Loving our Neighbor with the Two Greatest Commandments
Amy Jeffries, MA, PLPC (Intro & Conclusion) and Cody Jeffries, Psy.D., PLP
Dr. Jeffries works with all ages and types of clients, but many of his clients are part of a drug and alcohol recovery program that offers a chance for people to turn their lives around. When his clients in this program have a Christian faith, he works with them to adjust their style of relating to God in order to help them better relate to themselves and others, often resulting in a more successful recovery. He typically walks a client through this by asking a series of questions, but he has laid out the following in order to provide a summary of key points in this process. He is planning to develop this further into a complete treatment program so other professionals can use the same techniques. I have used some aspects of this with clients suffering from depression and a history of trauma and look forward to seeing how he develops it in the future.
John 3:16 is almost unanimously touted as the very heart of the gospel, and rightly so. This is, in a nutshell, the gospel message. But for as important as this verse is to Christendom, it is the spiritual developmental equivalent of milk or formula–that which sustains the early Christian through the infancy of their faith and provides the necessary nutritional foundation for their later developmental stages.
I submit that the first solid food for the developing Christian are the Two Greatest Commandments, found in Matthew 23 and Mark 12. Whereas John 3:16 introduces us to God’s plan for salvation, these Two Greatest Commandments usher us into the realm of sanctification–that is, how to conduct our daily walk as adopted Sons and Daughters of the Light. These verses are not what saves us, but what brings us closer toward that which we were originally designed to be; what we, through a special relationship with our Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier, strive to become.
To understand these Two Greatest Commandments, let us first consider what is a commandment? In short, it is a rule or guideline. Given these are the “Greatest” commandments, what we are faced with in these verses are in fact God’s Moral Law: the bedrock that serves as the foundation for what is “Good” and “Right” versus “Evil” and “Wrong” for us humans. In other words, what Jesus outlines for us here are the Two Greatest Moral Laws, upon which “all the Law and the Prophets hang” (according to Matthew’s account).
Next, let us make a simple observation about these two Greatest Moral Laws: they share a word in common. “Love.” This seemingly obvious observation is nevertheless profound and will define the whole of our understanding of God’s Moral Law, because this is what we are, in fact, commanded to do: to love.
So what is love? Well, drawing solely on these Two Greatest Moral Laws, we can draw the following conclusion about love, even if we had next to no understanding of what this four-letter word meant: “Love is the fulfillment of God’s Moral Law, which seems to involve forming and maintaining right relationships with God, our neighbor, and ourselves.”
Now, in order to more fully understand this definition of Love, it is helpful to consider what might be its opposite. What do we call the “breaking of God’s Moral Law”? This is what we refer to as “SIn.” Most Christians are well aware of this three-letter word and its basic meaning, but what we’ve already discovered about its seeming opposite–“Love”–from these Two Greatest Moral Laws, we can actually extrapolate a deeper understanding of sin that is not often underscored when discussed in Sunday School or even from the pulpit: if love is also forming and maintaining right relationships with God, neighbor, and self, then Sin, as Love’s opposite in this context, must involve the breaking and degradation of relationships with God, neighbor, and self. Whether this sounds like common sense or not, because this is not a widely disseminated understanding of sin we must therefore beg the question: Is there any other evidence in Scripture for this definition?
Let us turn to some other commandments we all are more familiar with: The 10 Commandments. If Love is the fulfillment of God’s Moral Law as evidenced by forming and maintaining relationships with God, neighbor, and self, and if Sin is the breaking of God’s Moral Law as evidenced by breaking or degrading relationships with God, neighbor, and self, then we should be able to take any of the 10 Commandments and find the following pattern: the breaking of the commandment should involve the breaking or degrading of a relationship between self and God, self and neighbor, and/or self and self.
As an experiential challenge, I invite the reader to test this by choosing any two of the 10 commandments and seeing whether this is true… If the reader, having just done this experiment, has come to the same conclusion as I have, they will find that our initial hypothesis is supported: that Sin, at its heart, is not just the breaking of God’s Moral Law, but the breaking or degradation of relationships between self and God, self and neighbor, and/or self and self.
Now that we know that relationships are important to the understanding of God’s Moral Law, let’s make another observation: Who are the people mentioned in these Two Greatest Moral Laws? The three identified persons are: God, Neighbor, Self. Now that we know the “who,” let’s investigate the “how.” Look first at the second Greatest Moral Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Based on this statement, how are we to love our neighbor? As ourselves. But what if we cannot love ourselves rightly? How would we ever learn how to love ourselves more properly in that instance in order to love our neighbor more properly? The answer is contained within the first Greatest Moral Law, which, in effect, commands us to love God with all of our self, reserving no part for ourselves but submitting all to this divine relationship. Thus, by loving and being loved by God, the implication of this first Greatest Moral Law is that we then learn how to love ourselves better, so that we then may love our neighbors the way we should.
What is the end goal of all this? Well, as Christians our goal is not only to come into a saving relationship with God, but to allow God to work through us to bring others into a saving relationship with Him, as well. Thus, we find that the Two Greatest Moral Laws naturally form an unbroken circle comprised of God loving and being loved by self, so we can love and be loved by our neighbor, so our neighbor can love and be loved by God. Given that Sin–the opposite of Love–apparently results in broken relationships, this final illustration serves as yet another confirmation that whereas Love helps us form and maintain right (that is, unbroken) relationships, Sin is characterized by relational brokenness, because it is only when we break this cycle of love presented to us in these Two Greatest Moral Laws that we find the circle likewise broken.
The solid-food, gospel message we find in these verses is that God did not come to make bad people good, but to make sinful people love; that is, to heal our relational brokenness by making alive those relationships which were fundamentally dead while we were yet in bondage to our sins. Salvation is only our ticket to the Kingdom of God; Sanctification is literally our walk within that Kingdom, and it begins here on Earth the moment we are saved. Truly, “The Kingdom of God is at Hand.”
Dr. Cody Jeffries graduated from Concordia University Nebraska with a degree in psychology as well as a pre-seminary certification. He decided psychology was a better fit for him and he attended graduate school at Forest Institute, where he got a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy before going on to complete his doctoral degree, which he earned from Wright Institute.
Cody and I (Amy) met at Forest Institute in 2011 and were married in 2013. We have two beautiful children and are blessed to be able to work alongside one another in a small rural practice in Missouri.