Why do these two commandments have to be our first priorities in life? The answer is simple. When we were baptized we covenanted with God to live by every word that came from His mouth. He is the one who set these priorities. We are under covenant to live by those commandments. We agreed to do so. Our covenants with God are not covenants of convenience, but of life and death.

Priorities Within Priorities

I think we all understand the basics of what it means to love God and to love our neighbor. We remember our covenants with the Lord and our obligations to honor and obey Him. When we do so we keep the first and great commandment, and receive the promised blessings for doing so. When we then turn and show the same kind of love we receive from the Lord to our neighbor, we again receive the promised blessings, and life is good.

The problem we run into is that Satan tries to get us to put the second commandment first, ruining the cascade of blessings, befouling the fountain of righteousness, and separating us from the Spirit of God. The first, and great commandment, to love God, must be our top priority above any other consideration. There are good reasons for this. Only when He is first in our thinking can everything else take its rightful place in our lives. Only then can our lives stay in balance, and we keep our vision of what is expected of us clear.

Examples of the Second Commandment Mix up

 In the October 2014 General Conference, Elder Lynn G. Robbins gave a wonderful talk entitled, “Which Way Do You Face?” I have included multiple quotes from his talk in this article. I recommend you click the title of his talk to go read it.

It is easy to mix up the two commandments. Our neighbors are right next door. We see them all the time, and have to deal with them, whether at home, at work, or out in public. The Lord, on the other hand, is not visible in any of those places, and we have to remind ourselves that He is actually in more places than those in which we find our proverbial neighbor, for God can be found anywhere and everywhere.

Because we tend to gravitate to what we see and have to publicly answer to, rather than the Lord, whom we have to seek out in order to find, we tend to put our neighbor first, and God second. This is the very problem Joseph Smith faced when Martin Harris wanted to borrow the 116 pages of manuscript to show his wife. The Lord told Joseph “No” twice. But because Martin kept asking, forgetting to put God’s word first over that of his wife’s, Joseph went back for the third try. As a result, the pages were lost, and Joseph was severely chastised by the Lord. In Doctrine and Covenants 3:6–7, the Lord says:

How oft you have transgressed … and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God.

Joseph had gotten turned around. He feared Martin Harris more than God. Martin feared his wife more than the mouthpiece of God, the prophet. This reversal of the two great commandments brought about the loss of those 116 pages of the Book of Mormon.

Sometimes in our efforts to be kind, acceptable, and accommodating to our neighbors, we go so far as to end up accepting wickedness that we should have been condemning. How many parents, in an effort to maintain good relations with their child, have ended up facilitating their child’s cohabitation with their girlfriend or boyfriend under their roof? How many have bought the line, and actually encouraged their child to marry outside the temple in their fear that by waiting, their child might lose their virtue before they could make it to the temple? I’ve known parents who have gotten medical licenses for growing marijuana because they know their child will smoke it, but at least this way they have some control over how much they get and its source. The list of possible scenarios is endless, but I hope you get my point.

Elder Robbins made this profound statement:

When people try to save face with men, they can unwittingly lose face with God. Thinking one can please God and at the same time condone the disobedience of men isn’t neutrality but duplicity, or being two-faced or trying to “serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; 3 Nephi 13:24).

When we lower our standards to accommodate someone else’s expectations or wants, we betray God. Here is another quote from Elder Robbins.

Lowering the Lord’s standard to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior is – apostasy.

The act of apostasy is to abandon or move away from a teaching. When we abandon the Lord’s standards, in any arena of life, we are committing little acts of apostasy. The Lord views them as such. This is why He chastises us for seeking to please the world, rather than obey His commandments.

Jesus Set the Perfect Example

Jesus always remembered that the first, and greatest commandment had to come before any other consideration, even before the second great commandment. When he cleansed the temple he did so “to defend its sanctity.” When he talked about his own ministry it was in terms of the divisiveness of the doctrine he brought from the Father. It is true that he served his fellow man every day of his life, but his face was always pointed toward the Father. He never lost sight of his first and greatest priority, to obey God at all times, in all places, and at any cost. As you study the New Testament notice how Christ was always faithful to the will of the Father, first and foremost.

Remembering to keep the first, and greatest commandment teaches us how to better love our neighbor. By putting the love of God above all other considerations, God’s love shows us that we need not fear what man may do. This frees us to serve them as the Lord would have us serve, and to bless them as they need to be blessed. This kind of love casts out all fear, and allows us to love them no matter how they use their personal agency. This kind of love helps us separate ourselves from being pulled into the sins of others, because we are completely focused on pleasing the Lord. Indeed, obeying the first commandment first is what truly allows us to obey the second commandment.

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LDSBlogs – Setting Our Personal Priorities