We've been looking at the different "types" of statements for in Scripture. So far we've considered God's promises, looking for those "I will" statements that He makes. Last week, we discussed the long (boring) sections of straight factual information and what encouragement those might have for us. Today, let's consider the commands.
One of the complaints folks often give about the Bible is that it's just a collection of "thou shalt nots". In fact, there are far more positive commands in God's word. Generally, they are easy to find.
Look for verbs. After God created Adam and Eve, He blessed them, then He issued His first command. "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…" (Genesis 1:28) See all those verbs? Be… multiply… fill… subdue… If you remember back to English class, that was the imperative form of the verb. The speaker expects the listener to take action.
Now, there's a caution- not every command is for us. I'm not trying to weasel out of certain commands. However, context is critical to our understanding of any passage. So when you look for those imperative verbs…
Look for application. When God called Moses, He gave him some incredible signs to perform to validate his message. "Cast [your rod] on the ground," God said, and the rod became a snake. Then God said, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." When Moses did, the snake became his rod once again. (Exodus 4:3-4). Does that mean we should throw down sticks, expecting them to transform? Or can we grab snakes by the tail? Of course not. God's instructions were exclusively for Moses in that situation.
On the other hand, Jesus says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Did that just apply to the group listening that particular day? That one is an open invitation to all hearers and readers.
How do you tell the difference? I haven't reviewed EVERY command, but some guidelines that may help are…
- If the instruction is about an attitude or a response to God, it applies. (Like, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.")
- If the commands is about how to treat others, it still applies. (Love your enemies, for example.)
- If the speaker or writer is addressing a crowd, the commands usually still apply, like Paul's letters, or the Sermon on the Mount
- In the Old Testament, commands involving offerings, feasts, sacrifices and the Law, no longer apply. Jesus fulfilled all those so we are freed.
- Depend on the Holy Spirit's guidance if you're unsure.
"Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken to a wise man who builds his house on the rock." (Matthew 7:24)