Wednesday, June 13, 2012

not our enemy

Leviticus 19
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy...9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 l Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! 37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. 38 Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. 39 Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. 40 Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

I Corinthians 3
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Love Your Enemies 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and l sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When it comes to the matter of the Law, we saw one error in how we regard it in Joyce Meyer's quote, that the intent of the Law was so that we would be blessed when we keep it. Although the statement does have biblical support, it is far from the whole story, as we soon enough learn that we are unable to keep the Law, and so are put under the curse of the Law. When we consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 5, we get a plain statement of the staggering and impossible standard the Law sets for us. "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect". We must be as perfect in keeping the Law as God the Father is! Consider that, all you who seek to make yourself righteous by keeping the Law! Consider that, and cry to the Father in repentance for ever thinking that you could do that impossible thing!

We must be wary of another error, too, that of thinking that the Law is some kind of enemy, that we should somehow transcend the need to keep the Law. It is quite easy to misunderstand when the Bible says the we who are believers in Christ are "not under law but under grace". Indeed, looking at the passage that uses that kind of language will prove interesting.

But first, consider the verses above. Consider the passages from Leviticus. Look at what is commanded in it, and ask whether the commands of God in those few verses are fair and just, or not? Look after the poor, don't steal, be honest in your dealings, pay the people who work for you in a timely fashion, don't take advantage of those with physical handicaps, don't make legal rulings based on the economic situations of the people involved, and so on. Who could complain about these rules?

Does this not explain why the Psalmist waxes so eloquently about the Law, why he wanted to be taught God's ways, why he valued them over selfish gain?

The Law is not our enemy. God gave us the Law, not Satan. It is God who has told us to not steal, to not murder, to honor our parents, to not covet what other people have. Not even we who are Christians are above those laws. A Christian who steals is no better than a pagan who steals. A lie from a Christian is just as evil as a lie from an atheist.

Consider this passage from Romans 6, which brings in the phrase about not being under law, "12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."

Christians have not been redeemed so that we can continue to be slaves to sin, and being a Christian does not mean that we can now sin with impunity. Rather, we have become freed from slavery to sin, so that we may become slaves to righteousness. Yes, we will still sin, and yes we will still need to repent.

What, then, is the purpose of the Law? If it is not to show us how to be blessed, because we cannot keep it, then of what good is it?

The New Testament does tell us some things about what the Law is for. To return to Romans, this time to chapter 7, "7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." The Law, then, is to show us our sinfulness, and as Paul says a bit later, to make it "sinful beyond measure".

Which brings us back to a point made earlier, that we cannot make ourselves righteous by keeping the Law, because we cannot keep it. But we know that the Law is "holy and righteous and good", that we should desire to know and understand the Law as the Psalmist did. But in knowing that we cannot keep the Law, we must acknowledge our own sinfulness, that we each ourselves are "sinful beyond measure".

Not even those who believe are free from the danger of trying to justify ourselves through keeping the Law. Shall any of us, for example, try to force God to bless us by tithing? Yet it is commonly taught that if you tithe, God will bless you. It is commonly taught that if you want God to bless you in a large way, you need to give in a large way. A speaker at a Word Faith conference will tell stories about how someone gave thousands of dollars a few years before during a similar conference, and how they were blessed in some way directly after, and how that breakthrough to a blessing came about because of their giving.

Less likely to be mentioned by a speaker are the stories of people who gave and weren't blessed. That doesn't encourage people to give.

But the main point is, why are they giving? I would dare say, to try to impress God, to try to not only keep His commands, but actually go beyond what is commanded, to try to justify themselves in God's eyes, to puff themselves up in their own righteousness, some maybe even from desperation, and of course to in some way make God indebted to them, beholden to them, to make Him owe them something. "I did this, God, now give me that!!"

If you could imagine a small child handing his father a small plastic toy, then demanding that the father give him a BMW in exchange for the small plastic toy, we can get a bit of an idea of how ridiculous this kind of belief is.

Can you see the arrogance, the pride? What you gave was something God had already given to you, and you demand more because you gave it back to Him? Well may it be said that those who teach this do not build upon the foundation of Christ with precious jewels, but with things that will be burned. In fact, it may be said that many of them do not build on Christ at all, but have put down another, false foundation, one like the sand in Jesus' parable, that was not solid and so the house built on it collapsed in the storm.

Consider this lesson from Jesus.

Luke 17
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

We have no reason to boast in our acts of righteousness. We have no call to demand blessings. We have no right to say that God must bless us if we do rightly. Even if we did all that God commanded of us, we would still not be profitable to Him, we would still be unworthy servants. He would still be the One who has given us everything we have.

It is not that giving is bad. If it is done wisely, it is very good. But the question for the moment is, why do we give? Do we give to truly help others? Do we give to please God? Do we give as a kind of investment, believing that God will return many-fold to us what we have given? Do we give to make ourselves righteous so as to force God to bless us? Do we believe that God is a loving Father who will provide for us, or that He is like a genie who must give us what we command if we act in a certain way--if we obey certain commands, if we show that we have enough faith, if we sacrifice a certain amount of what we have?

If we can see that we are really worthless servants, that our attempts at righteousness are no better than the vilest of rags, that none of us do good, yet God still loves us, still cares for us, still sent Jesus to die for us, still provides a way of salvation for us, then we can stop our useless striving to impress Him with our works, and by faith believe. It is then that we can see how great the Father's love is for us, not because we can manipulate him as children can manipulate their human fathers, but because we can't, yet He loves us anyway, and cares for those that are His. We can stop trying to bargain with him, and instead be grateful to Him for the blessings He has given us. We can ask Him to bless us, and know that if He in His wisdom considers it good, He will do so, and if He does not bless us in the way we would like, then We can trust His goodness and wisdom, that He knows what is best for us.

But first things first. The Law is not our enemy, it is a gift from God. But it is so easy for us to misunderstand its purposes. Joyce Meyer really is very wrong in what she said. "Obey me and do what I tell you to do, and you’ll be blessed" is not the whole message of the Bible, and we should be happy that it isn't. There is a greater message, that God has made available a righteousness that cannot be attained through the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith, not through works. As is told us in Ephesians, it is only after we have been saved by faith that we can do the good works that God has prepared for us.

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