What do you think is the most important verse in the Bible? If you were to ask Christians, I imagine the majority of them would say something like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Another favorite sums the Christian message of salvation in similar words in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
There is one more text worthy of consideration and it is the greatest summary of the Old and New Testament. I am speaking of Matthew 22:37-40. The Lord Jesus said there, “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 neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV) These words are so often taken in abstraction, but to be appreciated rightly they must be set in their appropriate context.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke (also known as the Synoptic Gospels) all contain this story of Christ. In Matthew, we learn that Jesus’ answer was prompted by a lawyer at the time who sought to test Jesus. This sort of testing was not a neutral event. The Old Testament has very serious horror stories surrounding sinful men and women who put God to the test (cf. Exodus 17:2, 7; Numbers 14:22). The New Testament likewise considers these sorts of actions as exemplary failures and warnings for us today (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 3:9)
Returning to the text, the Lord Jesus displayed His competency in His memorable response. Jesus’ response is the great summary of the entire Old testament. The Old Testament is a massive book. There are 39 books contained within that library. Each one is full of various stories, heroes and villains, models for living and model failures. But undergirding them all is that simple truth: God is the Creator-Redeemer, and we are creatures in need of redemption (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Thus, when Christ provided His careful response, He dealt with first things first. The most important teaching of all of Scripture is how we might have a right relationship with God. Whether you like it or not, you and I and every other human for that matter exists in relationship with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22). But not all of them are good. Some relationships are broken and shattered. They are in complete shambles. Nevertheless, every man, woman, boy, and girl has been made to honor and love God.
Christ’s answer is a call to love God with all that we are. This sort of love for God is not limited to a place or a time or a certain group of people. It is found wherever we walk, whether that be in a church or school, or a restaurant or even an airport. Wherever we are found, this love for God accompanies us. It is as much a part of our being as the muscles to our body. This love of God and for God envelopes our very person. It necessarily impacts every subsequent relationship. The love of God becomes a lens by which all human interactions must be seen and approached. We are not free to act in cruelty or selfishness to others because the love of God constrains us. It straightens out the crooked bits of our hearts. It changes how we view and do everything. It must. Anything less demonstrates its absence.
From these words we learn most simply that God is a God of love. It was the love of the Father which sent the Son. It was the love of the Son which guided the Son’s obedience. It was the love of the Spirit for the Father and the Son which led Him to dwell within us. It is an echo of this eternal love between the glorious persons of the trinity which is now echoed in us as their image-bearers. In other words, we are most human when our posture is that of love for love echoes most visibly that invisible intra-trinitarian fellowship which brokered our salvation.
Today we need to know that we are loved by God in Christ. This love is transformative. It comes not simply to gift us with trinkets but to burn away the weeds of selfishness, vanity, corruption, idolatry, and self-worship. In short, the love of God comes to consume every barrier within our hearts. The love of God comes to devour our phantom kingdoms so that we might delight in His kingdom. It leads us out of the shadows of ourselves to behold His marvelous light and be enraptured in hope. It is a love which every drug and shameful encounter hopes to elicit, but can never come close to accomplishing. The love of God teaches us the beauty and cost of self-sacrificial love and how we must make it our life’s goal to show that love to our glorious King and with His creation, beginning with the people we see each and every day.