Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.19).
What do ‘the commandments’ mean for Christians?
They are not simply a spiritual health check.
The Pharisees could tick all the boxes using the Decalogue questionnaire and answer a lot of more detailed questions as well. This did not put them in the clear (Matthew 5.20), any more than a clean bill of health at the doctor’s surgery can save us from death. It may also be possible to hide a condition or avoid having the doctor ask too many questions. Spiritual disease too may go unrecognised, hidden under religious observance, and human laws, important though they are in preventing the destructive effects of sin, are still only a means of treating the symptoms (Matthew 5.21-27).
The heart may not always be the best guide.
In our individualistic world God’s commandments are often regarded as prescriptive, repressive and even psychologically harmful. The blueprint for living as intended by the Creator is rejected, while, ironically, short-lived health regimes may be readily accepted. Christians may find themselves conforming. Fearful of somehow losing, denying or stifling love, we may choose, mistakenly, to ‘listen to our hearts’ and trust the wrong impulses. In failing to discern or in ignoring the signposts we have been given, we wander from the very source and supply of love, a love lasting and healing and as necessary to life as water.
Obedience to God’s commandments is essential for a healthy life in Christ.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5.21-37 shows how God’s commandments provide challenging lifestyle choices for the Christian. These choices, such as that of reconciliation over anger, need to be exercised. They are not life-sapping legalism but life-promoting. One choice may be to undergo some ‘pruning’ of otherwise natural desires in order to encourage healthy growth (verses 29-30). Yes, we are approaching Lent.
The newly-called disciples had already made the fundamental decision to follow Jesus and had been given a sign in the turning of water into wine, a token of an abundance of life. The response now could not be to ‘tick all the right boxes,’ but instead to go on following daily in the power that would be given to them. Obedience to God is not repression but allows God to transform. Choose life!
Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him. (Deuteronomy 30.19).