The Commands of Christ (Lesson One)

“The Commands of Christ” by Dr. Andrew Corbett

(Lesson One)

The teaching of Jesus Christ has shaped human history. Most of Western Society’s Laws have drawn their inspiration from this set of teachings which we will refer to as the commands of Christ. These commands have become so ingrained in our society that they are now figures of speech: Do unto others…Turn the other cheek…Go the extra mile…are all citations from the commands that Christ gave.

Today the word “Christian” is loosely applied to buildings, businesses, certain ethnic races, a set of moral guidelines, and even a type of music. Yet this use of the word is often without any reference to what its founder taught. It should be beneficial to discover exactly what Jesus Christ taught and how this understanding can shape our lives.

This study will take us through the New Testament. We will explore what Christ taught and discover how his commands form the basis for Christian commitment and behavior. This study is designed to promote authentic Christ-honoring lives. That is, by understanding and considering the application of Christ’s commands to his followers, it is expected that you will be able to live lives that are more authentically “Christian.”

I encourage discussion. I firmly believe no matter what our age, or how long we’ve been a Christian, we can never become too familiar with our God. It is also good to share our stories, as this allows us to understand each other’s faith journeys just a little bit better. It also helps us come to know each other on a deeper, more spiritual level. Remember, we aren’t a body that has a spirit. We are a spirit that has a body. This being so, it’s really good to know who your spirit is.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17

After a while, most Christians figure out that the Old Testament is about Law and the New Testament is about grace. Some Christians then go on to assume that grace means “no commandments” (since there is no “Law” in the New Testament). Under the Old Covenant there were 10 Commandments, but how many are there in the New? The number might surprise you! It’s more than 500! But even more shocking is the discovery that not only did Jesus issue commandments for his followers—but how many commandments he gave us. And what he commanded, he meant to be taught and obeyed.

What It Means To Follow Jesus’ Commands

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:38

You can’t be born a Christian. You can’t simply call yourself a Christian. You don’t become a Christian because you attend a church or wear a cross. A Christian is one who follows Jesus Christ.

  • What did Jesus mean when he said that his followers must take up their cross?

(Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24)

Trivia Question:  What is one of the first things a would-be follower of Christ must do that is clearly taught in the New Testament, yet is one thing that Jesus cannot do?

  • In preparing people to be ready to follow Christ, what was the preliminary message of John the Baptist?

(Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Matthew 3:2)

  • How does this compare with Christ’s first message to all those who would follow Him?

(From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17  Repent doesn’t only mean to feel sorry about something, or to regret it. Repent means a turning away from sin.)

  • So again, I ask: What is one of the first things a would-be follower of Christ must do that is clearly taught in the New Testament, yet is one thing that Jesus cannot do?

(Repent!)

Repentance is impossible without the grace of God. Grace from God enables a person to repent. To receive the grace of God begins with recognition of our need for it.

  • How do we begin to follow Christ?

(“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13….Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:21)

  • How do we reconcile this with Jesus statement, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…”?

(The rest of the story is “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Calling upon the Lord can’t just be a verbal proclamation, or even a public statement. Those hypocritical Pharisees did that! To say Lord, Lord means one recognizes their need for the grace of God.)

You may feel that you are not right with God, but want to be. You don’t have to clean up your act or become a better person—you just have to acknowledge your need for God and His forgiveness. You are just one prayer away from beginning to have peace with God!

The Beatitudes Jesus Commanded

2

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes are regarded as the most profound sermon ever preached. The gracious words uttered by Christ have amazed and awed some of the greatest minds that have ever lived. The beauty of the simple, yet profound, statements have been quoted more than any other words ever written or spoken. Even people unfamiliar with Scripture, yet living in the remnants of a culture that had its laws and values shaped by the Bible, are familiar with “the Golden Rule,” “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and so on.

But at the time when Christ uttered these words, many, if not most, of his hearers would have been outraged by what he said! They may well have considered Christ’s words out of place, insensitive, and totally inappropriate. It is difficult today for us to imagine the passion with which these words were spoken and the highly charged emotional response in which they were received. Perhaps if we can understand the context in which they were given, we may derive a higher respect for Christ and his teaching.

Historians tell us that shortly before Christ preached this sermon, the Romans had just massacred many in the surrounding villages. Philip Yancey discusses this in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew!” and says that this sermon was perhaps the most courageous message ever given.

  • In order to receive the full blessing of following Christ’s teaching, Jesus begins by stating the most necessary thing needed in order to begin to follow Him. What do you think it means to be “poor in spirit”?

(Not just poverty, but also lack of arrogance and recognition of one’s own need.)

  • What type of “mourning” might Jesus have been referring to in verse 4?

(Killings in the nearby village…loss of the Promised Land to the Romans…loss of their crops and freedom.)

  • How do you think this may have made the original hearers feel?
  • Verse 5 states, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” What do you think this means?

(Submissive…From God’s chosen people to being ruled and occupied by Rome.)

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” Exodus 32:13

The promise of “inherit the earth” may better be understood as “inherit the Land” per Exodus 32:13. At the time Jesus spoke these amazing words, there was a group of Hebrews know as Zealots who believed that Israel could only fully inherit the promise of possessing their Land once again by using bloodshed against their enemies.

  • How do you think the Zealots in Jesus’ midst would respond to his call for meekness?
  • How might Jesus have angered many of his original audience with his words in Matthew 5:7?

(No mercy for Rome!)

  • Spoken originally to people who were used to conforming to the external rules of Rome, how would what Christ said in Matthew 5:9 been seen as radical?

(Make peace with those who took our land, our crops, our way of life? Jesus, are you crazy?)

Jesus calls people to follow and obey him. He begins this by talking about the blessings that result from doing so. We notice though, that he makes it clear that the purpose of following him is not the blessings, but the desperate recognition of our true condition before God and our dire need to be made right with him. The wonder of it all is that God not only allows us to follow him—but blesses us for doing so!

The Influence Jesus Commanded

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:13-16

  • In verse 13, why did Jesus say that His followers were to be like “salt”?

(Salt was a preserver and a flavor enhancer. Believers in Christ are preservatives to the world, preserving it from the evil that abounds. We are also to enhance the flavor of life in this world by sharing God’s love with all.)

  • How does verse 16 reveal what Christ meant by “light” and how should this affect the way we follow him?

(Our light is the light of Christ shining in and through us.)

Followers of Christ are called to care. Throughout the past few hundred years Christians like John Newton, William Wilberforce, William Booth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have become aware that Christ-followers have a lot to offer their societies by correcting injustices, helping the poor, providing health care and schooling. None of these men forsook the preaching of the Gospel and none of them thought that they could save anyone merely by their efforts.

  • According to verse 16, what will cause people to glorify God?

(Our works show the love of the Father and bring him honor.)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10

  • Although we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, what does verse 10 say we saved for?

(Good works.)

  • What does Peter say will be the result when people see our “good deeds/works”?

(Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. 1Peter 2:12  Brings glory to God.)

  • What is the big deal about honor?

The Love for Others Jesus Commanded

3

“You have heard it said…” taught Jesus, “But I say unto you…” he added. After Jesus taught that the Law was good and that he was not abolishing any aspect of it, but was rather going to fulfill it, he then establishes something many Christians never realize.

Love is the hallmark of the follower of Christ. But Christ raises the standards for how we are to love. In many religions there are laws about not doing harm to people as a way of being loving. For example, Confucius taught, “What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others.” But Christ took this from being a passive statement to being an active statement. Having taught that his standards are higher than the Old Covenant Law, Jesus reveals the principle behind all of God’s Laws—love.

  • In First Corinthians 9:21, what kind of Law does the Apostle Paul say that he is under?

(To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law….Christ’s Law)

  • What might be another term we can use instead of Christ’s law?

(The commands of Christ)

  • According to Galatians 6:2, how does Paul say that believers can fulfill this Law?

(Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ….Love one another!)

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Matthew 5:21-22

  • The Law of Moses prohibited murder, without dismissing this, what did Jesus teach was his standard for how we feel toward those who aggravate us?

(God wants us to not only love each other, but to not have any hostility towards another. Jesus is talking to people who are lorded over and being killed. These are God’s own children. Now he is telling them, not only not to kill others, but to not let anger (most likely for the Romans) consume them and cause them to hate. For this will bring about their own demise.)

Six Perceptions of the Unchurched, by Dan Kimball

Every now and then, we experience an epiphany of some sort that drastically changes our life’s course. For me, it’s an extremely vivid memory of what happened when I took the time to step outside the busyness of ministry and listened to some college students from what was known to be one of the more anti-Christian campuses in California. It was these “pagan” students who gave me such incredible hope for the Church.

I was leading a young adults ministry we had recently started at the church I was on staff with at the time, and occasionally during worship gatherings, we showed man-on-the-street video interviews to set up the sermon. For an upcoming message series on evangelism, we decided to go to this college campus to interview students and hear firsthand their thoughts about Christianity. We asked two questions: “What do you think of when you hear the name ‘Jesus’?” and “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Christian’?”

When they answered the first question, the students smiled and their eyes lit up. We heard comments of admiration such as, “Jesus is beautiful,” “He is a wise man, like a shaman or a guru,” “He came to liberate women.” One girl even said, “He was enlightened. I’m on my way to becoming Christian.”

What an incredible experience! These students on the very campus I kept hearing was so “pagan” talked about Jesus with great passion. However, when we asked the second question, the mood shifted. We heard things like, “Christians and the Church have messed things up,” and “The Church took the teachings of Jesus and turned them into dogmatic rules.” One guy said, “Christians don’t apply the message of love that Jesus gave,” then jokingly added, “They all should be taken out back and shot.”

This seems to highlight the incredible damage done to the Name and Cause of Christ when His followers don’t keep to the teachings of Jesus.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:34-35

  • How did Jesus say people would be able to identify His followers?

(Love one another.)

  • Specifically, how are we, as Christ’s followers, to love each other?

Loving others includes Jesus’ command to love honesty. Followers of Christ represent him in the way they speak. We are to speak like Christ in respect to how we handle the truth, speak of others, and express our feelings.

  • How does James describe the person who guards their mouth?

(For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. James 3:2)

  • Why is honesty so important as a follower of Christ?

(Honor/shame to you and the Lord)

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.    Matthew 5:33-37

  • How does James reiterate what Christ said in Matthew 5:33-37?

(Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:12 The taking of an oath was permitted in Judaism. What was forbidden was swearing falsely. An oath supports one’s word. And one’s word should need no support; rather, if one has integrity, no amount of swearing under oath will make a false word true. Expounding upon our yes’s and no’s only leaves room for additional words which we often turn into lies. We represent God when we speak. So represent him and HONOR him well!)

  • Which aspect of the way you speak requires the most attention to conform it to these commands of Christ?
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