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Monday, August 27, 2012

Laying Down the Law

Laying Down the Law

Paul has asked Timothy to remain at Ephesus, to serve as pastor of the church. Timothy would be challenging an existing leadership that has swerved away from three pillars of genuine love:

  • a pure heart
  • a good conscience
  • a sincere faith

The crux of the crisis are teachers who are teaching without understanding the very law which they confidently assert they are upholding.

Paul accuses the religious leaders of using the law "unlawfully":

"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV)

What is "the law"?

LAW: nomos (law, regulation or principle); from nemo (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals)

At its core, the concept of "law" involves an person with authority to distribute essential goods to the community and livestock. From food and water, the concept expands to include all material goods and property in addition to social and community relationships. Under "law", all property, wealth, recreation, religion and relationships may be distributed, or regulated.

Jesus Christ defined "the law" as the writings of Moses and the prophets of Israel, including the writings in the Psalms:

"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Luke 24:44 (ESV)

The Law contained in the Old Testament is not so much a regulation of "perfect" human behavior, as it is a description of God's original design:

"It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." Romans 2:13-16 (ESV)

The aim, or purpose, of the Law given by God to humanity through Moses and the prophets, is to define "holiness", setting a standard for righteous behavior and attitude:

"The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." Romans 7:12 (ESV)

Every law, regulation and principle found in the Old Testament can be seen as supporting a single prime directive:

"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, - You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, - and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: - You shall love your neighbor as yourself. - Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:8-10 (ESV)

The Old Testament includes many commands and regulations that seem outdated, obsolete and inapplicable to modern life.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What Old Testament laws seem especially obsolete? Can even these archaic regulations be traced back to a way of supporting God's "prime directive": love?

Paul says that the law is good, but only if used "lawfully".

LAWFULLY: nomimos (legitimately, specially agreeably to the rules of the lists); from nemo (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals)

"Rule of the lists" refers to the medieval contests of combat. The Society for Creative Anachronism published their own "Rules of the Lists", with an introduction that reads remarkably similar to that of Paul's writings regarding the Law of God:

"The basic rules for the SCA combat are contained in the Rules of the Lists. These Rules, however, do not specifically cover non-tourney field activities such as wars, combat archery, and period fencing. In practice, the Rules have been extended to cover these activities, with the observance of honor and chivalry being the overriding element, along with the safety of the combatants. The following is intended to bring together the appropriate rules for conducting both tourney field combat and other SCA combat activities." (mol.aethelmearc.net)

The contests of combat are regulated by overarching principles of honor, chivalry and safety, in the same way that life in God's Kingdom is regulated by laws that support holiness, righteousness and love.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What comparisons can be made between medieval battle and Kingdom living? What Old Testament laws seem especially similar to rules of martial art contests? What are the inevitable results of anarchy, the dissolution of all laws?

Paul later makes a direct reference to athletic contests:

"An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." 2 Timothy 2:5 (ESV)

"According to the rules" is the translation of the same Greek word used earlier, translated in 1 Timothy 1:9 as "lawfully".

Imagine a contestant determines to gain victory, believing the ultimate goal to be that of striking a fatal blow against an opponent. Disregarding the rules of the lists and ignoring the overarching prime directives of honor, chivalry and safety, the contestant attacks from behind, before the starting signal is sounded, using a real sword.

The surprised opponent is killed.

The contestant is rewarded with arrest and punishment, eventually being publicly executed.

Ignoring the rules of the game and striving for the wrong goal will result in ultimate loss and self-destruction.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How is it possible for the laws of the Old Testament to be used "unlawfully"? What experiences can you share concerning mis-use or abusive handling of God's Word?

Leaders can selectively enforce only specific laws, quietly allowing some to disappear. Leaders can ignore some laws for decades, pulling them out of the closet of justice only when needed, perhaps to suppress the success of a political opponent.

Paul reminded Timothy that God laid down the Old Testament law because of the universal, fallen moral condition of humans.

"The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." 1 Timothy 1:9-11 (ESV)

LAID DOWN: keimai (to lie outstretched, utterly protrate)

The Old Testament record of laws, regulations and commandments, including the foundational Ten Commandments, were laid out by God. The action of "laying out" implies making the law highly visible and widely applicable. "Laying down the law" implies that it was meant for all people and all times.

JUST: dikaios (equitable, innocent or holy according to human statutes and relations); from dike (right or justice); from deiknyo (to show)

"Just" does not properly describe natural human nature. Our history is one that is far removed from the ideals of equity, innocence or holiness as concerning how we have treated one another.

God laid down the law for those who were not just. He laid down the law for all of us normal, fallen people.

Teachers, leaders and judges use the Old Testament law in a good way only when they fully understand that they, as well as the ones they teach, lead and judge, are not naturally just.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How does honest, humble self-awareness of one's sinful nature allow teachers, leaders and judges to use the law lawfully? What difference does it make for a leader to realize his moral weakness?

Image provided by David, Creative Commons License.