Thursday, November 12, 2009

Law in perspective

Excerpts from "Free in Christ" by Cecil Hook on law in perspective. Have a read. Rejoice

One man defied God and was put to death for gathering firewood on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36). But Jesus put the law in true perspective. He considered mercy shown to a sheep to be more important than the Sabbath law (Matt. 12:9-12). He also explained, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). Law was made for the benefit of man. Man was not made to comply with arbitrary law.

There are two levels of responsibility. One person passes a school with reduced speed and great caution because of concern for innocent children. Another person speeds by with no concern. For this reason, a sign must be posted which defines fifteen miles per hour as the speed limit and a policeman must be around to help enforce it. Since the second person does not accept responsibility out of concern, he must be forced to accept it by law. Paul explained that "the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient…" (I Tim. 1:9). The first person needed no law. Law was made for the second.


There are two levels of obedience. A man has two sons who go out on their dates. To each he says, "Come home early; please don't stay out late." The more mature son realizes that his father and mother won't sleep a wink until he comes home and that he himself must go to school the next morning. So he comes home at a very reasonable hour. The less mature son comes in at two o'clock. When confronted about it, he exclaims, "Dad, you did not say how late late is and how early early is!" For this son, the father must make a rigid law: Ten o'clock or you will be punished! One son is guided by principles; the other is guided by legal specifications.

We see both levels of responsibility and obedience in God's family. Our immaturity has been evident. We often search earth and heaven to find all the legal requirements and limitations. We discuss, wrangle, debate, judge, and censor to the point of alienating and dividing while missing the principle that God had in mind. Often where authoritative specifications have been lacking, we have formulated our own by specious logic. And, in case all else fails, we have devised elder authority to define and bind lawful specifications. That is the ultimate legalism. Such an approach will keep us confused, enslaved, and divided.

Jesus spoke out against those who sought justification by keeping legal requirements. The scribes and Pharisees were so scrupulous about keeping the law of the tithe that they would not overlook the sprigs of seasoning herbs in their gardens - mint, rue, and dill (Matt. 23:23; Lk. 11:42). God's directive concerning tithing was not given because He had need of food or money, nor because God wanted to lay a burden on man to test him. God wanted this to be given for the welfare of His people. The Pharisees were looking for specifics as to how to keep the technicality of the law when they should have been using what they had to promote love, mercy, justice, and faith which the tithe was meant to promote. They were seeking to be justified by keeping law when they should have been seeking to accomplish its purposes.
We should not perform just to obey commands, but also for the value to be received from what was commanded. It is truly a trust in legal justification that causes a person to obey commands simply because they are commands. The person who has mercy, justice, faith, and love as his concern fulfills the principle and does not need a law to tell him how much of his resources to use in accomplishing these. He is free from lawful requirements because he has the principles written on his heart.


God wants us to gather for mutual edification (1 Cor. 14:26). In assemblies, we pray for each other, teach each other, teach and admonish one another in singing, give to help each other, and proclaim the atonement to each other. But in too many cases the thing stressed is the importance of assembling in response to a command rather than fulfilling the purposes God had in mind. To make the lawful case stronger, appeal is made to elder authority to specify the lawful time of assembly. Providing uplifting services will more nearly fulfill the purpose than demanding attendance will.

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