A Lawyer, probably interested both in learning Jesus’ position and in getting support for his side of a discussion which was currently going on, asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of the Law was. Jesus replied, as some rabbis also would have, that it was to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind (Matt. 22.35-40; cf, Deut. 6.5).
I would like to ask which is the hardest commandment of the Bible? Some might think of the duty of repenting and being baptized, or the demands of regularity in worship, or the requirements of liberality, or the need for self-control in sexual matters, but my observation would suggest that the hardest commandment for the masses of us in: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16.14).
The Greeks had eros for sexual attraction; phileos for the love of friends; and agape for the unlimited good will which Jesus made the prime virtue of the Christian life. We have only one word – love – for all of these and it is used by us in a most confusing way.
It is agape that God demands and we should not confuse it with the other emotions. A trait of God himself (1 John 4.16), love is the badge of discipleship (1 John 3.16, 20); is to be manifested even toward enemies (Matt. 5.43); and as a motivation validates or negates all other actions (1 Cor. 13.1ff).
Difficult in Degree
Love is the hardest commandment because of the degree of love that is required. One must love his neighbor as he loves his own self (Matt. 22.39). How few there are who even approximate this goal with any consistency!
One is to love his wife as he loves his own self (Eph. 5.28); we often encounter people who forego activities they would like to engage in because they are displeasing to their wife or because she is not able also to participate. On the other hand how galling we find the suggestion that we restrain our behavior for the benefit of a brother! “No one is going to tell me what I can or cannot do,” we say.
Love is the hardest commandment because, in times of tension, other motivations tend to take over. The common reaction of men is “tit for tat”; that is, to give the other person back just what he gave out – hatred for hatred, reviling for reviling, evil for evil. One must not lose his advantage against an adversary!
Nathan Bedford Forrest said that the victor in war is “the one who gets there firstest with the mostest.” We hear men say, “We are not going to wait until we see the whites of their eyes.” We find that these motivations also move down into our day-to-day personal dealings.
Difficult to Identify
Love is the hardest commandment because of the ease with which one can rationalize actions – actually motivated by vicious hatred, spite, and vengeance – by saying, “It is for his own good.” These motivations are all the more tempting because love may at times involve severity.
A parent disciplines the child he loves. A doctor out of love tells a patient that he is sick; he may perform a dangerous operation upon him – even remove a limb; he may restrain him for his own and others’ safety when his rational powers have broken down.
If, however, these are vengeful acts, on the part of the doctor or on the part of the family of the patient who wishes to be rid of him, the take on an entirely different quality.
The commandment of love involves extending forgiveness – forgiveness repeated as often as the offender is in need of it, whether seven times or seventy times seven in a day (Luke 17.4; Matt. 18.21, 22). Who can deny that it is hard to do? But God only forgives those how forgive others (Eph. 4.31, 32).
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13.10). How often one convinces himself that that which is wrong is actually an act of love – or at least is justified because of some sort of conditions! How often one does what he wants to do without regard to its impact on the life of a brother! Particularly in strife, how seldom do we ask, “If I were in the other person’s place, how would I wish to be treated?” Yet Jesus said, “what ever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Matt. 7.12).
What is involved in loving? To delineate precisely its duties, the New International Bible reads:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. (1 Cor. 13.4-7)
Is everything that you do done in love; or do you act to please yourself?
20th Century Christian 36.7 (April 1974): 7-9.