow of the present narrative begins up in v. 15 where “the Pharisees went up and plotted how to entangle him in his words.”

One senses a bit of competition between the Pharisees and Sadducees in this text. Perhaps the Sadducees sat back, silently praying that the Pharisees would fail to entrap him with their political question (vv. 15–22). When their ploy did fail, the Sadducees perhaps took great delight and (over)confidently stepped in to show the Pharisees how it should be done. When the Sadducees failed to entrap him with their theological hot potato (vv. 23–33), the Pharisees smiled silently to themselves before the lawyer stepped forward to deliver the knockout punch.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

(Matthew 22:34–36)

The plan was simple. The question about the greatest law had been debated for centuries. The Torah contained 613 laws (248 positive and 365 negative). For a long time, these had been divided into “heavy” (important) and “light” (less important) laws. Faithful Jews tended to focus on the heavy commandments with less concern about the light commandments. For centuries, however, Jewish rabbis had been debating which was the most important of the heavy laws. The lawyer believed, no doubt, that surely Jesus would not be able to solve this problem that had so long plagued scholarly minds within Judaism.

The Lord’s Tender Answer

Once again, however, Jesus proved to be up to the challenge. He showed that it wasn’t about weighing one command against another to see which was more important. In fact, all the commands were important. However, two commands summarised every other command found in the Torah.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

(Matthew 22:37–40)

The Lord answered by quoting two of the laws from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4­–5 and Leviticus 19:18) as a summation of the entire Torah. If these are the greatest commandments, as Jesus taught, and if this is what God’s law requires, as the catechism suggests, it will help us to consider what it looks like, practically, to love God and love our neighbour as the text instructs.

Loving God

The first command that Jesus highlighted was about loving God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” What does it mean to love God with heart, soul, and mind? It means at least three things.

Love God Supremely

To love God with all your heart is to love him supremely. It is to have no divided mind when it comes to loyalty but to prioritise him above all other priorities. Jesus got to the heart of this when he said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). You cannot love God if you are divided in your allegiance.

Do the things of the Lord take first place in your life?

Given the choice between worshipping God with his people on the Lord’s Day or attending a sporting event or concert, what choice do you make?

Perhaps you fall pregnant outside of wedlock and now you face the option of aborting to save embarrassment and even career opportunities or obeying God and honouring life. What do you do?

Perhaps you are given opportunity to confess Christ publicly, which will invite a degree of mockery and scorn, or to keep silent and save face. What choice do you make?

Perhaps you must choose between confronting a brother or sister caught in sin, which will prove extremely uncomfortable, or maintaining silence and thereby avoiding an awkward conversation. How will you choose?

Perhaps the person you are falling for makes no profession to faith and you know that loving God supremely will mean severing that relationship but severing the relationship will be painful. How will you proceed?

If we love God with all our heart, we will love him supremely. We will choose to follow him and his commands above our own desires and comforts and the demands that others place on us.

Love God Surpassingly

To love God with all your soul is to love him surpassingly. This is related to the above but, perhaps, while loving God supremely emphasises circumstances, loving God surpassingly emphasises relationships.

Jesus challenged his listeners at one point in his ministry, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Is your affection for and commitment to the Lord so deep that your love for your family seems insignificant in comparison? Does worship take priority over family gatherings and events? Would you be willing, if called, to leave family behind for the sake of the gospel? How would you respond if a family member, who is also a church member, was brought to the church in an act of discipline?

Does your love for God surpass your love for friends and family?

Love God Submissively

To love God with your mind is to love him submissively. It is to recognise his authority and to therefore obey his commands. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21).

Do you acknowledge the authority of Scripture and are you willing to submit? Do you recognise and submit to the authority of those whom God has placed in your life—church, family, and government? Are you always looking for ways to circumvent the clear commands of Scripture? Are you always looking to qualify your obedience or justify your disobedience? Is your obedience conditional or are you willing to submit to God’s commands as you love him with your mind?

Loving Neighbour

The second command that Jesus issued was to love our neighbour: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39). As with the first command, it will help us to consider some practical implications of this instruction. The ways in which we can love our neighbour are virtually endless, but here are four very simple ways we can do so.

By Relating

First, love your neighbours by relating to them. Invest the time in getting to know them. Ask questions. Show interest. People want to be seen and we love them by seeing them. Be willing to step into their lives when they struggle even before you are asked. Do this even when it is not reciprocated.

By Sacrificing

Second, love your neighbours by sacrificing for them. Be willing to put them before yourself, counting others more significant than yourself (Philippians 2:3). We live in an age in which we are taught to fight for our rights and liberties. The New Testament calls us to sacrifice our wants and desires for the sake of others.

Though he was at liberty to eat meat offered to idols, Paul said that he would rather choose to never again eat meat than violate his love for others (1 Corinthians 8:13). He understood Jesus’s warning against causing others to stumble (Matthew 18:5–6).

The discussion surrounding Christian liberty in today’s church often ignores this. Too often, the discussion devolves into a debate about what we can and can’t do. As the Bible envisions liberty, it is more about giving up your rights for the sake of others. Non-Christians are enslaved to their liberties and desires, but Christians, out of love, have the God-given liberty to forego those rights for the sake of others.

By Praying

Third, love your neighbours by praying for them. When Samuel was preparing to transition to Israel’s next leader, he said to the people, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). He did not consider failure to pray for others a senior moment but a sin against God.

Of course, the best way to pray for someone is to know them. (Conversely, one of the best ways to get to know someone is by committing to pray for them, which may force you to get to know them a bit better.) But even if we don’t know someone particularly well, it is no excuse not to pray for them. This is particularly true in the local church.

As a church, we highlight two families in the church each week for prayer. We ask those members for specific prayer pointers, which we share with the church during our evening prayer service and in our emailed prayer guide. There is no reason that every member of the church should not, over the course of a year, perhaps, pray for every member of the church. Even if we do not know the members of the week particularly well, the information that is shared helps us to pray for them.

Significantly, the Bible does give specific instructions to pray for particular people. Church members are to pray for one another (James 5:16; Romans 1:9). We are told to pray for our church leaders (Ephesians 6:19–20; Colossians 4:3). We must pray for political leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–3). We are commanded to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). To not pray for these people, according to Samuel, is to sin against God.

By Empathising

Fourth, love your neighbours by empathising with them. Recently, a writer for a well-known ministry wrote an article about “the enticing sin of empathy.” The writer argued that to empathise with someone, we must accept and approve of everything they do. Since approving sin is sin itself, to empathise with someone is sin.

I understand the point he is trying to make. We don’t approve of someone’s struggle with drunkenness by getting drunk with them so we can share their experience. But the author invited a great deal of criticism because, to make his point, he essentially redefined the word “empathy.”

Empathy is simply the ability to recognise, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. While we never approve of, or join others in, sin (Romans 1:32), empathy is absolutely commanded. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. To fail to do so is to fail to love.

A Word about “Your Neighbour”

It is important to note that the command here is to love “your neighbour” as yourself. This command extends beyond our fellow church members. The instruction is to love our neighbour, and our neighbour is often very different from us. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes that point powerfully.

In fact, it is this sort of neighbourly love that underlies the gospel. Jesus did not love those who were already members of God’s family. He loved those outside the family and gave himself for them to bring them into the family. It was while we were yet his enemies that Christ died for us. If he could love those who were not his brothers and sisters in Christ, ought we not to do the same?


So let me ask one more time: “What does the law of God require?” The answer is straightforward: “That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbour as ourselves.” Will you, driven by the fact that God loved you in Christ, do what the law of God requires? Will you love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself?