The picture above is a billboard visible when driving north on Valley Mills Drive in Waco. In case it is hard to read, it lists the Ten Commandments under a heading of “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I suppose the lightning in the background is intended to convey something, but I’ll not deal with that here.
The message this billboard conveys is not biblical.
You see, when the Ten Commandments actually appear in the scriptures, they are prefaced NOT by a suggestion that we ought to keep them, but, rather, by a statement of who the God is who gives the commands.
” I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;” says something much different as the heading for the Ten Commandments than does “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The former places the commandments in the context of what God has done; the commandments are to be lived in response to God, not as a measure hoping to please God and thus win God’s favor.
This second line, the one that titles the billboard, “If you love me keep my commandments,” is also in the Bible, but is also taken out of context. These are the words of Jesus, and here is the context in which they appear:
13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.
Maybe it is just me, but the billboard seems to draw these words of Jesus out of context and flavor them with guilt-manipulation.
On the other hand, throughout the scripture, Old and New Testaments, God is the kind of God who first saves, delivers, frees, promises, and then, and only then, asks, requires, commands anything from us.
This billboard reminds me of one of the reasons I am grateful and proud to be a United Methodist; it is in the DNA of our denomination to recognize that we live our lives in response to God’s grace, which always comes before any of our efforts.