In Matthew 22, Jesus answers a question about what is the most important commandment in the law. Without hesitation, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your understanding.” Jesus affirms that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with every fiber of one’s being: the seat of the will, all emotion and desires, and with all understanding.
This answer, I believe, is one that the group of Pharisees who were with the teacher of the law liked. They emphasized the importance of being in this type of relationship with God. It was what truly mattered and nothing else. But Jesus, because he understood what they thought, gave them a bonus answer, one that gave further explanation of the practical application and outcome of truly loving God – “And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” The word here translated as “like” means in the exact same manner and way. The second is a natural result of the first because, in the first, one draws close to the heart of God and His desire and compassion and love for people. And because of that intimate connection, the second becomes the true barometer of the reality of the first.
Jesus confirms this connection when he finishes his reply by adding, “On these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets.”
And this is where the Pharisees took exception. Their position was that the only thing that was truly important is one’s relationship with God. How that affected those around one didn’t matter. If it negatively impacted someone, that was just to be expected. Jesus is telling them that the second speaks to God’s desired outcome for love. It is also the outcome God had for everything He spoke through giving the law and direct revelation to and through the prophets.
Having the first with no concern for the second leads to unloving actions that are now justified by “deeply held convictions” and “strict adherence to the letter of the commandment.” For example, God commanded His people to participate in fasting. Through the prophet Isaiah, God takes them to task because even though they are maintaining strict obedience to the command, they are using the fasting from food as a savings plan for themselves when God says the intended outcome from the fasting is to use the money not spent on food to love those around them by helping those who are hungry. The Israelites, through strict obedience, made it to only be between them and God.
Jesus is clearly stating that if how one is loving God is not naturally result in loving others through actions, then that person is not properly and truly loving God. This is a connection that some of those among the followers of Christ need to once again read and truly comprehend and then shape their actions to conform to this truth.