Philip Melanchthon: The Mirror of Desire in Relation to the Commands of Christ

“There is an inverse relationship between the apparent oddity of his commands and my desire to do what he says.”

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I am days away from my first-year annual review in the PhD program. In some ways, I am excited. I know that when the day arrives, there will be some nervousness. Currently, my method of preparation consists of (1) reviewing all that I have read over the past year and (2) reading and rereading what I have written. In reviewing some of the important thinkers I have read over the past year, a remark by Philip Melanchton, Luther’s right-hand man, stood out. He writes:

“You will not understand what Christ commands or why he commands it unless you want to do what he commands” (Commonplaces 1521).

What stands out to me is the word “want.” I take Melanchthon to be saying the following: Without a heart that has been transformed by Jesus Christ, his teachings and commands will seem foreign. 

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When I read Melanchthon’s words, I was immediately reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. The apostle Paul wrote:

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)

I wonder if there are times that followers of Christ should be more at peace with the fact that we will not always be understood by non-Christians. We are commanded to be salt. We are commanded to be light. We are told to be ready to give good reasons for what we believe. However, at the end of the day, only the Holy Spirit can close the deal (in all honesty, he is the one that opens the case in the first place). We do our job. We play our part. But we trust that until a person loves Jesus, the disposition of their heart is not such that they can completely wrap their intellect around the “what” and “why” of Jesus’ commands.

In regard to our own walk with Jesus, the piercing question is, “Do I want to do what he commands?” Do I desperately yearn to obey Him because his love rules my heart (John 14:15 NRSV)? In the language of Solomon, have I allowed Christ to ravish my heart (Song of Solomon 4:9 NRSV)? If so, then his commands will make sense to me in my innermost heart and I will have a strong sense, in light of his divine character, why he has commanded me thus. If I do not desire to do his will, then this deficit may in fact be a mirror of sorts. God could be showing me that though I call myself a Christian, his commands look odd to the degree that I don’t desire him. There is an inverse relationship between the apparent oddity of his commands and my desire to do what he says. So if the commands and ways of Jesus are always appearing quite odd, then consider the fact that it may be due to a lack of desire and devotion. According to Melanchthon, a heart that yearns to obey Christ in all that he has commanded will see clearly the “what” and “why” of the commands.

As always, may God’s grace be at work in us so that Christ is formed in us and offered through us to others.

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