Law & Love
Since there won’t be an episode on the show this week, I figured I would schedule out a quick article on the law of God.
Many are taken aback when they are faced with the law of God, even amongst Christians, there is this notion that the law is “taboo”. Yet, when examining the law, we find that the law is good, was intended for good, and is a product of God’s very nature. In God’s law we find the two greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor (Luke 10:27), summed up as a guide for first Israel and now the church.
God’s law is to be understood as being perfect, right, pure, and true (Psalms 19:7-10), and it is to be desired like gold. The Psalmist here tells us that the law shows us that “the testimony of the LORD is sure” (Psalm 19:7b, ESV), meaning that the Lord is trustworthy. God’s law is not good for its own sake, but because of whom it was given by. In Psalm 119 we see this picture of the value of the law, the goodness of the law, and more than that, it is continuously linked with God himself and his character. Paul Enns (2008) points out that Exodus 20:2 indicates the standard of morality cannot be separated from the very character of God. God establishes laws based on his own holy and just standard, and in that there is delight in the law of God.
Within scripture we see the reality that Arnold & Beyer (2008) notes, “Throughout the Old Testament, law is a positive expression of God’s will for his people” (p. 113). John Calvin (2008) made the case that there are three uses of the law, one of which was the promotion of order within society as a whole. Calvin (2008) states one use of the law is to “curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice” (p. 224). This use of the law coupled with the positive expression noted by Arnold and Beyer, shows us the goodness of the law, and how it intends to promote the harmony and unity of a society. God brought forth laws deriving from his holy and righteous character to reflect his standard of morality for human beings.
In considering the law we learn that it is to “show that love of God is connected to love of neighbor” (Hoang & Johnson, 2016. p.91). Furthermore, Hoang and Johnson (2016) observe the function of the law in three categories; prevention of the mistreatment of others, prevention of the poor being deprived, and positive actions towards the impoverished. Within the first commandments given to Moses we see firstly the concept of loving God, to which then logically follows that we love our neighbor. In loving God, we are moved firstly to imitate his holiness and secondly to obey his will.
Contextually considering the origin, structure, and purpose of the law, we come to the reality that the law is firstly good and secondly a means by which God desires his kingdom to operate. It is the order of his government and the standard of living for human beings described by the concept of Shalom. Marshall (2005) describes Shalom as “the positive presence of harmony and wholeness, of health and prosperity, of integration and balance. It is the state of soundness or flourishing in all dimensions of existence” (p. 12). In this ideal for humanity we can see the blessings, or fruit of the law of God, when comparing with it the state of the depraved world. God’s law is not only right because of its origin, nor that it is beneficial for society as a whole, but also because it is desirable. Within the kingdom of God, we see unity and harmony where God’s standard, the perfect, holy, and good, standard is kept and in this the people are blessed.
While perfect obedience to the law is impossible in this lifetime, there are reasons for obeying the laws of God and upholding it. Aside from the reality that it is a benefit to the people underneath the law, it is a means by which justice is executed upon the transgressors of the ideal harmony. Within the Christian community there is often times a negative view on the law, while the scriptures continuously point us to the beauty of the law.
Noteworthy is that this short post is not exhaustive on how we are to view laws that were given for ceremony or the nation of Israel, but rather a view of the heart of the law. I think Jesus paints us a picture, in his teachings, of this “heart”, that is, that loving God means also loving your neighbors. This is entirely appropriate for the Eternal Son of God to say, and thus we should really consider what commandments Jesus has for New Covenant believers. Jesus points out, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and in this we can understand that Jesus’s commandments were call backs, and a deeper understanding, of the moral law. Not only this, but the basis for obedience to the law is the love of Jesus. If you love Jesus, you will keep his commands, because in loving Jesus you understand the good of those commands. I think obedience to Christ out of love can all be summarized in one sentence; be holy as he is holy.
Arnold, B. T., & Beyer, B. E. (2008). Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey. Ada, MI: Baker Books.
Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2008). Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Enns, P. P. (2008). The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Pub.
Hoang, B. H., & Johnson, K. D. (2016). The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.
Marshall, C. (2005). Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach To The Bible’s Teachings On Justice. New York, NY: Good Books.