The Least of These…Commandments?
By Anthony Casperson

Those of you who’re deeply invested in the hobby of tabletop gaming have heard about games of epic scale. Whether that’s games that can take a group years to play, like Gloomhaven (and now Frosthaven). Or games that have so many accessories that the boxes for it can take up most of a shelving unit on their own, like Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood (if you have all of the minis, at least).

Another category of epic games are those that take huge amounts of time for a single session of play. One of these types of games that my friends and I have played for a total of 5 times so far is Twilight Imperium—specifically the 4th edition. The box might say that it takes 4-8 hours to play, but we’ve never been less than 8. And when we’ve played with a full compliment of 6 players, 12 hours was closer to the truth.

Because of this, we don’t play the game very often. Therefore, we usually watch a learn-to-play YouTube video as a refresher before we gather to play. However, after our last time playing I discovered that there was an important rule to the game that we’ve never played with. And that made me realize that either the teaching video we watch doesn’t cover the rule, or doesn’t give enough emphasis to this part of the game.

And I found this interesting because the last time we played, it came down to us wondering how to stop a player from achieving the final point they needed for victory. If we had known this tiny little rule, then we might have been able to stop him.

The teaching video failed us because it relaxed the importance of this rule. And we’ve played multiple games missing out on a key strategy to winning the game all because we relied on someone teaching the rules instead of looking into the rulebook—which is a temptation with so much minutia and dozens of pages of rules.

This concept of the importance of even tiny rules—especially when it comes to teaching and doing them—is in the same vein of thought as the passage for our blog today for our series, “Summer on the Mount.”

In Matthew 5:17-20, we’re continuing to look into the theme of the practical ethics of the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus comes to the point in his sermon where he shows us the importance of the Law of Moses for we who follow him today.

Many bible teachers wish to downplay the Old Testament and its commands. I mean, there are aspects of it that were specific to the physical nation of Israel and are less impactful for the spiritual kingdom of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we should just throw them out like the worthless not-actually-salt that we saw in the passage for last week.

Jesus specifically says in verse 17 that he didn’t come to abolish the Law. He’s didn’t take on human flesh in order to pound the Ten Commandments to rubble and tear up the parchment that the words of Moses were recorded on. It’s not like his actions loosened the strings that held the Law together and then let the whole thing come tumbling to nothing.

Rather, Jesus came to fulfill the Law. To be the one who lived the perfect life before God that none of us could. And then die in the place of those who would follow him, which allows his perfection to be accounted to us, while the deathly punishment for our sins was poured out in him.

The laws of God—his intent for his creation—will never go away. They are what are required for we human beings so that we can have relationship with him. Always and forever. That’s what Jesus is explaining was his purpose in coming to this planet. He needed to make the way for sinful humans to possibly come into proper relationship with God. To fulfill it for we who accept his sacrifice.

He came in order to live perfectly, so that we didn’t have to.

But that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the Law. Yes, he paid the cost so that we don’t have to, but because of his loving sacrifice, it should cause us to desire to live in line with him. To seek the perfection of the Law, even though we will never reach that perfect state in this world.

Verse 18 tells us that not even the smallest little pieces of letters of the Law will be knocked off. It’s like the dots over every “i” and the lines crossing every “t” will forever and always remain in the Law.

And then in verse 19, Jesus shows the importance of spiritual teachers to keep themselves from relaxing even the least of these commandments. (Yeah, that’s the lesser known “least of these.”) It’s difficult for us to see in English, but Jesus is doing a little wordplay here with the idea of “relaxing” any part of the Law.

The Greek word used for that verb is a part of the verb used when Jesus said he didn’t come to “abolish” the Law. A “loosening,” if you will. He didn’t unloosen the binding parts of the Law, and thus neither should we loosen bits and pieces of that same Law.

If we relax God’s standards for our life—if we turn a blind eye to certain sins, or say that certain parts of the Old Testament are no longer important for us to learn and understand—then consequences will come. We won’t get kicked out of the kingdom, but we will be among the least in the kingdom.

Ignore the least of these commandments and become one of the least of the kingdom.

It is when we act like our Lord and Savior, when we follow the ways of Jesus, that we find ourselves in greater standing with our God. Our relationship with him is all the more sweet because we remain true to his ways. Because we keep close every word of his to us—even the ones that remind us of how unworthy we are of his love.

And this understanding of acting in line with even the least of the commands of God is all the more important when we find ourselves as teachers of others. Every relaxing of the Law, every missed rule, leads others to think that this is the way of God when it isn’t. Lives could have been better, if only they had known that tiny little rule.

There could have been greater victory.

When Jesus says in verse 20 that our righteousness must be greater than the scribes and Pharisees, there is some shock value to the audience. Because we should wonder how a person could act in line with the rules better than a rules lawyer. But I think that there’s more to this idea as well.

Often in the earthly ministry of Jesus, he confronted the Pharisees about their lack of understanding of the ways of God which he revealed in his Law, as well as their hypocritical actions of not always living in line with even their own teachings. Their attempts to find loopholes so that they could turn things into their benefit.

The scribes and Pharisees might have taught the Law, but it was not perfectly. And because of that, they certainly didn’t live their lives perfectly in line with God’s Law. So, when Jesus says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, what I think he’s saying is that we need to keep from loosening the commands of God in our favor, and instead live in line with all of what he said.

So, let’s keep even the least of these commands of God—the entirety of his word—in mind as we live our lives. And especially when we teach others even the tiniest of the rules. Because it’ll be better for us in the long run. Even if we need to repent for failing to live up to Jesus’ example. He might have fulfilled the Law for us, but that doesn’t excuse us from following him.

Don’t miss out on—or allow others to miss out on—greater victory just because you failed to recognize the least of these commands.