As Christians, are we supposed to keep the law?
Going Beyond the Letter of the Law
My dad had an archenemy, a local pharmacist. He instructed my brother and I in no uncertain terms that we were NEVER to set foot in his pharmacy. No explanations were given. In those days, when I was still quite young, I didn’t even know what an “archenemy” was. I imagined a vile, ugly-looking pharmacist exploiting his poor customers with his own evil chemistry inventions. No way would I ever go to such a place! Who knows, I might be turned into an ugly toad!
The day arrived, however, when we had a medical emergency and I was sent to the pharmacist with a prescription in my hand. As it was urgent, I went to the closest pharmacy. It so happened, that this was the pharmacy that belonged to our “archenemy”!
I entered the establishment nervously, hoping that it would be one of his assistants who would help me. Instead I stood quaking in front our “archenemy” himself.
“Aren’t you Mr. Chaffart’s son?” He asked.
Oh no, I thought. I should have gone to a different pharmacy! “Eyhâ€¦.. Yeeeâ€¦..es.” I answered shakily. Would he refuse to fill my prescription? That would be just my luck!
“Good!” He said. “Let me help you!”
My mouth hung down to the floor, but the pharmacist was a real gentleman. We became friends that day, and as a result, the spell destined to haunt my family forever was broken.
It’s true that I technically broke my father’s rule. This wasn’t good. But I also did it unawaringly, and as a result, I fulfilled Jesus’ teachings to love my enemy, an enemy I hadn’t even met before.
With this in mind I now have to ask myself: As Christians, is it necessary for us to keep the Law?
First of all, we have to ask ourselves: Did Jesus come to abolish the law?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17 NIV)
No way! He clearly came to fulfill it: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt 5:18 NIV)
But what does “fulfill the law” mean? A few verses later, Jesus Himself explains this: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ Will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:21-24 NIV)
Wow! Jesus goes way beyond the letter of the law here! “Do not murder” includes insulting people. It even includes being angry! This is why Jesus stresses the importance of reconciliation before anything else.
Here is another example given by Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 NIV)
So adultery includes lust. Jesus is quite clear on this.
Many have asked me what about the Sabbath commandment. Here again the New Testament goes way beyond the letter of the law. Jesus being the “Lord of the Sabbath” (See Matt 12:8) urges us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28-29 NIV)
In other words, we are to rest in Jesus all of the time, not just one day of the week. The author of the book of Hebrews confirms this: “For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath – rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Heb 4:4-11 NIV)
Clearly we would avoid a myriad of unnecessary worries if we would only follow this excellent advice. Worries are plainly not part of the lives of those who rest daily in Jesus!
Do we even remember how Jesus summarized God’s 10 Commandments?
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40 NIV)
“Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbour”. Love is the keyword here.
But then we may ask: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIV)
Let’s see what Jesus has to say about that: “In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.'” (Luke 10:30-37 NIV)
We need to remember that Samaritans were not liked by the Jews in Jesus’ days. In fact they detested them more than the Romans. If the story would have been written in our day and age, it probably would have used the term “radical terrorist” instead of Samaritan.
Jesus’ teachings are revolutionary! In this parable the religious authorities were not the ones referred to as being our role-model neighbours. They showed no mercy, no love! However we are to love not only those who love us, but our enemy as well! This goes way beyond the written letter of the Law!
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:44-45 NIV)
Jesus constantly reaffirms throughout the New Testament that love is the answer and the fulfillment of God’s Law. We are not here to bring a word of condemnation, but to love one another unconditionally, just like Jesus did.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
Loving the “archenemy” who I had never even met was not breaking my dad’s orders. It was fulfilling my Heavenly Father’s will.
Jesus, being our example, clearly fulfilled the law when He died on the cross. And He did so, not just to save you and me, but to save our archenemies as well! Radical terrorists included!
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14 NIV)
The question remains, will we love like Jesus loves? We haven’t done a very good job so far, but if we would start taking the parable of the Good Samaritan to heart, perhaps we could start!