Are all Biblical commandments of equal importance before God? Does He view all of His instructions as being of equal weight?
We do know that earthly governments do not view all of their laws and ordinances exactly the same. Murder, for example, is viewed as a greater offense against society than petty theft. Yet, both are an attack upon the peace and harmony of society. Both are punishable by law. But one of the two is of even more seriousness than is the other.
What about God? Are there certain commandments that bear greater weight? And if so, which?
1. Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
God certainly is not saying that He did not want men to sacrifice before Him and worship Him. After all, it was He who introduced and commanded such.
The problem was that they thought that they could live like the devil all week, month, and year… so long as they remembered to keep the sacrifices. There was little justice and mercy in those days (Amos 2:6-7; Micah 7:3), and yet they worshipped God Almighty. God’s message is “you better begin to show mercy, love, and compassion first before you offer sacrifices to Me. You need to learn and know Me and My ways better than you do” (Proverbs 15:88; 21:3, 27; Isaiah 59:1-2; Malachi 2:11-14).
Even so, today, we cannot hope to be acceptable to Him in worship, if we live contrary to Him in our manner of life. Numerous passages are worthy of our meditation just here: Matthew 5:23-24; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:26; James 4:8; James 5:16; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 4:20. Any who so try simply do not really know Him as they should (1 John 2:4 cf. 1 John 1:60).
2. Matthew 5:17-20 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This passage teaches that what man may think is a minor commandment still is to be respected and heeded. Woe unto the man who flippantly disregards some of God’s instructions as unimportant.
Remember it was one piece of fruit eaten which brought such misery into the world, and cost mankind the garden (Genesis 2:17; 3:6, 9-11, 16, 17-19, 22b, 24). “But it was just one piece of fruit, what’s the big deal?” Man might so reason, but with God it was a big deal.
Folks, let us not take the things that God says, even the minute details, as unimportant or trivial. Let us learn from the past (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11).
3. Matthew 22:36-40“Teacher, which is the greater commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”
The man lived under the Old Law. The Old Law contained 613 commandments: 248 positive commandments (i.e. – Thou shalt…); 365 negative commandments (i.e. – Thou shalt not…). Which one of all of these commandments was the greatest?
Jesus does not hesitate to answer. He responds by saying the greatest commandment is that you love God with all your heart, soul and mind (and strength – Luke 10:27).
Verse 37 is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5. We need to want to serve God (Psalm 122:1; Psalm 1:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 8:4; John 4:24; Colossians 3:2). Note: one might compare Matthew 22:37 with 2 Kings 23:1-3, 24-25. This is an inspired commentary. Loving God and keeping His commandments are in separately linked, for if we truly love Him we’ll seek to follow His will ( John 14:15,21,23-24; 1 John 2:4; 5:2-3; 2 John 5-6) .
Moreover, Jesus said the next commandment is that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Verse 39 is a quotation from Leviticus 19:18. This love is also rooted in following God’s commands (Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 5-6).
Why did Jesus pick these two commandments as the two greatest? McGarvey has written, “It is called the first and great, as the sequel shows (verse 40) not because, apart from all others it is great, but because in observing it all others are observed… There is a tacit comparison of these two commandments to a hook in the wall on which are hung all the books of the law and the prophets. As the hook supports all, so to keep these two commandments is to do all that is required by the scriptures” (On Matthew and Mark, p. 193).
Is it possible to keep God’s commandments ritualistically and not love Him? Yes, people can follow certain portions of the law and not love as they should (Matthew 15:8; Revelation 2:2-4). But, it is impossible to love as we should and not follow the law (John 14:15; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 5:3). And, it is impossible to truly follow His commandments and not love (Matthew 15:8; Revelation 2:2-4).
Is it possible to keep certain commandments and not love one’s fellow man properly? It does seem possible (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Matthew 6:1-ff; Hosea 6:6). However, it is impossible to love one’s fellow man as he should without striving to follow God’s commands (Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 5:2; 2 John 5-6).
God’s desires more than ritualistic following. He wants us to truly love Him and our fellow-man as we should and express that love by obedience to Him.
4. Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mind and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”
The items mentioned in verse 23 are small garden herbs. Were they right to tithe of them under the Old Law? Absolutely! “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the others undone.” They indeed were correct in this matter (Deuteronomy 14:22).
Watch the hyperbole of verse 24. The problem wasn’t that they strained the gnat. Rather, it was that they swallowed the camel (Leviticus 11:4- one of the largest of unclean animals). They had remembered the small details which they should have; But they had neglected bigger principles such as: judgment, mercy, faith. While they were tithing even to the smallest of herbs, they often mistreated their fellow-man (Matthew 23:24; cf. Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 82:2-4). Moreover, they often trusted much in self (Luke 18:9-14) and not enough in Jehovah, God.
Watch this, verse 23 speaks of greater damnation. Yes, it seems to me that there may be degrees of punishment (Luke 12:41-48; Hebrews 10:28-29; Matthew 23:14) — not that we should want to be in hell receiving even the least!
A modern example – Let us say that we were great defenders of truth. Let us say that we were absolutely correct on any and every doctrinal subject which came up. But, let us also say that we had little or no compassion, love and concern for humanity. Let us say that we were more concerned about winning an argument than saving a soul. Then, couldn’t it be said that we missed the weightier matters? (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Should we defend the truth? Yes! Should we forget about the great principles of Christianity: Things like faith, hope, love, justice and mercy? Absolutely not!
Yes, some commandments bear even greater weight than others. This is the case not because some are unimportant, but because when we neglect certain principles, we miss what Christianity is about altogether. Moreover, it does possible that some sins will even be punished with greater severity (Note how weightier matters – Matthew 23:23 is paired with greater damnation – Matthew 23:14). None of God’s commandments, it should be understood, are unimportant. Even one unrepented of sin can keep us from glory. Let us make sure that while observing the details, we do not lose sight of the big principles. Let us not deceive ourselves by thinking that giving attention to details like — proper church organization, proper worship form, proper doctrinal stance etc. — will cause God to over look a lack of faith, hope, love, justice, or mercy.