It is now time to consider the third most frequently given group of Commands that Jesus gave behind Watchfulness and Courage which were considered earlier. That is a group of related exhortations that might be summed up as: Listen with understanding and discerning insight. These we will consider as four related commands: Listen, Listen carefully, Be clear-minded, thoughtful, mentally diligent, and, Apply yourself to think, learn, understand.
The Gospel does not come to us one-dimensionally. The teachings of Jesus, while epitomizing simplicity itself, are also intriguingly complex. The intertwining mix of "spiritual" and "temporal" commands is constantly in play. The moment we get too spiritual, Jesus hits us with the parable of the Good Samaritan, urging us simply to be good and take care of people. Not a word in the story about getting the man saved or taking him to church...just Go and do the same. Yet the moment we begin thinking that kindness toward our fellow man is enough, there is Jesus telling Nicodemus he must be "born again."
When Paul enumerates the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13, the familiarity of his words obscures what an astonishing attribute he begins with: Love is patient.
We all face personally unique challenges to purity of motive, outlook, attitude, and behavior. For some, sexual purity is life's most difficult arena of temptation. Others are scarcely lured by sexual sin. But deep inside, every one of us has something the enemy will try to use--subtly, invisibly, persuasively, seductively, below the radar of our awareness--to turn our eyes off the bull's eye of the Commands.
Many Christians long for the heavenly day when they will meet Jesus and his Father face to face, when they will actually see them. Perhaps the Lord's words in the Beatitudes, however, were not intended as a promise of future intimacy, but a recognition of present vision.
Another group of the most frequently given but often overlooked Commands of Jesus might be summarized in many ways--bravery, stout heartedness, courage, valor, fearlessness, boldness. They are here gathered together as two, which we consider as Take heart, take courage, and simply Do not be afraid.
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.