Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Law of Love
Our good friend and sister in Christ wrote this essay and gave us permission to repost it. She is aptly named because she displays Charity in the most difficult of situations.
I Corinthians 10:23
An Essay By Charity Pearce
"All things are lawful for me." First Corinthians 10:23 is a verse which has intrigued and puzzled me for many years. On the one hand, it is liberating to believe that ALL things are lawful for me. On the other hand, it seems directly contrary to so much that is in Scripture. How to Scripturally justify the God of the Ten Commandments with a God for whom all things, it would seem, are lawful? This is the question. It is my contention that all things are lawful for one who is washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ and for whom love is the primary motivator. Not that there is no law, but that those living by the Spirit are being held to a higher standard; the perfect law that gives liberty. Nobody who truly loves and trusts God would want to live in a state of lawlessness.
Consider those of us who live in a "free" country. We live in a society in which most reasonable decisions, we are free to make without interference from government. At least that is the idea. To a more or lesser degree, I believe based in large part on how much we buy into the ideals of the society we live in; we don't necessarily need to legislate much. As a citizen of a place we love, we care for the land and the people in our society without legislation. We just need education on how best to carry out that task. There are always a few lawbreakers who need laws and penalties to do what those of us who truly care about our environment do of our own accord. But love, as opposed to fear, will always be the best incentive.
First Corinthians 10:23, as quoted from the New American Standard Bible says: "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." It has been said that this verse is a misguided belief or quote of the Corinthians of the day. This is a possibility, but it would necessitate assumption as there is no direct evidence that this is the case. It is not Scripturally stated as such. Furthermore, it isn't necessary to interpret the verse in this way in order to justify it with the rest of Scripture.
The Greek word translated "all things" in this passage is the word "Panta" - which does mean "all, everything, the whole". This quickly eliminates the probability that it is referencing only the fact that all foods are lawful, although the direct reference is whether food sacrificed to idols was lawful for Corinthians to eat. If Paul had wanted to state that all foods were lawful, he could easily have said "all foods are lawful for me" and not confused us with the word "panta". So, if all things are lawful, how does this fit with commands from other areas of Scripture, including the verses directly preceding and following?
In what way are all things lawful? The argument had apparently been made that it was unlawful to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This command had been given by the Apostles in Acts 15 and in Acts 21 in regard to what the Gentiles who believed were required to do. Traditionally, we would then consider it a relevant command even to us today, and the validity of this Scripture in I Corinthians would then be in question. If we dig deeper into the meaning of this verse, though, we will see that a profound truth, relevant throughout Scripture, is being taught again here.
The profundity is found in reading on to the end of this verse and to verse 24: "but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." Paul is not advocating a state of lawlessness, but rather a higher standard for us. An ideology of systematic law keeping wasn't the goal that God set for us. He had greater things in mind. Consider Romans 13:8: "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." And verse 10: "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." The Law had been fulfilled by love.
This is not a new truth. Throughout Scripture, God makes clear to His people that His greatest commands for them involve loving one another and loving Him. From Deuteronomy 6:5 on, it is clear that God desires love more than anything else. Our obedience proves our love, trust and faith in Him. It isn't, nor has it ever been the agent of our salvation.
Over and over, the New Testament teaches that Christ was the end (or fulfillment) of the Law. (Romans 10:4, Matthew 5:17). For a clear picture of this, reference Romans 5:20-13:10. To abbreviate: Law came so that transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. When we are buried with Christ in baptism, we are raised to walk in newness of life. Our old self is done away with, and so we consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ. The law only has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives, and as Christians, our death came when we were baptized. Therefore, when we die to ourselves and are buried with Christ, we are joined to another, that is to Christ. Our joining Christ, at baptism, also fills us with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) and Galatians 5 tells us that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. We no longer need the Law except as a tutor (Galatians 5).
We are now under the perfect law - the law that gives liberty (James 1:22-27). Our citizenship in God's Kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and our love for the King of this heavenly Kingdom will inspire us to want to please the King, and the citizens of the Kingdom. Legislation is no longer necessary. James teaches in chapter two that we are to fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will be judged by this law, which will be merciless to one who shows no mercy as mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13).
"Not all things edify." Obviously, God who designed and created us, knows what edifies (or builds up) so if a choice we are making isn't Scriptural it wouldn't edify ourselves or others. But even if by the letter of the law, I am acting Scripturally, if I insist on my rights and I damage a weaker brother, then I would, in the spirit of the law, not be building that brother or sister up (I Corinthians 8:7-13). Thus I would be wrong, no matter how much I might argue my Scriptural soundness. The higher law - the law of love and grace takes effect.
So, to those of us who walk by the Spirit, all things are lawful. No other law but love is needed. And if we don't walk by the Spirit, it doesn't matter how closely we follow the law, we won't be citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. I Corinthians 8:1 states it simply. "Knowledge puffs up (or makes arrogant), but love builds up (edifies)." I Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage one another and build one another up. And Peter addresses this issue in I Peter 2:16 when he says: "Act as free men, but don't use your freedom as a covering for evil but as bond-slaves of God." And how is a bond-slave of God to serve and please his Master? I Corinthians 13 - "if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." We are to love. Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength. And love our neighbors as ourselves. "Upon these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:40.
"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God." ~Micah 6:8