Telling others what they “should,” “ought” or “must” do is typically a turnoff.
Even persons in rightful places of authority — parents, teachers, supervisors — usually choose less-demanding language to make their expectations known, like: “It might be good if you …”
Well, it might be good if Christians took note of what Jesus said both he and we “must” do.
In his book Necessary Christianity: What Jesus Shows We Must Be and Do (2022, InterVarsity Press), Pastor Charles R. Alexander Jr. of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, gives attention to some “musts.”
“We show maturity in this life when we view … the directions God gives as essential, imperative, indispensable and requisite,” writes Alexander.
As a left-behind 12-year-old in the temple, Jesus told his returning parents that he must be about his heavenly father’s business (Luke 2:49). Alexander labels this reprioritizing and likely shocking statement as “the necessity of focus.”
In Luke 4:38-44, Jesus tells a crowd seeking to keep him to themselves that he “must preach the kingdom of God to other cities …” Alexander calls this the necessity of progression.
“For a disciple of Jesus Christ, life is not static …,” he writes. “It is … a series of moments, each proceeding from the other.”
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well in Sychar, recorded only in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, results from taking an unexpected route.
Traveling from Judea to Galilee, Jesus and his disciples — as the King James Version puts it — “must needs go through Samaria” (John 4:4). Other translations use “had to” or “need to” to convey this “mustness.”
This necessary route provided a remarkable example of Jesus’ inclusion and grace as well as showing his disciples (and those who would come later) that human-constructed boundaries (physical and social) are not lines drawn by God.
Calling this the “necessity of direction,” Alexander notes that “God at times directs us to places and positions others avoid.”
While discussing his identity with the disciples in Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-27), Jesus tells them about a future they didn’t want to consider. Jesus said he must go to Jerusalem where he would suffer many things.
He then tells them that anyone who follows him must deny their own self-interest and take up their own crosses. This “necessity of clarity” brings to light the true identity of Jesus’ followers.
“There are many who desire to wish away any sense of sacrifice or suffering from the Christian faith …” writes Alexander. “However, the Christian life is not all … being on top.”
Indeed, faithful living must include Jesus’ clear call away from self-absorption to concern for and sacrifice on behalf of others.
“Diligence as a necessity,” said Alexander, is found in John 9:1-5. Jesus tackles the theological question of whether a man’s blindness is the result of his own sin or that of his parents.
Jesus answers that neither is to blame, and then states that he “must work the works” of the one who sent him “while it is still day.”
Jesus dismissed a common misconception of sin and affirmed his mission as “the light of the world.”
“Jesus is stressing the urgency of his work” because we all exist in a limited frame of time, writes Alexander. Mature Christians, he notes, will steward the gift of time.
Finally, Alexander turns to Matthew 26:46-54 in which Judas betrays Jesus upon his arrest. Matthew records Jesus saying he could put a stop to this fate, but it is necessary to full the scriptures.
The overarching lesson Alexander extracts from this account is “the necessity of yielding.”
“When you yield to the will of God, God will stand by you and with you,” he writes.
While not quibbling with these “necessities,” it is worth raising others that stem from the biblical texts and Jesus in particular.
The prophet Micah (6:8) summarizes well what God requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Jesus lays out his kingdom priorities in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7. Included are the ways we are to relate to others including loving one’s enemies.
And Jesus summarizes all the laws and prophetic teachings into the dual commands (musts) of loving God with all one’s being and one’s broadly defined neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:37-40).
The challenge, of course, is to pay attention to whether we are embracing the essentials of faith that Jesus actually expressed in words and deeds — or buying into someone else’s claims that were tagged as Christian essentials even when absent from or at odds with Jesus.
Delineating Jesus’ “musts” from those pushed by others is also a vital part of discipleship.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.