Deuteronomy 6:1-5; Leviticus 19:16-18 (5/16/11)
We’ve seen that the Law comes from God and is greatly concerned with both civil and criminal activities. Most of this stuff has been incorporated into Western jurisprudence.
This week we move into another area of the Law, one that tends to go beyond the boundaries of our own law and move into areas that we call ethics, morality, or love. For example, while we probably all agree that gossip and grudge-holding are bad, and under some circumstances even immoral or unethical, we probably would be opposed to passing a law against them. God’s not – the Law includes injunctions against gossip and grudge-holding.
On the other hand, we probably think that loving God is a good thing, but we also probably think that passing a law requiring it is futile. Futile or not, God put it in the Law.
Deuteronomy 24:5-22 (5/17/11)
You’ve often heard it said that someone was following “the letter of the law.” Usually this is said in a disparaging tone of voice, with the implication that the person who follows the letter of the law has found a loophole that evades the spirit of the law.
Possibly for this reason, sometimes God gives detailed examples of what is and isn’t allowed under a general law. You can keep an item as a guarantee that a loan will be repaid, but you can’t keep a workman’s tools, a poor man’s coat, or a widow’s garments. When you have an employee, you must pay wages regularly and on time (which, by the way, is the law here and now, too). When you harvest, you can’t be so efficient about it that the poor starve. In God’s Law, the spirit of the law is the law!
Matthew 5:17-48 (5/18/11)
I’ve made the point a couple of times lately that the Law was given by Moses, but grace came through Jesus (John 1:17). It’s important to remember, therefore, that Jesus was very supportive of the Law. He said that not one jot or one tittle would ever be lost from the Law – the “jot” is an iota, the smallest Greek letter, and the tittle is a small part of a Hebrew letter (like the serif on the top of this h). The Contemporary English Version says “period or comma,” and those are about the right size.
But Jesus goes even farther than that. He says the Law is the starting point, the minimum standard by which we will be judged. So thank God for grace! It’s what will get us into Heaven. Pay close attention to the Law, because we are still going to be judged by it. But the most important thing is to love people, because that’s what God does, and he expects us to do the same.
Matthew 22:34-40, 23:23-28 (5/19/11)
The U.S. Congress passes Acts, which are the law in the United States. The Acts say things like, “Don’t dirty up the air” (usually it takes about 2000 pages to say that, but the level of detail doesn’t change much). Nobody knows what that means, so the Environmental Protection Agency sets a standard, which defines dirty air. Then various other agencies write implementing regulations, which tell you exactly how much dirt per minute of a particular kind you can put into the air without violating the standard. Implementing regulations “have the force of law,” which means you can go to jail for violating them, but they are not the law.
Earlier in the week we read that the Law says you shall love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy), and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus). But we’ve also learned that there are 611 other laws, and that breaking any one of them makes you a law-breaker. So the Pharisees thought they were onto a sure thing when they asked Jesus which one of the 613 was the most important – no matter which one he chose, they thought, they could argue that some other law was equally important. Jesus answered: “Love God. Love your neighbor. Everything else is implementing regulations.” And if you implement the regulation in such a way as to violate the law, it does you no good at all.
John 15:10-17 (5/20/11)
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus told the Pharisees that the two greatest commandments of the Law were to love God and love your neighbor. At the end of his ministry, he tells his disciples that his own commandment is to love each other the way he loved them. The Law is love, and love is the law.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper:
“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and I remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be fulfilled.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his own life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you ‘slaves,’ because the slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. Instead I have called you ‘friends,’ because I have made known to you everything that I heard from my Father.
“You did not choose me; rather I chose you and have appointed you, so that you may go and bear fruit – and your fruit will last, so that whatever you might ask the Father in my name, he will give to you.
“This I command you: love one another.”
More on The Law and Sin
The Law: Given by God
The Law: Civil and Criminal
The Law: Ethics, Morality, and Love
The Law: Written in Our Hearts
Sin: Breaking of the Law
Sin: Separation and Estrangement
Sin: Unfaithfulness to God is Adultery
The Doctrine of Original Sin
Dead in Sin
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