Wearing God’s commandments
Deuteronomy 11:18–28 (NRSV)
18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
22 If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves. 24 Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the fear and dread of you on all the land on which you set foot, as he promised you.
26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.
I had a friend several years ago who refused to wear a cross. He was a believer and follower of Jesus and now works as a missionary overseas, but he was convinced at the time that if you had to wear something to show you were a Christian, you probably were not living a Christian life the way you ought to. While it may seem a little odd to think about having the Ten Commandments hanging on your forehead and written on your hands, think about how many places we put crosses or other symbols of our faith. Our clothes, our jewelry, our cars… we even erect huge signs on the side of the road with messages about our faith. We may have gone a bit further than the Old Testament Law asked of the Jew.
I think Christians do that more, partially because we have a less complicated message. Jesus told us that the Old Testament Law could be summed up in only two commandments: Loving God, and Loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Most of us, bypass the whole commandment thing altogether and just use a cross with an entirely different message. That message, if not articulated well, can often sound like: “Join us or go to hell.”
The other way it can be misused is simply as a symbol of love. Honestly, between the two choices, I would rather make the mistake on the side of love rather than partisan spirituality. It is still not what Jesus taught though.
Both sets of commands (Old Testament and New Testament) begin with faithfulness and love toward God. Love of others is an important and integral part of following Jesus, but if you have to trade your relationship with God in order to love others, it probably is not real love.
The first message of the cross is that God so loved the world. The second part, which stands as our first example in response to God, is that Jesus so loved God that He came to earth willingly and went to the cross willingly. Jesus died in obedience to the will of the Father and Jesus died for love of us because the Father loved us. Philosophically, this gets really messy because Jesus is God and part of the Trinity, and because God is not subject to time the same way we are… but bear with me for just a moment. The human part of Jesus loved us because God asked Him to love us, and since Jesus loved God, the Father, Jesus wanted to love the things (and people) that the Father loved. It is here that we can truly see that loving others begins as a fulfillment of faithfully loving God.
But it doesn’t end there. I believe that love for one another may begin out of obligation, but as time passes, we find other unique reasons to love people. Jesus did not go through life telling people He only put up with them because God told Him to. No, He found unique reasons to love those around Him… and so should we.
The cross can still stand as our symbol of faith, one bar reminding us to look up and love God and the other reminding us to look alongside us and love our neighbors. It is God’s mercy that allows us to enter in to this relationship and His daily grace that helps us do it… and maybe we too need that daily reminder of who we are called to be hanging off our forehead, before our eyes, and written on our own hands.
Where do you see reminders of God’s call on your life today?