3159 21st Street N.
St. Petersburg, FL
Elder Steve Shelton
(727) 822-1918

By Steve Shelton

Text: Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34


In the two passages of scripture which I have read we have the account of a certain lawyer asking the Lord the question: "which is the great or first commandment in the law?"  Now from the context we learn the Pharisees had taken counsel how they might entangle the Lord in his talk (Verse 15) along with several other religious groups, the Sadducees being one of them.. The reason they sought to do this was his popularity with the people. The people considered him a prophet. For the religious rulers to arrest him would serve only to bring the wrath of the people down upon them. So they sought to discredit him as a teacher and to his Messianic claims.

The account before us was the second attempt of the Pharisees to discredit the Lord. Previously they had sent out their disciples along with the Herodians to confront the Lord. They now send a lawyer or one of their number who was skilled in interpreting the Mosaic law. Mark calls him a scribe in his account.


The Lawyer was a member of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were the most influential of the religious sects and the most conservative element of Judaism. They put great emphasis on keeping the law. They regarded the interpretation by the scribes as equally authoritative with the written Law itself. They looked on themselves as righteous and were highly critical of others. They believed in the existence of angels, in life after death, and in a future resurrection of the unjust and the just. To the law they added their own traditions. This is seen  in Matthew chapter 15 where the Lord rebuked them for their teaching concerning the commandment to Honor Father and Mother. Great emphasis was placed upon the outward keeping of the law. External keeping of the law rather then the internal keeping of the law Keeping of the ceremonial law.

The General Character of the Pharisees was: One of arrogance - They looked down upon those who were not of their sect. In the parable of the Pharisee and Publican we see this arrogance. (Luke 18:11) The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  One of Hypocrisy They paraded their good deeds and religious activities before men. They stood on street corners praying. They paraded their alms giving. One of self-righteousness. They had a holier then thou attitude.

He was a lawyer or scribe.

Mark describes him as being a scribe in his account. They were also known as "doctors" of the law. A scribe was one who was skilled in interpreting the Mosaic law. They were considered experts. The job of the scribe or lawyer was: To study and interpret the law; To instruct the Hebrew youth in the law;  To decide questions of the law.

The question which the lawyer asked the Lord manifest the way the scribes looked upon the law. The scribes listed the commandments as heavy and light, with the former carrying the greater authority and punishment if broken. They divided the law into 248 affirmative precepts corresponding to the number of members in the human body; and 365 negative precepts, as many as there were days in the year, the total being 613 or the number of letters in the Decalogue. So in asking the Lord the question: "which is the great commandment in the law?" the lawyer wanted to know which of these two groups Jesus considered to be the most important.

THE LORD’S ANSWER (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Lord answered the lawyer immediately

"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." In Marks account we have the following:  (Mark 12:29-30) And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: {30} And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  This commandment being found in Deut 6:4-5 Now these verses up to the 9th verse was the first section of scriptures which were put in their Phylacteries. Phylacteries were small pieces of parchment upon which certain scriptures were written. They were worn in the center of the forehead and on the arms. The practice was taken from Deut 6 where instructions were given to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eye These verses were repeated twice daily - Morning and Evening. It was while they were reclining in the evening and standing in the morning they repeated these words. The Lord denounced the Pharisees in Matthew 23 for their vain religious show. They did many things to be seen of men. (Mat 23:5) But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

The Lord went on to tell the scribe in addition to the first commandment or chief commandment, here is the second and it is like the first. (Mat 22:39) And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. This commandment being found in Lev 19:18 "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." Both of these commandments emphasizing "love". Love for God Love for our neighbor. Both of these commandment the need of our heart to be righ The heart being the center and fountain of life. Solomon wrote in (Prov 4:23) Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. The Lord told his disciples in (Mat 15:16-20) And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? {17} Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? {18} But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. {19} For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: {20} These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Our Lord Said: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt 22:40)

The two tables of the Law which we know as the Ten commandments, they deal with our duty towards God and Man. The Prophets they all emphasized our duty towards God and man. The substance being: Love for God and Love for man. Paul in writing to the saints at Rome wrote in (Rom 13:8-10) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. {9} For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. {10} Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. If one loves their neighbor they will not commit adultery, kill, steal, bear false witness, covet their neighbors wife, manservant, ox or ass. The key however is: love for God. For only as one is in the right relationship with the Lord God and have proper affection and honor for him will there be exhibited the proper affection and honor for one’s fellow man.


The Lawyer’s Acknowledgement of the truth. (Mark 12:32-33)

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: {33} And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. He acknowledged that the Lord was to have our supreme affections and that we had a duty to love our fellow man. The lawyer it would seemed was charmed by the answer the Lord gave. And if there had been any scorn or contempt for the Lord in the beginning, it was gone.

I would also draw your attention to the last part of his response in verse 33. He said: to love the Lord and one’s neighbour was "more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" He acknowledged that love for God and one’s neighbour was greater more excellent and accepted by God than any ritual of ceremonial law. This man had been given discernment which was much greater then most Pharisees.

The Lord’s Answer

(Mark 12:34) And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. "Not far from the kingdom of God" - what did he mean? Well I believe there are many folks who are given light and yet they have not entered into the kingdom.

Many folks are given the privilege to attend where the truth of God is set forth. They like this one are given light concerning the true God.  We do not know the end of this man - we are not given information as to whether he ever came to the place where he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah. I will say though as the result of his encounter with the Lord on this day - he had a greater accountability. To whom much is given, much is required.


I would say to this morning in closing: The Lord told us what is the greatest commandment. How do you stand up to it? Have you kept this commandment? Have you lived your whole life Loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind? The Bible tells us: "All have sinned" - all have broken the law of God. And the chief one - Love for God supremely is one that all have broken. I would bid you this morning to look to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in him for the free pardon of your sin. (John 3:16) 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.

Child of God: What about your love for the Lord?  Is He first in your life?   Is his service first in your life?

January 23, 2000 Central Baptist Church  -  Pastor Stephen Shelton