The Need For Teaching The Law In The New Testament Church

“We are not under the Law”   By Niven. A. Neyland 2012

This would be one of the most oft-used defenses of a Christian’s Faith and manner of life in the New Testament Church. The misinterpretation of this simple statement has been the cause of gross misunderstanding of God’s Law and, in fact, the rejection of much of it.

Grace through Faith, not works, saves Christians; this we know and believe.  The Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament, along with the former Priesthood and the animal sacrifices, is not applicable now. It became a shadow of more perfect things to come. Jesus Christ, being that perfect thing, has become the new High Priest of that greater and more perfect Tabernacle not made with hands.

The Changing of the Guard occurred in the Priesthood – passing from Aaron, the OT High Priest, to Jesus Christ, the NT High Priest. Yet, how often do we look at the old to learn of the new?

The Ceremonial Law is now merely a shadow. However, considering the fact that it for many years governed the way of worship and approach to God, should not the NT Church at least look at that former system seriously to see what it can learn?

Current NT churches on the whole have rarely or never looked at it seriously, and miss the lessons of sanctity and holiness required of the priesthood.  There is much to learn.

Followers of Jesus Christ are the priesthood of the NT church, yet many of our  current ‘priests’ would not understand their role. Much of our NT priestly life is guesswork, and that is one reason why we have so many divisions and sects amongst us.

Unlike the OT priesthood, The NT priesthood is a strange mix of priest and king. We are termed by God, ‘a Royal Priesthood’.  This is very special and needs to be thought about clearly, as it is the only priesthood we have been offered.

Looking back to look forward  

It has been said that you will not know where you are going if you don’t know where you are from. One of the benefits of looking backward into the OT to look forward is, that we have not one law of the OT, but two laws, from which to learn – the Ceremonial Law and the Royal Law, clear as crystal.

The Ceremonial Law governed the priestly affairs of sacrifice and the honour required when coming before God.  The Royal  Law, which dovetailed into it,  governed the citizenship activities of those former Israel communities, and, if kept, helped put a clear difference between those who followed them and other cultures.

It was a major part of Israel’s prosperity before the pagan nations, so those nations and communities would see the righteousness and beauty in those two laws and seek to follow them themselves.

Communities that followed both of God’s Laws, the Ceremonial Law as well as the Royal Law, prospered in all areas of life, including harmony and peace with God, inconceivably low crime rates, financial gain and a close fellowship with each other. It was a prosperity not understood by other philosophies and societies.

Changing times…but should it all have changed?

Since the coming of Jesus Christ and Salvation through His shed blood, there is no longer a requirement for the operation of the Ceremonial Law. Nowadays, the believer has peace and harmony with God through His Son.  However, what of the Royal Law which governed society? Is there no requirement for that either?

This is the beginning of a great confusion of which God is not the author.  In today’s christian church, through lack of understanding and discernment, we see both laws being merged, and termed ‘The Law’.

In doing this, we find that  the Royal Law, which was never meant to be dispensed with, is now also archived with the Ceremonial Law.

They are both now on the shelf of historical documents buried in our OT and hardly read, except for the ten commandments. Yet, both are rich in blessing; one for lessons and the other for governing.

An example of the need for the Royal Law

The second most important commandment for Christians is to Love their Neighbours as they love themselves.

In Matt 22.36-38, Jesus Christ was asked a question:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Jesus was asked a single question but replied with two answers, which covered both the spiritual and natural requirements of a Godly society.

The same scenario is worded differently but more explicitly in Luke 10.25-29, adding the word ‘strength’ to the First Commandment, and more information overall:

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

Then Jesus went on to explain the complexities of neighbourhood by rolling out the story of the Good Samaritan. This encompasses all the compassion of that second great commandment, and the belief in the first great commandment by needing to carry out the second to the fullest.

2 interesting things

A couple of almost unnoticeable thoughts arise from the Luke discussion.

  1. The Lawyer already knew which were the two greatest commandments, and parroted them off with ease. This is a very important point. They were from Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 respectively, but that does not mean they were ever taught in Israel as being the first two commandments. Maybe they were? Maybe this was an age-old Jewish teaching we have not discovered?

  2. The concept of a marriage-type love demanded by God in the second commandment “love thy neighbour as thyself”. This commandment is similar in sense to Paul’s commands to Husbands in Ephesians 5.25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”

This creates a mental image of the giving of ourselves to our neighbours without discrimination, as the Samaritan did, and love them – with the resultant effect being that they come to God, through love.

The second great commandment, like the first, is timeless, in that it transcends the move from the OT to the NT. As Christ implied in these scriptures, there appears to be no difference in testaments for these two commandments.

Church teachings

The two greatest commandments are taught in churches today, yet since they are both derived from the Royal Law, why don’t Christian churches teach all of that very Law?

Christians are told by Christ, “if you love me, keep my commandments” and yet most churches do not teach what those commandments are to which Jesus was referring. That may be, because they do not know.

Most Pastors and church leaders are themselves not taught the importance of the full Royal Law in relation to the Christian’s role in keeping what Christ has commanded, so how can they pass it on?

Considering that both of Christ’s two main commandments are from the Old Testament, is it possible that Christ is pointing the Christian back there?

Guidance material

How do Christians implicitly obey Christ in ‘Loving their Neighbour’ if they are not taught the many specific ways in which Christ instructed and expected them to love them.  As we recall the story of the Good Samaritan, we need to see it is as but a summary of the neighbour element of the Royal Law.

For instance, if requested to provide a definition for ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, Christians will refer immediately and solely to the New Testament.  Their focus will be on the story of the Good Samaritan, and possibly a couple of healing stories; but are they real measurements? This is a serious matter, due to the fact that a definition is a measurement.

Christians are COMMANDED to love their neighbour. It is a major non-compliance if it is not done, and Christ would expect it be done correctly.

The two great commandments are as inseparable as a godly husband and wife in the sense that one cannot commit to the first if he/she seeks to reject the second, or vice versa.

In stark contrast to the NT stories of neighbourly love, when we look at the Royal Law of the Old Testament (which are also Christ’s commandments) we see a plethora of easy-to-read measurements that show clearly if we are compliant in numerous real-life situations.

Paul indicated that we need to be looking at measurement, when he said this:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

Ephesians 3:17-19

What Paul is saying is that the ‘love of Christ’ is possibly measurable – in the sense of carrying out instructions. If any disciple knew this, it was Paul. His love for the Church was as deep and extreme as anyone who lived.

True Liberty

Christians are taught that their liberty is through Grace alone as opposed to works-based salvation. This is true.  However, they are also taught that they are not under ‘The Law’ any more, but now can follow Christ’s laws.

This is a misnomer.  It is ambiguous, and has forced Christians for many years, through ignorance and poor teaching, to pick and choose Old Testament commandments as they see fit, and reject others.

They choose ones that suit them, but when they come across those they do not understand or disagree with, they say, “that’s the Law and it’s not applicable now.”

They are happy to quote the Ten Commandments to their children in the hope of instilling godly principles, but don’t touch any of the other commandments that inform them how to keep the Ten!

They also sing the song of Psalm 19; ‘the Law of the Lord is perfect converting the Soul,’ but then reject the same Law. This is not meant to be.

In a sense, the confusion is understandable; people follow what they are taught.

As Paul had to censure the Galatian church for getting confused with the Law and following works-based salvation, today’s Christians would not want to be found guilty of doing the exact opposite – of going too far the other way and rejecting much of it.

Paul stated in Galatians 3.1-3 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

Paul also said in Galatians 2.16-18, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” 

Again he said in Romans 5.1,“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: “

Paul is clear about Faith being the basis of salvation, and not Works.

However, he also stated in Romans 7.12, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

True Christians now are justified by Faith through Grace alone, but are expected by God to keep the Royal Law through love, and not in a desperate attempt to seek salvation through it, as did the Galatians.

The Royal Law (comprised of many laws and statutes) is not a means of salvation, but a measuring tool for aspects of a Christian’s life, once he or she becomes saved.

Perfect Law of Liberty?

What is the Perfect Law of Liberty, as spoken of in James 1?

Christians needs to know this, because they are told by this significant church leader, James, to look into it, and continue in it, and not be a forgetful doer. To Christians, this Law of Liberty is meant to be a mirror.

So where is it? Where do they find it?

Furthermore, James was speaking to the Christian Church when he said this in James 2.8 “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:”

In which direction does this point us?

Truly Love Thy Neighbour

Being commanded to ‘Love thy Neighbour’ is not a small instruction. With it come all sorts of responsibilities, as the Christian has some strange neighbours at times. Defining who is a neighbour is an age-old argument and quite confusing.

The place where Christian’s will truly see what is required and to whom, is in the Royal Law.

Not only will Christians be able to define who is a neighbour, but also, what is Love; for true love is a denial of self. It is far above emotion.

1 Corinthians 13 interprets it as  ‘Charity’ or Agape love. It is the love extended to the degree of dying to oneself voluntarily, the overcoming of the fear of sacrifice, and the giving of whatever is required with no thought of a return.

It is a measure further than many Christians are prepared to go. The Law is Love.

A Neighbourly love commandment – Sample case

To underpin what is being said here, let us look at a sample case.

Ex. 21.33-36.And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.  And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.  Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.”

This law is clear to understand, and does not need a team of lawyers to interpret the requirements.

In this scenario, if the Christian is the cause of the death of his or her neighbour’s ox or ass then they make it good. They repair the issue as if it had never occurred.

Simply bring the ox into today’s language and they know what they are to do. They do not try and squirm out of it, particularly for money’s sake, as doing so defies God’s command.

A handful of further clear instances are in these scriptures.

Lev 19.13-17: Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD.

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”

These are quite clear instructions. Thy neighbour does not only mean the person up the street from you, but can even be hired personnel or contractors. Furthermore, we don’t exploit weaknesses nor have preferred neighbours in this law.

It also clearly instructs Christian’s not to hold anything in their hearts. This is another OT scripture Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, and James taught in his epistle.

There are even clear duties regarding ones enemies. 

Ex 23.4-5 If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.  If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

Obviously these scriptures need to be brought into the current era and not to be thrown out simply because they mention the words ‘ox’ and ‘ass’.  The fundamental things apply as time goes by!

E.g. the Christian would replace the word ‘ass’ with vehicle and ‘burden’ with trailer load.

Then it could be interpreted as Christ commanding Christians to stop the car and render assistance, even though they are possibly entering enemy territory; and even though they might already be late for some event; and even though they might not have tools; and even though they might have the frozen goods melting in the boot from the day’s shopping.

It means you provide assistance now.

The Law in Intercession

To Love Thy Neighbour is in fact physical intercession. The responsibility is to render assistance to thy neighbour, and the accountability for not doing so is to God.

Christians intercede and fulfill the requirements of situations when their neighbours cannot do it themselves.

When we think of intercession we traditionally look at prayer, which should be considered first; but does God speak further on intercession? Does the Law hold an answer?

In many of the laws of the Torah, God places a Positive Duty upon duty holders.

A duty holder in this sense is one who seeks to uphold God’s Law. A Positive Duty is one of Due Diligence. It is more than just waiting around for something to happen, it is going out and ensuring the result, and not leaving it to time and chance, like so many of us do.

In this NT era, the Positive Duty Holder is every Christian. Disastrously though, many Christians are not taught the Law, nor know how to interpret it or grasp where it fits into the New Testament; so how are they to uphold it?

If the full Law were discussed and taught today, and not just the Ten Commandments, we would see important intercession at work.

We would see the Positive Duty that is placed on Christians being fulfilled to the degree that Christ expected, along with church judges judging on what they should, using the correct benchmarks.

Old and new for me and you

The combination of New Testament and Old Testament teaching can mold the Christian into a well-rounded individual, capable of understanding much of God’s personality and intent. On the other hand, using only one of the testament’s largely creates a lop-sided figure.

The entire Bible is to be used in context as a mirror, allowing us a true reflection of ourselves, to measure our development, and correctly grow into the stature of the fullness of God in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, it is important to understand this point – that God has gone to great lengths to bring His Word into the hands of Christians. He has gone to great lengths to document His many commandments and remove some of the guesswork to being a follower.

What have we done with it?

His desire is to see His Royal Law utilised.

Finale….

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