Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Are God's commands more than a list of "Do's and "Don'ts?"

In discussing the role of Jesus in my Credo I state the following about the commands that he gives to us:
Jesus also tells us how we should live. His commands—The Sermon on the Mount being a good example—are more than just a list of “do’s and don’ts.” However, it is very easy to look at these commands and to start categorizing them like we do with the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses and think of following Jesus in terms of “Thou Shalt Not…” It is very easy for me to fall into that trap and in a certain sense I am guessing that it is only natural. But Jesus did not simply come to tell us about all of the things that we do wrong. Rather, Jesus' instructions help us to live a better life (but not in a self-help way) and how to show care and compassion towards others. When Jesus tells us not to do something it is usually because whatever he is telling us to not do is bad for us.
For example in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Matthew 6:25,27,34
I have purposely left out a number of verses from Jesus statement on worry and normally I really dislike taking verses out of their context. But I did it here for a reason. I think that those other verses help to put this command into the “Thou Shalt Not” category and miss part of why Jesus was giving us this command.

Here are just the omitted verses:
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they…And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matthew 6:26,28-33
Looking at these verses makes it very easy to pick out a number of reasons that Jesus is telling us not to worry:

  • By worrying we are not trusting God to take care of us.
  • By worrying we do not believe that God values us.
  • By worrying we are not seeking after the most important things in life.

These are all true and very valid reasons, but there is also a more practical reason why Jesus is telling us to not worry as well. Jesus asked, “Can you add time to your life by worrying?” No. We cannot. In fact we have come to learn that worrying actually shortens our lives. Chronic worry – or stress – can also make us very unhealthy. Jesus’ commands are more than “because I said so,” they are our guide to living a better life. We might not always have all the things that we want but if we followed all of his commands – like taking care of the poor – life would be better for us as well as others.

Further reading on the effects of stress:
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior by the Mayo Clinic
Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk by the Mayo Clinic
The Effects of Stress on Your Body by WebMD

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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