Now this might sound silly, but the obvious fact that one cannot keep the commandments of God unless he or she knows the commandments seems fairly elementary. After all, how can a person keep God’s commandments if one does not know them, or for that matter, has never spent any time reading and studying them? This reality came into focus recently, while I was reviewing parts of the Epistle of 1 John. This letter includes the words of someone who was seriously concerned about the walk of a Believer with Messiah Yeshua.
In this first passage, the beloved John is simply trying to explain to his readers that truly knowing the Risen Savior will be evidenced by keeping commandments:
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:3-6, NASU).
The crux of these statements regarding keeping the commandments is whether one truly knows God, or does not truly know God. If a person knows God, or has come to know God but does not keep His commandments, then one of two things is missing. Either the person (1) does not really know God, or (2) he or she does not know the commandments. Consequently, if a person claims to know God, but does not keep His commandments, then John’s conclusion is that the person is a liar and the truth is not in him.
But is this a reflection on people who are ignorant of God’s commandments, and do not have a fuller picture of them—or people who claim to know God but have no desire to obey Him?
John’s conclusion could be a very strong indictment against those who simply believe that keeping God’s commandments begins and ends with love for Him and neighbor. Yeshua did list these as the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:35-39). This is not in dispute. But few really try to comprehend what He means by “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40, NASU).
Many faithful Christians believe that they are keeping God’s Law, because they love Him and strive to love their neighbors. This is good. The problem is that too many preachers and teachers have told them over the years that these are the only two commandments that matter. Too few are aware of how they are derived directly from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18), and not enough try to understand them as they were originally given to Ancient Israel.
When asked more specifically what that love entails, the answers one might hear from today’s Christians can be somewhat nebulous, theoretical, or downright superficial. After all, how does one define love for an intangible, unseen Creator? Is it a fervent prayer life? Is it reading His Word? Or could it possibly be seen by obeying Him? Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) taught:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASU).
Once again, the willingness to keep God’s commandments is strong evidence that someone loves Him. Yet it is improper to assume that keeping God’s commandments is just all about “love.” Many people need to be liberated from a circular thinking that you love God, which in turn means that you have just kept all of His commandments, which then means that you have fulfilled the Law. Something or someone has to wake up many of today’s Christians from the stupor of believing that “love” for God is all that is required to obey Him. Just vaguely “loving God,” with what can be perceived as no concrete responsibilities, has not at all aided today’s Christian Church—which is rife with moral and ethical problems. A return to actually knowing and implementing God’s commandments in one’s life is definitely in order.
When you consider the essence of what it means to truly commit all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of you mind to the Lord—you should soon realize that it is much more than a token, seemingly heartfelt statement of commitment. If you are really serious about loving God then you will look into His Word and discover those other passages which amplify what it means to love God with all of your being. The command to love is an essential part of the Shema, which declares the Lord as the supreme object of one’s devotion, worship, and obedience:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NASU).
Later in Deuteronomy, Moses teaches how the love God’s people are to display toward Him is evidenced by keeping His commandments:
“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, NASU).
As you seek out more about what it means to love God, you read further in Deuteronomy 11:1, 13, 22; 30:6, 16. God’s people are admonished to love Him, often with the reminder that those who love Him keep His commandments. The Apostle John’s words, seen in 1 John, are very consistent with the message of Deuteronomy, and what is required of an obedient disciple of Yeshua. Consider these two passages and notice the obvious parallels:
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment that we believe in the name of His Son Yeshua the Messiah, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:21-24, NASU).
“Whoever believes that Yeshua is the Messiah is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:1-3, NASU).
If you analyze what it means to really love your neighbor as yourself, you might be able to think of some tangible actions, beginning with how you show basic courtesy to others. The Golden Rule, doing to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31), surely comes to mind. While this is an excellent rule to follow, where does this axiom originate? It actually comes from a series of commands that deal with those you live in close proximity to—your neighbors—as outlined in Leviticus 19:9-18:
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:9-18, NASU).
When you begin to study out the concept of loving the Lord and your neighbor, you are certain to find that what is stated throughout Scripture defines and clarifies what God’s commandments truly are. Love for God is not an intangible concept, but does manifest itself in specific actions. A serious, sober minded escape, from some of the circular thinking that often prevails in our generation, allows you to realize that the mission of the Messiah was not to abolish the Torah, but rather show His followers how to live it out properly. Fulfilling the Torah by no means implies doing away with it!
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19, NASU).
Yeshua did not come to abolish the Torah, but fill it up with understanding. The commandments of God the Father were upheld by the Messiah, and compose the Messiah’s instructions for living a life of love. Of course, discovering what those commandments actually are requires time and study. It requires us to mature in our faith, perhaps retrain some of our thinking, and for us to sincerely desire a heart and mind that is focused on serving the Lord—not just lip-service.
Once you have the dots connected for you, in your desire to love the Lord and your neighbor as yourself—you could find yourself positioned between the Rock and a hard place. You can either ignore the words of Yeshua, Moses, and John—or you can begin evidencing your love for God by keeping His commandments. This starts by actually learning how you can truly love your neighbor.
If you have a problem with demonstrating God’s love via obedience, then you just might check to see if you truly know Him. Inevitably, it always circles back to how we show we are His people via our actions in the world!
Until the restoration of all things…