Jesus commands us to Keep His commands. That sounds a little strange, like a never-ending circle.
“What’s your command?” “Keep my commands.” “OK, I will. So what command do I keep?” “Keep my commands.” “Oh. I’m trying to do that. So what command do I keep?” “Keep my commands.”
What Jesus actually said is …
“If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15
Since this is a command from Christ we need to look into it.
When I was young I understood Christ to be telling us to ‘obey’ His commands. That seemed to be the command to not break any of His commands.
However the word ‘keep’ has a wide range of applications in English. We can keep time. We can keep something in mind. We can keep house. We can keep talking. We can keep a secret. We can keep to the plan.
Keep embodies holding possession, maintaining focus, continuing an action and following instructions.
The original Koine language text of the New Testament uses a word that means ‘to guard’. So when Jesus said “Keep My Commands” He instructed us to guard, value and protect the commands He gave us.
Of course that can include obeying the commands, but it is not essentially about obedience.
When I was a lad my grandfather brought some opal gemstones back from one of his inland trips. He gave my older brother a nice piece of stone with a bit of ‘fire’ (the sparkle an opal can give). He gave me a dark grey piece of potch. That’s the opal stone with no sparkle of colour, and it’s of no value. He told us to keep those stones.
Many months later he visited again and he asked my older brother to bring him the opal. My brother couldn’t find the piece of stone. Meanwhile I went to my drawer and pulled out the piece of potch I was given. My grandfather was very upset with my brother and hardly spoke with him again. But a few years later my grandfather took me to the Lightning Ridge opal fields, since I had ‘kept’ the piece he gave me.
That experience reflects the value of keeping hold of something, or to keep holding something to be of value.
We are to keep, or treasure the commands of Christ, as something of value. Of course that means we obey those commands, but it means much more.
There are people who have studied Bible truths, such as the commands of Christ or specific doctrines, and can pass exams with their knowledge. But we are to treasure the things of God in our heart, not just cram them in our head.
The Bible records that Jesus’ human mother, Mary, treasured things she learned about Jesus ‘in her heart’, such as what the shepherds told of seeing angels, and what Jesus said about having to do His Father’s business.
“Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19
“Jesus went to Nazareth with his parents and was subject to them. But His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51
Head knowledge is not the same as valuing something at heart level. We are to keep Christ’s commands as things more valuable than head knowledge.
There are others who see Christ’s commands as actions to do, maybe to prove they are worthy of God’s attention. Some people dedicate themselves to diligent doing of everything God requires. For them, however, their connection with God becomes one of religion not relationship and they will likely become legalistic.
Legalism is when we focus on the letter of the law, even to the point of missing the spirit of the law and the fruit it is meant to produce in us.
Imagine the absurdity of a family carrying a bed out of a burning house, with the mother sound asleep in the bed, because the mum insisted she wasn’t to be woken for anything!
Such is what happens when people become more focused on the words than the intent, such as the Pharisees were.
We live in a culture that was once anchored on God’s Word and which had a consciousness of the commands of Christ. Today we have people clamouring to overturn that godly heritage and make it virtually a crime to uphold values we all treasured just a short time ago. This is an absurd situation, but it brings stark focus on Christ’s command, giving it new meaning.
Can you ‘keep’ Christ’s commands when you may be penalised for doing so? Can you uphold what is right when the world around you says it’s wrong? Can you treasure that which others despise and attack?
In this day we are all the more challenged by Christ’s specific command that we are to Keep His Commandments.