Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Law and Love"

It happened in 1992 or 1993.  I was a student.  I had to choose between paying for food or paying for car insurance.  I really loved my 1969 Buick, but when it came right down to it, I chose to buy food.
Everything went well until the day the dreaded flashing red and blue lights came on right behind me.  My stomach churned as I pulled to the side of the road and contemplated my lack of the mandatory insurance verification card.  The silver buttoned, blue eyed officer swaggered up to my side of my less than road-worthy car.  I told him that although I did not have insurance, I could produce a current driver's license. The officer was not impressed.  He impounded my car. 

I was forcefully reminded that 'the authorities that exist have been established by God' (Romans 13:1).  I was prompted to thank the officer for giving me the citation, and for impounding the car since by doing this he was doing what God had appointed him to do - uphold the law.   

The officer looked at me as if I had forgotten to take my medication.  I parted ways with my car and with the policeman, but some of the lessons I learned that day have never left me.  I have not been without insurance since then, though it was only 'Third Party Coverage' most of the time.  

I wish that all my encounters with the law had been as exemplary and cordial.  At times I have been radical--like the times I participated in protests against the repressive South African government at the height of Apartheid or “Apartness.”  I am thankful to the Lord that He removed that unjust government without the violence that my passive resistance could have incited.   

The law is anything but passive.  It confronts me in many different ways.    The most constant and wounding encounters are those in the home where love is most closely tested.  How does love relate to the law?

For many years I saw the law as a standard that I had to measure up to.  I knew that I must keep it perfectly, and I knew that I was a failure--until I came across this life-changing insight shared by Elder E. J. Waggoner:

The giving of that law was one of the highest manifestations of love that could be because it preached to the people in the strongest tones that there was life in Christ.  The One who gave the law was the One who brought them out of Egypt.  He was the one who swore to Abraham that he and his seed should be righteous, and this showed to them that they could not get righteousness in the law but that they could get it through Christ.  So there was a superabundance of grace, for where sin, by the giving of the law did abound, there grace did much more abound.  That thing is acted out every time that there is a sinner converted.  Before his conversion he does not realize the sinfulness of his sins.  Then the law comes in and shows him how awful those sins are, but with it comes the gentle voice of Christ in whom there is grace and life.

How precious it is to have that conviction of sin sent to our hearts, for we know that it is a part of the work of the Comforter which God sends into the world to convict of sin. It is a part of the comfort of God to convict of sin, because the same hand that convicts of sin holds the pardon, that as sin had reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.  In this grace we have again those precious words, “much more.” “Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds" (Romans 5:20).
 --1891 General Conference Bulletin p.139

The Law is the schoolmaster that takes us to Christ.  In our brokenness, disobedience, lawlessness, guiltiness--it takes us to Christ.  I need Christ.  How about you?  I need this painful, comforting work in my life.

There is more.  This love that Christ has for you will not leave you broken, disobeying, lawless, or guilty.  The law serves as a protective barrier.  

Just recently I have come across a clarification that has been helpful with regard to the seemingly negative 'thou shalt not' tone of the Law.
The Napoleonic code on which much of European law is based since about 1798 presumes that what is not expressly permitted is forbidden.  In contrast, the Common Law Code on which American law is premised since about 1798 assumes that what is not forbidden is permitted.
Our home runs much more smoothly on the Common Law.  God's Law is stated in the negative since it underlines what is forbidden so that we can have access to all the freedom that it does not forbid.  It truly is the law of liberty.  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ASV).  “So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty” (James 2:12).

-- Ricky Kearns

Note: Pastor Paul E. Penno has prepared a verse-by-verse study on Romans chapters 12 and 13. If you would like a copy please respond to this e-mail and ask for "Romans 12 and 13." It is also available at: http://www.1888mpm.org/articles/romans-12-13-verse-verse-study
Additional reading:* For "Clear Definitions of Agape and Faith," Robert J. Wieland's "Dial Daily Bread": http://www.1888mpm.org/blog/clear-definitions-agape-and-faith
* E. J. Waggoner on "Romans 12" and "Romans 13":

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