Answering a Different Question: Mark 12:28-34

Focus Passage: Mark 12:28-34 (NIrV)

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ — (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5) 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ — (Leviticus 19:18) There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

   From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

Read Mark 12:28-34 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

If you have ever wondered if God has a priority list for how we should live our lives, you are not alone. All throughout history, and especially during the first century, there have been groups of people who have created prioritized lists to answer the question about what we should and should not do.

Jesus steps into this discussion when asked for His thoughts regarding what God’s priority list for us is. A Pharisee (teacher of the law) asks Him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?” (End of verse 28)

Instead of sidestepping the question, or asking a question in response, Jesus decides this is a good opportunity to teach about God’s priorities. Perhaps this is because the Pharisee was genuinely asking because he wanted to learn, or maybe Jesus simply used this as an opening/opportunity to teach another piece of God’s truth to those present.

Jesus first begins by pointing out that we must place God first in our lives. This is the first and greatest commandment, but Jesus knows that His audience, or at least this Pharisee, already has a pretty good handle on this one. Jesus must say it because it is the truthful answer to the question, but the problem with the answer is that the question is bad.

By asking what the “most important” thing is – in any situation – one opens the door to allowing every other responsibility to be neglected in favor of focusing on the one “most important” thing. The danger here is that the most important command is not where Jesus’ audience had their greatest challenges. The greatest challenge for His audience was with the second most important command.

So after Jesus answers the direct question, He then answers the question that should have been asked in the first place, “What are the most important commandments?” While the Pharisee was only interested in one commandment, Jesus gives him two: The top commandment, and the one he needed to hear: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Middle of verse 31)

While the command to love God is clearly defined by four areas, loving our neighbor is really only defined by one area: how we love ourselves. This does not say we are to love our neighbor more or less than we love ourselves, but “as” we love ourselves. It is a statement of almost universal individual equality.

Some groups or governments have wanted to universally promote the idea of equality, but this is the opposite of what is present here. Externally imposed equality means there must be someone in power making the decision, and then the rest of the people. Individual equality means that each person views themselves as being no more valuable than anyone else, and no less valuable.

But we are sin-tainted, selfish people – which mean that some of us really love ourselves, while others really hate ourselves. This second commandment is second because we need a dedication and commitment to God first to give us a right perspective on how valuable we are. After all, Jesus came to give His life for each of us.

Loving your neighbor as you love yourself pushes us to think about others as we think about us. If we want something, someone else probably does as well, and what would happen if we helped them achieve it as we achieve it. This doesn’t pull wisdom out of help, but it allows and encourages wisdom to be a part of our help – because as a helper, we are responsible for giving help in appropriate ways.

Loving our neighbor sets a pretty high standard for a selfish heart, but it is a step towards being more like Jesus.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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