Occasional editorials written since 2001 

Passion yes, aggression no. Harry Potter All roads lead to God?  
Value of a soul. Homosexuality Passion of the Christ
Islam and Christianity  Love not the world Persecution coming
Biblical or secular worldview? Freewill offering Letter or Spirit?
Faith The sacred and non-sacred Test your self
Discernment The gospel of me Repentance
Sinking sand That awful four letter word Sin
When God offends. Walls, gates and electric fences The curse of pornography

 

Letter of the law versus the Spirit of the law.

Let's say that the maximum speed on a certain busy road is 50 miles per hour.

One evening a young policeman flags down a car speeding at 65 miles per hour. The driver tries every trick in the book from lies about being late for a meeting to being ever so sweet, but to no avail. The letter of the law states that he has broken the law and therefore he must receive the appropriate penalty as prescribed by the law.

This is the law doing its job. The law was put in place to protect the people and to make the country safe for all. That is the Spirit behind the law.

Later on however, the young constable flags down another car speeding at 65 miles per hour. It soon becomes apparent why he was speeding. In the back seat is the man's wife holding their very sick young daughter. She is gasping for breathe and they are rushing her to the nearest hospital. It is quite clear that the driver would normally be a law abiding man in full agreement with the law and a supporter of that law, but life has dealt him a hand that has resulted in this situation.

The young constable proceeds to book the driver, since the law has no get-out clauses, no ifs or buts that allow this man off the hook, and he will, at all costs coldly carry out the letter of the law.

He asks the driver to switch off his engine, get out and produce his licence. He then gets out his booking tickets and proceeds to fill out each line meticulously. The burden that the driver was in is now being greatly increased by the actions of the constable.

Just then a senior officer happens by and quickly sizes up the situation. He asks the young constable to hand over his ticket and he tears it up. He says to the constable 'Young man I think a little mercy is called for here'  He then asks the man to get back into his car, start it up and follow him. The police car sets off at 70 miles per hour with sirens on, all the way to the hospital.

The young constable is quietly annoyed with his superior officer. There was nothing written into the law that allowed him to let that man off. Surely he had being doing his job correctly. Was his senior officer going soft on lawlessness he asks himself.

Standing aside from the story we see clearly that the senior officer's grace and mercy in no way compromised, or weakened, or rebelled against the law, but it manifested the spirit behind and within that law.

In this simple story we see how God can and often does at His behest move in mercy within one of His Kingdom laws without compromising weakening or breaking His law. The Word of God is not the sword of man, but the sword of the Spirit.

When we coldly apply the letter of the law it can at times break a good person's spirit when the law was never intended to do that.

Incidentally despite there being theological differences between grace and mercy I struggled to define the difference. My youngest son, who had been attending a Bible college, helped me out here by stating that grace was getting what you did not deserve, while mercy was not getting what you did deserve.

Unger's Bible Dictionary describes mercy as kindness or compassion shown to a person who is not necessarily deserving of it.

Mercy (Hebrew. hesed, "kindness"; Greek elos, "compassion") Mercy is a form of love determined by the state of its objects. their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill deserving. Mercy is at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief (Miley, Systematic Theology, 1:209 -100 Mercy is a Christian grace and is very strongly urged toward all men

Showing mercy is indeed a Christian grace. Jesus said that if are merciful, we will, when we need it, receive mercy.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

He was not happy with those who were meticulous in their tithing but neglected more important Kingdom principles including justice, mercy and faith.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (Matthew 23:23)

So I think it is safe to say that while never letting go of the plum lines of truth and justice we must also be able to display God's heart of grace mercy and compassion.

Another story and a true one.

I know a young man who gave his life to the Lord at the age of six. He loved God's word from that young age and got his dad to read it to him every night. He loved learning memory verses and at the age of ten he decided to read the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in one year, which to the amazement of his parents he did. The next year he did it again, and also the next year. As a young man he led many of his friends to the Lord. He was greatly mocked at school for refusing to say or do ungodly things, but it did not phase him.

Then at the age of fifteen two things happened that rocked him to the core of his being.

A friend at school became ill with leukaemia, and the young man prayed for his healing, believing that God would heal. But the young man died.

Shortly after that, an older Christian boy, and a great example to the young man, committed suicide.

The young man went off the rails completely with deep anger towards God.

He left home at the earliest point and got involved with a bad crowd, getting into several fights every week. Then one night, the crowd challenged him to kick in a shop window and take a trophy from within.

This he did, and walked off up the road in full view of many bystanders carrying several little notebooks as a trophy. Someone called the police and he was arrested and called to stand before the judge on the charge of burglary.

Justice demanded that he be sentenced for breaking the law. There were no get out clauses written into the law.

I confess that to my amazement (and for the first time) I am on the verge of tears as I recall this!

The mercy of God touched the judge's heart. He looked at the 19 year old lad, read a few lines from a letter that a former teacher wrote about him, and without hesitation, let the lad off with a year's conditional discharge.

No fine, no community service or prison sentence. A clear record after one year.

The shocked solicitor didn't even get a chance to defend him and did not send the lad a bill for his time before and during the court appearance.

The young lad recognised that this was God's mercy, and it broke the years of anger.

Where sin abounded, grace abounded more!

The judge was not approving or encouraging lawlessness. He showed mercy. Moved by the hand of God I believe he mixed mercy with justice.

In no way could that mercy be presumed by the same lad if there was a next time, nor could it be presumed on by another offender.

For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." (Romans 9:15)

The laws of adultery were well understood in Israel, and the Pharisees, probably believing Jesus was 'soft on sin' dragged a woman caught in the very act of adultery before Him to 'test' him.

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.  (John 8:3-5)

They were correct in that the woman was, and knew she was, breaking one of God's laws. She was 100% guilty and her accusers knew that.

The last thing she expected from that group of men was mercy. But that is what she got from the One who was asked to judge her.

Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dust. Almost certainly He was silently writing various sins that He knew were hidden in the lives of her accusers, because after writing He stood up and said to them

"He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground"

A remarkable thing happened.

Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (John 8:7-9)

Now alone with the adulteress Jesus said to her

 "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

To which she - almost certainly in shock - said to Him

 "No one, Lord."

Jesus finished the incident by stating to her

"Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 8: 10-11)

There is no mercy built into the letter of the law. It comes from the lawgiver and it is only as we grow in our understanding of Him that we can dispense it

The Sabbath law had no ifs or buts built into it, so the cold hearts of the Pharisees twice thought they had grounds for accusing Jesus and His disciples.

Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, "Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?" (Luke 6:1-2)

Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. (Luke 6:6-7)

Jesus had to explain the Spirit behind the letter. The law was for man's good and was never a hindrance to doing good and saving life.

And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

In the Old Testament a man could divorce his wife by writing her a letter of divorce. She had no security whatsoever.

The Pharisees asked Jesus about this issue, testing Him. (It is still a big testing issue)

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" (Matthew 19:3)

Jesus replied

"Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6 )

Referring to Deuteronomy 24:1 the Pharisees then said.

"Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" (Matthew 19:7)

To which Jesus replied..

He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." (Matthew 19:8-9)

Earlier Jesus had spoken to His followers about this question of just giving a written letter of divorce.

"Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

Where Jesus deals with this issue mainly from the man's perspective, Paul deals with it from a woman's perspective should she consider divorcing her husband.

For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. (Romans 7:2-3 )

Thus the covenant of marriage was declared to be inviolate - except for sexual immorality - and thus marriage was to not only commanded to be a safe and secure place, and in Godly order, but as Paul later explained in Ephesians 5 it was to represent the mystery of Christ and the church.

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

In Australia I saw an excellent poster campaign along the busy roadsides where the police regularly operate (the generally unpopular) speed cameras.

The poster shows a police officer looking up the road holding a speed camera. The caption says 'There's a reason behind it', and then we see that lined up behind the police officer is a long line of ordinary people. Mothers and children, the elderly etc. Suddenly we see the spirit behind the law. It is to protect people.

If there was a poster for these strict marriage laws we might see the words 'There's a reason behind it' and then we would see complete families standing together as one against the trials and tribulations of this world.

Hence the law is good and all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord will be in full agreement with that law.

Some will knowingly, willingly, break that law through hardness of heart, callousness, carnality, lust, boredom, ambition or whatever, and the full weight of the Kingdom law stands against them.

The young constable in our story would be right to write their penalty according to the law, and the penalty is that they become adulterers, and not only will blessings decrease or cease, but the chastening of the Lord will surely follow. 

And he would be right to write out his ticket. The law is meant for such as these.

Sin is not harmful because it is forbidden, it is forbidden because it is harmful.

The innocent victims of such ungodly behaviour however find themselves in the very situation that the law was designed to protect them against.

They agreed with God's parameters, sought to live by those parameters, but through no fault of their own find themselves on the wrong side of those parameters.

The young policemen will still write out his tickets to such people in distress, thus further increasing their distress. The law that was meant to fully protect them is now adding to their plight.

The spouse who has divorced them has left them felling rejected worthless and abandoned. And above all feeling alone on their journey through life.

Does Jesus - the senior policeman in the story - agree with the young zealous constable, or does He who sees the heart and knows the Spirit behind the law (since He established it Himself) gently and graciously take the ticket off the young policeman and say 'My son, I think a little mercy is called for here'

You decide.

Perhaps this extract from Paul's letter to Timothy should be included to complete the picture of the two policemen.

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, (1 Timothy 1:8-9)

But in your thoughts understand this.

Jesus came to bring life and life abundant, and when the devil steals, kills and destroys he loves nothing more than the cold letter of the law to complete his work. (Luke 4: 9 - 11) thus portraying God as a merciless God, devoid of mercy and compassion.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth..

..who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Where the Spirit is truly behind the letter of the law there is liberty.

Righteous judgement and appropriate consequences for the wicked and liberty for the captives.

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17 )

When seeking to understand the heart of the lawgiver, the Spirit behind the letter of the law, recall His proclamation regarding His mission.

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; (Luke 4:18)

Some time ago I listened to a teaching on the issue of divorce and remarriage given by Derek Prince, and initially I could not come into agreement with it. He said that he felt that the issue needed to be wisely decided on case by case by the Church authority figures.

I now do agree with what he taught, but don't envy the task of ministering grace and truth as God would deliver it in each case. Wisdom from above is needed.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)

I think that the mainline denominations in Northern Ireland such as the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland have got it right when they leave it to the individual conscience of the minister in each church who accesses each situation.

In fifteen years of prayer ministry within the Body of Christ we have sought to discern and hear the heart of the Lord for each person. On one hand we have sought never to compromise on God's clear Kingdom truth, and on the other hand we have sought to bring the grace, mercy and compassion of  God into play, and to wisely hold these two apparent opposites in correct tension.  Always asking ourselves if we are being too legalistic, or too liberal?

At times it has not been easy!

At the end of the day of course its all of grace. Every thing from the authoring to the finishing of our faith, its all of grace. No wonder the word is mentioned nearly 140 times throughout scripture.

The truly humble and repentant marriage breaker can find grace.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart-These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalms 51:17)

Where sin abounds grace abounds more, but woe betide the man or woman who thinks they can use this as a licence for their selfish carnality. (Romans 6:1)

We must seek to obey, live by, and never compromise the truth, and be passionate rather than aggressive about sharing  and declaring the truth, and seek to live out our lives from the twin bases of a great love for the Lord and a rightful fear of the Lord.

And we must always remain open to the abundant grace of our God so that like Jesus, we might be full of grace and truth.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

[see also The Pharisee spirit]

 

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