Are you bored? I hope not! You may be concerned that the last few lessons seem to repeat the same concepts. If you are bored, I apologize. On the other hand, understanding grace is critical - and hearing about it more than once is a blessing. The good news for the bored is that our lesson this week takes a turn to explore what grace means for everyday life. The good news for those who feel they could still use a little repetition about grace, is that we are still generally on that subject. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and learn more about the law and grace!
THE LAW OF CHRIST -- May 24, 2014
Key Thought: The new commandment of love that Jesus taught was in full accordance with the intent and purpose of the law of God given in the Ten Commandments.
1. Have a volunteer read Matthew 19:16-22.
A. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
B. How does this story show the spiritual nature of the law and its application to our lives?
C. Personal Application: How do we keep from forgetting or losing our focus on the spiritual nature of the law and how we have continually broken it and need forgiveness and grace? Share your thoughts.
D. Case Study: One of your relatives states: “Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet, so He was telling the rich, young ruler that to enter life, he must be obedient to the old covenant law of works. But after Jesus’ death, we are under grace.” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
A. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
B. What does Paul mean when he says he is under the law to some, and not under the law to others? What is he saying here?
C. Personal Application: Have you ever “become like” someone in order to win them to Christ? How do you become like someone without being phony? Share your thoughts.
D. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, “Isn’t Paul saying that he is compromising his faith to reach people? Can we compromise our doctrines and differences with others in order to reach them?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Galatians 6:1-5.
A. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
B. Why is it that when someone in the church is overtaken by a fault, most people in the church seem to be more concerned with the fault than with the restoration?
C. Personal Application: How have you handled situations in the past in dealing with trying to restore someone that has fallen or backslidden in some way? Share your thoughts.
D. Case Study: One of your friends states, “Does this mean that if someone does something wrong, we should forgive and forget in all situations? What is this saying about church discipline? Didn’t Paul say to the Corinthians that they should disfellowship the man who took his father’s wife?” How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read John 13:34,35.
A. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
B. How do you respond to someone who says we don’t have to worry about the law, or church name, or doctrine; just that we all, as Christians, should love one another?
C. Personal Application: What kind of feelings do you have toward your fellow church members? Is it superficial or does it go deeper than that? 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.)
[Thought questions forÂ The Law of God and the Law of Christ May 21, 2014]
1. The law of God and the law of Christ. Are we guided by two laws? One the law of the God eternal and almighty, the other of Christ the Saviour? If you think so, what is different about these two laws? During Jesus’ ministry on earth, which law did He follow and preach? Why?
2. The relevance of the Ten Commandments. Why do many Christians refer to the time after Christ’s crucifixion as the time of the law of grace? During the time of the law of grace, what do these friends of ours seem to believe about obeying the law? The 10 Commandments are divided into two sections. What are the topics covered by each section (Laws I to IV? and V to X?) Do these ten short paragraphs sum up all laws that are relevant to Christians today? What does your obedience to the law of God tell others about your love for God?
3. These are the “rules of love.” How do the ten commandments of God help others see our love for others–and for Him? Don’t people keep those commandments to feel better about themselves or to impress their friends? Why couldn’t the disciples understand what Jesus said about the law? What interfered with their understanding? Do you and I have a perfect understanding of the Ten Commandments? What does it take to obtain that?
4. All things to all men. If Jesus’ greatest desire is to draw all men to Him, why couldn’t He create a universe occupied by all the people He has created? With Satan out of the picture, couldn’t He become the Best Friend of all of those people? Instead of that approach, what does Jesus offer us sinners now? Does His offer of salvation to everyone who believes on Him include those who believe in their minds but have not yet accepted His grace in their hearts? If we embrace the law of Christ, can we love sinners, even those “worse” than us? How?
5. Fulfilling the law of Christ.Â Paul makes it clear ( Rom. 6:15, Eph2:10, Titus 2:11-14),Â that grace empowers the believer to live an obedient life. Does that mean that everyone who believes in Christ will follow Him and lead a perfect life? Last week I called the IRS because I’d neglected to turn in my returns for a previous year, and they wanted an explanation. After several minutes on the phone, the agent said to hold for a while, and when she came back she told me it was okay, to forget about it, that they’d forgiven me, and that I didn’t owe anything (even though I was sure I did.) I felt I had received a gift of grace from the U.S. tax system! Had I? Now that I’ve been forgiven this debt, do you think I’m going to try to dodge my taxes next year? and the next? By no means. What about when Jesus forgives our sins? Does that make us skip for joy to the next sin opportunity?
6. When the law of mercy becomes the law of judgment. Hasn’t this gift of grace been wonderful? But wait! Is it not always to be so? Are we going to receive a penalty for our blatant sinning and our self-centered lives? Don’t we get credit for the good things we did in our lifetimes? Which of God’s laws didn’t we keep well enough to make it over the line? Can’t God just keep on forgiving? What’s that you say? That God is looking for people filled with love, love for God and love for fellow man, not self-centeredness? How can I be sure I have an abundant measure of that kind of love? What can I pay? You say it’s free? That Love does it all?
"The Law of God and the Law of Christ"
May 24, 2014
Texts: Matthew 19:16-22; John 13:34, 35; Galatians 6:1-5; Acts 17:31; John 5:30
The Ukraine is bleeding. The country is torn by conflict as pro-Russian groups seek to strengthen ties with the "mother country." Russia laid claim to the territory of Crimea and is working to secure Sevastopol. The United Nations General Assembly does not acknowledge Russia's takeover of Crimea and defines their referendum as invalid and illegal.1
The revolution that is tearing the country apart grows out of many years of corruption, mismanagement, and a lack of economic growth. Efforts to strengthen ties with the European Union were sought by government leaders to attract more capital and help the economy. When President Yanukovych decided to turn instead to building greater connections with Russia, it led to violent protests.
One of the greatest challenges in this topsy-turvy environment is trying to determine what the law is. Should the control of the Crimean Peninsula be acknowledged as part of the Russian Federation? More recently the Central Election Commission of Ukraine stated that because of illegal activities it cannot arrange for the preparation and conduct of elections in six of its constituencies.
Our Sabbath school lesson this week focuses on the Law of God and the Law of Christ. Like the split between the two ethnicities in the Ukraine, some people see a divide between God's law and what Jesus taught. A careless reading of the New Testament with a focus on phrases like "a new commandment" and "but I say to you" has led some to think Christ's law stands in contradiction to God's law.
But that couldn't be further from the truth. The Bible clearly states that Jesus did not come to "abolish the law or the prophets" (Matthew 5:17 NRSV). Further, when describing the overarching purpose of the law -which is to love God and others - Jesus emphasized that, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:40 NKJV). There was no split between God the Father and God the Son.
It brings sadness to think of our friends in the Ukraine living in such turmoil that there is confusion over the laws in their land. Who is the rightful leader and which laws should be followed? When it comes to the government of heaven, there is complete harmony. God's law and Christ's law stand as one.
The Law of God and the Law of Christ
Commentary for the May 24, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4, NIV
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need prisons or jails? I ask this living in the country that has the highest percentage of its population behind bars of any country in the world.[i]Apparently we are far from that goal, perhaps due to a seemingly never-ending “War on Drugs.”
After several decades of this war, battle fatigue seems to be setting in. Some states like Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana use, while other states still hand down life sentences for involvement with the same drug.[ii] Maybe there is a corollary to Prohibition. That fiasco did not eliminate the problems created by alcohol and arguably exacerbated them by providing fertile ground for organized crime syndicates to thwart the ban. After Prohibition ended, those syndicates then were able to take the knowledge gained from Prohibition and create markets for all manner of illegal activities, among them the current drug trade. To be sure, there are from time to time high profile arrests, but the numbers who escape detection and continue the trade are legion. Complicating law enforcement efforts further, some of those high-profile individuals seem to be able to continue to run their enterprises from behind prison bars. Perhaps a proliferation of laws is not the panacea some would have us believe it to be.
The problem with laws is that once they are established, a decision needs to be made about what to do with those who do not obey them. Of course in the best of all possible worlds, everyone would obey those laws. However, Voltaire’s “Candide” revealed how ridiculous the “best-of-all-possible-worlds” scenario is. In reality, and borne out by history as in Prohibition and the War on Drugs, scofflaws are far from uncommon. Some will completely ignore the laws, some will weigh the risk and decide that the benefits of crime outweigh the penalties, and still others will engage in all manner of immoral and unethical practices while being careful to never meet the literal definition of breaking the law. In short, laws do not have the power to make bad people good. An argument might be made that they tend to keep honest people honest, but even that may be challenged when an otherwise good, law-abiding citizen must make the decision between obeying the law while watching their loved ones suffer and die from disease or starvation or committing a crime that promises to provide the means to save them. Such a character was beautifully illustrated in Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.” Sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving children, his life was one long struggle to redeem himself in spite of the forceful attempts of the law to bring him down and return him to prison.
Little has changed since Hugo published “Les Misérables” in 1862. Modern Jean Valjean’s still struggle with an often vengeful and relentless justice that would prefer they never again enter society, even for non-violent crimes. Will Foster of California might be an good example.[iii] Arrested for a marijuana violation in Oklahoma, he was imprisoned there until he was paroled. After completing the conditions for his parole and relocating to California, he was arrested for marijuana charges in that state and held in jail for over a year even though he was never sentenced and the case was dismissed, then Oklahoma decided to bring him back to their state to serve more time as the perfectly legal medicinal marijuana growing he was involved in in California was considered a violation of his parole back in Oklahoma. One might ask how justice was served to incur the great expense of extradition, transportation of an individual from California back to Oklahoma, and incarceration, especially when that incarceration was only for a few months before he was released to return to California. Common sense sometimes seems in short supply when enforcement of the law is at stake, and justice loses its proper relationship with compassion.
Why is all of this relevant to us as Christians? Perhaps because as Christians, we seem to be peculiarly susceptible to this kind of legalistic vindictiveness. Maybe it harks back to all the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. After all, if God handed down the Ten Commandments written on stone to Moses to share with the people, then law must be what it’s all about. Obey the law. God is happy. Everything is copacetic. This however, ignores the reality of the Old Testament wherein everyone, from highest to lowest, fell short in the end. Even Moses, the proud herald of those stone codices failed to measure up and was denied entrance to the Promised Land.[iv] Some might have expected that at this point, the vast crowd of law-breakers would have given up and pled for mercy, but no, far from it. Instead they decided they needed more laws.
The original laws had been few and simple, perhaps only two: love God[v] and love your neighbor.[vi] However, when sin continued to be a problem, they were expanded in detail and number to ten rules. But because the law was powerless to change basic human nature, the number of statutes continued to expand, and this has been the case ever since. In spite of its failures, no one appears ready even now to simply surrender to the hopelessness that the Law condemns us all to and plead for mercy and grace. Instead we multiply rules, continuing to believe that is the answer. In the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, we have officially multiplied them to twenty-eight from the ten of the Decalogue.[vii] The twenty-eighth (actually counted as number eleven ???) was added as recently as 2005. However, the obedience still is not sufficient for some so there are often attempts to reword the beliefs to remove any possible wiggle room. A current attempt focuses on inserting language in “Fundamental Belief Number Six” to require belief in literal 24-hour days and seven literal days for the Creation Story in Genesis, chapter one. Those who wish to make this change appear to want to be able to point to someone else and say “You are not an Adventist, but I am, and here’s the proof,” while referencing this belief document.
Sadly for those who wish to enforce such legalistic codes, and that is the only purpose of laws is to accuse and condemn, they are no more innocent of law violations than those they wish to impale[viii] on these standards. How do we know this? Paul made it plain in his letter to the Romans when he wrote that everyone is a sinner, a lawbreaker.[ix] There were others who saw this before Paul. Jeremiah felt that becoming righteous through our efforts to obey was as impossible as an Ethiopian changing his skin color.[x] Isaiah taught that all such efforts would be as worthless as filthy rags.[xi]
The Law was never intended to make us become obedient by increasing our efforts to become obedient. Instead, its only purpose is to show us how disobedient we are and how impossible it is to obey. Our very natures are against it. As long as we continue to struggle to obey, we keep alive the idea that we can do it and that somehow our efforts will be successful, resulting in our winning through to salvation. But that thought is deceptive as no human effort can give us salvation. It took a superhuman effort to accomplish that. When Jesus died upon the cross, He took our struggle upon Himself. He replaced complete impossibility and despair with hope and promise. But there is a catch. We cannot receive that hope until we finally give up on ourselves and admit that no matter how much we multiply rules, no matter what efforts we make to force ourselves to obey, we are powerless to change who and what we are.
It may be easier to use the rules to point to someone else and say, “At least I am not as bad as that person. Look where they are breaking the rules.” But if we do so, we condemn ourselves as lawbreakers as well for judgmental failure to love our neighbor and apply the same remedy to them that we also need, not more laws, not more obedience, but surrender and grace. These and only these, by the love of Christ, are able to take us into the kingdom.
[i] "List of countries by incarceration rate," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate
[iii] "Ten worst sentences for marijuana-related crimes," http://www.salon.com/2012/10/29/ten_worst_sentences_for_marijuana_related_crimes/
[iv] Numbers 20:1-12
[v] Deuteronomy 6:5
[vi] Leviticus 19:18
[vii] "28 Fundamental Beliefs," http://www.adventist.org/fileadmin/adventist.org/files/articles/official-statements/28Beliefs-English.pdf
[viii] Interestingly the Greek word often translated as “devil,” διάβολος, literally means “one who thrusts through or impales with his spear.” Perhaps we should consider whose work we are doing when we impale others on the law.
[ix] Romans 3:10,23
[x] Jeremiah 13:23
[xi] Isaiah 64:6
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