God tells us to stop, and God tells us to start. The Bible is full of prohibitions, and the Bible is full of exhortations. Regardless, the “do’s” and the “do not’s” are filtered through God’s love.
We know that right? We think we do. We think we know the reason God tells us to do certain things in service to Him and others is not because He needs us to serve Him, but because He loves us. He knows that the best way to live is to live in this fashion, and He loves us enough to tell us so.
Similarly, we think we know that the reason God tells us not to do some things is not because He is a cosmic killjoy; it’s because He is a Father who wants the best for us. He doesn’t want us to waste our lives or settle for less than the best, so He tells us to flee from this and turn away from that.
We think we know that, but when it comes to actually living out these commands, we begin to question. We question it especially when God tells us to stop doing something we really enjoy doing. It’s in those moments we start to wonder if God really loves us, because if He does, then why would He want to take something away from us?
In other words, we tend to think of prohibitions as exceptions to love.
But all of God’s commands are filtered through His love. Even the painful ones.
Case in point is the rich, young ruler.
In the book of Matthew, this man is called young. Luke makes clear that he was a ruler of some kind. And both point to the fact that he had great wealth. That’s why we call him “The Rich, Young Ruler.” The Bible tells us that crowds were following Jesus wherever He went in those days, and there must have been a sharp contrast between this guy and the crowd pressing in on Him. They were dirty; he was clean. They were poor; he was rich. They were shabby; he was finely dressed. He had a simple and straightforward question for Jesus: “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responded that he should keep the law. The man claimed that he was already doing that. Wasn’t there something more? And that’s when Jesus came with the zinger—“Sell it all. Become poor. Then you can follow Me.” The Bible says that the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
Here’s the prohibition from Jesus, if you look at it in that way: “Don’t keep your money if you want to follow me.” We might be tempted to look at this prohibition as an exception to the love of God. As if Jesus said to the young man, “I love you, but if you want to follow me, then sell everything you have and come on.” But the Bible is explicit in helping us understand this is not the case.
With Jesus, prohibitions are not exceptions to love; they flow from it. This very difficult command is filtered through the love of God.
Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
Notice the order here, because the order is important.
Step 1: Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Step 2: Jesus gave him a command.
In other words, Jesus loved this man enough to tell Him to sell everything He had. And we would do well to remember it. Because today, and every day, we will come up against the hard commands of Jesus. And the temptation will be for us to regard Him as ungenerous. As uncaring. As persnickety. Anything but loving. But here is where we come back not to what we think in the moment, but what we know to be true.
We know it to be true that Jesus loves us. Every command is evidence of that love.