Posts Tagged ‘law’

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On Biblical Morality in Modern Times…

October 15, 2012

Moses on the SCOTUS facade.

It is important to consider that morality, at its essence, is a core of beliefs that is acted upon by individuals. Legislation, is but the codification of morality with the aim of directing groups of individuals to/from that morality. It is impossible for legislation to be devoid of morality, because legislation is a codification of values. So whether it serves as a legal restraint for good or a license for evil, it is inherently moral.

For the world, morality is benign, it is neither good nor bad. Dictators can be moral, so can school children, but where the world fails is in determining what if anything is immoral. The secular world fails to recognize any common universal source for morality, an individuals core of beliefs is but a reflection of their own predilection toward one course or another. Therefore when you ask a secularist ‘can one legislate morality?’ they give you this puzzled look. ‘How can anyone legislate or put into legislation individual morality?’ they ask. They go on to say, ‘what may be moral for you, is not moral for me…’ etc. This is the dead end road of the secular worldview. Ultimately nothing has meaning outside the individual, laws are suggestive of desire but not determinate of performance. The end result of this is chilling words from the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king… Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

For the Christian, morality is far less subjective. It is still a core of beliefs that is acted upon, but that core has a universal objective source. The source of human morality is God’s revelation in His word and in nature. Lodged within the narrative of history is the thread of God’s moral revelation. He reveals it implicitly in the general revelation of nature, and explicitly in the pages of His Word. Paul informs us in Romans that God has written His law on the heart of every man, so that whether they have received His written revelation or not they have within themselves a conscience that reflects their Creator’s image. For the Christian, morality is not benign, it is powerful. Morality is an expression of what one values and is given by God that we might value the right things. God gave His written law for the preservation of His people and the propagation of His glory. So for the Christian, laws and legislation become essential tools. God has created man to be ruled by laws. Whether Laws carved in stone or laws written on the human heart; it is man’s need to be governed by a moral code. The beauty of the gospel is that it redefines morality. Morality is now seen through the work of Christ on the cross. We are now given an opportunity to be governed by a law fulfilled in Christ. We are empowered to do greater works than were ever done before. What is moral becomes a reflection of Who He was and who we are in Him.

So there is great need on the part of the Christian to see that the laws of their lands reflect the redeemed reality of mankind. We must seek the goodwill of our neighborhood and our nation, and advocate for laws that protect and promote God’s design for mankind. But should the tide withdraw, and the season change, we must be prepared to live lives consistent with Christ’s example. Preaching the Word in season and out of season, as those around us “wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:4)

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An Eye for an Eye: the Rules for Revenge…

February 9, 2012

In considering Sermon on the Mount, one is constantly confronted with statements that seem all to common though frequently misread.  It is amazing when you listen to popular culture, to hear the tell-tale signs of Biblical influence.  How often have we heard the statement “an eye for an eye” in regards to revenge or retribution.  Absent its Biblical context these phrases have very divergent meanings.  And absent the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s revelation regarding God’s Law, we are prone to misuse and mistake God’s Law for our license to sin.  In Matthew 38-42 Jesus defines the scope of Christian ethics in relation to other people.  He begins by challenging the assumptions of His listeners and confounding their tendencies.  Here we will ask and attempt to answer two questions; What was the original intent of the OT law regarding “an eye for an eye”? and Did Jesus contradict this law?

What was the original O.T. Intent in the law of an eye for an eye?

An eye for an eye – This is an exact quotation found in three OT passages (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) and reflects the principle of lex talionis a Latin phrase from, (lex = law and talionis = retaliation = literally the “law of retaliation”)  Mankind is prone to an excess of sin in every area of life, and in seeking justice there is no exception.  This principle serves to “rein in reckless blood vengeance,”[1] such as we find in Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech boasts that he will return abundant vengeance on those who have done him wrong. If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 70 times.”  To prevent such excess this principle was instituted, to insure that the punishment would fit the crime.  This principle was meant to inform the law courts on the appropriate level of punishment needed for offense and to provide an end to unlimited blood-feuds between wronged parties. However, by the time of Jesus, this was being misused as a license to pursue vengeance.

The Old Testament “did not allow an individual to take the law into his own hands and apply it personally. Yet that is exactly what rabbinic tradition had done. Each man was permitted, in effect, to become his own judge, jury, and executioner. God’s law was turned to individual license (permit to act, freedom to take a specific course of action), and civil justice was perverted to personal vengeance. Instead of properly acknowledging the law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth as a limit on punishment, they conveniently used it as a mandate for vengeance-as it has often been wrongly viewed throughout history. What God gave as a restriction on civil courts, Jewish tradition had turned into personal license for revenge. In still another way, the self-centered and self-asserted “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees had made a shambles of God’s holy law.”[2]

We see this same perversion being addressed occurring earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, concerning divorce. (5:31-32 and Matt 19:8)  Where additions were made to God’s law not to alter His law, but because of the hardness of the human heart.  “God gives by concession a legal regulation as a dam against the river of violence which flows from man’s evil heart.”  Jesus here is addressing and focusing on the heart of His disciples, not the law of God.

Does Jesus contradict The OT Law?

No. Jesus did not come to end the law but to fulfill it.  To redeem the law, which did not exist to provide a license to sin through legalism, but to guard the hearts of Israel, expose sin, and provide for sins redemption through sacrifice.  “Jesus opposed the rabbinic interpretation of the Law, rather than the Law itself.”[3] In the Old Testament the principle of lex talionis  (the law of retaliation, “eye for an eye.”) was meant to be used and applied in the judiciary process, “this is not the sphere of application in Matthew.  Jesus does not overthrow the principle of equivalent compensation on an institutional level that question is just not addressed but declares it illegitimate for His followers to apply it to their private disputes.”[4]


[1] Dockery, David. Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the mount for Today. Wheaton: Shaw Pub. 1992. 61

[2] MacArthur, John.  Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville: B&H pub. 2011. 146.

[4] Allison, Dale. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of the According to St. Matthew, Vol 1. T&T clark Pub. 2000.  542.

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How to Love our Enemies…

February 7, 2012

Matthew 5:44, “pray for those who persecute you…”

Jesus models for us the actions we must take to display love to those who are our enemies.  The love here in this passage is the Greek word Agapaw or “Agapa’oh”.  This love is a self-sacrificing love; love that goes beyond feeling, but moves to action.  This is the same word we find in John 3:16.  The world was hostile to God, denying Him and choosing their own way (Romans 1) and yet he “loved” them so much that he sent His only Son. That is the love for “enemies” that is displayed before us.

How do we show enemies we love them?  Love for our enemies begins in our heart.  Jesus has already told us that we are to consider ourselves blessed when “others insult you and persecute you… because of me.”  Jesus makes clear that outward actions have their genesis in the heart, whether its murder, lust, adultery, anger, it begins with the condition of our heart.  Here He instructs us concerning love.  We are to display our love to our enemies through prayer.  We are to pray for them.  When we are reviled we don’t curse in kind, we pray.  When we are taunted we don’t take the bait, we pray.  When we are teased we don’t respond in anger, we pray.  It is difficult to pray for anyone you hate, and that is kind of the point.  Prayer softens our heart, orients it toward God, and focuses on Him and His love for us and others.  We are rarely more like Christ than when we pray for those who seek our harm.  “praying for an enemy and loving him proves mutually reinforcing, the more love, the more prayer, the more prayer the more love.”[1]

“When you pray for someone while they are persecuting you, you are assaulting the throne of God on their behalf: “God, help this person.” That is supernatural! If you do that, you are walking in the heavenlies with Jesus. One of the benefits of praying for our enemies is that it changes us. It is impossible to go on praying for another without loving him or her. Those for whom we truly pray will become objects of our conscious love.”[2]


[1] Carson, DA. The Gospel of Matthew. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1984. 158

[2] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books

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Back to the Future…Adultery in the First Century

January 25, 2012

 

So when Jesus uses the word “adultery,” what would this word bring to mind for his Jewish audience?  Certainly he is pointing back to Exodus 20, but what would constitute adultery in 1st century Judaism?

By the first century, society still viewed adultery as serious.  Jews had entire sections of their law, devoted to the explanation of adultery down to the finest point.  But we should never underestimate mankind’s ability to take a law or precept from God and begin to twist it and conform it to make excuses for the very sin it was meant to warn against.  Such was the case with the Jews.

Many in Jesus’ era “assumed that unconditional fidelity was demanded only of the woman in a marriage.”  There is some biblical example for this assumption. “The incident with Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38:24-26 vividly illustrates this attitude.  Judah considered himself above reproach when he dallied with someone he thought to be a prostitute (Tamar in disguise) at his shepherds convention, but he was ready to stone Tamar when she turned up pregnant.  This chauvinistic attitude was prevalent in the Roman world.”[1]   Laws concerning adultery were very much lopsided and favored men far more than women. This was not God’s design by any means, as the Seventh Commandment reflects.  But man had twisted God’s law and bent it to excuse bad behavior.  The man is exhorted in proverbs to be faithful to his wife (Pr 5:15-19) but according to Jewish law his infidelity is only punished if he violates the rights of another man by taking a married woman as his partner.[2]  Jews would have viewed adultery “as sexual intercourse with the wife or betrothed of another Jew,”[3] and sought to punish the woman first, before the man.  Consider the story of woman brought to Jesus “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8:1-11).  The woman is present for punishment but the man is absent.

Moreover, the Rabbis made a distinction between the thoughts of a man and those thoughts acted out.  They held that a man’s good intentions were reckoned to him as good deeds, while his evil intentions are counted ONLY if he succumbs to them.  In other words, you were not guilt per se if you had lustful thoughts; but only if those thoughts were turned into action.[4]


[1] Dockery, David and David E Garland Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the Mount made Practical for today. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Pub. 1992. 53.

[2] de Vaux, Roland. Ancient Israel: social institutions. Vol. 1 New York: McGraw Hill. 1965. 37.

[3] Johnson, Sherman The Gospel According to St. Matthew. The Interpreters Bible Vol. 7 Nashville: Abingdon. 1951. 297.

[4] Ibid. 297.

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What we Believe: The Rooted, Responding, Real Grace of Christ

November 7, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part Six

From the very Beginning of the Sermon Jesus is outlining the marks of the Kingdom that He Himself is ushering in.  The Beatitudes spell out how we become members of the Kingdom, a surely Blessed state.  All who exhibit these signs of blessing are inheritors of the kingdom.

The beatitudes are about becoming; becoming poor in spirit, meek, merciful, forgiving, righteous, peaceful children of God.  Those who display these traits are blessed or Happy.  Then we move to verses 12-16, in this section Jesus spells out who we are.  So we have become blessed in the beatitudes, then we move on to understand who we are in Christ:  we are Salt and light, impacting the world, seasoning it, enlightening the darkness with the power of the Gospel.  A light that shines in the darkness, a light that the darkness can not overcome.  This is who we are, mixing with the society, engaging the culture, in it, but not of it.

What makes us different?  We are different because of what we believe and who we believe in.

This leads us to the next section; we have become blessed, we know who we are, now Jesus instructs us in what we believe. (verses 17-20)  We believe the Word.  A Word which Jesus has come to both preach and fulfill.  The temptation among those who have heard Jesus up until this point is to believe that this radical new preacher has come to do away with the law and Scriptures they have always been taught.  Until now the people on that mount, listening to Jesus had only every heard of righteousness as taught by the Pharisees and religious leaders.  These leaders, over the centuries, had added to the law copious amounts of rules and regulations, stressing outward conformity, regardless of the inner condition.  Jesus shines the light of truth into the darkness of their hearts, while their lips honor God, the hearts of the Pharisees are far from God.  Jesus will rebuke these teachers, calling them a den of vipers, and whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but dead on the inside.  But in case anyone hearing this sermon was to doubt that Jesus was not orthodox, He uses this section to push those doubts aside.

Rather than slavery to law, Jesus gives us grace.  Grace rooted in the Word of God, (5:17-18).  Jesus’ ministry was to affirm the very Bible  that testified about His coming.  Grace responding to the law, (5:19).  Grace does not do away with the law, it responds to the law.   The law was meant to reveal the character of God, and set His people apart from the world.  The law reveals sin, (Romans 7:7-14) and Grace responds by covering our sin through Christ’s sacrifice. And finally Jesus preaches grace made Real in Himself, in Christ (5:20).  Righteousness is still required, but it is only through grace that we become more righteous than the Pharisees.

We are often tempted, when confronted with the grace of the gospel to change the subject and shift the focus to the law and rules that we all feel we need to uphold.  Think of the woman at the well in John chapter 4.  Jesus greets her and announces that the messiah has come, but all she wanted to do was to talk about how she worships and how her family has worshiped.  Beyond where the law prescribed that she should worship, Jesus wanted to address sin in her life and the heart of her worship.

The message of Jesus is one of grace, God’s grace has come upon us, and now we must deal with our sin, we cannot hide behind the law and behind rules.  Jesus sees into our heart and comes to proclaim the gospel recorded in the law and the prophets that one greater than Moses will come and has indeed come, and unless we are found righteous we will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.  The hope Christ provides is that through His grace we are found righteous in Him, when we become blessed, recognize whose we are, and believe in God’s grace.  Grace Rooted in His Word; Grace Responding to the Law;Grace made Real in Christ.

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Believer or Not, that is the Question…

June 22, 2011

I have struggled for several years with the meaning of Romans 7:15-25.  When Paul speaks of doing what he does not want to do, and not doing what he desires, what is he talking about?  Is he describing his own experience as a believer, desiring to do what is good but hindered by sin?  Or is he speaking of  an unbeliever, who is aware of the law but unable to fulfill it?

Below are my thoughts on the passage and one perspective that I agree with at this point in my life and ministry.  This view may change over time.  May God guard me from heresy.

There are of course two perspectives, one which argues that Paul could not be talking of Himself, or of a fellow believer, as numerous times throughout his writings he states that sin has been put to death in us, Gal 2:20 we have been crucified in Christ, that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.  How can that verse be reconciled with the notion that somehow a believer can be divided against himself, the flesh willing one course and the mind another.

The other perspective views this as a pastoral confession of Paul’s own weakness, that his spirit is willing but his flesh is weak, so to speak.  He knows what he should do, but because his flesh is fallen, and ‘of Adam’, then he often misses the mark and does what he hates.

Both perspectives miss the point of the passage, it would be really convenient, especially when talking to brothers and sisters in Christ, to use this passage to give comfort and say that ‘Paul too, often times struggled and fell short, doing what he hated, and not doing what he loved’.  But if we look at the passage in context it is clearly not about Paul, or a believer.  The passage is centered within the defense of God’s law against antinomianism and redeeming the law’s rightful function in the history of man.

So let’s look at the passage.  Both Martyn Lloyd-Jones and NT Wright advocate that the whole of Romans 7 serves as exposition on Romans 6:14 “for sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.”

7:1-6 drawing an analogy between the binding nature of the torah and the binding nature of marriage.  Just like the marriage covenant is broken through the death of one party, so too the legal covenant binding us to Adam’s sin is broken by sins death through grace and we are free to ‘marry another.’  However, simply because the law is no longer binding does not make it irrelevant.

7:7-14 Paul describes the substance and function of the law.  It is not sin, as it comes from God and shed light on our iniquity (7); It has been corrupted by sin, and provides great opportunity for sin to occur (8); when the law came it brought with it standards which could not be met and death followed (9)

[NT Wright has a great illustration here, think of Moses arriving with the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, when the commandments arrive and are given to Israel, the law finds Israel in a state of rebellion and Moses breaks the tablets on the ground symbolically indicating that the covenant the law represented has already been broken, death follows immediately after as those in rebellion were visited by a plague Exodus 32:35.  Israel was alive prior to the law, but when the law arrived, their sin was revealed, and death was their punishment]

7:10-13 So the law, while good, lacks the power to provide life, it only brings opportunity for sin, and death as a result of failure to keep it, nevertheless it is holy, righteous and good.

Now 7:15 and following.  Paul is writing as a believer, reflecting on the state of an unbeliever grappling with sin.  This unbeliever has received the law, and is aware of its demands.  Although it is an extremely attractive option to argue here that Paul is talking about his personal struggle as a believer with sinful flesh, it is really impossible to reconcile that with the scenario he is describing.

The unbeliever’s desire is to follow the law; but as he is in bondage to sin, as he is descended from Adam (5:14); he is unable to do what he desires (7:15).  He agrees that the law is good and should be desired, but sin reigns in him (16).  His talk is good, but his walk is inadequate. (17)  Sin is his master, and so as he is in bondage to sin.  He does what his master dictates and the law then convicts him and death is the result(18).

7:19-24 describe the horrid realization that there is no relief for this man whose mind is set on the law; no matter what his mind desires, sin reigns in his mortal body controlling his actions and imprisoning his being.  He is wretched and forever at war with himself.  He will ultimately meet the fate of all those under the law, striving but never hitting the mark, and paying the price of failure, in death.

The source of common misconception about this passage, in viewing it as a confession of a troubled believer, is rooted in our own misconception of the freedom we have in Christ.   This freedom is outlined in 8:1-13.  We as Christians must come to realize that we have been set free from the law, and its bondage to sin and consequences of condemnation (2).  Christ does what the law weakened by the flesh could not do, He enables us to fulfill the demands of the law, in that He satisfied those demands for us through His sufficient sacrifice (4).  The law no longer condemns us rather Christ, through His atonement, condemns sin in our flesh.

When we are converted, we receive the Spirit of life.  The Spirit reorients our mind, and we should cease to have a “fleshly” mindset (5).  For a mind of flesh, sees only the law and can not see passed it.  There is no room in the law for forgiveness or grace, so the fleshly mind denies these things and is bound up in legalism and condemnation.  Unbelievers are those who are ‘according to the flesh’ (8:5) and like the man in 7:15-25 they are unable to follow God’s Law and they cannot please God (8:8).

As believers, we have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, so we are not ‘in the flesh’ we have a different mindset (8:9)  We set our mind on things of the Spirit; Christ’s work for us, God’s grace, our freedom from the law of sin and death.

We continue to sin and as a result we experience conviction.  But conviction brought by the Spirit is different than conviction brought by the law.  The law convicts to condemn, the Spirit convicts to correct.  So we struggle with sin putting to death the deeds of the body, helped in our weakness by the Spirit (8:13,26); knowing that we are not righteous because of that struggle.  Our righteousness comes from Christ who died, was raised, and who stands at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (8:34).

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A Law to Love…

May 16, 2011

We have lists of enumerated laws, we have the bill of rights, we have the freedom to meet and worship, and say what we want.  We delight ourselves in this, we delight ourselves in the reality of these freedoms.  So how hard can it be for us to delight in the Laws of God?  The blessed man, the happy man in scripture, delights in the law of the Lord and the freedom it affords; so much so that he meditates on it day and night.  Can you imagine meditating on the constitution day and night?  Or going down to the city hall and picking up the municipal code and reading it every day when you wake up or every night when you go to bed?  That would be the opposite of delightful.

So how are we to find delight in God’s law?  It begins with Christ.  All things including you, me, laws, nations, neighbors; all of it was created for His glory Col 1:16.  Our joy comes from the fact that Christ fulfills the law, he satisfies it, and when we are in Him we find delight by obeying his law.  What is it then to obey the law of God in Christ?  Jesus said that, “if you obey my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept the Father’s commandments and abide in His love.  These things [he has told us] so that my joy will be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John15:10-11)

So how is our joy made full in obeying the commandments?  We think commandments and if we’re honest joy doesn’t come to mind.  We think of ‘thou shalt not’s’ rather than thou shalt be joyful.  So what are these commandments? Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John15:12)  Jesus sums up the entirety of God’s Law, into two commands, “You shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind…” “and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37,39)  Those laws are fulfilled and exemplified in Him, in that He is the prime example of those commands lived out.  He Loved us so much that He gave of himself to the point of death, so that our joy would be made full.  No one will ever be able to equal that gift, but we can live and love in such way, that we display that kind of love toward others.  “This I Command you…” Jesus says, “that you love one another.”

Love toward your neighbor can be difficult, but we must remember that Christ loves them too, so much so, that He gave His life for them, that they might have Joy.  Here is a brief and simple outline about how to show God’s love to those around you.

L.O.V.E.

First, Leave your comfort zone.  Jesus called the disciples away from what was familiar and towards a life of sacrifice and love.  “Take up your cross, and follow me.” We face the same call, to leave our comfort zones, what is familiar and embark on the mission God has for us.

Second, Orient yourself to serve.  Jesus called the disciples to act, but he also called them to serve, to serve one another, and the communities they lived in by proclaiming the gospel.  Jesus washed their feet, and afterwards told them in John 13 ‘“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16“Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”  It is not enough to just receive, we must also give, and we are “blessed” when we do so with delight.  We are never more like Christ than when we humble ourselves to serve those around us.

Third, we must Venture out.  The disciples and the early church did not just stay in the upper room.  They did not just hang out in Jerusalem.  Rather Jesus called them to go into the whole world preaching the gospel, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  And they did this in a progression, look at Acts 1:8, first to Jerusalem (their hometown so to speak), then to Judea and Samaria (their states and regions) then to the uttermost parts of the earth.  Loving your neighbor, is implied in sharing the gospel, for what greater gift do you have than the testimony of one who gave so much that all might have eternal life.  Love should start in our homes, then our neighborhoods, then out cities, states, nation and the world.

Finally Encourage those around us.  This is not just a simple high-five, great game kind of encouragement.  This is an encouragement toward godliness and holiness.  When you think about when you first came to Christ, do you remember when you messed up, when you failed, when you fell short and became discouraged?  How great was it to have neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ there to encourage you.  God receives glory when we bear much fruit, and our fruit in the spirit is; “LOVE…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, ” against these things there is no law.(Gal 5:22-24)  It is when we love one another and bear fruit that we prove that we are in Christ and are His disciples. (John15:8)   The greatest source of emotional security for the believer, is a fruitful life lived in the spirit, acting in love toward each other.  Leaving our comfort zone, Orienting ourselves for service, Venturing out, and Encouraging those around us in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Your neighbor is in need, will you go? Will you serve? Will you encourage? If you allow these things to reign in your heart, you surely will be like a tree amidst your neighborhood, bearing much fruit, fruit that lasts, prospering in what ever you do. (Ps.1:3)