The Command to watchfulness has deep but often overlooked consequences. Counterfeits creep in to distract us when we let our spiritual guards down. The moment attentiveness wanes, our eyes drift off the bulls eye of God's purpose. We observe this pattern with the twelve. Every time they became distracted by peripheral concerns, Jesus brought them back to foundational priorities with one or another variation of, "You lost your focus...now pay attention."
A serious examination of the Gospels reveals three surprising combinations of injunctions emerging as the most frequently given commands of Jesus. One would assume, from their prevalence, that these three groups would form the bedrock of Christian teaching, that we would hear them from the pulpits of our churches week after week, that they would form the basis of most dialog and discussion between Christians. If Jesus emphasized them most, would it not be logical to assume that we would too?
It may be that the injunction toward prayer is the single Command of Jesus we most readily witness throughout the earth. Christians pray, Jews pray, Muslims pray. Even many who profess no religion yet claim to pray. It is an astonishing fact to contemplate that more than half of mankind probably prays regularly in some fashion. It is surely no exaggeration to say that prayer is being lifted to the heavens every second round the clock. Mankind is a praying species. The earth is a praying world.
Jesus makes two of the most shocking statements of his ministry on the night before his death. They are recounted only by the Gospelist John. Though Matthew was also there that evening, it clearly took not only an eyewitness, but one like John with particular insight into the Lord's heart, to capture the powerful essence of this pivotal message that Jesus wanted to leave with his disciples on his last night with them.
The first three gospels all report variations of the incident in which Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. If we were truly obedient sons and daughters of God, there would be no need for anything else to be said. We would have no need for the other more specific commandments. Love God and love man sums up everything.
The Command to 'Love God' is at root vague and ambiguous. How are we to love God? Is such love something we feel? How many of us have read the words 'with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,' and not felt that perhaps our love for God is not filled with the all-consuming level of devotion that Jesus spoke of. The practicality of it is hard to get hold of.
It is surprising at first approach to the Commands of Jesus to discover that the command to "love" is not the most frequently given injunction to fall from his mouth. But it is surely the most pivotal and central command laid upon his followers which summarizes and incorporates and draws up into it all his teaching, and all the Commands.
This is truly the first of the Commands. Its importance is self-evident. The nature of a command requires obedience. A "command" is not a "suggestion." A command is a command. Obedience is compulsory. And yet...there remains such a thing as disobedience.
From The Commands by Michael Phillips. Read by Michael Kimball. More information on this and similar writings may be found at Father of the Inklings. Visit Amazon to purchase The Commands and other books by Michael Phillips.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus urges obedience to his Commands in many ways and with a great variety of words, phrases, metaphors, and parables.