Friday, January 18, 2008

"And now for the children . . ."

Why do we take the Ten Commandments seriously, but only view Jesus' imperatives as good advice?

We, who emphasize the law so much, wax eloquently about the importance of Sabbath-keeping, abstaining from worshiping graven images, not committing adultery, yet when we come to the Red-Letter words in the New Testament, we herald them as nice ideas.

Take, for example, Jesus' words in Luke 6. In Luke's version of the "Sermon on the Mount," he quotes Jesus as plainly saying, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods, do not ask them back" (Luke 6:27-30).

Perhaps what is most intriguing is the fact that all of these instructions are in the imperative in the original Greek. On the other hand, none of the Ten Commandments are in the imperative (though they are often translated as such). The imperative form, of course, is the form that indicates command or instruction - it is not simply a piece of advice that can be followed.

Yet how many of us come to Jesus' words in the Gospels and determine to, by God's grace, follow these commands as imperatives? When was the last time you did good to a person who hates you, or prayed for your enemy? Do you "give to everyone" who asks something of you? Do you allow a person to take something from you and not hold it over his head if he doesn't give it back?

These questions are relevant to me, also.

I don't remember the exact quote, but I remember a story that Philip Yancey told in his book, What's So Amazing About Grace? that reflects Christ's imparatives. Apparently, at a civil rights rally back in the '60s, a black woman, who was at the demonstration with her children, was punched in the face by an angry white man. Immediately, the woman reached for her kids and said, "Thank you. And now for the children. . . " Talk about a lady taking Jesus' imperative seriously!

Understandably, many of Jesus' words deal with the heart, rather than just the letter of the law, which makes it a little harder to control. But many of us don't even give mental or theoretical consent to His instruction! It's one thing if we agree with His ideas but have a hard time implementing them, it's a total other thing to not even agree with His words to begin with. (Just the same, the Ten Commandments are issues of the heart as well, anyway).

As a church that prides itself on being the remnant who "keep the commandments of God," do we really keep all of God's commandments, or just the convenient ones?

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