Deuteronomy 5:1-10, John 13:31-35
May 6, 2007
In case you haven’t figured it out, today we’re talking about “commandments.” And of course, the first thing we need to say is, “Wow! Is that ever a ‘turn off’ for some people! Commandments are not particularly inspiring. They’re kind of tedious. They have a lot to do with learning, memorizing, and behaving.
For those outside of the faith they can be a big stumbling block. There are many who want nothing with Christianity because they see it as being all a bunch of “Do’s and Don’ts.” Or more specifically, “Thou shalt’s and thou shalt not’s.” And as I’ve often said about my generation in particular, one of our biggest “pet peeves” is that we don’t like the idea of anyone “telling us what to do.” (Or what not to do!)
I think that’s such a shame! Because God’s commandments are so much more. This “document,” “the Torah,” as the people of the Old Testament called it, was the link between themselves and their God. It was their contract, if you will. But it was more than just a contract. It was a covenant! It was a covenant in the sense that marriage is a covenant. It was that kind of intimacy with God!
So, at the risk of “turning some people off,” I want us to think about the Ten Commandments today. And I want us to see how our story from the New Testament has a lot to do with them.
We read the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy today. But of course they were first given back in the book of Exodus during the actual story of the Exodus. Deuteronomy was a later book that was given to the people so that they would remember all they had been through. In fact, if you’re ever at a loss for what to say if someone asks you about the theme of Deuteronomy, just say the word “Remember.”
So, look again at these Commandments. Do you see what is not there? (Especially in light of Jesus’ words.) There is no commandment that says “Thou shalt Love one another.” Granted, the Commandments contain directives that imply how we should love one another. “Thou shalt not lie.” “Thou shalt not kill.” “ Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s property.” But there is not a specific commandment, “Thou shalt love one another.” …That is, until Jesus came.
Just think again how important these commandments were to the Jewish people! As I said, they were the people’s link with God!! They revered them. They were proud to be people associated with God through this covenant. It was their identity. It was their badge of honor.
Just think, then, how earth-shaking, how momentous, how stunning was this statement Jesus made. “I am giving you a New Commandment.” Isn’t that amazing? Who did this man think he was that he would have the audacity to add to the Ten Commandments? Think about it. Were the actual tablets available, would he have suggested they chiseled in a “number eleven?” That was amazing!
We Christians honor the importance of that event. This is the verse from which we get the term “Maundy Thursday.” That title comes from the Latin rendering of this passage, specifically the word “Maundatum,” which means “Commandment.” “Maundy Thursday” literally is “The Thursday of the New Commandment.” It honors the day that Jesus added one more to this historic “Top Ten List.”
What is this “New Commandment?” “That you love one another.” That almost seems a little anticlimactic, doesn’t it. It almost seems simplistic. It’s like he’s saying, “A new commandment I give you, that you be good boys, and play nicely.” But it’s not simplistic! This Commandment is so important, so profound, that it’s tied to the whole meaning of life itself!
In his book “Waking the Dead,” my favorite author, John Eldredge says that “Love is the point of all living.” “What we love,” he said, “makes life worth living.” Think about that. Think about the things we love. Think about the people we love. They all add meaning, and enjoyment, and depth to our lives, don’t they? Our interests, our relationships, our families, and the love of all those things contribute to what makes this life great! Isn’t that true? But it’s more than that. Love is life itself! Love is the point of all living.
Sometimes I’m not big on clichés. Sometimes they seem trite and simplistic to me, and I steer clear of them. You might say “I avoid clichés like the plague!” One cliché I’m not crazy about is when someone is trying to emphasize the importance of something that is being said, and they say, “That says it all.” Well, I don’t think there’s anything that “says it all.” And while we’re at it, I would also say, that nothing is “what it’s all about.” – Not even the Hokey Pokey!!!
However, if anything comes close to being “what it’s all about,” it’s love! And I’m not talking about a “feeling.” I’m not talking about Romance – though they can be a wonderful part of love. I’m talking about the life connection we have with each other. I’m talking about the interaction with others and the relationships we have. I’m talking about the caring and joy and affection we share. I’m talking about the giving of ourselves and our hearts to each other. Eldredge says, “A life filled with loving is a life most like the one God lives, which is life as it was meant to be.” To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, and walk in love…” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Author Gerald May observed this about life. “By worshipping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest level of efficiency in human history, but how much have we grown in love?” Think about that. We find ourselves in an ever more sophisticated world, but one in which many people feel empty. They are more intelligent, informed, and engaged than ever, but they feel there’s something missing from their lives because they don’t know love. And they don’t know love because they’ve been taught that love is only a feeling, and in “loving” they mostly “desire to be loved.” But they have no idea how to love as God intended us to love, giving of ourselves to others, choosing to upbuild one another, seeking to share life’s joys and sorrows!
Many in our world today relegate the heart only to the realm of “emotion,” thinking it not as important as the intellect. Then they hold emotion at arms length, as though it is subservient to the things of the mind. Even people of faith tend to think that way. They emphasize such things as knowledge and learning. And those things are good! But they have forgotten that the point of faith is not the knowledge of faith. The whole point of faith is intimacy with God! No matter how much we know, it is still the heart that God looks on. In Jeremiah, God says, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Not when you study and learn about me.”
You’ve heard me quote John Eldredge before. I’ve often referred to this phrase he likes to quote from St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” Well, that happens – we are fully alive – when our hearts are alive to God and to each other. You know, the more I think about this “New Commandment,” the more I see it, not as something God “left out” the first time around – something that “should have been obvious” anyway. The more I think about it, this New Commandment, to love one another, is a higher level of seeing all of life!
Yet how many people, even in the Church, live with their hearts closed? In the self-focused society in which we live, it’s hard for many to see life outside the perspective of their own little world. They see others only in the way they impact that little world. And any of us can fall back into that perspective, can’t we? God wants us to open ourselves to others. He wants us to live from the heart.
So, we need to ask ourselves, how do we do at keeping this New Commandment? Are our hearts open to God? Do we walk in love as Christ loved? Are our hearts alive and open to others around us? And the last question is, how do we know that? Let me suggest that “We know it by the way we show it.”
Think how Jesus loved. And think about how he called his disciples to love. It was always through action, wasn’t it? We know we love through the way we treat one another. We show it through the choices we make. Think of how he loved, reaching out to the unloved. Think of his teaching. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.” “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Go the second mile.” “Lend without expecting to get back.” “Give to those who can’t return.”
Let them know your love by the way you show your love. Share the joy of this life with others. More than that, choose to share the joy of this life with others. It’s always a choice. Because sometimes we don’t feel like it, do we? We have to choose to love. And we should love deeply – from the heart.
Sometimes we think the Christian life is about “Going to heaven.” It is that. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about making heaven here on earth. Sometimes we think the Christian life is about trying not to sin, going to Church, being nice. And it is. But Jesus says it’s even more. It’s about the healing the heart, it’s about being set free and setting others free. It’s about seeing God’s glory restored in our relationship with him!
I’d like to close with these words of Paul in Second Corinthians. He says this so well. “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away… And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord…” (II Corinthians 3:16-18)
A new Commandment. Love one another! That is glorious. It comes from God. Don’t ever sell it short!
Eternal and ever blessed God, we thank you that you have given us life. We know that you look on the heart, and we pray that you would open our hearts to the blessings of your love and grace. Help us to follow Jesus’ commandment to love as he loved. Fill our hearts with strength, courage, and power, that we can be your people. For we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.