We’re moving on to what is actually more like an addendum to the greatest commandment. In Mark 12:28-31 Jesus continues his answer to the curious scribe’s question about the greatest commandment by identifying a second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus isn’t merging two commandments into one (that we love God by loving our neighbor, or that we love our neighbor by loving God), but the two commandments shouldn’t be separated either. As Christians we can’t excuse ourselves from either of these marching orders. Both of the great commandments function as summary statements of the OT laws. And while many of the commandments in the OT relate to loving and serving God, there are still many others that relate to loving people.
The apostles continued to identify loving others as the focal point of our interaction with others. For instance, Paul says, “The commandments . . . are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . . Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:9-10). James exhorts believers to “keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (James 2:8).
What an attractive idea – that God wants us to be about the business of loving other people. This commandment motivates us to invest ourselves in all sorts of humanitarian efforts through our vocations and our volunteer efforts. Our service to others will have a distinct flavor though, because we must always seek to be faithful to the first commandment (loving God), while we go about the business of advancing the present and future well being of others.
But what a formidable idea too! I’m so naturally self-centered (I know that some people need to be reminded to love themselves a little more, but I’m not one of those people). Only by the power of the Spirit and through consistent choices to set aside our own interests for the interests of others can love for others begin to mark our lives.