David Menasche, a Miami English teacher was diagnosed in 2006 with stage 4 brain cancer. He set off on a cross-country trip to visit his former students and reminisce about his lessons. He asked them if he had made a difference in their lives. He wanted to know if his life had been well spent. He wanted to know if his priorities had been right. His journey is chronicled in his book The Priority List.
As followers of Christ, how should our priority list look? How can believers live in such a way that their lives are not wasted?
The scribes asked Jesus that very question in our text. They spent a lot of time examining the difficult and subtle questions of the Mosaic Law. As a result, they identified 613 separate commandments, 365 of which were negative and 248 that were positive. They further divided them into heavy and light—important and less important.
By asking Jesus which of the commandments was greatest, this scribe was trying to get at the heart of what Jesus felt about life. How should life be lived? How should our priority list look?
Our First Priority Is to Love God
The word Jesus used for Love is agapao. This refers to an act of the mind and the will and might include emotion, but its distinguishing characteristics are determination, commitment and choice. Loving God does not come naturally to humans. It is a choice we must make.
We are to love God because of who He is. In verse 29, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This was the very foundation of the Jewish religion. God is one God, not many. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Our love for God is driven by who He is. He is holy, majestic and altogether glorious. God alone deserves to be our greatest priority.
We are to love God with all that we are. The heart, soul, mind and strength describe all of a person’s power, effort and essence. Loving God requires that He hold first place in my life. My greatest affection and grandest dreams must be His and His alone. His glory must be my loftiest concern.
Our Second Priority Is to Love Others
Every human being has a need to love and be loved. Without love, the human spirit shrivels up and dies.
We are to love others freely. We are to love our neighbors. The Jews had interpreted this to mean other Jews. Jesus redefined the concept to mean anyone who providentially has been placed in our paths for sympathy and help. See Luke 10:25-37.
We are to love others sacrificially. Love is to be more than words. Love is expressed in deeds of kindness and compassion.
A man who had no interest in spiritual matters was friendly with a Christian man who lived next door. They talked across the back fence, borrowed lawn mowers, etc. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and she died three months later. Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward:
I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service as if I were in a trance. After the service, I went to the path along the river and walked all night, but I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak; he didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
I go to church now—my neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to love and be loved that way for the rest of my life. (Terry Muck, March 29, Men of Integrity, March/April 2009)
Jesus demonstrated this love for us on the cross. He gave His life that we might live. His greatest priority was His love for the Father. He then loved us freely and sacrificially.