Living by Faith

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the March 14, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern." Proverbs 29:7, NIV

While the lesson this week places strong emphasis on obedience to the Law, it seems that we have a tendency to preach about obedience until our sermons become as dry as the proverbial hills of Gilboa.[i] Perhaps this is because the nature of that obedience is construed as a strict obedience to ten precepts etched in stone over three thousand years ago. They are recorded in their entirety in Exodus, chapter 20 and Deuteronomy, chapter 5. There is some difference between the two accounts as to the justification for Sabbath keeping, which leads me to believe that the command may have been etched in stone, while the justification for that fourth commandment may not have been. But it is not that justification that is my intended focus for this commentary.

The important point I wish us to consider is that there is nothing in the law that requires compassion or love. It is often said that the first four commandments are based on love for God, and the last six are based on love for one’s fellow man. However, if one considers the actual text of the Decalogue, it becomes apparent that one may keep the letter of every single precept without a single shred of love or compassion. For instance, I do not need to love my neighbor to keep from murdering him. It may simply be fear of being caught and punished that keeps me from such a heinous act. In that instance, the only love that might be there would be love of self-preservation. In regards to the first four commandments, it is possible for even an atheist to adhere to the letter of those laws, and therefore not be doing so because of any love for God.

No, when the Bible speaks of the Law, it must be speaking of something far more profound than those lithic monuments to brittle legalism. It is notable that, when Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?” He did not recite anything from the Decalogue. Instead, He drew upon a more primal, foundational notion of obedience. He stated that love is the greatest Law.[ii] Since He did not pull this from within the writings of the stone tablets, by the term “greatest,” He placed that Law above the ten and thereby indicated that all subsequent Law is only valid if drawn from that principle of love. Appropriately, He even placed the prophets under that standard.

If we understand the concept well enough we might be able to see that the standard of love, not the simplistic wording of the commandments given at Sinai, has been the Law from the beginning. Because God loves us, he gave a beautiful earth to us for our home.[iii] Because He loves us, He gave us adequate rest as epitomized by the Sabbath,[iv] which goes beyond a simple gift of time to represent the grace and rest of salvation.[v]

 Perhaps we can see that it is love that almost completely died out in the pre-Noahic world and made necessary the flooding of the planet. The ante-deluvians had so squelched the idea of love that they only reaped a continual harvest of misery for themselves and others. In a sense, we might say that the flood was not so much a punishment for evil as a release from that never-ending wretchedness. There can come a point where the torment is so great that death can be seen as a relief rather than a curse. In spite of Hollywood’s portrayal of desperate attempts to enter Noah’s ark and battles between Noah and the lost, there may have been a recognition of how bad things had actually become and a resignation to the idea that the hell that had come to be on earth was finally going to stop.

Jesus compared the time prior to His second coming to that ante-deluvian world.[vi] What did He mean by that? Perhaps that love would almost die out once again on earth, to be replaced by selfish grasping and oppression.[vii] Yet, as in Noah’s day, some would remain firmly obedient.[viii] But what does that mean in the context of what I have been saying? It simply means that he or she who stands firm and continues to keep on loving others and God, in spite of the hellacious world around them, will be saved. But this does not mean that only those will have the opportunity to be saved. God does not want anyone to miss out.[ix] To that end, He will, as the “Hound of heaven” relentlessly pursue the wandering with the hope of salvation, driven by His love for each one of us.

Once we respond to that pursuit and receive the salvation He offers, we will begin to change as our stony selfishness and lack of concern for others is replaced by love and compassion.[x] That will then transform our characters as that love causes us to empathize with the plight of others. We will not only avoid killing them, stealing the hearts of their spouses or stealing their property, stealing their reputation, or even lusting for anything they own, but we will also do all in our power to lift them up and honor them whether they are our own family members or utter strangers. Sadly, too many who do not understand that the Law is love and not a mere legalistic obedience to some precepts, allow themselves to denigrate those around them to the point that they drive them ever downward in the eyes of the world and even in their own eyes until they end up like those in the picture at the top of our page. Perhaps those in the picture have been abused for so long that they no longer feel they even deserve anything better than “hardwood” floors that let the wind blow through and sharing beds without quilts to allow them to stave off some of those harsh winds. There is enough wealth in the world that no one should have to live like that.

Unfortunately, there is also far too common an attitude that I should not have to share any of my greater wealth to alleviate their problems, because they don’t deserve it. However, no one deserves to be wealthy. Wealth is not a right. It is a blessing bestowed on some that they might be a blessing in turn to those less fortunate. We are all equally sinners.[xi] Therefore, we are all equally undeserving. However, no one is less deserving of salvation than anyone else, and God sends the healing rain of His grace that all might have opportunity to be saved.[xii]

We were originally created in God’s image.[xiii] If God is love,[xiv] then the reproduction of His image would mean that we were created to love as well. When man was given dominion over the Earth, he was to rule in love, just as God rules the universe. Maybe it would be appropriate then that we would choose not to withhold our love from anyone and no longer worry whether or not they deserve it. A water fountain does not ask the one drinking if they deserve to drink its water. Instead the blessing of water to quench the parched throat is given freely. All may become thirsty, so all may drink. All who need it should be able to count on our grace and love, and the understanding those traits engender.

The early church understood that this is how love works. They had a needs based social gospel,[xv] and that allowed them to work in harmony with the Holy Spirit as they manifested the love and compassion man was created to have. As a result, the church grew daily and many came home to God and found their true identity and purpose in loving others as they had been loved. It was a remarkable time when Christians could love and forgive even those who slew them.[xvi] How can we then dare to ask today whether or not someone is deserving of our love and compassion? Can there be any other reason than a desire not to share, not to love universally?

The blessings we have, are they not our own? Are we not free to do with them as we wish? Why then do we feel the need to justify our choices by belittling others and questioning their worth? Is it because the Holy Spirit is moving our hearts, softening them, and we are resisting that influence? Perhaps it is time to humbly surrender our hearts that they may be reborn with none of the stoniness they have hitherto known. Is it possible to restore the image of God, that image of love and compassion that we were created to be? Maybe we can do so in preparation for the glorious day of Jesus’ return. If we can endure and keep alive that love and compassion until then, through the grace of God, our salvation will be sure.

[i] 2 Samuel 1:21

[ii] Matthew 22:36-40

[iii] Genesis 2:8

[iv] Genesis 2:2-3

[v] Hebrews 4:1-11

[vi] Matthew 24:37

[vii] Matthew 24:12

[viii] Matthew 24:13

[ix] Matthew 18:12-14

[x] Ezekiel 36:26

[xi] Romans 3:10, 23

[xii] Matthew 5:43-48

[xiii] Genesis 1:26-27

[xiv] 1 John 4:8

[xv] Acts 2:42-47

[xvi] Acts 7:59-60



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