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Monday, February 14, 2005

A new command

In preparation for submission to the Christian Carnival this week, I updated this post with a final paragraph to make clear the point of the post

What is the eleventh commandment?

That used to be one of the trick questions that as kids my friends and I asked one another. The answer we were looking for was the "New Commandment" that Jesus gave His disciples:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
I used to wonder why Jesus called this the "new commandment." Why new commandment? What is so special about the new commandment that the first ten didn't cover? Another way to look at it is, if we were diligently to keep the ten commandments in our relationship with members of the Body of Christ, would we thereby have fulfilled the new commandment?

If the answer is in the affirmative, then why did the Lord Jesus explicitly give the new commandment to His disciples? Why couldn't he had simply commanded His disciples to be especially careful about keeping the ten commandments in their relationships within the community of faith? In fact, why be "extra careful" if just normally following the ten commandments would have done the job as well?

So, how is the love that Christians should show for one another any different to the love that they have for their neighbors? One possible answer is, "Christ wants to underscore the special place the Church is to have in the life of the Christian. We are to love one another in a special way that demonstrates that we are disciples of the King."

Yet, the language of a "commandment" seems to raise the dynamics of the relationships within the body of Christ above that of a mere difference of degree and emphasis compared to the relationships we have with those who don't follow God. It might be true that the Church ought to hold a new and significant place in the life of the believer, yet, the idea that this is a new commandment, I believe, points to a more profound truth.

In my earlier meditations on the fifth commandment, I suggested that God placed a special means of grace within the human family relationships, and especially the parent-child relationship, to communicate and illustrate His own relationship with His people. It is within this foundational relationships that God wants to have human beings experience His grace and mercy in a microcosmic context. In other words, it is through the primary relationships established within the context of the safety and intimacy of those who are closest to us that He wants us to learn what it means to be safe and intimate with our Creator.

However, as is often the case in human institutions, the family often does not reflect what God intends. It gets broken, it becomes dysfunctional and it often does not fulfill the role that God established it to be. To remedy this state of affairs, God established a new center of relationship to recreate the means of grace, the new family through which His grace, mercy and love can be communicated and illustrated to the world. The Church is now that instrument of peace, not as a replacement for the natural family, but as the fulfillment of the goals that God established with the family. Through the Church now, He has established a new medium through which His Spirit works in people to re-build and re-establish the relationship the Creator desires to have with His creatures.

In other words, through the Church, God intends to provide the means for people to recover their sense of who they are, their relationship with God, and the experience of the grace and peace that can only come by an intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven. It is through this radically new relationship within the community of faith that He has given for us to restore and heal our innermost beings and to learn this new lifestyle. Thus, Christ's new commandment is given within this context of the role of the Church as a place of solace, a means of grace and a place for dysfunctional people and families to receive recovery, healing and peace as they extend Christ's love, grace and mercy to one another.

Another perspective of the New Commandment is that it can be seen as the extension, or the fulfillment, of the Greatest of the Commandments. When asked which was the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus answered that the Greatest Commandment is to:

"...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Upon these two laws, says Jesus, hung the entire Law of Moses and the Prophets. No other Commandment is greater than these, he stressed.

But that, it appears, is not the end of the story, for rather than emphasizing to His disciples to pay close attention to these Greatest of all Commandments, He said, really you only need to focus in on one: the new commandment. Which might be why the New Testament seems to spend so much time in the "one another" commands: Pray for one another, love one another, forgive one another, accept one another, serve one another, submit to one another, bear one another's burdens, and so on. By so doing, says the Apostle Paul, you will thereby fulfill the Law of Christ.

Christ has already established that He has not come to abolish or to replace the Law, but to fulfill it. By re-casting the Law and the Prophets as being represented by the Greatest Commandments, He demonstrated that the basis of the Commandments is the relationship between God and His people, a relationship marked by a radical love. And, in giving His disciples a new commandment to love one another, He reinforces this powerful underpinning of the Commandments: a relationship of love, not a contract of law.

The New Commandment, then, underscores the role of the Church as the new instrument of peace and grace for the world today and it also completes the Greatest Commandments, and by extension, the Law and the Prophets. The Church's radical love is not only a means of grace for the believers, but also for those yet to believe: "By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." And, it is only possible when Christians practice the "one another" aspects of our New Covenant relationships, for we then fulfill the New commandment not only for each other, but for the world. That is how we fulfill the "Law of Christ" - the law given by Christ to His disciples and the Law that He came to fulfill to bring men back to God again.

That is why I often tell people that as Christians, we are saved not for ourselves, but primarily for "each other." In other words, the essence of our Christian faith is not so much personal salvation, or personal sanctification, but the sanctification of the Church. If there is another Christian with you right now, stop and look that person in the eyes and say, "I was saved for you." That's right, that is our purpose, our mission: to be Christ to each other in order that through authentic, intimate relationships, we bring heaven down to earth for each other and so that we bring each other closer to God, so that we all may experience Radical Peace. Peace with God and Peace with each other. That is why when this message hit home to me recently, I made a commitment to never again complain that my brothers and sisters in Christ are unloving, insensitive or difficult to love. Instead, I resolved to commit myself to them, to be loyal to them, and to love them in spite of how they make me feel, and to do so even if I don't feel like it.

For that is the essence of the New Commandment, and that is the way I fulfill the Law of Christ in both of its senses - to build the Church of God, and to display the marks of Christ to the world.

So rather than understand the new commandment as the eleventh commandment, it perhaps closer to the emphasis that Christ wsa trying to make to understand it as the Third of the Greatest of all Commandments. In essence, the message is this:
"Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and loving your
neighbor as yourself are the two commandments upon which the entire Law and
Prophets hang. As my disciples, let me issue you a new commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you, for in so doing, you would have fulfilled both those commands, as well as all the Law and Prophets."