I love those passages in the Bible where the writer seems to boil down a complex situation into two or three simple things. Suddenly everything becomes clear. I know what is important because the complex flavors are concentrated enough for me to distinguish them.
Micah writes what has to be the best of these concentrated passages in 6:6-8. With what shall I come before Jehovah and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, o man, what is good, and what does Jehovah require of you but to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
` Far from releasing us from the minute details of God’s law, it says this, “Be righteous, be kind to others, and be humble before God.” What kind of man will argue with God about what He requires, or even consider that any part of His law does not need obeying? Certainly not a humble one.
James boils it down 1:27. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and keep oneself unspotted from the world. As is the case in many of this type of passage, the widows and orphans are symbolic of anyone who needs help. In that day and time they were the helpless ones, the ones their society often ignored and oppressed, so it was natural to use them as a synecdoche. Be kind to others, James said, and later on in more detail (chapter 2), help those who need your help, no matter what kind of help that might be, no matter how rich or poor, how important or unimportant by the world’s standards. But don’t forget to keep yourself pure, he adds, which can cover the gamut—anything from sexual immorality to sins of the heart to disobedience of any command of God. In seventeen words, he covers it all. Amazing.
Those verbal reductions are powerful. A list of commands or sins can often become ho-hum when we read them. Something in us instantly tries to categorize them and rank them. It becomes a matter of “what I can get away with” instead of what I need to do to be pleasing to God. But boil it down to a few words and suddenly it is all important. I need to focus on it all because it all hangs together or falls apart, something many of the Pharisees, and many of us, never seem to understand.
Those sauces poured over the dish right before serving have ceased to be individual ingredients. Instead they have become something else entirely, an amalgamation of ingredients blended so well they never separate. The goal for us is to become something new too, a person who no longer has to think about whether he will do right or wrong, but who automatically does it—a new creature who concentrates on goodness to man and humility before God, no longer questioning but instantly obeying from the heart.
Do you need a little more boiling?
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? [And so Jesus himself boiled it down to this] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets, Matt 22:35-40.