Sunday, 28 October 2018

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3 - Part 3

Old Glory

We can be fully assured that the Apostle Paul was thoroughly conversant with the events which accompanied the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. We can be equally sure that, as an appointed Apostle, writing Scripture under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he knew and was thoroughly convinced of the difference the new covenant makes. Thus we must pay careful attention, not only to what he tells us about those earlier events, but also to what he says it means for us who are in Christ.

Two Tablets of Stone - Given Twice!

Reading the Mosaic account in the book of Exodus shows how, whilst Moses is high up on the mountain receiving the two slabs upon which God engraves the Ten Commandments, the people he God has used him to rescue are abandoning themselves to idolatry and immorality at its foot. Moses had said to them:
"Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." (Exodus 20 vs 20)
And the presence of God was attended with glory:
"When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights." (Exodus 24 vs 15 - 18)
Moses alone enters that thick cloud. Moses receives not only the Ten Commandments, but instructions regarding the Aaronic priesthood, along with many other commandments and instructions, including how to construct the tent of meeting. Of this last, God says:
"For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory." (Exodus 29 vs 42,43)
But the people tire of waiting, a golden calf is cast from Egyptian gold, and they bow down to it. The consequence is that when Moses descends from his encounter with God, there is righteous anger, judgement - and the stone tablets are shattered. It is only the mediatorial intercession of Moses that stays Gods hand from destroying them. But Moses pleads for more than mercy and forgiveness. He petitions that, despite their great sin, God would nevertheless go with His people into the land of promise. And this God agrees. Yet, Moses is not done. His next request of this great God, whom he has come to know so well, should stagger us. For Moses asks:
“Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33 vs 18)
And this, God arranges:
"I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence."
Again, God reiterates the Ten Commandments, but this time, it is Moses, not God, who engraves them on the stone tablets (Exodus 34 vs 27,28). The first two tablets had been inscribed by the finger of God. But the second two were written by the hand of man. And - note this - that in the old covenant ministry of faithful Moses, the glory of God is displayed in His goodness and in the proclamation of His name, Yahweh.

Moses' Radiant Face

I have taken some time to go through all this. More detail is given in the text - I have just given summary. But it is this second occasion to which Paul alludes in 2 Cor 3. Exodus, again:
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord." (ch 34 vs 29 - 35)
 Note that the appearance of Moses' radiant face occurs after his seeing the glory of God in this 'close-up-and-personal', intimate manner. It is not mentioned when he comes back to the people with the first two stone tablets, which are then destroyed. Therefore, I conclude, along with Paul, that this phenomena is not so much attendant to the giving of Law itself (it didn't happen the first time) as it is to the ministry of Moses. 2 Corinthians 3 vs 7 refers:
"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory ..."
The stone tablets did not shine! It was the living face of the mediator which retained the light of the glory of God.

Second, it seems reasonable to think that this retained splendour was as a result of the more intensive revelation of God's glory. There is a Jewish tradition that this radiance did not fade - at least, not until he died. We shall see that this inference is not what 2 Corinthians 3 is saying.

The reason for emphasising this is that Covenant Theology wants to assert that there is continuity between the glory of the old covenant and that, although far greater, of the new. And that therefore this 'underlining' of the Law carries its authority through. But Paul is clear in his statement that the ministry which included the Law was what 'came with' glory. The glory was attendant to the ministry.  Spurgeon says:
"I would have you notice that this communion with God included intense intercession for the people. God will not have fellowship with our selfishness. Moses came out of himself, and became an intense pleader for the people; and so he became like the Son of God, and the glory descended on him. How he pleaded! With what sighs and cries he besought Jehovah not to destroy the men who had vexed his Holy Spirit!"
 We see, then, that this ministry goes far beyond the giving of the Law, and all the other commandments too.

Third, we need to note that there were three 'phases' here, not two. Here are the verses again from Exodus 34:
" 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord."
So, we have:
  1. Moses in the Lord's presence - unveiled
  2. Moses communicating to Israel what God had said - unveiled and radiant
  3. Moses after he had finished conveying God's commands - veiled until he again goes in to speak with the Lord. 
We see, then, even from Exodus, that although the initial reaction to the splendour emanating from the face of their leader was great fear, such that they ran from him, Moses brings them back. And after this, they regularly observe this shining, when he emerges from the Tent of Meeting to speak with them. Thus, as Paul notes, to avoid their being afraid is not the explanation for Moses' veiling of his face. We shall see what that is in due course.

The Shekinah Glory

'Shekinah' is not a Bible word. But the Jews used it to describe the visible glory exhibited by the personal presence of God. Exodus 40 vs 34 - 38 tells us that God's glory so filled the newly-erected tabernacle that even Moses could not enter:
"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels."
Similarly at the dedication of Solomon's newly-built temple:
"When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good; his love endures forever.”" (2 Chronicles 3 vs 1 - 3)
Thus we observe that the glory of God is not to be thought as attaching to the Law of Moses, but rather to the whole of the covenant between God and Israel. It demonstrates the very presence of the Lord Himself within the 'ministry' of covenant. In the next and final part of these 'reflections', I will consider what Paul is actually saying in 2 Corinthians 3.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3 - Part 2


In this seminal chapter, Paul says that both the old and the new covenant ministries 'came with glory'. He then goes on to state that the glory of the latter 'surpasses that of the former. Much of his illustration is concerned with this 'glory'. So it will benefit if we arrive at an understanding of what he means by the word.

It is evident that'glory' is not an object in and of itself. Rather, it is a quality which each of the two ministries 'came with'. The Greek word 'doxa' means judgement or opinion, and this gets extended to express 'good reputation' or 'honour' or 'majesty'. The Hebrew word behind it carries the meaning of 'weight' or 'importance'.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul demonstrates the foolishness of disparaging the resurrection body because it will be different to our current mortal bodies - inconceivable to his sneering opponents. 
"But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish!" (vs 13)
He states that all kinds of created, astronomical structures have different kinds of bodies. And that each has its own type of 'doxa' - glory:
" There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor." (vs 40, 41)
'Glory', then, is not a purely spiritual thing. Natural things can have 'glory'. It can be considered as the way that human senses are impacted by or impressed by the object - it is the 'shining'; that which gives us the 'wow' factor. We look at a sunset and we describe it as 'glorious. Or the magnificence of a splendid horse in full stride. Or even a distinguished human ruler or leader.

The Glory of God

When it comes to God, His glory can either be revealed or concealed. Jesus refers to the glory which He shared with the Father before the worlds were made (John 17 vs 5):
"Now, Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world existed." (John 17 vs 5)
He says that He has 'glorified' and will glorify His Father, and that the Father will 'glorified' Him:
" I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." (John 17 vs 4)

" Jesus said these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you" (John 17 vs 1)
He also speaks of glory brought to Him by His disciples:
"All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them." (John 17 vs 10)
...the glory given to His disciples by Him:
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one" (John 17 vs 22)
... and, stunningly, He speaks of the cross in terms of His glorification:
"Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." (John 12 vs 23)
... and finally, the glory He desires His followers to eventually see, in His presence:
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." (John 17 vs 24)
So, without exaggeration, all that the Father has done and will do in and through His Son is pervaded by glory, and suffused with mutual glorifying. In conclusion, then, we can say of the glory of God, that:

  • It is shared between Father and Son before creation
  • It spills from heaven itself at the incarnation (Luke 2 vs 9, 14)
  • It manifests in the person and work of the Son throughout His earthly life (John 1 vs 14)
  • It is displayed in the cross, where the love of God is declared
  • It floods from the empty tomb  (Matthew 28 vs 2,3)
  • It will fill all of heaven for eternity
And then, we must not bypass this:
"... so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5 vs 26,27)
The purpose of Christ is invested in the glory of those who are His. The church which bears His name.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3 - Part 1

2 Corinthians 3 is a crucial chapter in the understanding of the relationship between the old and the
new covenant. Paul is engaged, for a good proportion of the letter, in defending his being recognised as a true Apostle. It would appear that there were those who had come to the church at Corinth, or who had arisen from their midst, who were claiming themselves to be 'the' authoritative leaders to whom these believers should listen and who they should follow. Paul makes no secret of the fact that he is not interested in a battle of egos. Personality is not to be the grounds on which the issue is decided. So what is? Paul is abundantly clear. It is the nature and character of the 'ministry' the Apostle delivers.

Who is the 'we'?

I recently had the privilege of attending a 'Pastor's Study Day' on the subject of 'the Christian and the Law of God', run by Dr Garry William's. I am grateful to him for his careful examination of this passage, alongside Exodus 34, from which Paul draws a dynamic parallel. It is this that has prompted these further thoughts.

Paul makes statements such as:
"Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end." (2 Corinthians 3:12-13 ESV )
It occurs to me that it is essential to understand exactly who it is that Paul is speaking of. This will help us understand the thrust of the passage. It is easy to just assume that he means 'believers' - members within the new covenant as contrasted with those who were in the old covenant. If so, he is making a general point about our accessibility to God, made possible by Christ. But I think we will see that that does not make the best sense of the flow of his argument at all. That it is better to see this as a distinguishing authentication of his call to be an Apostle. True, later in his discourse on chapter 3, he widens to include 'we all', and speaks of the effects of various factors on the individual's hearts. But he doesn't begin there.

Will the Real Apostles Please Stand Up?

Paul begins chapter 3 by dismissing the need for a kind of spiritual cv in order to be recognised as a true Apostle. Is it to be about 'letters of recommendation'? Such human mechanisms would be wide open to abuse, their acceptance or rejection a matter of mere subjective analysis on the part of the recipients. Who would be in a position to write such a thing? Who could truly know? Endless argument and bickering would ensue. No, Paul says, this matter is down to God, not man:

"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV)

'Claims' are not enough. The only grounds for 'sufficiency' comes from God, not from human means at all.

What he is saying, in essence, is that what distinguishes an Apostle, what makes him what he is, is not the man himself. Rather, it is his ministry. So the question to decide is this. Is this 'candidate' for consideration as Apostle ad-ministering from God?

The 'Men Commendments' of the New Covenant

What Paul does here is to demonstrate that the new covenant is eminently superior to the old covenant. And that this is his ministry, which he serves. His 'letter of recommendation' is not a written document at all, rather, it is the actual church at Corinth. And here is his first contrast. Remarkably, significantly, it is here that he begins to place the two covenants side by side.

"And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV)
When Moses descends from Mount Sinai, the authentication of his leadership in the eyes of the Israelites is that God has given him the tablets of stone engraved with the Ten Commandments. This is ‘the result of his ministry’. Indeed, way back at the burning bush, God had indicated that the proof to Moses himself that it was God who had sent him was to be that he, and all Israel with him, would worship God 'on this mountain' (Exodus 3/4).

In the new covenant, there is to be a critical difference. Paul's 'licence' to be an Apostle is seen by everyone and anyone as:
  • The living entity which is the church at Corinth, not cold stone tablets 
  • Written on the beating, loving heart of the Apostle, not engraved in stone tablets, carried in hands 
  • Written with God's 'Spirit-ink', not mere words and letters 

Moses could be called 'the Apostle of the old covenant. Paul's intention here is to compare the covenant callings to their respective ministries. And thus he will illustrate that the new covenant vastly surpasses the old. Initially, he demonstrates that Moses' passes through to Israel the relationship with God which is governed by the Law. Whereas that of the new Israel is governed by the Spirit of God Himself. Moses brings the Ten Commandments. Paul's Apostleship embeds the concerns of those who are saved into his very heart, engraved there by the inner work of this Spirit. This is ‘the result of his ministry’.

Confidence and Competence

Paul is not diffident about this. He states that his confidence is rooted in Christ, and stand up in the very presence of God. It is a robust confidence, and it leads to competence in this new ministry of the life-giving Spirit, contrasted with the old ministry of the letter, which, he says, kills. If any of his so-called competitors are peddling a kind of rehashed Mosaic law, in any respect, they are dealers of death, not life.

We need to note that the Apostle is referencing something quite specific here. He is not saying that it is the ‘written-ness’ of God’s communication which causes death – after all, he is actually writing a letter himself! He is explicitly speaking about the old covenant, within which the effect of God’s given law, on those two stone tablets, was to bring about condemnation and death. And, quite obviously, it was not the words themselves, but rather the sombre fact that no-one could perfectly live up to what was being commanded.

Bold Behaviour

Thus, Paul says, because of the nature and character of the new ministry, as compared to the old, this results in different behaviour on the part of those who exercise it – bold behaviour.

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (vs 12)

The ‘we’ speaks of the way those who have received, first-hand, from the Lord what they now pass on in their gospel conduct themselves before their hearers. Not like Moses, who obstructed the view the Israelites had of his encounter, face to face, with God (albeit at their request). No, rather, the Apostles of Christ show forth, in their lives and in their preaching, all of the fullness of what they have witnessed, with no veiling. The Apostle John says:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1 vs 14)
And Peter attests:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1 vs 16 – 18)
Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians, Paul states ‘what I received from the Lord, I passed on to you’.

Of all that has been revealed to these men, chosen by Christ Himself to bear witness, nothing is hidden from their hearers. And this is the witness which we see and read when we open our New Testaments. Bold, Spirit-written, words of life. For us, this means that what we have in the Apostolic word, in our Bibles, is not only reliable, it is complete. Nothing is withheld from us that we need for the fullest understanding of who Christ is and what He has made us in Himself.

More about this chapter in the next article.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Will There Be Law In Heaven?

This is the question I recently posed in two of our New Covenant Theology groups on Facebook, inviting thoughts and discussion. I will reveal my reason for asking that, along with my own thoughts. Interestingly, the response from both ‘sides’ of the ever-ongoing ‘law for believers’ debate is in agreement – a resounding ‘No’! In support of that, the consensus seems to argue that as law is to do with the control of sinful behaviour, and there will be no sin in heaven, there will thus be no need for God’s law. Indeed, Paul says to Timothy:

“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 1 vs 9 – 11)

It is not difficult to see where this conclusion comes from, and I agree with the argument. But, strangely, I do not agree with the conclusion. I think there will be law in heaven. Follows my explanation.

Priesthood and Law

Hebrews is key when we are considering the old covenant. There is an important statement in chapter 7 which, I believe, helps us to answer my question. Verse 12 says:
“For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.”
The writer’s argument is contained in the preceding verse:
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”
So he is establishing that there is an inseparable union between ‘the law given to the people’ and the priesthood. Why? Because it is the law that ‘establishes’ the priesthood. We can actually state this two ways:

  1. The law determines the priesthood, and,
  2. The priesthood enacts and administers their law

The one is completely interwoven with and interdependent on the other – you cannot pull them apart.

The purpose of a particular priesthood, its‘raison d’etre’, is to put into effect its particular law.

We see this very clearly with the Levitical priesthood. Intricate instruction is given to Moses concerning the appointment of the Aaronic priesthood. There are no exceptions. And of course, this requirement was adhered to throughout Jewish history, even following the Exile. Strict lineage had to be proven beyond doubt for all who would function a God’s priest.

Secondly, the functioning of the priesthood exegetes and applies the Mosaic Law to the community of Israel – they 'publish' and they ‘police’ it.

So, Hebrews argues, if the priesthood is replaced by another (the meaning of the word ‘change’ means ‘replaced’ not just ’altered’), there must also be a replacing of the law. If, and only if, the old law was still in place, and continued to function, would the old priesthood order continue.

A New and Better Priesthood

Hebrews goes on to demonstrate that in the covenant of Christ, we have such a change occurring. Jesus is a High Priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (vs 11, 17). Thus the Levitical priesthood is dispensed with – made obsolete – by its replacement. And gloriously, we see that He is the ‘substance’ of which the old covenant priesthood and law was just a ‘shadow’:
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (vs 18,19)
So along with the obsolescence of the old priesthood, the Law of Moses is no more. It is replaced by whatever it was the ‘shadow’ of, whatever acts in the place of ‘law’ in the administration of Christ - the 'better hope' of which the writer speaks. And about this, Hebrews, of course, has much more to say, all of which exalts and proclaims the unique, singular, wholely effective functioning of Christ as our High Priest. He is now, for each and every believer; for the church through all the ages, the only Priest we will ever need. He is the eternal High Priest, who ministers in the very presence of the living God on our behalf. He is the eternal High Priest  …
‘on the basis of the power of an indestructible life’ (vs16), 
the Son, who has been made perfect forever.’ (vs 28). 
Praise be to His Name!

Thus, we are presented with the eternal credentials of the ever-living Son of God.

High Priest – Forever

Now here is the intriguing thing. If the priestly ministry of the Son is eternal, then so must be whatever acts for ‘law’ (the 'better hope') in His ministration. We see that ‘covenant’ is the ‘wrapper’ which defines all of these components, explaining clearly how God is relating to its members. The covenant is God’s established, regulative outline of how He acts within it. Whilst the covenant endures, so does the component priesthood-and-law combination within it. The New Testament – the revelation of God’s Son, and the subsequent ‘unpacking’ of that ‘super-nova’ of God’s truth – makes it clear that the institution of the new covenant (with all of its components) has made the old redundant – all of it. And that this is God’s final word. There will be no further covenant. There will be no new priesthood. And there will be no ‘new law’.

In other words, what functions in the community of the glorified saints of Christ then will be no different to what functions in the community of the justified-but-not-yet-glorified saints now. What WILL differ is our state of being. But Jesus – the risen, glorified, ascended Lord – will be just as much our great High Priest then as He ever was. Douglas Moo argues that it is not that we are in some kind of interim state in anticipation of the resurrection glory to come. But rather, that in and through Christ, and the Spirit He has sent to the church, God has already begun His kingdom work in us – the Gospel inaugurates it. That will be revealed – not begun – when Christ returns. And this means that heaven will not be the start of a new ‘order’ or dispensation. Rather, it will be the consummation of the current one.

So what does this mean for our question?

Eternal ‘Law’

I would suggest that whatever you take to be ‘the Law of Christ’ as Paul refers to in Galatians 6 vs 2, is actually ‘eternal law’. It is functional from its institution, and it will not end, neither will it be replaced, because the Priesthood of Christ will never be replaced. There will be no further ‘change’ in the priesthood, therefore it follows that there will be no further ‘change’ in the ‘law’ which

a) Institutes the priesthood, and
b) Is regulated by it.

And this has some interesting ramifications. It means that whatever commands of the New Testament, as the word of God for us, relate to our pre-glorified condition only, cannot be a part of the ‘eternal law’. Because they will pass away at the end of this present age. Two observations:

  1. Commands relating to how we live, in Christ, which deal with sinfulness, cannot be included in ’the Law of Christ’.
  2. Commands relating to evangelising in the fallen world, also, cannot be included in’ the Law of Christ’.

… simply because these two circumstances will not exist in heaven, all New Testament imperatives which concern themselves with these two considerations will not be required – they are temporal and temporary, not eternal.

Conversely, it can be argued that any aspects of what we are commanded within our covenant which will carry over into glory are at least ‘candidates’ for what could be called ‘the law of Christ’, because they will also be true and active under the ongoing Priesthood of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is concerned with differentiating what will ‘remain’ from what will ‘pass away’ He says:
“ Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (vs 13)
So Paul actually identifies a third category of commands which cannot be a part of this ‘law of Christ’ – that which relates to the gifting of the church for her functioning within this word; these gifts are not required in heaven; they will be unnecessary.

It follows, then, that the new commandment of Jesus, that His disciples love one another as He has loved them IS the hub of this ‘eternal law’, because it endures beyond our mortal lives, and beyond the dissolution of this heavens and earth, and the new creation of the heavenly ones. We WILL carry on both loving God and loving one another throughout eternity. Perfectly so!

I leave this with my brothers and sisters to think and pray through. I have my own views on what Paul intends by his singular use of the phrase ‘law of Christ’ in Galatians 6. What I have attempted to do here is to demonstrate that whatever view is taken, it must be coherent with the ongoing priesthood of Christ – it cannot be for this life only. I believe that such an examination will lead us on to understand it more, in the light of the Biblical hermeneutic, whatever our starting point.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Living for the Lord - Bareback!

Thinking about the difference between old covenant lifestyle, under the Law of Moses, and new
covenant lifestyle in the Spirit of God, perhaps we struggle to find the agreement between obedience and our freedom in Christ. The vigorous, ongoing debate between the respective views over whether there is or there  is not a 'law' in play for believers contrasts two legitimate desires.

On the One Hand ...

Those who want to insist there is such a law are concerned with our obedience to God, in committed and specified choices and activities in our Christian living. Thus, they say, there have to be law-like commanding going on in the New Testament Scriptures which function in the same way as Mosaic Law did in the old covenant, binding the believer in law-like function, and holding him accountable. There is, then, a definitive prescribing in God's word for our lifestyle, which stand against any thought that we can just do as we 'feel' the Spirit is leading us.

... And On The Other ...

Those who want to emphasise that we are not under law, but rather under grace, and that we are to live lives led by the Spirit who indwells us are concerned to explore, to the glory of the risen Lord, all the joy and freedom, within the parameters of a holy life, unrestricted by the law-keeping of the old covenant. In its place, they argue, is the guiding hand of the Spirit, who imparts not only God's standards, but the very desire to live to them.

Concessions and Allowances

There needs to be grace on both sides. For the concern on the other is good. But the tendency is for both 'sides' of the argument to push the conclusions of the other to extremes, and then to accuse accordingly. Law-obedience tends to legalism (but doesn't have to end up there). No-Law living looks like, or could lead to, licence and licentiousness (but, again, doesn't have to end up there).

On Both Hands!

I have recently discovered what appears to me to be an excellent - and in my view, quite beautiful - analogy to illustrate this difference. It comes from an area of life I know very little about. Horseriding.

Cowboys and Native Americans!

We are used to seeing riders on horseback, if not in the flesh, on the TV. We view them adequately equipped with all the 'tack' which has become part and parcel of that scene. Saddles, stirrups, bits and reins all contribute to the horseman or horsewoman's control of the animal they are mounted on. But my mind goes to the Wild West movies of my youth. When the cowboys rode as described. But the 'native Americans' did not. They rode - bareback! Vastly different styles of riding, I am sure you will agree. The question arises; how do riders control their mounts without any of the 'gear'? And this is what I researched. The answers are intriguing. A quote from the website
"The Native American Nez Perce Indians were some of the greatest horsemen on the Plains. They rode their bareback horses with such skill as to be the envy of Lewis and Clarke, the settlers of the Old West and the American cavalry too."
How did they do that? Here's how it works. I quote again:
"Developing as great sense of balance isn't the only benefit to riding bareback. You will find a beautiful channel of communication opens up between you and your horse. Without several inches of blanket and leather saddle between you and your horse, you will feel their every move. Your horse was always been moving and sending signals to you, but now you are suddenly much more aware of them. When bareback, you can feel your horse’s intentions clearly and respond faster. This channel of communication goes both ways. The horse can feel your every move as well. With such close contact between horse and rider, you’ll find yourself responding too and sending out ever more and more subtle signals. This beautifully silent communication between horse and rider becomes nearly invisible to the observer. Horse and rider are like one. It doesn't get any better than that!"
Essentially, the artificial aids may make life easier for the rider to control the horse, but that is the lazy way. What they do is to impose several 'layers' between horse and rider, which destroys much of the communication between two living beings. Bareback riders learn how to so interact with their animal, that the horse responds to subtle signals - and co-operates. Something in the horse's makeup delights to do so, to please its master. And vice-versa. Because their is no intervening, sensory depletion in cues which flag the horse's behaviour, the rider can anticipate and respond accordingly in a speedy manner. The summary above is apt. The horse and the rider are as one.

Spiritual Horseriding

This seems to me to exactly illustrate the way that external, law-command-and-keep dynamics work in the old covenant. God's law imposes His will on a people who are resistant in their nature to obedience to it. Structure and function make it work. Even where the hearts of those within the covenant are faith-filled and complicit, yet this law is an imposed law, not-natural to those it is placed upon. The requirements of God may well be called 'demandments' rather than 'commandments'. This Law  is described in the New Testament as "a burden neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15 vs 10). Faith in those time points God's true Israel, the remnant within physical Israel, to the day when the love of God's standards will be implanted within the hearts of His own children. When the Messiah came and the Spirit was poured out.

But the way the poured-out, Christ-exalting Spirit of God now works within believers is no longer like that. What God has done is to remove the intervening insulating and artificial 'saddlery' from His interaction with the believer. The Spirit-believer relationship works like the bareback rider-horse does. The will of God for us is communicated by this amazing presence of God, right within our being, in the Person of His Spirit. He speaks still, authoritatively, from His word, and its importance and place in all of this is unquestioned. But because of the 'skin-to-skin' contact, He is able to relate to us - and from us - all that Christ wants for us in our new life in Him. We become 'as one'.

Thus the picture of obedience within each and every believer is still that of volitional and active response and responsiveness - and responsibility (and 'response-ability'!). And yet, there is also an intensely personal 'woven-in' experiential aspect of this which employs our faculties. Paul counsels, in Ephesians 5:

"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (vs 1&2)

and ...

" Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord." (vs 9&10)

'Follow God's example' - 'Christ's example'.
'The way of love' - 'all goodness, righteousness and truth'.
'What pleases the Lord'

'Understand what the Lord’s will is'
'be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.'

The intimate interface between our spirit and God's Spirit is a part of what is essentially new in the new covenant. God does not drive us from His 'saddle', as the old covenant had Him do. God rides 'bareback.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

No Law! Yes, Really

David Gay has issued, and very quickly published, in pdf and audio-sermon form, a critique of my comment in the New Covenant Grace group. Sadly, every single one of his criticisms is flawed and invalid. He quotes me:

No Law!

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control against such things there is no law (Galatians 5 vs23 ESV). This verse is indisputable. It cannot be implied that Paul only intends to say that the law of Moses alone is not in play – he plainly says ‘NO LAW OF ANY KIND And this indicates that when he says, so many times, elsewhere, that the believer is not ‘under law , he also means ‘ not under any law Not merely ‘no longer under the law of Moses , as some would like to have it, although the Gentile never was anyway.

Comments on DG’s pdf. His words in bold:

1. I freely admit that the phrase ‘the law of Christ is not used in any of those passages, but what else can they be referring to? (Quoting various passages)
Note: So this is a presupposed conclusion, from elsewhere, which has been imposed on these texts. I, and others, have commented on the passages he mentions elsewhere, and shown how they do not indicate or imply that they belong in a collated 'law of Christ'.

2. 1. If these two believers are right, this can only mean that believers, not being under any law, are not under the law of the land in which they live, and they do not have to obey it.
Note: This is quite evidently not what the original statement is about. The ‘no law’ statement in Galatians 5 is concerned with God’s law, not man’s law. This is a rather spurious observation.

3. 2. If these two believers are right, why do the Scriptures stress that believers are bondservants of Christ?
Note: This is a logical fallacy. It reasons:
a. Believers are under the ‘yoke’ of Christ
b. The Jews were under the ‘yoke’ of the Law Moses
c. Therefore the Law of Moses was a ‘yoke’
d. Therefore, all ‘yokes’ are laws
e. Therefore believers are under the law of Christ

This is a logical fallacy of the kind
a) All dogs have four legs
b) Cats have four legs
c) Therefore, all cats are dogs

A ‘yoke’ was the coupling device used to tether animals together to pull, for example, a plough. The plain, analogous meaning is a picture, not a definition. There is no reason to equate it with ‘law’. This is imposed upon it, and it stretches the analogy to suit DGs purpose. Are ploughing oxen ‘yoked’ with law? Does ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ mean ‘unequally lawed’?

Another objection. When Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28 - 30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

... He is quite obviously talking about the 'yoke' of learning. In the rabbinical schools, pupils signed up to a particular teacher, accepting their particular 'take' on the Law. That was referred to as 'taking up the yoke' of that particular teacher. So what Jesus alludes to in this analogy is not to do with bondserveants at all. We cannot infer by this that what Jesus is doing is replacing old Law with new law. The whole point is that these Rabbis had such stringent and proliferate teaching on what the Law requires, which placed such burdens upon those who followed them. By contrast, Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Further, the character of the great Teacher makes learning from Him a joy.

This is yet another example of where DG seems to read 'law' meaning into everything - whether it is actually there or not.

4. 3. If these two believers are right, why do the Scriptures stress that believers are married to Christ?
Note: Again, this is a picture -an illustration. And its point is that believers have ‘died to the law’. Nowhere does it state that subsequently they are ‘married to another law’. Paul says they are now 'married to Christ', not to 'the law of Christ'. DG reads that into the illustration.

5. 4. If these two believers are right, this can only mean that believers never sin.
Note: Again, a ludicrous accusation. It is patently obvious that I made the statement and yet I do not hold that believers never sin. Our display of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is a ‘work in progress’ – we are not always consistent. Paul is saying that ‘against this fruit-manifesting display of the Spirit’ there is ‘no law’, as I have explained in my comment. Not that against any aspect of the believers life, there is no aspect of discipline ever required. Sadly this typifies DG’s extremising (see my book “Love – not Law”) – of pushing someone’s statement to an unwarranted extreme, then criticising them as if they said it!

Second, DG ignores Paul’s argument in Romans 2 and 5, which plainly states that there are two ‘kinds’ of sin – sin where there is a definitive command, and sin where there is not. Paul never says that the ‘law of conscience’ (a confused representation of what Paul actually says) was given ‘as law’ by God. Pagans are said to be 'without excuse' because their inward, moral sense points them in the same direction as 'what the Law requires'. Their conscience bears witness to this by either accusing OR EXCUSING them. This is no action of a God-given law - it is self-law. Pagans sin because of wickedness. Not because they break law. This is why the world was destroyed by God in the Flood. Genesis 6 refers.

6. 5. If these two believers are right, why did the apostle say what he did in 1 Corinthians 9:21?
Note: This has been addressed in my book “Love -not Law”. The use of anomos (without law) – and ennomos (in-lawed) need to be studied carefully, and they most certainly do not lead to the conclusions DG reaches. There are also articles on these two studies on my blog.

DG closes his ‘Stop Press’ alert with this:
“Finally, as I said, what might be the consequences if believers pick up the assertions on that Facebook thread, and run with them? Is there any danger that the idea of being law-less might morph into being lawless? How serious that would be!”

My answer –
DG is arguing with Paul himself, and with Scripture. Read Galatians 5 again!
And wait! DG has total ignored the rest of what I wrote. Here is the whole post:
No Law!
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22‭-‬23 ESV‬)

This verse is indisputable. It cannot be implied that Paul only intends to say that the Law of Moses alone is not in play - he plainly says 'NO LAW OF ANY KIND'. And this indicates that when he says, so many times, elsewhere, that the believer is not 'under law', he also means 'not under any law'. Not merely 'no longer under the Law of Moses', as some would like to have it, although the Gentile never was anyway.

The truth consistently taught throughout is that the believer in Christ lives by the operation of the Spirit in his/her heart and not by the 'dynamic' of obedience to God-given law of any description. That when this is so, and the child of God is keeping 'in step' with Him, the fruit He brings forth will be evident in their life, to the great glory of God, and the fleshly desires will be put to death, even as the flesh has been already crucified with Christ. That when this singular, nine-fold fruit is the abundant harvest of the saint, the appearance of obedience will also be there as a matter of course, for fruitfulness such as this shines Christ-likeness which far exceeds mere outward conformity. For love alone fulfills all of the old law, and even fulfills what Paul calls 'the law of Christ'.

Thus such a Godly, Christ-exalting lifestyle satisfies, fills out to overflowing, and exceeds anything any paltry law could ever be seen to require. Better try to bottle the bright shining of the sun than to attempt to define such Spirit-rich exuberance in terms of obedience to laws! And God's word does not do so.The truth consistently taught throughout is that the believer in Christ lives by the operation of the Spirit in his/her heart and not by the 'dynamic' of obedience to God-given law of any description. That when this is so, and the child of God is keeping 'in step' with Him, the fruit He brings forth will be evident in their life, to the great glory of God, and the fleshly desires will be put to death, even as the flesh has been already crucified with Christ. That when this singular, nine-fold fruit is the abundant harvest of the saint, the appearance of obedience will also be there as a matter of course, for fruitfulness such as this shines Christ-likeness which far exceeds mere outward conformity. For love alone fulfills all of the old law, and even fulfills what Paul calls 'the law of Christ'.


Monday, 11 September 2017

A Crucial Question

Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
This is the question asked by the enquirer we have come to refer to as ‘the rich, young ruler’.

Who was he?

Mark just calls him ‘a man’. Matthew tells us he was a ‘young man’. Luke tells us he was a ruler. And all three gospels identify that he went away sad at Jesus’ answer ‘because he had great wealth’.

How did he address Jesus?

Mark, with his normal attention to important eye-witness details, tells us that he ‘ran up to Jesus’. Two gospels say that he addressed Jesus as ‘good teacher’. The third, that he asked about ‘what good thing must I do’.

What did he ask?

Two gospels say he asked what he must do to ‘inherit’ eternal life. Matthew just says ‘get eternal life’.

How did Jesus answer?

  1. Jesus questioned the question. He queried the young man’s use of the word ‘good’. Whether ‘good teacher’ was polite and respectful, or ‘good thing’ was a generalisation, Jesus evidently wanted to make plain that ‘goodness’ is not a relative thing – it is absolute. And only God Himself is ‘all good’. Everything and everyone else which or whom we might consider eligible for that description is flawed in some way. I think Jesus was getting the young man to think “Why am I asking this Jesus about this? Why do I think He is qualified to answer?”
  2. Thus the Lord turns the focus of the question from ‘the thing to do’ to ‘the person to ask’. Himself. And implicit in the consideration of this is the stunning conclusion that Jesus Himself is God!
  3. Jesus then points to what the man already knows (“You know the commandments”). Pleasing God, in the old covenant, was about keeping the commandments. Again, the gospel writers vary in which commandments they record Jesus as mentioning. All are from the ‘second tablet’ – to do with relationships between man and man (whereas, traditionally, the first four commandments in the Decalogue are to do with relationship between man and God, and were thought to have been written on the first stone tablet). But in addition to the quoted commandments from ‘the Ten’, Matthew adds that Jesus mentions ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – which is not one of the Decalogue. “Do this”, Jesus says, “and you will live”.
  4. When the man responds that he has kept all of these “from my youth up”, Mark tells us something quite unique:
  5. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
  6. The Lord then proceeds to inform him of the ‘one thing’ he lacks – the most critical of all. He is to abandon his riches – distribute it to the poor – and become a follower of Jesus. The consequence is that he cannot see himself doing that because he has great wealth, and he departs crestfallen.There follows Jesus’ remarks on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

My Comments

  1. In consideration of this account, we need to take the story as a whole and look at it ‘in situ’, rather than extracts to which we apportion meaning which the Lord never intended. We have to bear in mind:
  2. That Jesus is dealing with a Jew, well versed in the Law, and meticulously observant of it. Thus He speaks to Him in his own terms.
  3. That Jesus ministers at the ‘junction’ of the covenants. He leads away from and out of the old, and into the new, for which he prepares the way. Consequently, it is a mistake to take what He says about commandment-keeping as a viable alternative to getting eternal life
  4. That there are things here that we do not and cannot know. Both about what Jesus says and about the young man. In my view, it isn’t legitimate to prejudge him and the thoroughness or otherwise of his law-observance.
  5. We must not over-interpret. When the young man says he has ‘kept all of these commandments from my youth up’, it is not necessary to think he is claiming perfect adherence. And Jesus does not castigate him for a false claim. Must we, then? Will we do more than Jesus does?

So, conclusions and lessons from the account:

  1. Quite evidently, law-observance has not been sufficient to give this earnest seeker assurance that he has eternal life. But he knows he wants it. 
  2. The Law, though, has done the job God intended in his life. It has brought him to Jesus.
  3. It is not a sin to be a ruler. It is not a sin to be young. And it is not a sin to be rich. Some take the last of these as an indication of covetousness – thus stating that he WAS breaking a commandment. But Jesus doesn’t even hint at this. Jesus elaborates later, and exposes how riches get in the way of discipleship. This is a 'new covenant' problem, not an old covenant one.
  4. The Lord displays and illustrates His ‘mission statement’ – that He did not come to condemn, but to save.
  5. We need to explore what it was that prompted (the also young) John Mark to comment that Jesus looked on him and loved him.
  6. This is very ‘NCT’, is it not? A clear demonstration that the Law brought condemnation, but was powerless to give life. Only the living Lord could do that, and nothing should get in the way of our following Him. 

To whom else should we go?