The Most Important Thing
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
You have probably heard this passage before, and know that Jesus called this the "first and greatest commandment" (Matt 22:38
). There is more than one song that sets these well known words to music. But if Jesus points out something as being the first and the greatest, we should certainly take careful notice of it.
So why this particular commandment?
Simply put, when you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, that leaves no room for anything else. In particular, it leaves no room for serving ourselves. At times, Jesus's disciples would tell him, "this is a hard saying" (John 6:60
). And truly, this is a very hard instruction to abide by. Honestly, when we acknowledge that we are human and likely to err, we accept that we cannot keep this commandment. And when we do stumble, we've missed at this goal—at leaving all our wants behind and filling ourselves with God alone. Nevertheless, this is the ultimate thing Jesus said we should strive for.
And just as important is the fact that Jesus himself honored this commandment to the fullest—even to the ultimate degree.
This is why Paul tells us of another teaching which he also called "of the first importance":
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. . . . 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. . . . 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
I Corinthians 15:3-11
These two most important things are really one and the same: Jesus showed love for the Father beyond what any human has achieved, and he showed that love toward us as well in sacrificing his own life for us. He loved the Father with completeness, and loved his neighbor—that is, us—completely also. "15
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! " (II Corinthians 9:15
And his example speaks to all of us of how we should respond to his gift. It should inspire us, overjoy us, and shame us at the same time. In the face of this display of perfect and ultimate love, we have no power to say "not your will, God, but mine." Rather, just as Jesus said most poignantly, "not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:37-39
This is the reason the men we read about in the books of the New Testament were empowered to go to such lengths for Christ. The better we succeed at this Christ-like full commitment to God, the less what we want matters.
If He asks us to turn away from some behavior, we do not feel the loss (1 Pet 4:1-4
). "Not as I will, but as You will."
If He asks us to acknowledge him as our savior and God publicly—even if we will suffer because of it, we do not hesitate (Acts 5:40-42
). "Not as I will, but as You will."
If He asks us to be immersed in water in his name to wash away our sins (Acts 22:16
), we do not balk at the strangeness of His request like Naaman did (II Kings 5:9-13
)—we simply do as he asks. "Not as I will, but as You will."
And if He asks us to love Him, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength as long as our life lasts, we answer him, "not as I will, but as You will." This is the most important thing. "Do this, and you shall live".