“But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 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 22:34-40
In 1967, the Beatles sang this chorus in a song: “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.” Though the Beatles didn’t know much about genuine love, they sang about it as the solution to man’s problems and, unknown to them, may have expressed a truth few seem to understand.
An expert in Old Testament law from among the Pharisees, a sect of the Jews which believed they could be righteous and acceptable to God by their keeping of the commandments, tested Jesus with the question: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus’ answer? “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.”
Jesus’ answer reflects the words of our Old Testament lesson for today (Deut. 10:12-13): “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” We also read in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
And the summary of the second table of God’s commandments, too, is straight out of the Old Testament Scriptures, in Leviticus 19:18: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
It is as Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Indeed, if we loved God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves, we wouldn’t even think of trusting in any other person or thing in the place of God. We wouldn’t do anything to dishonor His name. We would gladly hear and learn God’s Word and attend the services of His house. We would honor our parents and others in authority over us. We would each love and honor his spouse. We would not kill, steal, gossip or covet anything which belongs to our neighbor.
So it’s true: “All you need is love … All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.” But, there’s a problem. The law of God requires us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves, but it does not create such love in our hearts!
You see, one can outwardly obey God’s commandments against idol worship, not misusing God’s name, resting on the Sabbath, honoring parents, being faithful to one’s spouse, not killing, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and maybe even not coveting — all without having genuine love for God or neighbor — but outward obedience to God’s commandments does not change our sinful and self-centered hearts and fill them with love for God and neighbor. And such outward obedience isn’t really even obedience at all because it’s done for the wrong reason and motive, whether that be love for self, fear of punishment, or the desire to be honored by men.
The Bible describes our hearts in this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). And it tells us that God judges, not according to the outward appearance but according to the heart. “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10; cf. 1 Sam. 16:7).
Jesus says: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:19-20).
And why is that so? It’s because we do not love God with all our heart, soul and mind and do not love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Though God created our first parents with perfect love for God and one another, that all changed when they fell into sin — Adam and Eve were afraid of God and hid from Him. Adam blamed Eve and, ultimately, God for his sin. Eve passed the blame to the serpent (Gen. 3). And, ever since, “the imagination of man’s heart [has been] evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21; cf. 6:5; Ps. 51:5). Our once-holy thoughts and desires were corrupted by sin and, instead of having hearts filled with love for God and neighbor, our hearts are obsessed with twisted self-love and self-centeredness, making true love for God and true love for neighbor impossible for us and making true and genuine obedience to the commandments entirely out of our reach.
We might wonder why it is that the Pharisees, who delighted in trying to obey the law of God and understood that Jesus’ answer was right (cf. Mark 12:28ff.), so hated Jesus and just days later helped see to it that Jesus was arrested and crucified. This is neither love for God or neighbor.
It was not that Jesus answered rightly — they didn’t disagree with His answer — it was that Jesus pointed out and revealed their failings in keeping the commandments and called upon them (and upon all people) to repent of their sins and place their faith in the perfect life and atoning sacrifice of the Christ, their promised Messiah and Savior — Jesus Himself! Elsewhere Jesus said, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
The Pharisees put Jesus to the test, and then Jesus gave them a test question — something to get them thinking about who the Messiah and Savior is: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:41-45).
The Pharisees were looking for a descendant of David to reign on the throne and re-establish the theocracy which came to an end at the exile. They failed to see that the Messiah would not only be a son of David, but He would also be the very Son of God come into this world to fulfill all the righteous demands of God’s law and then to be a sacrifice offered up to make atonement for the sins of the entire world (cf. Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:21ff.; John 1:1-5,14-18,29).
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). And, in Rom. 1:3-4, Paul writes of Jesus: “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
God’s own Son took on human flesh and blood that He might take our place under the law, and fulfill it for us, and that He might make atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn. 2:1-2).
And it is true that we need love, but not some failed human efforts to generate love for God and each other. We need true love. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16). In Romans 5:5-8, we read, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John writes in 1 John 4:9-10: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
We fail to love God and our neighbor, but God did not fail to love us. He sent His Son to die for us and redeem us from our sins, and He calls us through the preaching of the Gospel to look to Jesus and His cross in faith and be saved from the wrath which is coming upon this sin-sick and loveless world. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Ghost creates and preserves faith in our hearts that God might count us just and righteous for Jesus’ sake!
And because God first loved us and gave His Son to die for us, by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we who trust in Christ and His atonement for the sins of all begin to love Him in return and we seek to obey His commandments (cf. 1 John 4:11ff.). Since God so loved us that He gave His Son to die for us and redeem us, we too begin to love all others whom Christ redeemed when He died on the cross and rose again. Our faith, our assurance of salvation, rests alone in the love of God for us in sending His only-begotten Son to redeem us. But God’s love for us in Christ Jesus generates in us love for God and neighbor.
Yes, all you and I need is love. Not our attempts to generate love for God and man in sin-sick and loveless hearts, but the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
O loving and merciful God, our sin-corrupted hearts are loveless and cold and, try as we may, we cannot generate genuine love there for You or for our fellow man. Grant that we look in faith to Your love for us in Christ Jesus, for sending Your Son into the world as the son of David that He might redeem us and pay the price for our sins and for sending to us Your Word and the gracious working of Your Spirit that we might receive in faith Your love and forgiveness and have the certain hope of life everlasting in Your heavenly kingdom. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]