New Covenant Commands
1. What is the most important command of the New Testament? Matt. 22:37. Since there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is our Lord, how can this foundational command be restated? 1 John 3:23, first part. Will people be saved or condemned on the basis of this one command? Mark 16:16; John 3:18.
2. What is the second most important command? Matt. 22:39. How is this command restated? 1 John 3:23, last part. Is this the visible evidence of Christianity? John 13:35. How is this command related to the greatest commandment? 1 John 4:20-21. How is it related to the Law and the Prophets? Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14; Matt. 7:12.
Comment: The New Testament contains hundreds of commands. All of them come under the general heading of love, for God is love. Everything he commands is an expression of love. Although some of Paul's comments about the law seem negative, Paul himself gave us hundreds of commands. He is not against law in itself, but he argues that the law of Moses is no longer valid. In regard to the Mosaic law, he could say, "I myself am not under the law." But in regard to obeying the Lord, he said, "I am under Christ's law" (1 Cor. 9:20-21).
3. In many of Paul's letters, he begins by explaining some theological principles and ends with some practical application of those principles in the way we live. In the letter to the Romans, how did Paul summarize our behavioral obligations? Rom. 12:1-2. How must Christians treat one another? Rom. 12:9-18; 13:8-14; 14:19-23; 15:1-7.
4. The book of Galatians has some critical words about the law, but it also has some commands of its own —- new covenant commands. How does Paul unite the concepts of liberty and obligation? Gal. 5:13-15. What behaviors should Christians avoid? Verses 19-21. And how should they seek to live? Verses 22-26.
5. Ephesians also has direct advice for Christians. How does Paul begin his exhortations? Eph. 4:1-3. What should Christians quit doing, and what should they do? Verses 22-32. How is this life-style summarized? Eph. 5:1-2.
6. Does the gospel of Christ have implications for the way we should live? Phil. 1:27. Does it affect the way we think? Phil. 2:1-7; 4:8. When we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ, what should we do? Col. 3:1-17. What is God's will for us as his children? 1 Thess. 4:3-10. What other instructions does he give? 1 Thess. 5:12-22.
Comment: In this short section, we have seen several dozen commands. Most of them are easy to understand. They are plain, and yet very demanding. They demand all our time, all our emotions, all our thoughts and all our actions. In this life, we will never achieve all they ask.
We might briefly contrast these clear commands with the idea of a Christian Sabbath-day command. The New Testament has space for all sorts of commands, from obvious things to subtle things, but it never commands the Sabbath. This would be odd if the Sabbath were an important command. We find sweeping statements that make the old covenant law obsolete, but unlike other commands, we never find the Sabbath commanded again or made an exception to the rule. Paul and John say a lot about the godly behavior that springs from Christian faith and love, but the Sabbath is simply never commanded.
Paul dealt with numerous problems of Christian living, and he listed numerous sins that characterize people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, but he never mentions Sabbath breaking. In describing sins of the gentiles (Rom. 1), he says nothing about the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is essential, it is certainly surprising that no one is ever criticized for ignoring it.
In the first-century Roman Empire, slaves would have found it particularly difficult to keep the Sabbath. Some of them had unconverted, harsh masters (1 Pet. 2:18). Some parts of the Roman Empire didn't even use a seven-day week. But Peter and Paul did not have to answer questions about how slaves could keep the Sabbath. Why not? Because slaves didn't have to keep the Sabbath. For one thing, first-century Jews did not believe that gentiles had to keep the Sabbath. For another, the decision at Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, was that converted, Spirit-filled gentiles were not required to become circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Little is said about the Sabbath because it was not a problem.
Instead, the Sabbath was a neutral matter, neither commanded nor forbidden. People were free to rest on that day if they chose, or to use the day in other ways, as long as they did what they did to the Lord (Rom. 14:5-6).
Likewise, the New Testament does not say that any other day ought to be a day of rest. There is no command to keep the first day, either as a day of meeting or a day of rest. It is neither commanded nor forbidden. Christians are free to work these things out for themselves. We are commanded to assemble together for worship, but we are not commanded when (Heb. 10:25).
The important thing is not which day we observe, but whether we have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He is the test commandment, the center of faith, the standard by which we will be judged.