He Who Commands?

In Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and remain in his love.”

Okay, what did Jesus command us to do? I bet you’re thinking the answer must run to at least 4 typewritten pages, double-sided, single spaced? In fact, if you go looking for “commands” in the gospels, you find just this one, a couple of verses on from the quote above: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”

Yep! That’s it. John repeats this command of Jesus several times, but that’s the only one. And the other gospel writers don’t even have that much.

It’s true that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read of Jesus endorsing the Old Testament command to love the Lord God with heart and mind and soul and strength, along with the next in importance, love your neighbor as yourself. But this is a restatement of John’s words, along with the command of even greater importance, namely, loving our Creator with all our being.

So that’s it. Love God like your life depends on it (it does), and actively love people. All sorts of people.

Now there is another piece to this. The quote I started with has “commands” in the plural, suggesting that there’s more than one. And Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew tell us to go into all the world, teaching people “to obey all that I have commanded you.” All the Scripture versions, including J. B. Phillips and Eugene Peterson, use the word “commanded”, suggesting that this instruction does indeed carry all the weight of a command. And the word “all” tells us that there are many commands.

How are we to understand this? The commission Jesus gives us at the end of Matthew must refer to all the teachings and instructions he left us. Like, you must repent. You must forgive if you are to be forgiven. Abide in me. And many more.

Jesus is not kidding. He expects us to take these teachings seriously. Yet he doesn’t use words like “order” or “command.” I think it’s rather like the situation with your boss at work. Maybe she says, “I want you to give priority to this task. Complete that before you do anything else.” She isn’t kidding. Her words come with the weight of a command. But she doesn’t say, “I order you.” Or “I command you.” If she does talk like that, you’re probably looking for a different job.

Just so, I think Jesus doesn’t want to be thought of as “he who commands.” He is our friend. Although his words to us come with the weight of command, when we use that word I think we give an edge to his authority that he doesn’t want to own.