Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (Ps. 119:97)
I mentioned at the end of the introduction to this series that in the current cultural atmosphere I find it most often necessary to speak for the value of the old. Such is the case in this first post, and I really owe a great debt to a very dear friend who goaded me to this task with the following statement:
…it’s all about the GRACE that comes from the LOVE of Jesus, so it’d probably be a good idea that no Christian anywhere should ever ever EVER quote laws from the OT to make a point about ANYTHING, like i said: ever. I say this over and over again and will continue to say it until the day i die: Jesus said the 2 most important things for us to do are 1) to LOVE GOD (and that means to first be filled with HIS LOVE FOR US, which transforms us…’cause any good works we do in the flesh are covered in crap) and 2) to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. until we as Christians can get these 2 things down, we need to keep our mouths shut when spouting scripture and laws…
I am using her statement because it is a candid and passionate plea made with real conviction; she has the courage to actually demand that we, for all practical purposes, ignore the Old Testament. Most post-evangelicals (and many evangelicals for that matter) do ignore the Old Testament, but they would never say it so bluntly.
However, this idea that no Christian should ever quote from OT laws to make a point betrays a total misunderstanding of the nature of scripture in relation to church history and the teachings of Jesus in reference to God’s law. Sadly it leads to the rejection of one of God’s greatest gifts to His people–His holy law.
I’ll begin with the details of my friend’s statement. Jesus did say that the most important things were for us to Love God and our neighbor. Interestingly enough, he was quoting the OT law when he said that. In fact he said, “on these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.” What Jesus is saying quite simply is that you must understand these two in order to interpret the rest. He was not saying that if you have general good feelings about God and other people the rest doesn’t matter.
For example, when the Pharisees criticize the disciples for picking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus uses his interpretive model of love to explain the law from a story about David and consecrated bread. When David went to Abiathar, Abiathar had rules in conflict–the call to feed the hungry and the sacred nature of the consecrated bread. To follow one law meant to break the other. Abiathar used the hermeneutic of love. Likewise, the gleanings of a grain field–the outer edges–are intended for the traveler and the needy and the poor. The disciples are simply receiving God’s provision for an immediate need, not harvesting a crop. Jesus is calling for priority of love, not a rejection of the law. As he said on several occasions, he came to fulfill the law not destroy it.
Moving on, we must understand the importance of the OT to the early church. When Paul or Peter or Jesus spoke about the importance of Scripture, they were at that moment making reference to what we call the Old Testament. There was no New Testament when they were speaking and writing. Paul says it is God breathed and important and profitable for teaching; he was talking about the OT. Peter says it was given by the Spirit. Jesus says it will never pass away.
Ultimately we must realize the truth Jesus shares with the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). If we as Christians ignore the OT, we run the serious risk of making a Jesus idol in our own image because it is those scriptures that first speak about him.