Have you ever asked yourself what it means to be a Christian? I know that personally my faith has been in a constant state of fluctuation throughout my life and it has been difficult to decipher which of the commands of the Bible are important to follow and which are not. But despite how confusing the Christian faith can be, I have always found that if we simplify everything it boils down easily to just follow Jesus.
Although I grew up in a Christian home, in a Christian town, in a primarily Christian state, I often struggled with figuring out what Christianity was actually about. But I think that Jesus makes it pretty easy for us to understand and I am thankful that when asked what the most important command from God for us is, Jesus was a minimalist.
In Matthew 22:33-40 we see a great example of Jesus reducing the things that were not essential and refocusing Himself and those around Him on the larger life values that He requires of His followers.
For years the Jewish people had been obsessed with following the laws that were given to them during the times represented in the Old Testament but the problem was that because of their sinfulness they were not able to follow any of the laws without showing themselves as absolute failures. The people had become cluttered with all of the laws that they were trying to follow and often times they argued about which of the commands were most important.
In Matthew 22 we see an instance in which the religious leaders thought they could trip Jesus up (and prove that He was a liar) and they begin to focus on all of the small laws that had been given in the Torah. The Pharisees (boring, legalistic, and hypocritical leaders) turned to Jesus and asked Him “Which of the commands is the greatest?” To put this into perspective we now know that in the Old Testament there are over 600 individual commands given that make up the law. So essentially the question that Jesus is posed with is “Which of these 600+ commands is actually the most important?”
Jesus probably took a second to think about how to answer this question, and then he systematically minimizes all of the law into two commands. He reduces the noise and clutter and gives them an extremely simplified answer that they could not debate. Jesus turned to the Pharisees and simply said “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus doesn’t minimize the value of the other commands, but He does make it clear what He considers to be the most important. While Jesus could have named all 613 commands in the law individually He decides instead to give two basic commands that if we truly followed would completely change our lives.
Can you imagine what our world would be like if we loved and honored God and His creation?
Can you imagine the reduced violence we would see if we loved our neighbor despite our racial, ethnic, religious, or gender differences?
Can you imagine a world in which we used this as our standard for how to live?
You see, to follow Jesus means to acknowledge your sinfulness and to put your faith in Him and His work on the cross to save you. But from there we are called to follow Him by loving God and loving others. Jesus considered these to be the most important commands.
Maybe if we would just take His words seriously we would begin to see the world in which God envisioned when He created it. A world in which people coexisted and cared about each other. A world in which we no longer had to fight but instead agreed that the most important things in life were the God who created us and the people who were created in His image.