Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
The 4 verses that we are currently looking at (verses 17 to 20) are a little introduction to what Jesus is leading on to talk about in His next part of ‘the sermon on the mount.’ They are very important but also hotly debated. I will set out my viewpoint this week on what I believe that Jesus is teaching. You may disagree, but we won’t fall out will we? I’m open to being shown where I may be wrong (as long as it’s in a loving and gracious way).
Jesus is speaking to the crowd in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that He was trying to abolish the Law of God. Jesus refutes this accusation, saying that actually He is not abolishing it but fulfilling it. He is not talking about any specific part of the law, like the 10 commandments, or He would have clarified that in verses 17 & 18, but He is talking about the whole of the Old Testament (law and the prophets).
He is not abolishing what has gone before but fulfilling or complementing them, filling them out and finishing them. Jesus completes the Law and the Prophets, the Old Covenant Scriptures, in three ways:
1) He completes their predictions or the prophecies given about Him and His work
2) He fulfilled the righteous requirements
3) He brings a new reality to the Old Testament shadows, He brings clarity to what they were pointing towards and suggesting.
That is why He is not abolishing them, because after all they are perfect.
I have read many interpretations of this verse which say that Jesus is still asking us to keep the requirements of the law, especially the moral code, such as the 10 commandments. He has just gotten rid of the rest but left those.
It is so important though, that we balance this scripture with other scriptures which speak about the law not ruling us anymore. For example, Romans 7 is very clear about this. In verse 4 it states that a Christian has ‘died to the law’ and verse 6 that we have been ‘released’ from it. That means the whole lot, not just part of it. If that is the case, what does this verse mean?
It is quite possible that when Jesus says ‘These commandments’ he is referring to the principles he is going to set out in the rest of His sermon. This could be what is referred to as “The law of Christ.” Jesus is about to set out some principles and ways of living that will please Him. We don’t have to do anything, but as those who are following Him, if we have truly repented and had our hearts changed, our desire will be to please Him. The Old law was a list of regulations we had to keep through a sense of duty. This new way is entirely different because it has been written on our hearts.
Notice that it doesn’t say that the person who relaxes any of these commandments would lose their salvation. It says that they would be considered least. A true Christian cannot lose their salvation but they can miss all that God has for them through all sorts of reasons. The person who teaches others well and gives themselves to Christ’s kingdom will receive rewards. This is clearly shown in many bible verses, such as:
Colossians 3:23-24, Romans 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 11:6 and many others.
I hope you count yourself blessed that you are living on this side of the law. We are living in the age of Grace where Christ has paid the full penalty. He has done it all for us and we can just live in the good of it. Praise His name.