THE TOUGHEST COMMAND IN THE BIBLE

You choose the one you think is hardest to obey.

“Be holy in all your conduct” (I Peter 1:15). He expands it by saying, “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (16, quoted from Leviticus 11:44). In other words, “Be like God.” Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.

“Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Anything?  I get tripped up, and before I even realize it, I am worrying. I learned it early in life. So did you. We did it five thousand times by the time we were ten. How do I unlearn what is so much a part of my life? I know how to worry without even thinking.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:1). I could handle, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes.” “Always” takes it to the unattainable. Not always sure I want to rejoice always. Don’t I need a little time once in a while to be grouchy? “Always” is totally unreasonable. (Maybe that’s why it’s in the Book).

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Right! I can imitate my father, who was a gentle man. I can imitate my mother who was always gracious to people. But to imitate the Creator, that’s a tough one. He is kind to people who curse in His face. He waters their garden and shines the sun on their backyard party.

Did I omit one of your favorite impossibilities? How about, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Really? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Yeah, right! The opposite of our natural inclination. Here’s a tough one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Try that out for a day.  Or “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Waiting is easy–when we want to.

Here’s the point:  Every command is impossible. Would God command us to do something that we don’t need Him to accomplish? Then He would be teaching us independence rather than submission. James said powerfully, “Submit to God.” The only way we can keep His commands is by submitting ourselves to Him and relying on the strength of the Spirit within. They cannot happen apart from the powerful working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is a supernatural life. It is simply not doable in the natural. No other religion incorporates grace. They are all “do it yourself” religions. Christianity demands the divine. Sad that sometimes people get the idea that we are supposed to pull this off by will power. How frustrating can you get! It’s laughable; go ahead–be like God. These commands run absolutely opposite our human inclination. But our good God reproduces Himself in us, enabling us to obey and do the impossible. Call it grace–from start to finish!

2 thoughts on “THE TOUGHEST COMMAND IN THE BIBLE

  1. I learned early in my faith, a simplified definition of Grace: it describes God’s way of giving us something, a blessing, that we don’t deserve. And then, back to back, as if they were antonyms, was the definition for Mercy: describing the way God withholds something, a judgment, that we DO deserve.

    It seems now to me, that these are much more intertwined than that. Maybe Grace is based in Mercy, and Mercy, based in Grace.

    In this case, because God is Merciful to accept a substitution for our judgement, the judgment we do deserve, he is also Graceful in substituting his Son’s righteousness upon us, a blessing we truly don’t deserve.

    It is all based in Love.

  2. Wait, what? But so many people have told me that when God gives a command, He always gives strength to obey! Fortunately, my good Lutheran Sunday School teachers had taught me better.

    It’s interesting that when Jesus gave his most oft-quoted summary of the Law (“You shall love…”) , He was speaking to a Pharisee. Gee, what’s the hardest thing for a Pharisee to do? And when a rich young ruler came for advice, Jesus summary was “Go, sell everything you have…”. This was not the answer he wanted. For the multitudes on the Mount, Jesus’ first summary was Mt 5:48. Then comes chapter 6 where Jesus raises the bar by including not only the actions but the thought behind them. Finally, in 7:21-3, He makes it clear that prophecy, miracles and deliverance ministry are not enough to earn salvation. It seems that in Luther’s Second Use of the Law, the mirror is always the command that we are painfully aware we cannot obey.

    But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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