From the Pulpit: Grace and love greatest commandments

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One of the scribes … asked him, &8220;Which commandment is the first of all?&8221;

Jesus answered, &8220;The first is, &8216;Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.&8217; &8220;The second is this,&8221; &8216;You shall love your neighbor as yourself.&8217; There is no other commandment greater than these.&8221;

&045; Mark 12

So, are all commandments the same, or are some more important than others? That&8217;s the uncomfortable question that this passage raises for us.

Many of us are accustomed to think of all commandments as being equally important. It makes for a simple view of Scriptural inspiration, but it doesn&8217;t quite square with what the Bible itself, especially the New Testament, tells us.

That&8217;s because everything, must be read though the arrival of Jesus Christ, and the arrival of Jesus leaves nothing unchanged. We can&8217;t read the Old Testament without looking at it through the New Testament.

There are a lot of commandment in the Old Testaments that are quite important, from animal sacrifices to dietary laws, from feasts and fast days to keeping the Sabbath. But the coming of Jesus transcends them all.

On the other hand, Jesus makes some commandments much harder, like loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, both of which go further than anything in the Torah. So, how is one to decide about different commandments? It takes two words: grace and love.

The reason why commandments take on a different cast in the arrival of Jesus is because commandments are unable to save us. In fact, sin works through commandments to lead us to boast in front of God.

So, as long as any of us think we are righteous, especially more righteous than someone else, we don&8217;t understand grace at all. Grace

reverses all our expectations. It is not the righteous whom Jesus comes to seek but sinners. The reason Jesus doesn&8217;t seek the righteous is because there aren&8217;t any. But our pride, through our fixation on commandments, can make us think we are.

There are two reasons why grace is more powerful than the law of commandments. Above all else, the death and resurrection of Jesus pour out a power greater than all the sins of all the world for all time. No law can do this. Grace is the action of God to redeem his creation.

By comparison, our actions are embarrassing. But the other reason why grace is more powerful than commandments is because grace

unleashes the power of love. When God has embraced you while you stand fully convinced of your own sin, you start to understand love and yearn to live in it.

Robert Montgomery is the preaching minister of Cahaba Valley Church.