Whether a society has the luxury of enjoying an era of unabashed liberty or the misfortune of staggering beneath the yoke of oppression, the idea of being commanded can be distasteful and repellent. The word “commandment” invokes the image of a despotic ruler making irrational laws to govern and wield power over defenseless nations, leaving the subjects no room for choice, freedom, or happiness. In fact, as we’ve moved away from monarchies and dictatorships, the idea of being commanded by any entity may seem unfairly prohibitive. In modern times, why would anyone choose to be commanded?
Rules, Laws, and Other Such Decrees
Religion, rules, and commandments have a difficult time fitting in with the modern concept of personal liberty. At the banquet of life, indulgence in generous portions of freedom allows for uninhibited access to life’s pleasures and when it comes to morality, this kind of freedom comes with the power to choose a lifestyle where each individual determines what is personally right, versus adhering to an antiquated general concept of what is right or wrong. What is right for me is right; what is not right for me is wrong. This relativistic ideology may appear quite liberating but in practice it can place limitations on growth, harmony, and progress. Any viable relationship is dependent upon ground rules. Businesses grow and achieve success when members abide by ethical standards and guiding principles. Sports are highly dependent upon the rules of the game and teamwork. The legal system would cease to exist without fundamental statutes to protect the system and its citizens. Social relationships rely on basic rules as well. How long can a friendship last without loyalty and trust? A confidence shared between friends which suddenly appears on Twitter can bury a friendship. The rules of respecting a friend’s trust is paramount to the survival of the friendship. Can a marriage thrive as a mutually loving partnership without fidelity, trust, and nurturing? Many marriages, or lovers’ relationships have ended in sorrow when infidelity with a third person is discovered. In general, it is readily accepted that in order for many personal, economic, legal, social, and communal networks to survive, grow, and achieve success, guiding principles must apply. Branding these accepted guiding principles as commandments would seem offensive. Is unquestioned acceptance dependent on the wording?
A Commandment by Any Other Name…
In an age when perhaps many have determined that they do not wish to be commanded to live their lives by a set of rules, it is quite probable that the true sense and meaning of the word commandment has been lost or purposefully discarded. Does the word commandment have a more intimate, richer meaning than its present connotation which conjures up the impression of unwanted domination?
The Latin origin of the word commandment shares its roots with the word commitment - in a sense it suggests a coming together or relationship. As in all other relationships, business, social, economic, legal, etc… there are guiding principles which facilitate a relationship or a coming together for a specific purpose. The commandments as handed down to us by Moses in Exodus 20 were, in essence, a set of guiding principles about strengthening one’s personal relationship with God. The Ten Commandments establish the groundwork for a commitment with our loving Creator and Father in Heaven. It was only the beginning. In Matthew 22: 37-39 Jesus reaffirms the idea of this loving relationship with God and with one another when he issues his terms of commitment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Scriptures consistently place commandments in the context of love. The wording is definitive: commandment is another way to say these are the terms of our loving commitment to God and to one another. 1 John 5: 1-2 states that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” By believing in Christ’s divinity, we establish a loving relationship with God and with all of humanity. We do this through understanding the commandments - the terms of this loving relationship. A commitment to God allows Him to dwell in us and us in Him, as John writes in Chapter 3:24 “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” If one begins to substitute the word commitment for commandment the relationship becomes more clear and certainly, more intimate. Commandment no longer appears to be a prohibitive word but rather a loving invitation to share in the life of God by His commitment to us, and ours to Him.
Relationships Have Roles
All relationships come with roles. In business, one may have a leadership role (boss or supervisor) or an operative role (employee); in sports there are team captains and positional roles; in marriage one may have the role of husband or wife; families enjoy the roles of motherhood and fatherhood when children are born. What is our role in a relationship with someone like God? We understand from Scripture that Jesus calls us God’s children, that God is His Father and ours. There is a goal to our role as God’s children, just as the goal of childhood is to reach adulthood, our goal as God’s children is to reach sainthood. The saints understood this role. By entering into a committed relationship with God and following His commandments (the terms of the relationship) they achieved the glory of salvation - a life of eternal love in God’s presence. By its very nature a commitment vested in eternity can never be obsolete. By entering into this commitment and following the commandments, God is inviting us into an everlasting relationship with Him.