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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

November, 2014

Many years ago, Moses gave the people ten commandments. But by Jesus’ time, there were 613 different laws; 248 things to do and 365 things to not do. David wrote in Psalm 19, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;” (vs. 7 NIV). You have to wonder how they could get from “perfect” and “sure” and “wise” to a whopping 613 commandments?

But then Jesus came along and reduced them to just two commandments: “‘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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37b-40 NIV). Jesus took the commandments from acts to intentions, from rules to love.

He made it simple: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30 NIV). We’re the ones who make things heavy. We turned ten commandments into 613 laws; and Jesus brought them down to just two commandments.

But some wise guy immediately started making things complicated again (Luke 10:29). Jesus said “Love your neighbor.” Everyone said “Okay.” But then some smart alec said “Wait, who’s my neighbor?” And of course, it says he was “an expert in the law” (vs. 25). And so we got the story of “the Good Samaritan” (vs. 30-35).

We have the Bible today largely because other people before us made the same mistakes we’re inclined to make and so those mistakes—and their consequences—and God’s response—were recorded. That ought to make us feel better. The Bible was written for us—and for people like us—and the story isn’t over yet.

The “Good Samaritan” didn’t care whether the victim was another Samaritan, a Jew, or whatever. He simply saw a fellow human being who needed help. He said to himself, “Somebody ought to do something. Wait a minute, I’m somebody.” The commandment of love says “Love the one who needs love.”

But the same man who said “my yoke is easy” also said “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33 NIV) and “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24b NIV). Simple doesn’t mean easy. Jesus said, “‘You have heard that it was said . . . “Do not murder,” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.’” (Matt. 5:21-22 NIV) and “‘You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” (Matt. 5:27-28 NIV). Sin isn’t simply what we do or don’t do; it’s how we think. Jesus said sin comes from the heart (Matt. 15:18-19). No matter how simple and straightforward something is, we’ll find a way to mess it up and make it complicated. God’s rules are different—they don’t benefit God, they benefit us. Sin can’t hurt God but it hurts us and hurts our neighbors, and God doesn’t want that. Love means not causing hurt, so loving our neighbor means not doing hurtful things or having hurtful attitudes toward our neighbor.

But the good news is that even when our love fails, even when we love wrong things, God still loves us. Remember that I said the Bible is written for us and the story isn’t finished? I love reading science fiction because it tells amazing stories. In any good story, there are moments when it looks like the good guy won’t win, when he won’t get the girl, when the last hope has been vanquished. That’s called “suspense,” making story interesting. But in the end the hero wins, not necessarily without sacrifice, not necessarily without struggle, but the hero wins. There could never have been a resurrection without the cross. But in the end Christ defeated sin and death forever. That’s our story too. And it’s not just a good story, it’s a great story.

“The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Psa. 19:8 NIV.)

Copyright © 2014 by David Phelps