- Jesus Himself taught on the first commandment of putting God first in Mt. 22:37-38.
While Rev Kong Hee quoted Matthew 22:37-38, I believe we need to start reading from verse 34 and end at verse 40 for a proper context of verses 37-38.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
The context of what Jesus said in verses 37-38 was not about teaching the 10 commandments but rather He was answering a direct question from the Pharisees who were trying to challenge His authority as a rabbi.
The question was "Which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?" Actually, this question betrays the Pharisees lack of understanding of the law as well as their own perversion of the law. There is no such thing as the most important commandment "for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all". (James 2:10)
As an analogy, just suppose a pilot has to do 10 procedures before taking off, and if any one of the 10 procedures is not done or not done properly, then the plane will crash. Now tell me, which is the most important procedure? ALL of them of course, because missing out just one, any one procedure is going to crash the plane!
Similarly, ALL the commandments in the law are equally important because James 2:10 says that breaking any one is equivalent to breaking them ALL. Then why did Jesus say "‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ "
Strictly speaking, "you must love the Lord your God ..." was not written on the stone tablets listing the 10 commandments - let's take a look at Deut 5:1-22:
1 Moses summoned all Israel and said:
Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. 4 The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. 5 (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
6 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
7 "You shall have no other gods before me.
8 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
12 "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
16 "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
17 "You shall not murder.
18 "You shall not commit adultery.
19 "You shall not steal.
20 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
21 "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
22 These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
What Jesus said was a quotation of Deut 6:5 where Moses was teaching the law to the Israelites. Jesus was telling the Pharisees (as well as many Christians today, including Rev Kong Hee and me) that the whole essence of the law is to love God and love your neighbour - "The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matt 22:40).
Have you noticed that the law is phrased in such a way that every single one of them is an action? This is the language of doing, the language which the Israelites spoke and the language which many Christians still speak today - "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17, Luke 10:25). Today, when we insist on following the 10 commandments and argue for keeping the 10 commandments, we have missed the mark. This is because Jesus was telling us that God is looking at your heart, and when your heart is right, right actions will naturally follow in good time.
When you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, would you have any other gods before you? Would you make or buy yourself an idol and worship it?
When you love your neighbour as yourself, would you give false witness against him? Would you murder? Would you steal? Would you commit adultery? Would you covet your neighbour's things?
Those who fight for keeping the 10 commandments are putting the cart before the horse:
1 Cor 13:1-3 (NKJV)
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
GOD IS LOVE and Jesus is teaching us to be like God; Jesus is teaching us to love. However, on our own, it is hard for us to love because of our flesh and selfishness. How can we be like God if we are spiritually dead? That's why God sent Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice to cut for us a new covenant, a new life in the spirit - we in Christ and Christ in us. Now, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Was Jesus teaching about the 10 commandments? NO, Jesus was teaching about LOVE.