Thursday, March 4, 2010

Does the Law Teach Us How To Love?

Invariably the reply I receive to my pointing out that God’s eternal law is love and not a laundry list of do’s and don’ts is: “but God’s law teaches us how to love.” Of course, the reference to the law is usually meaning the Ten Commandments specifically (as if they can really be separated from all the rest that Israel said “we will” to).

I would agree that if you love man and God you would fulfill the spirit of the first four that are said to be love toward God and the remaining six that are said to be love toward man.

I was always told that the law given at Sinai was love. I don’t personally think that the death penalty for striking one’s mother or father etc. is love. Here’s a little list of death penalty crimes in the law of Moses.

Ex 21:12 Murder

Ex 21:15 Striking mother or father

Ex 21:16 Kidnapping

Ex21:17 cursing mother or father

Ex 22:18, Lev 20:27 Witchcraft

Lev 19:10 and 19:20Adultery

Lev 20:11-14 Incest

Lev 20:2 Sacrificing children to Molech

Lev 20:13 Homosexuality

Lev 22:19 and Lev 20:15, 16 Bestiality

Lev 24:16 Blasphemy

Deut 13:5 False prophets

Duet 21:18-21 Disobedience to parents

Deut 22:24 Prostitution and rape

I hear all the reasons why the death penalty for these things is actually love, but I don’t buy it. I will accept that they were given to facilitate Gods ultimate plan which is motivated by God’s love. I’d say that God gave the law in love to fulfill a purpose, and the harsh penalties do point out what is just; and gives us a reference point for understanding God’s mercy. I would go on to postulate that God was laying the foundation for the death of his son on the cross. His death would be meaningless to us without knowing the immense seriousness of the sin he paid the penalty for.

With the just penalties in mind, which of us can say that we want justice? Jesus didn’t want this kind of justice; John 8:4 (NIV)(Pharisees, speaking to Jesus)”Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." This is interesting since the law doesn’t have a provision for letting such an offender off the hook.

The laws purpose is to reveal the sin of man Rom 3:19 “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

The harshness of the old covenant doesn’t leave one with any allusions as to the seriousness of the transgressions the law describes. I must point out, however, that Israel alone entered the covenant which required the Law of Moses to be kept, but it still serves to reveal to everyone something of the nature of sin.

It’s debatable as to the degree that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time kept the letter of the Law of Moses; which I will define as everything given by God at Sinai before the children of Israel said “we will” in Ex 24:3. It should be noted, however, that the law agreed to had a clause so as to include additional regulations in Ex 23:22 stating that they must be careful to listen and do all that Yahweh says without specified limitations.

The apostle Paul was in a good position to know if the Pharisees were slacking in their law keeping; Acts 26:5 “They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.

Paul’s testimony about himself is that he kept the law, in the physical sense, flawlessly.” Phil 3:5 “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

Did all Paul’s law keeping teach him to love? We find him in Act 7:58-59 guarding the clothing of those who were stoning Stephen; “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

So are Paul and Jesus in disagreement? Mat 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Remember, at this time the New Covenant was not instituted making the Old Covenant binding.

The law speaks of such things in Ex 23:9 “you shall not wrest judgment from the poor.” Lv 19:15 “you shall do no unrighteousness in judgment,” Deut 1:17 “you shall not respect a person in judgment.” The Law also says that ‘you shall love man in Lv 19:34,and God in Deut 6:5, and 11:1.

The Pharisees knew about these laws and there’s no reason to doubt that they thought they were righteous men, and were keeping them, after all: Prov 21:2 “All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.” This little verse probably reveals why Jesus and the Pharisees were not in agreement.
Paul’s testifies to the zeal of Pharisees to keep the law, but can a command to ‘love’ actually be obeyed? Can a mere external law teach a heart to love? It also needs to be noted that the Jews saw the definition of what we translate as neighbor rather narrowly.

Here’s a quote from Love You Jewish Neighbor:

“Let us observe the context in which the above phrase appears in the Torah: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall not take revenge or feel resentment against the children of your people, you shall love your companion [reyacha] as yourself." From this it is clear that "your companion" refers to the same category as "your brother" and "the children of your people," all explicitly referring to one's fellow Jew.”

This is a quote from Pharisees And Legalism and it demonstrates the inability to judge intangibles matters inherent in a natural mind:

“The word of God actually demands what some call “legalism.” Far from condemning “strict, literal adherence to law,” scripture actually demands it. First, John 8:30-32 says, “As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The term “word” is a singular of class; it refers to all that Jesus commands through His word. If we do not have to abide in all that Jesus commands, how do we determine what we have to obey and what we can leave undone?

Sounds right; wow, maybe I was wrong. Actually there are differences in keeping Jesus commands, mainly through the spirit he sends. It is his spirit that separates his commands from a legalistic law. If there were no differences there would be no freedom in Christ. A change of nature will make this a whole new ball game.

It is interesting that many Messianic Jews use the same reasoning as Herbert Armstrong in their claim that the law was only a burden because of things that the Pharisees had added; If this was so, the quote from Acts 15:10 “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” would only have been true from the inception of these add-ons. “Deut 21:18-21 requires a parent to bring their rebellious son to the elders to be judged then stoned to death. Can anyone say that they’d comply with this without much suffering? Of course the attempt to define the law’s requirements, such as Sabbath labor, became even more specific and burdensome without question.

The Jews kept the law in a way that is the very definition of legalism; as , I have no doubt, that God knew they would; and their example is like a long running experiment to answer this singular question: does the law teach us how to love? I’m of the opinion that one of God’s purposes in instituting the law is to draw a contrast between two kinds of law; that which is external and requires police and armies to enforce, and one that is internal, is a gift, and by his indwelling spirit writes his truly eternal law on the heart, his law of love. We still refer to the law as a reference to sin in a broad sense, Rom 3:20 “through the law we become conscious of sin”; but knowing what is wrong can’t change ones heart. Even having a list of what the fruits of love are doesn’t create Godly love, only God can do that.

I arrive at the conclusion that God’s eternal law predates the Law of Moses because Paul tells us exactly when the law was given and why. Gal 3:16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed, meaning one person, who is Christ. 17What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

Let’s condense that down. The promises were spoken to Abraham, the law was introduced 430 years later and the law was added because of transgressions. Transgression of what? Not transgression of a law that hadn’t been introduced yet. Of course, Paul could be mistaken and the sentence should actually read: “the law was re-introduced’ but it doesn’t, and the implications are tremendous. At least to me because it’s actually saying that there was a previously existing law; because Rom 4:15 “where there is no law there is no transgression.” Add the fact that the angels sinned, and not by violating the law of Moses, it becomes very clear that some kind of law existed. Angels do not marry, so a law prohibiting adultery would be meaningless as would so many other regulations; Matt 22: 30 (“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”)

1John 3:4 as translated in the KJV would indicate that angels sinned by violating the law of Moses, but this verse is mistranslated, and doesn’t say “sin is the transgression of the law,” but rather that sin is anomia, a word never referring to the law of Moses and is usually translated as iniquity. The transgression of the law can’t be the definition of sin if this statement is true; Rom 3:13 “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.”

Once we realize that there is a higher law (or perhaps we should say higher moral ethic)I don’t think it is difficult to ascertain exactly what that higher law (or moral ethic)is; James 2:8 “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right”. John 15:9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”

There is a commonality in the things the Pharisees didn’t do: “you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former,” All we have to do is watch the news and see the contentious discourse over such matters. These things are the less concrete, you could say, esoteric things.

It appears that the less tangible things of the law were the things less likely to be obeyed, at least as God views them, as an issue of the heart. I’d venture to say that these were put in the law to make Gods point clear; we can’t create our own goodness. Even the natural affection of man is a creation of God, but it falls way short of where God wants us to eventually be.

The law doesn’t teach us how to love, but that we need a redeemer (Gal 3:24 “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”). This is facilitated by the law which explains why Paul said the law was holy; Rom 7:12 (MKJV)“ So indeed the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good."
Notice that it says the commandments are just. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the mercy.

The internal law (the law God writes on the heart) is superior because it becomes an integral part of who we are 2Pe 1:4 (AKJV) Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” and Col 1:27 “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The law only succeeds in teaching mankind that they can’t have the love of God because they try real hard. Just read the history of Israel and Judah. It certainly doesn’t teach one how to love. Satan told Eve that they could be like God Gen 3:5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” What would you be if you were like God; 1John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. We would also be love. God is love, and for us to try to make ourselves like God is a fools mission, but God can make us like he is; that is, to make us so it can be said that we are love. The law can’t teach us how to love, but God can create a new heart in us; a new nature that doesn’t require a cheat sheet for proper behavior.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom.

Acts 17:11



xHWA said...

"I arrive at the conclusion that God’s eternal law predates the Law of Moses because Paul tells us exactly when the law was given and why." ...

I completely agree. As does Justin Martyr. Those things were added because of the hardness of heart and transgressions.

I think this also goes right along with what I've been seeing lately that the farther back in time you go, the closer to the New Covenant you come. Would you agree?

What I mean by that is, many legalists try to argue that the Old Covenant law predates the New Covenant (I once did this myself), therefore it must be kept. But what I'm seeing lately is that it does not. The principles found in the New Covenant appear to predate the regulations of the Old Covenant. (Jesus' sacrifice not included, of course.) So the farther back we go, the less footing we have for demanding the Old Covenant.

Luc said...


I am in 100 percent agreement.

xHWA said...

I just realized that if we use words like "God's eternal law" there are several people of an Armstrongist persuasion who would say, "Aha! That means the 10 Commandments!" But that is not what we mean.
Gotta read Luc's post in context!

angel said...

Where and how does our conscience fit into all this?

Seeker Of Truth said...

"The law doesn’t teach us how to love, but that we need a redeemer"

This is a powerfully true statement.
'Going through the motions' of a law will not change one's heart or nature.

If we take a look at Abraham, the man of faith, and span ahead into our future, we see the law is love, and then smacked down in the middle (so to speak), between Abraham and our future generations, is the Mt. Sinai law. Thrown in because God's people, Israel, were out of control.
Thrown in until Jesus would come and pay a debt not of His own and open the way for the Gentiles.

The Old Covenant Law reveals the severity of 'the lack of love'.
Was sassing your parent worthy of a smack on the hand, or being stoned to death? The punishment tells you the severity of the crime. Sin, the lack of love, is worthy of death. That's the severity of it.

That's educational, and it leads us to Christ when we realize that we cannot be perfect (so that no man can boast - look at Lucifer and the fallen angels), in order to save our self, but that our debt is paid by Him if we will accept His offer. Then Christ in us, the deposit, the guarantee, the Holy Spirit will lead us.

It's all about love. God is love.

Is following your conscience a good thing? I'd say yes, if you're led by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our conscience is the Holy Spirits way of guiding us? IDK.

xHWA said...

That's a fabulous question, Angel. Anyone wanna weigh in on this one?

All I can do is speculate. So whatever I say is gonna be me my own reasoning...

Seems to me a conscience is a built-in feature of our beings at some level, probably part of our soul I would suppose. It's kinda like a "moral compass" so to speak. Everybody's got one, but it can be damaged (I TIM. 4: 2). So, not everybody's works as well as the next guy. But I feel it's by the conscience that atheists can be "good people" too. (A true relationship with God isn't just being a 'good' person, it's about His presence in us.)

I think it's a necessary part of our fallen state. HWA used to call it the way of trial and error. I think that fits well enough. If we're going to prefer groping around in the dark over relying on God, He gives us a built-in help to see to it that we don't just wipe each other out on day 2.

It's this conscience that baffles humanist philosophers and moral relativists because such a thing ought not exist - yet there it is. The question isn't "can an atheist be a good person?" it's "all things being neutral, why would an atheist be a good person?"

We could tangent off into some light philosophy by showing that the statement "there is no such thing as 'truth'" cannot be true if there is no truth. Or the statement "all truth is relative" cannot apply to everyone. Or again, if there is no absolute truth and universal morality then people who hold that position have nothing to complain about regarding the Inquisition, or endangered species, or nuclear arms races, or the KKK, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of it. Nor do they have anything to celebrate in Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Budha, MLK, or any other 'good' thing. There is nothing right with any of it. To argue either of these two things would be to prove there is a universal morality and absolute truth - ie. there is 'good' and 'evil' and all things are not neutral. If one is going to claim that the universe is neutral, then, as a part of the universe, be neutral about all things in the universe. Moral relativists get just as angry at injustices done against them personally as the next guy.

A conscience is a very helpful thing!

Luc said...

The bitter lessons of experiencing injustice teach a hatred for injustice. A normal human being, with a normally developed empathy will come to the conclusion that "I shouldn't do to others what I don't want them to do to me."

Nature will teach the basic principle of God's higher moral ethic to any but the sociopathic personality.Rom 2:14 Says those not having the law but doing things contained in the law are a law to themselves.

This law that is learned by nature wont be sabbaths, or to not have a God before the true God. Paul can only be talking about the basic equity of fair play and 'the golden rule'. Such a logical belief in a culture will certainly act to form a conscience that can be relied upon.

Luc said...

A little off the subject, but when considering the law, salvation and a naturally acquired appreciation of God's higher moral ethic;the question arises about those who God has taught by the environment in which he has place us rather than by the revealed word. I think this is a good post on this subject.
What about the person who never heard of Jesus