Some readers know that for a couple of years I’ve been compiling commandments from Scripture. I’m up to 1,376 as of this morning.
People say this is a strange undertaking for someone whose Christian faith is to be lived by God’s grace, not under the Law. And yet, Jesus told us many times that we were to teach people to follow him and do what he commanded. He said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14: 21). Moreover, since Jesus pointed out that “I and my Father are one”, the commands that matter aren’t just the ones in “red letters”, spoken by Jesus. They are all of the commands God has given, throughout all of the text, unless God specifically overturned them for an important reason — for instance, to open the community of God more readily to outsiders, those not part of Israel.
Ten Commandments Are Already Too Many!
Still for those who have grown up under a harsh church legalism, the idea of facing even more rules could feel devastating. Perhaps you’ve just begun to break free of the idea that God hates you if you stay home “sick” from church one Sunday or say “no” when asked to take duty in the nursery. So what will you do when faced with hundreds of commandments instead of the dozen or so that have overburdened you all your life?
I can’t answer how it will feel for you. I didn’t grow up in a church home. I came to the Bible as an adult, a professional writer. I read the Bible not just as “God’s love letter to me” but as “God’s little instruction manual” to all people in all times and all places.
What About ‘Contradictory’ Commandments?
That meant I didn’t even see a lot of the “contradictions” that plague church-raised Christians. When I read the Bible, I just figured that the commandment God needed to give to one person at one time would be different from what God needed to say to another person at another time. I didn’t feel a need to shatter God’s commandments into “dispensations” and invalidate most of them.
Different peoples live under different conditions across the globe even now. The same God who helped a tribal Israel learn how to live as worshipers among tribes that worshiped other gods has given commandments that are still useful for those who live in tribes among other tribes who worship other gods today. The God who spoke through the educated apostle Paul to educated pagans at the Areopagus has given commandments that help us speak to educated people with the vaguest spiritual yearnings who appear at seminars and Meetups in the educated West today.
Commandments as Part of ‘the Whole Counsel of Scripture’
When I first read scripture and found commandments that seemed to contradict each other, my only question was: which instruction was meant for me at that time? And the only One who could answer was the Author. Thanks be to God who has given the Holy Spirit to each of us and to all of us together that we may do our best to understand “what God has spoken — even though it is as “through a glass darkly”.
For those of us who intend to take seriously “the whole counsel of Scripture”, I don’t know another way to face its mysteries humbly. We are indeed sinners saved by grace. We are also called to go and sin no more. And we are called to do so, not by sitting in place so we might avoid sinning, but by doing those good works that Christ has uniquely fitted each of us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).
I’m looking forward to sharing hundreds of commandments with you in the days to come. God bless you as you seek to place God’s desires ahead of all human purposes.
If you live near Raleigh, North Carolina and are interested in participating in one of the feedback groups that will be reviewing how God’s commandments are being categorized for a book project, please let me know how to contact you.