I’m so excited to have my friend Brandi joining us today. We had lunch at SheSpeaks 2015 and I’m thankful we’ve kept in touch on-line. She’s got a lot of wisdom to share on this word that is often seen as the opposite of grace.
Reading along in your Bible, have you ever come across a word, phrase, even a whole verse that just confused you? Leaving an uncertainty in your gut you just wanted to quickly flip the page? Any form of the word “command” ruffled my pages for years. Yet, it is such a foundational part of scripture and thus of our faith, we can’t skim past it forever.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines command as: (v) to give orders, to have authority over, to dominate by position; or (n) an order given with authority, a signal that initiates an operation defined by an instruction.
As a word, “command” carries a certain authority, a firmness. It automatically associates with “law.” I’m sure your spine straightens at the sound of that word, too. Maybe like me, these words rub your grace-side the wrong way. Yet, I wonder why they are woven throughout the Old and New Testament?
We’ll get back to that struggle in a moment, first, let’s look at these words in both Greek and Hebrew. Language is a funny beast, and often there are many words to fill the same blank.
In Hebrew there are many different ways to talk about law and commandments. Mitsvah –commandments; Chuqqah – ordinances, statutes, decrees; Dath – decree, legal regulations; Dabbarah – words, verbal utterances; Torah – direction, instruction, law.
In Greek, as well, there were many words: Eptiagé – instruction, command, order, mandate; Epitassó – give order, charge; Perikatés – having full command of. Just to name a few.
The law and commandments go deep in the roots of Christianity. In fact, these concepts go back to the very beginning, when God’s people were just being established. The origin of law in the Christian faith is found in the Sinai desert where God begins speaking to His people about how to live like redeemed children of the Great I Am. It was a beautiful download of identity, a response to the unmerited salvation God brought them through the exodus.
This is where it get’s tricky, as humans, we aren’t naturally bent towards unmerited grace. Instead, we’re easily entangled in merit. We like the predictability of conditions: “If I do this, then I get this.” As you read the history of the Israelites from Sinai desert to Roman rule, this struggle between grace and merit is evident. Rules, regulations and commandments often evoke one of two responses: rebellion from them or enslavement to them.
Daniel Block said it this way, “From the beginning Israelites had perverted the law by treating the law as a precondition of entrance into the Kingdom of God rather than a response to His grace; by adhering to the law’s legal requirements as a matter of duty rather than a grateful expression of heartfelt covenant love for God and one’s neighbor….”
Law and Commandments usually sound like a list of expectations, a means to an end. Yet as New Testament believers God’s love is given freely through the cross. Here is where our struggle lies. When we look at our identity of faith from the same perspective of merit as these wandering Israelites, we loose the power of the cross. Implying that through sheer grit and obedience we can have connection with the Father. It’s a twisting that apparently has been a wrestle of words for centuries.
Which is precisely why the Apostle Paul grabbed his pen to write to the Galatians.
The Galatians were a group of New Testament believers living within a rather large province of the Roman empire, an area we now know as Turkey. Galatia was a place of commerce, diversity and a brand new church of Christians whom Paul had recently visited.
The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee-turned-Jesus-follower, wrote this letter shortly after leaving the budding Galatian church. Apparently, someone had come in after him and preached a compelling message on merit and law-keeping, and it was getting messy.
Just to be clear, if anyone knew and held to every single law, it was Paul. He knew the torah, the Pentateuch, inside, outside and backwards. Another Greek word for law is “nomos” meaning more specifically – Mosaic Law. If anyone was a nomos expert, it was Paul.
Paul begins the letter with this statement: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel… (Gal. 1:6)”
This church was getting it backwards, making commandments and laws a means to an end, instead of an expression of identity. Oh, church. How often do we hold tight to these words like mandates, or run fast from them like curses. What if it didn’t have to be one or the other, what if it was both law and grace, commandments and love, beautifully harmonized together?
In Galatians 5:14 there is a glimpse into how both the law (nomos) fits together with the love received through the grace of the cross.
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul quotes Jesus in this letter to the Galatians. Jesus said this exact phrase in Matthew 22:35-40. But Jesus was quoting Moses, the Moses. (see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18) And guess what, Moses was quoting God. A beautiful full circle.
The word ‘command’ in this sentence is not from any of those Greek words listed in the beginning, this word comes from the Greek word ‘Logos’ – which means Word.
It is the same as word used in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
For the entire law was is fulfilled in keeping this one Word, This one God-expression, Love…
And the word “love” in this verse, well it’s translated agapé in Greek and agapé love means Holy Love, Divine Love. The kind of love that is perfect, like God is perfect.
The entire requirement for connection to God, for access to heaven, is to let God in so that God can shine out. That is it. Keeping the law is the result of your receipt of His holy love and your reflection of His love.
It’s only a wrestle when we read this word backwards. It isn’t a means to find salvation, it is an expression of freedom. We don’t keep the law to find salvation and blessing, we are saved and blessed so we follow His commands.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2003), Law/Ten Commandments/Torah, Daniel Block (pg.1017)
Brandi is a writer, speaker and faith encourager. She has served in women’s ministry for over 10 years and has co-authored a Bible study, “A Walk Through Ephesians”, with another due out later this year. Growing up in a non-denominational church, Brandi Learned scripture and encountered God, but was wounded by religion. 15 years later, God rescued her from the brink of extinction in one death-defying moment. Since then she has sought an authentic life with radiant faith. She and her dreamy husband live at the base of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with their three vivacious children.
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