The Two Greatest Commandments

We can best honor Christ’s life,
his atonement, and his victory over the grave, by living his teachings and keeping his two greatest commandments:         

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

“There is none other commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30-31)  

These two commandments go hand-in-hand and are inseparable.  We cannot possibly separate the love of God from the love of our fellowmen. The more we love God, and the more we try to serve Him, the more we will love our fellowmen; and the more we will desire to serve the Lord.  

“Loving the Lord and our fellowman” should provide the foundation for all we think, feel, and do.  It is easy to love, forgive, and serve a neighbor we don’t know very well, because we are usually unaware of their past life and mistakes.  On the other hand, forgiveness can seem especially hard when it requires forgiving and loving someone we know well, like a close friend or family member—someone we once trusted.  We are hurt the most by those who are close to us, who have the power to hurt us either with their actions or their harmful words.  

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”  (1 John 4:21, 20)  

The Apostle John said we cannot truly love God without loving all of his children.  Keeping the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor, is a test of true discipleship.  Our neighbor, according to Mr. (Fred) Rogers, is “the person you happen to be with at the moment.”  The most important neighbor is the one who lives with us in our home.        

When Christ set up this new rule for living—to love one another—he taught the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) who crossed the social barriers of his day to perform acts of kindness and mercy, teaching us that we are to replace categorizing and personal judgment with mercy and compassion.  Our first reaction after the pain of an offense is often dislike for that person; however, we are expected to forgive all of our neighbors—which includes our enemies and those who are difficult to love.   

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  (Matthew 22:39)   

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…”   (Matthew 5:44, 45)

It is difficult, but possible, for those offended to choose to forgive those in their personal life, their families, and other acquaintances, including communities and nations. 

Loving Thy Neighbor “as thyself”   

The commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39) was given to mankind as our guide and standard for human conduct.  It says very much in a few words, but it is easy to overlook the deeper meaning.   

When we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will desire the same things for them as we desire for ourselves, such as…happiness, love for and from our family and friends, kindness from others, the necessities of life, good physical and emotional health, inner peace, success in personal endeavors, tolerance for our weaknesses and imperfections, and forgiveness when we make mistakes.
If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we are going to wish for them the righteous desires of their hearts.  We will love serving our neighbors, and endeavor to help those who are in distress of any kind.  

No Exceptions

There are no exceptions to the second greatest commandment.  To keep the second greatest commandment, a person must have a charitable heart.  He must feel love, show mercy, and forgive all others, whether the offense is physical or emotional.  Only those who forgive can claim the Godly attribute of charity, which is necessary to enter the peaceful kingdom where God resides.   

“No man cometh to the father, but by (Christ).”  (John 14:6)     

Forgive to Be Forgiven

Christ will not extend the gift of mercy to those who are not willing to forgive and extend mercy to others themselves.  Consider the personal application of the following scripture:    

“Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven…For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:14-15)  

God will forgive whomever he wants, but he requires us to forgive all men to obtain forgiveness ourselves.  He does not ask this to punish us; but instead, he knows forgiveness will restore our peace of mind and happiness.  In the parable of the unmerciful servant who demanded to be forgiven, but was merciless to one who asked forgiveness of him, the Lord said:

“O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?  And his lord was wroth…So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”  (Matthew 18:23-35)

The King in this parable represents Christ, and the debt represents our sins.  A servant owed the King an insurmountable debt which he could not repay.  Instead of commanding the man, his wife, and children to all be sold to make the payment, the King was moved with compassion and mercifully cancelled the debt.  However, that same servant found another man who owed him a small amount of money (more than 1,000,000 times less than what the servant had owed the King), and because the man could not pay, the servant threw him into prison.  When the King found out what his servant had done, the King condemned his servant for not returning the same pity and compassion on his debtor.  The King then revoked his original pardon, changed his merciful intent, and inflicted the deserved penalty--for the servant's lack of mercy after having received so abundantly himself.   

The lesson:  Each individual is indebted to God for all that they have and are—for life itself, for the probationary experiences of mortality (including some measure of food, clothing, and shelter), for redemption from death, and for the hope of eternal life in his presence.  These and all other debts owed to Deity are listed on an account that shall never be marked PAID—because there is no way we can ever repay our debts to God.    

All Christ requires is that we do as he has commanded us—love and forgive one another—and he will give us the precious gift of eternal life with him.   The Lord wants us to treat others as mercifully as he has treated us.  Those who deal harshly with others will face their own judgment, requiring justice and punishment for their own sins.  If we do not show the same mercy to others, the Lord will inflict a deserved penalty for our sins, instead of pardoning them at the Day of Judgment.  Our eternal salvation hinges on our ability to forgive all who trespass against us.   

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”  (Matthew 18:35)

Trusting God’s Wisdom

It may seem unfair that Christ counts our refusal to forgive a greater sin, than whatever trespass we are refusing to forgive.  The Savior asks us to trust his wisdom when he asks us to set aside offenses, forgive, and love others as deeply as we love God and ourselves. We trust the Lord because he knows what we do not know, and sees what we do not see.  Until we more fully understand God’s laws and wisdom, we must—

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  (Proverbs 3:5, 6)   

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God’s wisdom understands that an unforgiving heart has a far-reaching, negative impact on countless others.  
    • The unforgiving person limits his own spiritual growth toward true discipleship, lessening his ability to love, serve others, live a Christlike life, and return to live eternally with Christ and our Heavenly Father.
    • The example of unforgiveness is seen and felt by others, especially impressionable children who are watching; and who may then pattern their own disposition to be unforgiving of not just one person, but countless others throughout their lives.  For example, a son who observes his father criticizing his mother will likely learn to criticize the women in his life also.
    • Generations of families and citizens of nations observe and learn to behave with anger toward and intolerance of others, hanging on to this foolish tradition which will inevitably result in unforgiveness, anger, hate, revenge, abuse, crime and war. 

Charity is an Attitude

Charity is not an event—it is an attitude of noticing, caring about, and helping others.  It is an inward feeling of loving and caring about the welfare of all those around us, caring about their salvation as much as our own.  Charity is love in action, including sacrifice.  When we are willing to put aside our own selfish interests for the good of another person, going out of our way to do something that will help another, then we have the true love of Christ in our heart. 

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  (John 13:35) 

To truly love someone is to see them through the eyes of the Savior.  Our assignment is to learn to think, feel and act toward others as Christ would, if he were here today.  Then, we will be filled with Christlike love, so that when he appears, we will be like him.