If you are a father, you have likely tried multiple ways to motivate your kids: threats of punishment, promises of rewards, wielding your authority, and reminding them of all you have done for them. In many ways, pastoring a group of people is a lot like parenting. When the apostles wrote letters to the churches, they cared deeply for the people receiving them and viewed themselves as their fathers in the faith.
How did the apostles strive to motivate people to live in response to God’s greatness and grace? How did they encourage them to live the reality of their new identity? The apostles often rooted the imperatives (the commands) God gave in the indicative (what Christ has done). To understand their letters, it is helpful to understand the difference between imperatives and the indicative.
Imperative = Commands or “Do”
Indicative = What Christ accomplished or “Done”
You will find that the apostles’ letters are filled with imperatives, but these imperatives are grounded in what Christ has done (indicative). That’s because if our hearts are not refreshed and renewed with what Christ has done for us, our hearts are unable to obey Him. We need to be in awe of His grace to be motivated to live out the commands (the imperatives).
Let’s look at some passages written to the churches. Note if they are imperative or indicative.
EPHESIANS 5:25: Husbands, love your wives (imperative), just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. (indicative)
2 CORINTHIANS 8:7,9
Do you see the common theme? The imperatives are there—Do this, but they are always rooted in the indicative—because Christ has done that. As your heart is constantly refreshed with what Christ has done, you want to obey Him. You want to follow Him. His commands don’t feel like a burden because this world is less and less attractive to you as you view Him as greater and greater.
Let’s close with this example: We are to think of others first (imperative) because Christ put our salvation ahead of His comfort (indicative). Ponder this as you read PHILIPPIANS 2:3-11.
What’s the difference in an imperative and an indicative?
What are some examples of indicatives that motivate you? Why do they motivate you?
What happens if we get the imperative before the indicative?