Part 2 of an investigation into Matthew 5:17,18 (see Part 1 here).
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Here we ask the question…
What does Jesus mean by “fulfill”?
When we put the “Law” Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5 in ‘covenant context‘ the inclusion of the word “fulfill” makes MUCH more sense. Check out these definitions of fulfill…
1. To bring to completion. Achieve something desired, promised, or predicted.
2. To gain happiness by fully developing one’s abilities or character.
I believe the best evidence of this is in John 15. Jesus is speaking his last words to the Apostles. In them he says…
“If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love… I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus is revealing (though the Apostles do not yet see it) how he intends to bring God’s covenants to completion. He is telling the Apostles how he will uphold God’s promises. Jesus illustrates what it will look like when the predictions of the prophets come true. Jesus flat out tells them that he is going to sacrifice his life for them.
Like I said in Part 1, when Jesus says “the Law” he isn’t referring to the 613 Old Testament commandments; he is referring to all the covenants and the complete story of how God is interacting with humanity. Jesus subjects himself to death on a cross so that God’s part of the covenants would be fulfilled.
I include the second definition of ‘fulfill’ to illustrate OUR part of the covenant. If we read the Old Testament covenants a lot of our side is believing in God and upholding the commandments, but look at what Jesus says. If we keep his commandments, then we will have Christ’s joy and our joy will be made complete!
The commandment Christ gives us..? To love one another as he has loved us (dying for us).
While the opportunity to give up our life for someone else doesn’t present itself everyday, I think we can look to James for some clarity. In chapter 1 verse 27 James states,
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Jesus makes a great deal of the opponent of our worship of God being money, stuff, and status. Perhaps, keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world means giving up material goods and power status. Maybe, laying down our lives looks more like caring for others and less like personal piety.
Could it be possible that caring for others will bring us (and God) more joy than blind adherence to commandments..? My answer is a resounding, “YES!”