Friday, January 26, 2018

Love Fulfills the Law

We often talk about a subject that we don’t really comprehend.  It is a big part of the Bible.  Paul discussed it frequently, but we in this modern era do not really comprehend what we call the law.

Today we think of law as something enacted by government.  We think of law as something enforceable by some sort of sanction.  Enforcement is often difficult even when the law is clear.

Many of our laws today are rooted in what the Bible talks about as the lawDo not murder is manifested in all sorts of degrees of manslaughter.  Malice aforethought or mens rea is essential for the most severe cases.  A death resulting from negligence on the part of one or more parties also has its roots in thou shalt not murder.

We see God’s law at work in many of our own laws.  Then there are other laws that we don’t see in our societal laws.  Take do not covet as an easy example.  This one does not translate into something enforceable.  Now if you covet something so much that you go and take it, then we get to thou shalt not steal, and that is enforceable.

When you ask your kids what they want to be when they grow up, nobody ever says the coveting police.  That’s like the Major Case Division of the Thought Police.

“Maam, do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No officer.”
“As soon as you pulled into the Walmart parking lot, I could tell you were wanting that space near the entrance by the lawn and garden section.”
“No officer.  I had my heart set on the one by the food market.”
“Aha!  A confession at last.”

Honor your father and mother surely makes sense to those of us set upon bringing up children in the way they should go, but it’s hard to translate that into what we would call law.

Not all of God’s laws were for all of his people.  Some just told the priestly order how to conduct business.  Others were more about agriculture.  Many were about relationships that we don’t deal with any more.

What do you do if a slave girl is violated?  Slavery still exists in parts of the world, but by and large most western countries think it repulsive.  God’s law considered human relations that included the status of slaves.

The law as it is called in the Bible is something that we don’t grasp as firmly as the Hebrew people who grew up with it two millennia ago. Even then, Paul brought the good news to many who had been pagans.  They likely knew of the Hebrew law but did not study it or consider that it applied to them in any way.

If we look to the Hebrew Shema, we see God talking about My Words.  The term law wasn’t something frequently associated with God’s words.  His words were teaching and instruction and his purpose was right living and right standing.

While there are 613 directives of sorts that might be called the law or laws; we should not associate them too closely with our modern concept of man-made law.  The Law of Moses as it came to be called was not the same to all people.

Some of what we know as the law came with penalties, including death penalties.  Others fell into what today we would call civil law with compensation for damage done to a certain party.

Sometimes, we read through the Torah and might just ask ourselves, “Did God really need to tell his people not to do some of this stuff?” 

Actually, he did and he attached his reasoning with some of these laws.  He said these are the things that the people who are not living in the land that I am giving you are doing.  You, however, are not to do them.

Few of us today grew up learning the Hebrew law before we came to know Christ.  We learned it after receiving Jesus as Lord.  We were saved from our sin before we knew the full extent of our sin as revealed to us in the law.  God’s Spirit was at work in us before we understood much at all about the law.

We understand that the law points out our transgression to us.  It helps us understand our need for salvation that we cannot achieve on our own.  It gives us eyes to see Jesus as our Savior.

The law still condemns our heart so that our soul may be saved in Christ Jesus, but does the law apply to us today?  Is it binding?

Jesus said that not the smallest word or letter in a word would pass away until all things are accomplished.  We believe that to mean the end of the age—this church age that we live in.

So do we live by the law today?  If so, we have missed out on making sacrifices and burnt offerings for a long time. 

The problem rests in our connotations that we place upon this term law

We have this thing that we call free will but God has not left us to aimlessly figure out right and wrong, what pleases him and what doesn’t, or how to relate to him and to others.

He gave the world teaching and instruction through one people.  God gave instruction and teaching—sometimes with consequences attached for disobedience—and he gave a means to be made right once again with him through offerings and sacrifices.

God did not just set things in motion and say, “Good luck guys.  See you at the judgment.”

He gave instruction—laws if you must.

He sent prophets with messages.

Finally, he sent his Son to reconcile all things to himself.  His finished work on the cross took care of sin and death getting in the way of an eternal relationship with our Father in heaven.

But now that the work on the cross is done, do we still need the law?  Are its consequences binding upon us?  What about the words of Jesus who said that not one pen stroke of the law would pass away until all things were accomplished?

There is an old quiz that I love to use in different contexts.  When I was a counselor in prison programs, I really enjoyed it.  You have surely seen it.

It begins by saying these instructions are important, read this entire page before answering any questions or beginning anything else.  There is a page full of questions and instructions.  Some are as simple as write the answer to what is the sum of 2 and 2.  Some are more fun.  One reads, “Stand and announce that I have reached question 17.”  Another says, “Raise both hands and announce that I love this quiz.”

Other questions and instructions require more thinking and are challenging to some.  Some are surely just boring.  But for the person who follows directions and reads to the end before beginning the quiz, they find one final instruction.  

It reads:

Put your name at the top of the paper.  Set your pencil down.  Be quiet and enjoy the fun.

And without fail, there is some fun to follow.  Those who read to the end and are just sitting quietly are struggling not to laugh out loud every time someone stands up and announces their arrival at question 17 or follows some other instruction requiring public comment.

Why does this exercise work time and time again?  Maybe, we don’t like to follow instructions.  Maybe something inside of us wants to finish before the next guy.  Perhaps there are a hundred different reasons not to simply do what is set before us.

Sometimes, we as people complicate the simple but God doesn’t.  God does not make things complicated for us.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

God is always working for our good.  He does not complicate things.  We complicate things.  

Consider the Scribes and Pharisees. 

They knew the law very well.  They knew it so well that they added some things to it to make sure that the common people complied with it.  So if it was not permitted to use a tool on the Sabbath, the additional law would be that you shouldn’t even touch it.

If you have ever been in the military, you understand the concept.  The commander sets the formation time at 0800.  That’s a nice hour to have people get together.

The First Sergeant, tells the platoon sergeants to have their Marines ready by 0730.  Nobody is going to be late to the formation.

Platoon sergeants follow suit and tell their squad leaders that everyone needs to be in formation by 0700.  Nobody is going to be late.

Squad leaders tell their team leaders…well you get the picture.  By the time the captain and first sergeant walk out, people have been standing around for an hour and a half.  This is what the Scribes and Pharisees did with the law.

This is often called putting a fence around the law.  It’s like we are not even going to let you get close to breaking the law. And it seems to be human nature.  It seems to have always been human nature.

What did God tell Adam about the tree at the center of the garden?  Don’t eat its fruit.

When the serpent asked Eve about the fruit of this tree, what did she say?  We can’t even touch it.  Either Adam or Eve had already begun Talmudic commentaries even when there was just one rule.  They had already put a fence around that one rule.

It seems that the Scribes and Pharisees missed the point.  The law was not to produce a compliant people.  The law was to lead people to a good life, a godly life, and eventually it would point people to the One through whom we know eternal life.

Godly instruction is for the purpose of right relationship with God and each other.  The blood of Jesus put us into right relationship, but we also want to live as the people that God has made us to be.  We want to please him.  So what do we do with the law now?

Paul tells us that love fulfills the law.  The law has not vanished but love permits us to fulfill it.

If I love God and do my best to love my neighbor, surely I won’t murder him.

If I am loving the God who loved me so much and I am doing it by loving my neighbor, I am not going to covet or steal his stuff or his wife or his Wi-Fi signal.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.  Love fulfills the law. 

People do so many things to complicate what God has made simple and straightforward.  God says that it is all about love, so much so that if we give our hearts and minds to a life of loving God and each other, all the directions and directives and procedures and prohibitions that are enumerated in the Bible just seem to fall into place, at least those that apply in our lives. 

It’s time for a proverb.  The proverb says that the borrower is slave to the lender.  Translation to today—personal debt stinks!  It is a burden.  We should do as much as we can to live debt free, with one exception.

We will always have one debt.  We will never get it paid off.  We will be paying on it for all of our natural days.

What debt?  The debt that we owe to God for his great love.  Our payments are to love one another.  The proverbs say that debt is bad stuff.  Avoid it.  Get out of it.  Never go back to it.

But Paul reminds us that there is a debt that is essential, and our payments on that debt are that we love one another.  Last week we talked about loving our enemies because Jesus said so and because that just who we are now that we have been born of the Spirit.

We are all about love.  Having been set free from the power of sin and death, God did not burden us with compliance with hundreds of rules.  He set us upon a course of loving him by loving each other.

When we live by love we live inside-out.  Without love governing everything, then it’s outside-in.  We try to keep up with every regulation that applies to us.  It seems complicated.

When we realize that we love because God is love and we are his, and when we realize that love is always our first choice, knowing what to do in this life to please God and just to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord is not as complicated as you might think.

That does not mean that it won’t be difficult to live out a godly decision made in love, but it won’t be a complicated process to know what to do.

Has God shown us what is good?  Absolutely yes!  We have his words.  Some of them we have called laws.  God was content to call them his words and didn’t seem to be hung up on the term law.

We have the life and teachings of Jesus.  He taught us what is good.  We know from God what is good.

Well then what does he require of us?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

How can we do that?

By living a life governed fully by love.  When we live a life governed by love, we have met the requirements of God.  We have fulfilled his words.  We have fulfilled the law.

That’s good news.

Let’s not complicate what God has made so simple.  Love fulfills the law.  Live by love.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Love Your Enemies

It’s like a Geico commercial.  Everybody knows that if you are going to preach a few Sundays on love, you don’t start with love your enemies.  Everybody knows that you have to work your way up to that one.

Everybody knows that, well, maybe, except Jesus.  As you read through Luke’s gospel you get a Christmas story, Jesus presented in the temple, Jesus back in the temple at 12, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus rejected in his hometown, Jesus driving out demons and healing many, sometimes even on the Sabbath. 

You get Jesus calling disciples to follow him.  You get Jesus teaching that he is Lord of the Sabbath.  He is getting people’s attention for sure, but the first time that he really teaches about love, he starts with love your enemies.
That’s crazy.  That’s graduate level Christianity.  That’s super-mature Christianity.  How can Jesus start with love you enemies?

It seems hard enough to love friends and family sometimes.  How can Jesus dive into this topic—this mega topic—of love with love your enemies?

Let’s begin with a very simple but provocative statement.  Jesus did not enter this world to blend in with this world.  He was on a mission from his Father.  He came with purpose.

As it turns out, I’m a big supporter of his Father’s purpose.  I love that Jesus came on a mission.  He came to save us.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it through him.

There is something about being on a mission.  Having a little Marine Corps experience, I will talk first hand for the moment.  You have focus.  You have intensity.  Your whole force of personality is given to the mission.  What others not involved in the mission think becomes a blur.  It doesn’t even aggravate you.

You don’t sugar coat anything to others who are on the same mission.  You think that things might get nasty, then you tell your Marines.  This might get nasty.

If you have no good intel then that’s what you share.  We are going in here totally in the dark. Intel will develop as we run into people who like or they don’t. You don’t sugar coat anything.

If you are on a mission—have a purpose for your existence—tact and fluffy words and even a spoon full of sugar don’t help the medicine go down.  It is truth and truth administered the only way it is truly effective, and that’s full strength is what’s needed.

Jesus gave his disciples and those who would listen the same message about love.  Love must be administered full strength.  Love is not for one but not for another.

It’s easy to love those who love us back.  Even sinners and the ungodly know that.  Even the ungodly do that.  Tit-for-tat does not distinguish the one who follows Jesus from the one who belongs to the world.

Jesus said, they will know you are my disciple by your love—that you love one another.  Most of that love is directed at the covenant community.  We take care of each other because we are all brothers and sisters with Christ Jesus.

We do our best to live in one spirit, one hope, one accord and in love.  The family of faith that you know should be the most welcoming and accepting and loving place that you know.

We didn’t earn our way into this family. Jesus paid our admission fees in blood.  Jesus made us right with his Father so that we could live in this wonderful family of faith, but we know that our response is love.  We love one another.

And while we look at the history of the church that we know in scripture, we see most of the love expressed was within the covenant community.  That first century church in Jerusalem that you have read about in Acts, didn’t go out doing all sorts of things for the ungodly.  They did everything for each other.

The love of God is most fully manifested within the covenant community—within the family of faith.  But it doesn’t stop there.

We have a message of good news.  We have a mission to take that good news to the world.  For most of us that’s western Oklahoma, at least for folks that we see face-to-face.

And some of those people don’t like us.  Some might hate us.  Some might even get the classification of an enemy.  But our command as followers of Jesus is to love them anyway.

You see, the governing force here is not the nature of the recipient but the nature of the messenger.  We are messengers of good news and love.

The governing factor for us is love.  We carry and embody and deliver love because that is our nature.  That is the nature of the new creation that we have become and are becoming.  It’s a done deal but we are still working on it.  That’s a topic for another day.

The world’s model is if you like somebody and they like you, then you will probably get along.  You can do the tit-for-tat things.  It’s all about the other person and if you think they might be good enough for you to call friend.
Jesus tells us that it’s all about love not the nature of the people who receive our love.  We are the constant.  We are about love.

In the family of faith, love blossoms and grows and does things beyond our expectations.  The covenant community is a wonderful place to live.

In the ungodly world, love is often rejected.  Love is often repelled.  Love is not wanted.  Money, stuff, and the things of this world are always welcome, but love can just stay home if you don’t want to be treated harshly.

Jesus tells us to love them anyway.  The dynamic here is not the condition of others but of ourselves.  We are people of love.  Love governs.

And often, the reward for loving the ungodly is:
·       Being hated
·       Being cursed
·       Being mistreated
·       Disrespected
·       Condescending actions
·       Exploitation

Now in these cases, our response is…

Love.  It’s always love because that’s who we are now.  We were not always that way.

Many of us were very good at the tit-for-tat game.  We learned to navigate the one-thing-for-another world.  Our relationships were based upon what we saw as the value of others to us.

Let’s use one of Paul’s terms and call that the “old self.”

We are different now.  Love governs.  Love rules.  In the internal struggle that we sometimes face between the old and new person, love wins.
We chose love because we belong to a God who is love.

If you belong to the world and are hated, cursed, mistreated, disrespected, and exploited; then your ticket is punched.  The doctors will give you drugs.  The government will give you money.  Your ticket is punched.  You never have to deal with real life again.

That is until you find out that the drugs don’t really fix everything and your cravings for stuff have exceeded your allowance of free money.  The world is a cruel master.

But God is a God of love.  His deliverance is for now and for eternity.  We are his people.  We live in his love.  We love one another and enjoy being a part of the family of faith.


We take his love to those who don’t love us, sometimes hate us, often disrespect us, and who will exploit us whenever possible; yet, we love them.

We treat them as we would want to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot.  If we were lost or blinded by the god of this age, wouldn’t we want those with eyes to see to help us even when we might be hateful towards the messengers of good news.

Wouldn’t we want them to keep coming back to try to rescue us?  Wouldn’t we want to be rescued even if we were being hateful towards our rescuers?
But the shoe is not on the other foot.  We are blessed.  We have eyes to see.  We have received the grace of our loving God.  Things are good for us.

We still have trouble in this world.  Jesus told us that we would.  We are not surprised but our hope is in Jesus and he has overcome the world and if we stick close to one another and love those in the family, then things seem to go pretty well.

So why do we have to deal with those who hate us?  I will give you the highly theological answer.  Take notes.  They will serve you well.  Why?
Because Jesus said so.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Be like Dad.

While humankind was still loving sin, while we were rebellious towards our loving God, while people were still living an all about me life; Christ died for us.

Dad loved us when we didn’t love him.  Our Father in heaven loved us before we could muster a decent attempt to love him.  Dad loved us when humankind was not kind towards him.

Be like Dad.

Jesus did not get things backwards by starting with love your enemies.  The governing force here is love and that is the shape that the Potter is making our hearts.  How’s that for metaphor hopping.

Our hearts are being shaped like our Father’s heart.  Our hearts are becoming the heart of Love himself.  Love is who we are as this new creature that we are in Christ.

We feel a wonderful warmth when we love each other in the body of Christ.  We have a reward in the here and now.  But when we love our enemies, even if we don’t see any positive results in the here and now, God has an eternal reward for us.

Even when hate and disrespect and being cursed seem the continual response from those we love, our reward for doing exactly what Jesus told us to do is great.

Why would anyone love their enemies?
# 1  Jesus said so.
# 2  That’s just who we are.