For decades my brother lived in Southern California. When he would speak to me about towns, I would have an idea of the direction and distance to that town. He has now moved and when he mentions a town I have no idea about either direction or distance. Imagine you have to travel to a town and you have no idea about its location. You need a map. We start a new series of lessons on the law of God. It seems so natural to think of the law and grace as being opposed to each other. My goal in this series is to help us think about the law and grace as being gifts. Like a map, the law is a wonderful gift from God to help us to understand how to get safely to our destination. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
The Law and Love
by Keith Augustus Burton
From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven it has been Satan's purpose to overthrow the law of God."-Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 582.
Why? Because the law, as the foundation of God's government, expresses the moral integrity of the cosmos; and to overthrow that law would be to overthrow the moral order of the creation itself.
Think about it. If no god existed, and no life either, the universe would be amoral. Not immoral, as in having bad morals, but amoral, as in having no morals, because nothing in it-such as lifeless rocks hurling through a godless cosmos-could manifest moral qualities.
However, God exists, and humans do as well, and we have been created as moral beings with the capacity to give and to receive love. For this love to exist, however, freedom, moral freedom, must exist too, because love is a moral concept that couldn't arise in an amoral universe (such as one composed of only rocks and cold space).
"The Law in Christ's Day"
April 5, 2014
Texts: Luke 2:1-5; Hebrews 10:28; Deuteronomy 17:2-6; Leviticus 1:1-9; Luke 14:1-6; James 2:8-12
The family was returning from their spring break holiday this past week. The mother of four was taking her turn at the wheel when suddenly, through the rear view mirror, she noticed that tell-tale flashing light on a police car, indicating she was the one the officer wanted to pull over. She knew she was probably speeding. She was eager to get home!
She handed him her insurance information and driver's license. The policeman asked if she knew why he pulled her over. She gave him a big smile and said, "I was probably speeding."
As is the custom in the United States, he went back to his car to do what police persons do. When he returned he asked, "You knew you were speeding but did you know your driver's license has been expired for 14 months?"1
As we begin a new series of studies about Christ and the law, we examine the laws that existed in Christ's day to lay the foundation and historical context leading up to the Ten Commandments.
Jesus was born into a law-abiding family. Roman law required that every individual go back to their ancestral home to register, as part of a census conducted by the Romans. Bethlehem was Joseph's hometown.
At the time of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the Jews were ruled by Rome, but were allowed to refer back to the 613 laws found in the five books of Moses and apply the Mosaic Law to any conflict over civic matters. Our lesson author sites several examples: male babies were to be circumcised eight days after their birth, adulterers were to be punished by stoning, and a widow was to marry her husband's brother.
Jews in Jesus' time were also ruled according to the Rabbinic Law-an oral interpretation of these 613 laws of Moses. Problems arose when a spiritual element was infused into the Rabbi's legalistic interpretation.
Ceremonial laws of Moses were instituted as a symbol of what was to happen in the future: the coming of Jesus, Jesus' death, and and Jesus' High Priestly ministry. Once Christ's ministry on earth was complete there was no need for animal sacrifice and ritual ceremonies. Jesus was the Lamb of God slain for our sins.
With this foundation we turn now to the Moral Law-10 laws written by the hand of God. These Ten Commandments help save the universe from chaos to this day. Five of the commands speak to our relationship with God. Five speak to our relationship with one another.
The kind police officer showed grace to the speeding mother with an expired driver's license. However, she still faced consequences because she had broken two civic laws intended to keep her and her family safe. The Ten Commands of the moral law were given by a loving God to keep us safe with one another and in relationship with a kind and loving God.
1. Story used with permission
Laws in Christ's Day
Commentary for the April 5, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“These are the laws you are to set before them” Exodus 21:1, NIV
In the 2014 television series, “The 100,” mankind is faced with a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated half a century before by nuclear holocaust. The small, surviving remnant of humanity has been biding its time on a satellite in high orbit above the Earth. In order to determine if the planet is now habitable, they decide to send 100 teenagers to the planet surface and monitor them like guinea pigs for any ill results. The results of the project are critical as the satellite has reached the end of its useful life and is decaying around them.
The thesis of this series is similar to other "teen exploitation by evil adults" movies like 1968’s “Wild in the Streets” that popularized Jack Weinberg’s saw “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” There are stereotypical characterizations of teenagers and a few evil adults, but there is an intriguing exploration in the opening episodes of what role rules or laws play in society. Those teens that have been punished and imprisoned on the satellite because of societal restrictions see an opportunity for a new beginning without such constraints. That group rallies around a charismatic leader who declares, “There are no rules!” to cheering and applause. In a ceremony of liberation, a number of the teens destroy their monitoring bracelets to cut their link to the highly structured colony in the satellite above. This sets the stage for the struggle between those who want no restrictions and those who see rules as beneficial for everyone.
A telling moment arrives later in episode two when a returning party brings back an animal that they have killed and roasts it for dinner. The charismatic anti-nomian states “Only those without monitoring bracelets will be allowed to have something to eat from the kill.” However, Jasper, played by Devon Bostick, walks over and takes part of the kill without removing his bracelet. When challenged for this, he replies, “I thought there are no rules.” He is then allowed to take his share without further challenge as his logic stymies the opposition. This does not prevent them from enforcing the “rule” against others who are weaker, though. Ironically, their revolution was against the adults who used the rules to control and oppress others, but the default position they fall back to when allowed the freedom to create a new and different society is to do exactly the same thing. Without a common agreement about the necessity for rules and what those rules should be, perhaps this is the result when only self-interest is the motivation for societal interactions.
Maybe it is an underlying concern about an apparent, inherent selfishness in humanity that causes some to fear the idea of setting aside the law in favor of a grace based spiritual walk. They confuse the idea of not being condemned by the law[i] with the statement, as in the television series, “There are no rules!” Perhaps the use of labels like “anti-nomian” only adds to the confusion. Even the person who said, “There are no rules!” was soon making them for others and therefore was not purely anti-nomian. He was only against the rules that restrained his behavior. Just as there are far more people who profess agnosticism rather than atheism, something which is difficult to prove beyond a doubt, so there are likely far more people who are opposed to laws that chafe them as opposed to being against all laws. Even profligate criminals have been known to call the police when someone causes harm to them or their property by breaking the law. Perhaps the true anti-nomian is simply a “straw man” thrown up for sake of argument when one feels that another should be observing a rule or law that they themselves have been observing. In the converse, the term “legalist” may be a similar construction when faced with someone who is observing a law that another deems unnecessary.
For instance, In spite of Paul’s counsel regarding such things,[ii] one brother or sister may see the observation of certain rules about eating and drinking as being salvific and therefore obligatory to all. Another may see such an imposition as simply being a desire by one to control the spiritual experience of another and call that legalism, even though what they were intending was to rebel against that persons attempt at control, not against any idea of obedience. The one with the rules, based on the claim of legalism, may mistakenly feel that the person is simply against all spiritual rules. Sometimes it is hard not to appear controlling, even though we may usurp the authority of God when we do. Paul perhaps exhibited controlling behavior when he said those who do not work should not eat.[iii] At times we may forget that even the best intentions can be expressed in less than ideal ways. When we do that and then set up “straw men” of accusations to justify our positions, we may only end up making ourselves look even more controlling.
The Bible appears to come down often on the side of rules and their necessity. This is true whether we are talking about the rules codified by Moses or those put in place by Gentiles. Even Jesus’ parents submitted to the taxation requirements of the Roman Empire at the time of His birth.[iv] This presents an interesting contrast to modern Christians who protest on supposedly Christian principles against paying their taxes for fear of what those taxes will be used for. It would be surprising if Joseph and Mary agreed with everything the Roman Empire did with the money they raised through the census taxation. Just as today, there were most likely those who saw it as a religious duty to resist the Empire. However, then as now, they tended to be seen as extremists who did not represent the accepted thinking of the body of believers. Paul actually seemed to counsel the same course as Mary and Joseph in contradiction to such anti-law ideas.[v]
While many may say that we are saved by grace and not by obedience, they are perhaps not saying that there should be no obedience. Rather they may simply be saying that obedience is not salvific, but it is an outgrowth of a salvific relationship with Christ. In other words, to quote Morris Venden, “An apple tree bears apples because it is an apple tree, never in order to be one.”[vi] The implication of this is that the Christian does not do good works to be a Christian, and perhaps not even to prove he is a Christian, but as a result of being a Christian. You see if it is done to prove one is a Christian, then it sets up a slippery slope of control and condemnation. First one must decide what constitutes good works. Then, that standard is applied to other Christians in judgment, and finally those who do not conform to the standard are condemned as not being Christian. While in theory this may be seen as being profitable for “purifying” the church, in practice, every step is fraught with issues of context and perspective. Perhaps this is why judgment is reserved to God, and we are to ignore the “tares” or weeds in the meantime.[vii]
For example, some might include in their list of good works, going to church each week, while another might include feeding the homeless. How would the two be reconciled if someone skipped church to feed the homeless, or if someone hurried to get to church and neglected to provide an adequate breakfast for themselves and their family? As much as we might wish it to be so, Christianity is not necessarily a simple choice between “black-and-white.” When we lend consideration to the context, what we may have previously judged to be un-Christian, may be anything but. Perhaps this is why the founders of Seventh-day Adventism were wisely opposed to creedal statements of belief. They knew they could be misused to judge and condemn those who may have done nothing in opposition to Christ. Ellen White, one of those founders, said of Christianity, “It is not a creed.”[viii]
Perhaps as we have progressed through this article it has been apparent that rules or laws are intrinsic to society, but that these rules whether imposed from within or without the church are not salvific. Sometimes these rules may be about control rather than beneficial harmony. The rules may also distort our ability to have a clear perspective on the situation, especially if we make the people unquestioningly subservient to the rules rather than the other way around.[ix] We shall explore further the interface between faith and practice, or as some would have it, grace and the law as we move forward with these studies.
[i] Romans 8:1-4
[ii] Romans 14:17
[iii] 2 Thessalonians 3:10
[iv] Luke 2:1-5
[v] Romans 13:1-7
[vi] Venden, Morris L. “95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith: Apologies to Martin Luther,” Pacific Press Publishing, 2003, pg 16.
[vii] Matthew 13:24-30
[viii] White, Ellen G. “Testimonies to Ministers,” Pacific Press Publishing, 1962, pg 421.
[ix] Mark 2:27
Here's a link to the author's commentary on this weeks lesson: https://vimeo.com/90915185
[Thought questions for Laws in Christ's Day April 2, 2014]
Image © Frank Gampel from GoodSalt.com
Image © Frank Gampel from GoodSalt.com
1. The law offends the evil one. What is there about the divine law that Satan hates so much? Since he can’t do away with it, how does he treat God’s law? How far into our daily lives does the law of God extend? Is everything that is sinful defined in God’s law? Everything? Why can’t God’s law exist without love?
2. The instinctive law. Do the words of Romans 2:14 bring joy to your heart? Without them, how would we feel about people who did not have access to the law of God? The lesson’s introduction states that we must understand context to know which of several divine laws is being used in Scripture. What does that mean? Do you agree? How do you feel when a fellow Christian doesn’t “get” the same context that you believe is present and so reaches a different conclusion about the law? How do you express your feelings? Or do you?
4. Roman Law. How important was the Roman law in Jesus’ day? What do you think made the Roman law so effective in governing a diverse nation of people? How much should you and I understand about Roman law to more fully appreciate the times when Jesus lived on earth? Why did Joseph and Mary obey the law about registering in Bethlehem? Considering how far Mary was in her pregnancy, shouldn’t she and her husband have requested absence? Why didn’t they?
5. Mosaic Law. Why did the Roman government allow the Jewish people of the New Testament to follow the laws and customs of their native culture? What was the source of these laws? How important was the Sanhedrin in upholding them? Why are the Mosaic laws considered to be civic laws? Was there a strong religious component in them as well? What are some areas of life where Mosaic law was applied?
6. Ceremonial law. What was the center of attention for the ceremonial laws of the Jewish people? What was the central purpose of the sanctuary services and related ceremonies? Does the ceremonial law relate in any way to our salvation? Explain. Why don’t we follow the procedures of the ceremonial law today? Since we don’t observe ceremonial law, why should we spend time studying it?
7. Rabbinic law. What law did the rabbis of the Jewish faith in Jesus’ time discuss and try to enforce? Why? What problems were proliferated by rabbinic laws? Does rabbinic law apply to us today in any way? Should it? Why did Jesus on occasion speak in opposition to rabbinic laws as applied to the people? Why didn’t He just go along with the Sabbath rules as carried out by the Rabbis?
8. Moral law. Why are the Ten Commandments known as “the moral law”? Were any moral issues that we face today omitted from these ten standards of living? How well known were the Ten Commandments throughout history? How important are they today even by Christians with a different interpretation of the 4th (Sabbath) commandment? Do you think more people will understand the moral fabric of all of the Ten Commandments as we move into the last days of earth? What is our role in supporting the moral law of God?
Key Thought : Various laws governed society in the time of Christ. An understanding of the historical and cultural context provides a framework for God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments.gless01. 2014b
[Lesson plan for Laws In Christ's Day March 31. 2014]
1. Have a volunteer read Luke 2:1-5.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Why would Joseph and Mary obey the law of the land on taxes when she was pregnant and in no shape to travel?
c. Personal Application: How should we react and respond to civil laws that we find irritating or pointless? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your relatives states: “I think the government is illegitimate, and I refuse to pay taxes. I’ll support God with my tithes and offerings, but I refuse to support a corrupt government system.” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Leviticus 1:1-9.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. How important was it for the Jews to follow the ceremonial/sacrificial laws in their age and culture?
c. Personal Application: How important is it to you to obey the cultural/civil laws of the society you live in? What does God think about your obedience or disobedience to these laws? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, “In what ways are God’s laws and state laws similar?” Are most cultural moral laws based on God’s law? How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Luke 14:1-6.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Does this passage show that Jesus broke the Ten Commandment law of God and broke the Sabbath?
c. Personal Application: How can we know for sure what is lawful and not lawful to do on the Sabbath to keep it holy? Do members tend to be too legalistic or too lax on Sabbath-keeping? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your friends states, “Because Jesus broke the Mishnah rules of the Rabbis, was He showing us that we can disobey man’s laws that we don’t agree with?” How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Matthew 19:16-19.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What does this passage tell us about the lives of those who claim to be followers of Christ?
c. Personal Application: Is what we believe is right or wrong based on our culture, our place in history, or in what society believes is right or wrong? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.
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