Monday, March 09, 2009

Matthew 22:34-40 -- Keeping the main thing the main thing

The Pharisees Question Jesus
The Pharisees Question Jesus (Tissot)
A group of friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck.
"Where's Harry?" he was asked.
"Harry had a stroke of some kind. He's a couple of miles back up the trail."
"You left Harry lying there and carried the deer back?"
"Well," said the hunter, "I figured no one was going to steal Harry."[1]

Sometimes we get our priorities mixed up, and we need a reminder about what is important. When I was in college, our Fellowship of Christian Athletes president my sophomore year was a gentle giant named Ken Harris. His motto was “The Main Thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Say that with me if you will: “The Main Thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Today we are going to talk about keeping the main thing the main thing. That’s what we will see in this passage in Matthew today. It is Jesus’ final week of his earthly ministry. Beginning at chapter 22:15, Matthew takes us through a series of four encounters Jesus has with the religious leaders at the Temple. The leaders’ goal is to trap him (Matthew 22:15). The first is political (22:15-22). The second is theological (22:23-33). The third is legal (22:34-40). The fourth is Christological (22:41-46). Three of the four involve the Old Testament Scripture. Today we will focus on the third of the four, the legal encounter.

Let’s get a handle on these complicated names here. The Sadducees and Pharisees were both secret societies of Jewish Temple priests in first century Judaism. The Sadducees were Jewish liberals. They didn’t believe the whole Old Testament was authoritative – only the five-fold book of the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy. They didn’t take the Scripture literally. They did not believe in the supernatural. One of their most famous positions was to deny the resurrection.

The Pharisees were theological conservatives. They believed the Bible cover to cover. They were meticulous in keeping every part of the law. They believed in the supernatural events of the Old Testament and were strong believers in the doctrine of resurrection from the dead.

Within both groups were people called scribes. They were skilled at writing and copying the ancient texts of the Bible, something only a small group at this time could do. They were also called lawyers, not as we think of a lawyer, but skilled in religious law. They made a living debating, arguing, teaching, writing, and explaining the Law. And they had plenty to do. We are told in the rabbinical writings that there were 613 commandments. --- 248 of them were affirmative laws corresponding to the number of members of the human body, and 365 negative corresponding to the number of days in a year.[2]

In our passage, one of these scribes or religious lawyers came to question Jesus. This test was something they did to one another, testing each other’s wisdom and Scriptural acumen.

His question: “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” The lawyer’s question does not come through clearly in the English translation. These leaders regularly debated the relative weight of one law to another. The word “which” is a word asking about quality. That is, "What is the quality that makes a commandment of the Law the greatest?" I could say it another way, “What is the underlying principle which makes any commandment great?”[3]

There was a school of thought of that day holding that the third of the Ten Commandments was the most important (taking the Name of the Lord in vain) and the rest were secondary to that. Why? Because in terms of quality, if you kept that command, you would be so careful about your obedience that by default you would keep the other nine of the Ten.

Jesus doesn't go that route. Typical of his wisdom teaching, the Messiah does something unexpected to conventional wisdom. He will not immediately default to debating which one of the Ten Commandments has the most quality. He was not going to let the discussion descend into a debate over which of the Ten Commandments was better than the other, as if there was some difference in the quality of Scripture's inerrancy from one place to another. For Jesus, one commandment was not more inspired or inerrant than another.

Therefore, Jesus gives his answer from
went outside the Ten Commandments in two other places in the Torah: Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Let's look today at this remarkable answer to a question about the quality of the commandments.

Key Truth: Matthew wrote Matthew 22:34-40 to teach believers to love the Lord first and foremost and to love their neighbors as they do themselves.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about loving the Lord and those around you.
Sermon Points:
1. Love the Lord your God (Matthew 22:37-38)
2. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39-40)

11-Love the Lord your God (22:37):
a. The Sh’ma – the greatest, best known Jewish statement of faith (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
b. The lawyer asked for the principle of greatness in a commandment. Jesus said, This is the great,” Jesus says.
c. G. Campbell Morgan: “It is great because first, great because fundamental, great because underlying all the others. ‘This is the great and first commandment.’ The article is emphatic.”[4]
d. This love is the entire person: Heart, Soul, Mind (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
e. Notice the scribe asks, “Which is the greatest commandment?” and Jesus answers not an outward deed like the third of the Ten, but a heart commandment to love. Jesus teaches that an inward condition, not an outward deed is of the greatest quality. 

APPLICATION: Love is the undergirding principle of God’s order. The principle of greatness is the fundamental law of the whole – the law of love. This is great and the first, and these two are the strength of the rest. They are built on the law of love from God.

God deserves no less than your whole being in love with him. Not a part of my life, but my life exchanged for his (Galatians 2:20). By getting our love for God in proper perspective, we can then really love others and ourselves. Once we align our priorities with Kingdom values, we will understand what life is all about.Truly love Him and the love for others will flow through you.

2. 2- Love your neighbor as yourself (22:39)
a. “And a second.” – not the second – a second, a second something coming out of the first, not even in distinction to it.
b. “The second is like it, kin to it, belonging to it, the outward expression of it.”[5]
c. Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18, 34.
d. This is a variation on the Golden Rule taught at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12)
e. Illustration: pallet maker and Latinos.

Application:These two commands are inseparable. It is impossible to do one without the other. (1 John 4:19-21).
Loving your neighbor means something more than a platitude. Are you kind? Are you compassionate to others? Do you put others before yourself? Do you take advantage of people in your business? Do you overprice your services? Are you rude to those who take care of you? The waitress? The mechanic? The nurse? Are you generous with your time? With yourself?
This law of Love is taken up by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, and John in 1 John. (James 2:8).
You can measure real love for your neighbor by demonstrating it beyond your own circle of favored people.[6]
Christ Jesus waits to open a whole new horizon to you through these two principles.
It may be to save you from your sins. It may be to teach you how to love your spouse or your kids. It may be to help you learn to receive love. It may be to overcome some harassing sin or demonic interference. Trust Him. Won’t you?

[1] Bits & Pieces, March 3, 1994, p. 5
[2] A.B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary, (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1993), 4:120-1.
[3] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, (Tarrytown: Revel, 1929), 269. For more, Craig Keener, “Matthew,” The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity), 1:329-30.
[4] Morgan, 270.
[5] Morgan, 270.
[6] Keener, 330.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I am teaching this to my k-2 kids today and this has given me some good ideas to add on to what I've got so far :)