“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to count all the commands in the Bible? You could probably google it. I’m sure someone has made at least a good faith effort at figuring out the number. I suppose it could also be a bad faith effort as well where a critic is trying to justify their criticism, but you get a count all the same. Why all the commands? I mean, God is God, but why can He just let us figure things out and live our lives on our own? It gets frustrating to run into one of His commands every time we start running down a particular road. Does it really even matter if we try? Let’s take a few minutes this morning to think about it.
Let me let you in on a little secret about me this morning. You may want to be sitting down for this one. Are you ready? Here goes: I like doing what I want. There, I said it. I like doing what I want. I like being able to have a day when I don’t have to do anything for anybody else. I can just set my own agenda and get to it as I please. Of course, my vision of a day like that is probably different than yours. But I like my vision. I’ll bet you like your vision too. In fact, I’ll bet you like doing what you want as much as I do. We all like it.
What I don’t like, is running into obstacles to having things my way. In fact, I can even get a little grumpy when I’m not getting my way. How about you? You know what? I think this may be more than simply a you and me thing. I think this trait might be common to everyone. You and me and everyone else in the world wants nothing more than what we want, when we want, how we want, where we want, with whom we want, as much as we want, for as long as we want. Is that too much to ask?
And yet, if you’re the kind of person who thinks doing life Jesus’ way is something at all worthwhile, you will find this natural tendency on your part running smack into what God wants a whole lot more frequently than you’d like to admit. Sometimes it feels like it happens on a daily basis. Occasionally it feels even more frequent than that.
The reason for this are all the commands God gives us in His word. He’s really bad about that. Everywhere we look in the Bible there are places where He’s trying to tell us how we should be living our lives. What gives? What gives Him the right to do that? Have you ever wondered that? Maybe not out loud or in polite company, but I’ll bet the thought has crossed your mind at least once or twice over the years. This is likely especially true when it comes to commands like this one where God is insisting we do something that runs so completely counter to the way we normally would respond to the situations we are in. How do we make any positive sense out of this?
Well, we start where I’ve said we have to go so many times before. We have to get God’s character right. If we fail on that score, we aren’t going to be able to get anything else right. And in this case, God is God, and we are not. That means He has the position and authority to issue commands that we are duty-bound to obey. This duty comes directly from the fact that, again, He is God, but also from the fact that He created us. We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Him. When someone has literally given you life, you owe it to them to do what they say.
But here’s where some careful thinking has to come into play. If we are to do what God commands because He said so and that’s it, that really doesn’t make things very easy for us. I mean, in one sense it does because there really isn’t any thought involved, but given that we are inherently relational creatures (like He is since we are made in His image), being told to obey and swallow any objections we might have doesn’t sit very well.
Thankfully, there’s more here. God is indeed God, and we are indeed not. That’s still an indisputable fact here. But because He made us, He knows us. He knows us better even than we know ourselves. He understands how we think and how much we struggle with impersonal commands. So, He doesn’t make any impersonal commands. This is an absolutely crucial point to grasp. None of God’s commands for how we should be living come without a thoroughly relational context. This has always been the case. God never drops out of nowhere, issues a command, and then disappears back into the clouds. He comes to us, reaches out to build a relationship with us, demonstrates His love for us, and then and only then does He offer an invitation to a way of living that allows us to remain in that love (in Christ).
But there’s even still more here. It is not simply that God is God and we are not that defines His character. He is a good God. He is just—He always does the right thing. He is holy. He is loving. And because of all that, He is committed to our good. Everything He does is to advance what He knows is going to be for our highest good. And He knows this because He is God and knows everything.
Now, given all of that, let’s think for just a minute about what this means, because the implications are pretty staggering. Because God is God, and because He loves us, and because He only gives commands in the context of a relationship, and because He is absolutely committed to our good, it actually matters whether or not we do what He says. Keeping His commands really does matter.
When God has given us a command of some sort, He always has our best interests at heart. He’s telling us to do that thing because He knows it will be good for us. It will lead to our flourishing. We will be glad we did it. This same idea apples to every single command we find in the Scriptures. Now, some of them don’t apply to us because they were part of the Old Covenant that has been fulfilled in Christ. But the ones that do apply absolutely fit this pattern.
In other words, doing what God says matters. It makes a difference. It will make your life better and make you better at life. Loving your enemies, for instance, will save you a whole world of trouble in life. Praying for those who persecute you will accomplish God’s glorious purposes in and through the people around you. It will advance His kingdom in ways that will transform the people around you and the situation you are in. It will do a pretty good number on your own heart as well.
So, commit to doing what God says. Commit to it in big ways. Commit to it even more in small ones. Make His commands a priority over even your own plans and hopes and dreams. It matters. It all matters. Let’s get to it.