The Spirit in the Law

Deut. 30-15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Cor. 3.1-9; Matt 5:21-37

I admit it! I have a tendency to drive with a view to what I can get away with – on the open road. Strangely, perhaps, for an Aucklander of a total of 23 years, in the city and small towns my attitude to speed limits, lights and roadsigns is completely different. I find that I’m motivated more by a “what if it were one of mine “ scenario. Eg what if a little one like my youngest grandchild tore out onto the road as I came flying on at an irresistible 60+ kph? Red lights always mean stop! Now! and orange lights? Well – the Road Code says you must stop unless it’s unsafe not to do so. I do forget that sometimes…and boy do I hear about it.
We know the law says the open road limit is 100 kph, and that in some circumstances, the Police will overlook up to 10 kph in excess of the speed limit, but as they will quickly remind us the legal limit is actually …? The intention of speed limits is to ensure that everyone can use the same piece of road safely – in towns that includes pedestrians and children on wobbly bicycles. That’s the spirit of regulations that restrict our speed.

The spirit inherent in each law is set to meet the spirit in each transgression. Thus Jesus revolutionises our view of what obedience really looks like. How many of us are restrained from murdering someone who really annoys or hurts us by a law that says “thou shalt not murder”? Truly! Isn’t there some kind of inherent repulsion at the idea of taking the life of another human being, that means it doesn’t even occur to us?
And yet Jesus applies that very law to the spirit of the act of killing another person. If murder is about getting someone out of our life forever, about paying them back to daring to hurt us or ours, about finalising our rage at someone – then so is hatred and violent anger. The belittling tongue is meant to shut another up, and send them packing from our circle of acquaintance in shame and horror – never to return. It’s certainly not an act of affirmation, nor is it an attempt to find commonality with that person or persons.
That’s the spirit inherent in the law forbidding us from taking another’s life.
Try another – it’s unpopular in our day where our society winks at adultery (except in politicians of course – especially as they’re on the other side). Hear this and tremble: “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” By the way don’t worry about the plucking out your eye and cutting off your hand sentences, I think that’s a kind of black humour (perhaps). Jesus’ real point is that our heart is where the real problem resides…not in my eye which is directed to this or that view by my perverted will, nor in my hand which is moved and enabled by my mischievous intention. I’m sure his disciples didn’t nod sagely at these sayings and quietly resolve to do a little ophthalmic surgery, or hand removal in response to lustful pondering on the girl at the office or the waitress at the Cafe.
Our heart needs a little surgery from the crucified One. Reshaping our desires and our deepest intentions.

First love God is the message of the Deuteronomist, the lawgiver. His message is very simply that the only effective path to compliance with God’s intentions (otherwise known as obedience) for humankind, is to first love the Giver of the law. We have to think that that was in Jesus’ great wisdom here as He challenged mere compliance with the letter of the Law. That mere compliance is not in fact obedience.
In Deuteronomy God is challenging us to make some basic, life-determining choices. Life or death, prosperity or adversity – the glowing path of blessing or the mired highway of curses. Those choices start with our response to live the way God has approved and designed in order to bring about for us the fulness of life, prosperity and blessing. And the path to making the right or best choice is in our relationship with God into which He continually invites us. His love for us is intense, generous, full of grace, startling and is demonstrated for us right there on the altar – the freely, though painfully given, body and blood of Jesus for our life, our blessing, our future hope – something to which we recommit ourselves every week (or more).
God calls us first to love Him, to embrace and lose ourselves in Him, to find the meaning and goal of our life in all that He is, all that He shows us of life in all its fulness. Obedience will achieve nothing more than begrudging compliance without that prior commitment of all-consuming love. Obedience can end up being like the child who has been repeatedly warned to sit down in her high-chair, and finally complies, but says “I’m sitting down, but I’m standing up inside!” When, in love, we appreciate the loving intention and thoughtfulness in God’s law, obedience is an act of showing our love in a way that is deeper that the most passionate and glorious act of worship.

Do what you say you will just as God, who loved you first, has unfailingly continued to fulfil for you everything He ever held out before as signs of His loving commitment to you. I have found that doing what God says precisely because I KNOW that He loves me, even when I don’t like it, or find that obedience distasteful, ultimately it becomes more of a delight, a sign of His victory in my life, a freedom rather than an annoying restriction. Love changes everything – it changes us in the hands of the Saviour, and in the breath of the Spirit, and in the Father’s endurance with us – let it guide you, change you, delight you, bless you and those who are lucky enough to come in contact with you.

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