In the Pentateuch, there was as many as 613 different laws or commandments that God’s people were meant to keep - 248 affirmative commands and 365 negative commands. Debates and discussions often occurred as to which were the more important ones. One teacher of the law even asked Jesus this question: “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus selected two: “Love the Lord your God …” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” While not neglecting the others, Jesus made it clear that these are the two most important commands and that if a person does these two things, they essentially encapsulate the rest of God’s requirements for his people.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees had focused on the minute details of tithing but had neglected other commands that were more important in the eyes of God. Jesus mentions three specific priorities: justice, mercy and faithfulness.
In some ways, Jesus was novel in his teaching, bringing new revelation about God and his kingdom. In other ways, Jesus continued in the tradition of the prophets of old. In this teaching, he is simply reinforcing the message that the prophets has preached time and again to God’s people. Here is one example from the prophet Micah … “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah.6:8).”
The Full Gospel
One of the great challenges in our generation is the dilution of the Gospel that Jesus taught to merely an individualist salvation – you and me having our sins forgiven and going to heaven when we die. True, that IS an important part of the good news that Jesus came to preach BUT it is not the entire package. The Gospel is about personal salvation but it is also about the coming of the kingdom of God into our world – right here, right now. The church is to be the visible demonstration of God’s kingdom in the world. That includes being God’s instruments of justice and mercy in our world.
The Knowing-Doing Gap
So back to the Pharisees … Is Jesus saying that they didn’t believe in the importance of justice, mercy and faithfulness? I am sure that if we could interview them today, they would lift their hands and say, “Yes, we believe they are important!” The trouble for them – and for us – is that there is often a GAP between what we say we BELIEVE and how we LIVE our lives.
All of us have what we could call “preferred values” – things we acknowledge or affirm as important to us – and what we could call “actual values” – the things we actually do. The only way to bridge this gap between what we know and what we do is to turn beliefs into practices.
Click here for part 3.