What We Often Miss About the Two Great Commandments

The Two Great Commandments | Jordan Gundersen

Over the past several weeks since BYU updated the Honor Code and the CES Department clarified the interpretation, many tears have been shed, many tempers have flared, and much ink has been spilled—on both sides of the issue. One side says, “We must love our neighbor.” The other side says, “We must love God first.” Having graduated from BYU myself, this issue is somewhat close to home. Watching this issue unfold on social media has caused a lot of introspection and pondering over what should be done. On the one hand, I want to be loyal to God and stand up for truth. But on the other hand, I know I should love my neighbor. With this issue, in particular, many believe that these two great commandments are at odds with one another.

While it is true, that God should come first in our lives and that we should love everyone, there is something that I have seldom seen exhibited in individuals on both sides of this issue, which is an understanding of the context and relationship of God’s commandments. Let me explain what I mean.

In the New Testament, we read that when Jesus was teaching, a lawyer came to him trying to catch him off guard by asking him which commandment was the greatest in all the law given to ancient Israel. This was a clever strategy because the law contained over 613 laws and commandments. Obviously, this lawyer wanted to let Jesus stir up contention among the people himself because no matter what he said, someone was sure to disagree.

But Jesus stunned everyone listening. He answered by saying, “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. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37-39)

Jesus pulled the first commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18. By a quick reading of the law, one might easily pass over these two commandments.

We often think, however, that at this point, Jesus was done talking that we often look over what he said next: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This experience showed that Jesus was a great student of the law and understood it so well that he could boil it down to just two commandments. These two injunctions are the basis for ALL of God’s commandments. Does that mean the other commandments are unnecessary? Of course not. But knowing that at the core of each commandment is one of these two statements, we can be in a position to obey everything that God commands.

A Lack of Scriptural Knowledge

Many people on both sides of this issue seem to take little snippets of truth or scripture and turn it into their whole platform—disregarding many truths that would aid them in their cause. Unfortunately, this shows either a lack of scriptural knowledge or a willful disregard for the word of God. I am not the Judge, and I declare no judgments upon any individuals. But the kind of reactions and behaviors that stem from such an approach can be dangerous and often lead down a path of contention, anger, and hatred, which is unbecoming of what should be God’s covenant people.

The Hardest Commandment

One of the things that many people in both camps have missed in the scriptures is, admittedly, one of God’s hardest commands to keep: to love one’s enemy. There are, in fact, four commands that the Lord gave in order to help us love our enemies:

  1. “Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39)
  2. “Bless them that curse you.”(Matt. 5:44)
  3. “Do good to them that hate you.”(Ibid)
  4. “Pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”(Ibid)

It is part of our national DNA to peacefully gather and protest—believe me, I understand that. We can and should discuss and debate ideas. But to the group of people protesting the CES Honor Code clarification and to the group of counter-protesters I ask this: Can you say that you’re striving to follow the Lord’s commands in regard to you’re enemy, that is, those on the other side?

If you can say yes and feel good about yourself, that’s great. But does name-calling, assuming motives, and impugning the character of others help you to bless them that curse you? Does making memes about the other side help you to do good to them that hate you? Does reveling in another’s misfortune help you to pray for them that persecute you?

Indeed, this injunction from the Lord is HARD; it goes against human nature itself. But God doesn’t want us to remain in our nature. He wants to vault us to where He is, which can only happen by getting us to do hard things that help us to put off the things that feel natural to us but are at odds with His laws.

‘Truth Abideth Forever and Ever’

“But we need to fight and stand up for our principles, or the Church is going to be changed by people with an agenda,” or “We can change the Church by just putting enough pressure,” some may say.

Yes, we should stand up for principle, but the last time I checked, God does not change. His commands do not change through human pressure. He remains constant and has told us what His mind and will are in the scriptures.

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled…For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever.

D&C 1:38-39

The only things that change are people, in wickedness and righteousness. Joseph Smith and Martin Harris gave us a prime example. Martin wanted the Book of Mormon manuscript, and the Lord said no multiple times. However, Joseph chose not to give heed and suffered the consequences.

The greatest way to stand up for truth is to live it. We can certainly declare and defend truth, but when people choose not to listen, that’s on them, not us. If we’re looking for a fight, we’re merely seeking to gratify our carnal nature and ought to reexamine our motivations.

We can either choose to conform to ALL of God’s laws, or we can pick and choose, turn away, and eventually be given the lower law—just as the children of Israel.

But when we take God’s laws and instructions for our guide—even the hard ones—we will not be deceived by any voice, which will lead our souls back to the home of our Father. We can and should take solace in the fact that the Lord is our Lawgiver and our Judge. The yardstick by which we measure our actions and the ideas we encounter in the world is not the philosophies of men but those of God. As President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol 3, p. 203.

It is my hope that through this time of turmoil and division, we can seek answers in the scriptures, not to vindicate ourselves in our own beliefs, but to learn what the Lord would have us do. No opinion or doctrine of man should come between us and our God if we want to commence in and stay on His covenant path. The only way to do that is to know what that path is through our personal study of the scriptures, which, at their core, teach to love God and love your neighbor.

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