Matthew R. Perry

You Can’t Love Jesus, and Relax His Commands

In Church Life, Culture, Sermons on May 27, 2008 at 11:07 pm

(This is Part II of a sermon preached at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, May 25, 2008. If you would like to read Part I, click here.)

In Matthew 5:19-20, Jesus tells us:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus clearly tells us a danger of relaxing “one of the least of these commandments.” We saw in Matthew 5:18 that every bit and every piece of the law must be accomplished. Even heaven and earth will pass away first, but not God’s law until it all comes to fruition in the work of Christ.

What does Jesus mean here when he warns us against relaxing his commands? The word ‘relax’ comes from a word which can mean to loosen, break, set free. The idea here is that when we see a command given by King Jesus, we find in ourselves a desire to break away or be set free from that command’s authority over us. It does not just have to be a blatant rejection of the command, but can also be a pursuit of other side issues while avoiding the thrust of the command.

The Pharisees were all about prioritizing God’s commands. They would have heated discussions about which commands were most important. When they made their own determination, they would live accordingly. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus exposed the folly of this mindset:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23, ESV).

The Pharisees did what was asked of them, but why? Because by keeping such detailed instructions, they felt morally superior to others who didn’t. But they clearly did not like stooping down and taking off that self-righteousness superiority in reaching down to the “tax collectors and sinners.” Do we find ourselves putting into mental categories those things which we deem most important?

Two Sundays ago, we went through a section on “Pride” in Jerry Bridges’ book Respectable Sins. We tend to categorize sins as well. “Since we don’t commit sins such as immorality, easy divorce, homosexual lifestyle, abortion, drunkenness, drug use, avarice, then we look with contempt and disdain on those who do.” Do we realize that we fall into just as dangerous a type of sin when we fall into a moral self-righteousness as well? If so, we engage in relaxing one of God’s commands over another.

Jesus says, “Whoever does them … will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven.” You say, “Wait, the Pharisees were doing these laws.” Yes, but from what base? From a base of understanding being poor in spirit, grieving over sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, being a recipient of mercy, desiring holiness before God, reconciling sinful people before a holy God — even to the point of persecution and death? This is the base from which we are to obey!

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