“Commandment” is a word our modern ear hears as a militaristic, non-negotiable, subservient-signifying, dread-invoking, hellfire and damnation-laden directive:
“Do this or else.”
Scripture actually communicates a more subtle, more circumspect and more loving message than that. The Greek and Hebrew words translated in modern English as “commandment” each contains an ethical component in the ancient meaning. A “command” – an “entolay” in Greek or “mitzvah” in Hebrew – is more than just a directive; it is “the right thing to do” in the Greek or even a “good deed” in the Hebrew.
So what Jesus or Moses or anyone else with a Godly “commandment” was saying was “Here is the right way” – “Here is God’s way” – to do something.
The Biblical Jesus left only a few instructions and no laws. The few commands Jesus verbalized are not commands limiting our freedom. They are Godly, ethical and wise parameters allowing us to realize our freedom, appreciate His sacrifice and participate in the divine love. We obey His commands because it is the right thing to do.
Jesus isn’t a “Do this or else” kind of Savior. His bidding is an invitation, “Follow me,” and a promise, “I tell you the truth.” He provides information – “God so loved the world” – not orders; warnings – the narrow gate, etc. – not ultimatums.
In love and in truth Jesus teaches humanity to honor Him, thereby glorifying God. In words and example, Jesus teaches that the “two greatest commandments” are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). Why? It is how humanity functions best in God’s creation.
When we follow Jesus and do as He commands, our actions help us better understand Jesus’s life, sacrifice, love, and God’s Kingdom. Our Christian relationship is enriched. Our goal becomes God’s glory, not our own. We obey not by fear, but by love; in wisdom, not ignorance. We obey because we can.
Jesus tells us that our yoke and burden with Him are “easy” and “light.” His commands help us help others: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “don’t hinder a child’s faith,” “help the least of these,” “remember the prisoners,” “help the poor,” “feed the hungry,” “be hospitable to strangers,” “love your enemies,” “carry your cross,” “feed my sheep.”
And then there is this one … “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
This last one, from the last supper, is Jesus sharing bread and wine – His body and blood – with the disciples. We know this rite today as communion, and our joy should always be in remembering Christ.
Not because we have to, but because we can. Cosmically, it’s the smart play.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) reminds: it is Satan who says. “…or else.”