Notes: We have been informed that Robert Miller, a former member of the church, who has spent the last few decades in Texas, has passed away. Our prayers are with his family and friends.
Another Note: Today’s message goes further than yesterday’s sermon preached in our parking lot. God gives us a path to making good decisions, but this path does not make all decisions easy. We always need God’s help.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
During the reign of Joseph Stalin, the head of the Soviet Union’s secret police said, “Give Me a Man, I’ll Provide the Crime.” He meant that there are so many laws on the books that it is easy to pin a violation on anyone. So, he would arrest people on behalf of Communist Party leaders and then decide the best crime to validate the arrest.
Laws can become weapons to keep people in line, but that is not what they are for. Laws are meant to promote safety, freedom, and peace. Laws should not be made just so people can be prosecuted, but some laws are unfair from the beginning. Laws can be overwhelming, especially in their number, but they are usually motivated by a desire to protect the public from bad behavior, poor products, and harmful policies.
My father, was in charge of the building inspectors for a city, and was his work was seen as law enforcement. There were hundreds of building codes that had to be obeyed. The codes were there to protect people. There were laws about structural safety, safe ventilation, safe electrical wiring, and then there were the fire codes. But there were more laws than the average building inspector could be expected to remember, so their carried books of the building codes wherever they went.
Since every law can be produce some confusion, exclusions, or loopholes, there is tendency to continually make more laws that define safe practices and eliminate loopholes and ambiguities. But those refined laws create opportunities for new loopholes and misdirection. This leads legal systems into ever increasing numbers of laws. There are far more laws than a person can keep in their head. And that’s a problem.
Imagine you are a small child visiting the house of an aunt or uncle. A couple who never had children. They start giving you all sorts of rules, “Don’t climb on the furniture. Don’t run in the house. Don’t swing your arms in the kitchen. Don’t play with the doors on the china cabinet.” A younger child, might need constant supervision and lots of rules, but an older child might be able to understand the rule behind the rules: Don’t break anything.
There are differences between the rules of someone’s house, and the laws of a nation. There is also a difference between the rules of God and the laws of a nation. The Bible contains no speed limits or building codes (except to start with a good foundation). So, when we talk about the law in church, we are talking about God’s law and not the laws of a house or a state, or a nation.
Paul wrote: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Paul quotes Jesus, who was quoting Leviticus 19:18 “Love Your neighbor as yourself.” And Paul says, paraphrases Jesus and said, “Love is the fulfillment of [God’s] law.”
It’s like understanding the rule “Don’t break anything” in you aunt and uncle’s house. The law is fulfilled by love, and that means there is no other rule behind the rules.
The law is not fulfilled by fear. The law is not fulfilled by ignoring the needs of others. The law is not fulfilled by minding your own business. The law is not fulfilled by making money. The law is not fulfilled by cruelty. The law is not fulfilled by obeying the letter and ignoring the spirit.
If you love God, and love your neighbor, you will have fulfilled every vital law in the Bible. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you know the rule behind the rules. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have the guiding rule in making decisions.
Of course, this helps us along our way, but it doesn’t make all decisions simple or easy. We all know situations where we didn’t have a clue about the way to show God’s love.
What is the most loving thing to do with a person who is habitually in debt? Giving them money or paying off some debt can deplete your resources while their circumstances are effectively unchanged.
If somebody with drug or alcohol addiction troubles asks you for money, the best thing to do seems to be to give them some food or some other useful item like clothing or medicine, but it is hard to know the right choice to make.
On a personal level, on a community level, and on a national level, it is hard to know how a loving response would look. How do we love people out of being racists? I don’t know. How does love respond effectively against huge issues of physical abuse, hate groups, greedy corporations, weapons of mass destruction, and human trafficking? These are huge problems.
Love leads us to the spirit of the law, but sometimes the best we can do, as Paul said in Romans 12, “is to be patient in tribulation… and mourn with those who mourn.”
Love led Jesus to heaven, but it first led to an arrest, trial, beatings, and execution. The cross is the signpost to eternal life, but it is not a happy symbol.
The best we can do is to change the things we can and trust God to do the rest. The spirit of love makes us loving and merciful people, but it takes God to fight the big battles against evil. The law helps us on our way, but only God is strong enough. We call Jesus the “Savior” for a reason: When we have no answers to the world’s problems, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) becomes our only answer.
A Question to Ponder: How do you lovingly help some who doesn’t want help, or rescue someone who does not want to be rescued?