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What are the Commandments Taught by Christ?

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The political and cultural climate of the United States in the late 1960s was tumultuous. The country was at war, both militarily as well as symbolically. Lines were drawn and mistrust abounded; doubt in the ability of government to make appropriate decision lurked everywhere, unrest was sending a shiver through the local communities and record inflation was on the horizon. Then in 1967, the Beatles released their hit song, “All You Need is Love.” The lyrics were simple and the melody easy to sing; perhaps the song was even an attempt to provide an antidote to the state of discontentment. But even within the “flower power” movement, it was not a time where love came easy for anyone.

In Christian theology, it can be easy to quip that the answer is always love, and this can apply to just about any question you ask about God and the world. As simple as Lennon’s lyrics are in this hit song, love is far from simple, at least not the kind of love that Christ taught during his ministry that transformed the world. In the gospel of John, we find Jesus explaining his commandment to the disciples.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.  John 15:12-17

This text can be closely linked to the commandments from Jesus on love found in the gospel of Matthew.

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 22: 36-40 

Being loved is one of the most basic of human needs. Food, water and shelter might keep you alive, but you cannot truly live without love. Jesus’ disciples are just like the rest of us, looking to Christ to understand how to live out our faith in the world. They were asking Jesus to unlock the code, give them the playbook and show them the way within their new Jewish paradigm. They were like high schoolers quizzing the teacher about an exam, wanting to know what was going to be on the test so they could make sure to study the right material. But it just isn’t that simple. Love is just not that simple.

Jesus commands us to love. Love God. Love one another. Love ourselves. The love Jesus is talking about is agape love, God’s way of loving us. Do not confuse this form of love with the common human ways of love such as the kind typically shown to friends and significant others.[i] What Jesus is NOT teaching is that we should have different kinds of love; our love of God and our love of one another should not be different at all. We should love one another and God as passionately, deeply and sacrificially as Christ loves us. And that is where the rubber meets the road.

Love is an action word. The feelings we get when we feel love for someone are simply a symptom or an indicator, a sign of love rather than the entirety of the love itself. When we love as Christ commands us, we look at that person as Christ would, seeing Christ embodied within that person, that neighbor, that stranger, that friend, and that enemy. And when we can do that, we can respond with love to their needs. We can freely feed the hungry, willingly part with our money for the poor, and lift up in love those that have been relegated to the margins by our loveless view of the world existing beyond the comfort and safety of our surroundings. Our protective circles of friends and family often prevent us from doing the very thing that Jesus commands us to do, so must seek out ways to find and respond to the cries of the needy. Seeing the world afresh with a Christ-like perspective allows us to forgive those who have wronged us, find common ground with those with whom we disagree, and to extend grace and mercy to all we meet. This is God’s command for us, and through our baptism, we are equipped and have committed ourselves to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP, 305).

God commands us to agape love. This is not a suggestion or good advice. Our response to Christ’s commandment is to seek and serve others. Christ came to transform the world and though the command is not an easy one to follow, it is the one that joins us with Christ in that transformation of all of creation.

[i]   Jaime Clark-Soles, Reading John for Dear Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 96.


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What is the Old Covenant?

In today’s society, the word “old” can often imply something out of date or no longer valid. We (Americans especially) tend to want to discard things that are old in favor of the newest and shiniest things. To answer the question about the Old Covenant, we first need to do some word study, starting with the word covenant. The Hebrew word for covenant is berit (בְּרִית), and it describes a “contract or agreement between two parties” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). When there is a contract or agreement between two parties, the implication is that each party contributes something to the agreement. For our purposes, the covenant referred to as the Old Covenant is an agreement between God and Israel. This covenant started as a promise from God to God’s chosen people. The people were to follow God and keep God’s law, and God promised to be with them, identifying them as God’s chosen people.

There are several instances of covenants in the Hebrew Bible. It starts with Noah after the story of the flood in Genesis 7-9. This was a promise to never destroy the earth again. But this is just the beginning, and a foretaste of God’s covenant with Israel. Abraham is the next partner with God in covenantal relationship, with God promising Abraham many ancestors and protected land. For his end of the agreement, Abraham promised the obey God’s laws. God specifically refers to this covenant when dealing with the Egyptian enslavement of God’s people before leading them to freedom. It was during this time that the Law of the Covenant was established with God and through Moses in Exodus. In this text, and then again in Deuteronomy, the laws or commandments are stated, and following these commandments was to be the sign of being marked as God’s people. This is most often what is considered as the Old Covenant.

Without giving too much away, there can’t really be anything called an Old Covenant unless there is also a now a New Covenant, a topic to be discussed in a later post (spoiler alert: Jesus!!!). We can think about these covenants as a series of ways that God has entered into perfect relationship with followers, only to have the followers falter in upholding our end of the agreement. You can think back to the story of Noah and the flood, one of the most famous stories from the Hebrew Bible. We often focus on the cartoonish two-by-two animal parade loading onto the ark, rather than focusing on God who seemingly wipes out all of humanity in response to our generations of sins and failures. The iconic symbol of the rainbow is a promise that God would not ever do that again, with God arguably holding up his end of the bargain. Meanwhile, there can be a pretty compelling case made that humanity has continued to find other idols to worship besides God, separating ourselves from God in a multitude of ways. Along comes the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments were given to God’s people through Moses, detailing what following God should and should NOT look like. Ten rules about living in community with God and one another were provided, given to a people after they have been rescued from a life of slavery and persecution. This is followed by God giving these chosen people their own land. And everyone lives happily ever after, right? Well, not exactly….

Let’s be clear about one thing – God holds up God’s part of each covenant. Any failure is directly attributable to our own desires. It is fairly safe to say that in any contractual agreement between two people, one person who continually fails to uphold their end of the bargain effectively negates the contract entirely. The non-offending party doesn’t continue providing the services or promises from the agreement. That just wouldn’t make much sense from our human perspective. And that is what sets God and the covenants made between God and God’s people apart. God never leaves. God never gives up. God continues to pour out grace and mercy where absolutely none is deserved. God continues to try to reach us, making more and more promises and giving us new revelations of who God is. In fact, God even comes to live among us, driving home the ultimate commitment that God is willing to make. Each covenant builds on the one before, further revealing God’s unending love for us.

The Old Covenant was a revelation of God for the people of God when they needed it the most. It is our heritage within the great cloud of witnesses, our inheritance as Christians. And God never fails to love and be with us. Understanding this is critical to our transformation as Christians who work to continually love and follow God. It’s when we lose sight of God’s commitment to us through our own distractions that we falter and stray from our baptismal covenant to “promise and obey” God.

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