Biblical commands or "commandments" often get bad press from those who reject them as being a list of negative “thou shalt not” laws. The truth is, of course, that some commands are just easier to state succinctly in a negative form. Which is easier to say: “You shall not steal” or “You shall always be sure that you work hard at your job, that you pay your taxes, that you return things you borrow, that you leave other people’s things untouched when they are not around, that you …, etc., etc.” ?
But not all biblical commands are stated negatively, of course. Two of the Ten Commandments (the fourth and fifth) are stated positively and the Old Testament actually contains some 248 positively worded laws – out of a total of about 600 – though the vast majority of those laws are simple instructions regarding making the tabernacle, aspects of ritual, and regulation of the ancient nation of Israel.
But many of the positive commands in the Old Testament transcend the ritual aspects of life and worship and deal with our direct relationship with God and with others. These “interpersonal” positive commands are gems of instruction and not surprisingly, some were quoted as key teachings by Christ. For example, Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” which Jesus quoted almost verbatim, as we see in the Gospels (Matthew 22:37 and parallels).
The New Testament actually has far more positive commands than negative commands, but all the “interpersonal” positive commandments found in the Bible have some things in common. It is far less obvious to others – and often to ourselves – if we are not keeping those commands, or how well we are keeping them, than it is if we are breaking the negative commandments. There are a few exceptions – it’s not usually visible to others if we are coveting something, but it is usually obvious to us. It is not necessarily so obvious, even to us, if we are not fully keeping a positive command such as that to honor our parents or to love God with all our heart. The positive commandments are, in this sense, harder to keep because they require frequent thought and application rather than just the avoidance of something we should not do.
So the difference between the negatively and positively stated “interpersonal” commandments is simple. Usually we need to give more thought as to how to keep the positive commands. This is true of even the smallest positively worded injunctions, and the ones with larger scope, such as “You shall love the Lord your God,” could be said to profit from a lifetime of thought.
A tremendous amount of progress can be made in Christian growth by realizing this fact and by focusing on it and asking ourselves “In what ways can I fulfill this?” every time we read a positive command. That’s “positive thinking” of a whole different kind from simply looking on the bright side. It’s looking at how we can apply the love of God and of each other in ever more positive and effective ways.