What do a fence, a mirror, and a map have in common? They are all things to be thankful for, but probably not ones you would normally associate with thanksgiving; not like food and a family and a home anyway. Fences, mirrors, and maps, while wonderful gifts in themselves, also help us to understand one of God’s good and perfect gifts. The Gift of the Law. That’s a gift you’ve probably never included in your thanksgiving remembrances either. And yet, it is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us.
In many ways, people treat this gift of God’s Laws much like a gift of socks. Everyone knows deep down that they need them. Everyone knows that they will be very useful. Nobody really wants them. At least not when there are so many other wonderful things they could be getting instead. For many Christians these are the exact same feelings that the Law brings up. We all know the Law is important. We all know it has a purpose. But why dwell on it when we have gifts like the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Faith, and Salvation? Aren’t these better gifts to talk about? Not if you really want to understand how much they mean. For this we need to talk about the law.
When most people think of the Law, they think of a LONG list of “Thou Shalt’s” and “Thou Shalt Not’s” While this isn’t totally wrong, it also a long way from the whole truth of the matter. The Law is the sum total of all that God would have us do, say, and think, so that we could be like Him and live a life that is good for us all and that pleases Him. It has been neatly summarized for us in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other Gods … Honour your father and your mother” and the like. But lest these become overwhelming, God has simplified it even further for us, so that the main point of the Law would be obvious. (Romans 13:8, 10) “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law … Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Or as James says (8) “If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,”
The law isn’t about overwhelming legalism. It is not a burden of Do’s and Don’ts. The Law is intended to be a gift of Security. Security based upon a common boundary of love. What does every elementary school yard here in town have in common? They are all surrounded by a fence. Why? Are the children there being penalized? Not at all. The fence sets a boundary within which the children can play and feel safe. It sets a boundary which helps the teachers keep track of everyone. It sets up a boundary that makes the parents feel secure about leaving their children.
When James says in (1) “My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” he is setting up the secure boundaries of the Law. Boundaries forged in love. Boundaries which clearly show that everyone is equal; everyone is important; everyone is being looked after. Much like a fence, the law is a gift of security for those who live under it. As long as you stay within the boundaries you can be safe and play.
But there is good reason why most people are uncomfortable talking about the Law. For as soon as we begin to see that God’s Law requires a kind of love that makes no distinctions regarding who we think deserves it or who is worthy of it, we also quickly come to see that we are hopeless in fulfilling that Law. It’s a boundary we just can’t help but cross, even though we know better. “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” Here the Law of God begins to work upon us like a mirror. A mirror that brings all your blemishes and sins and stains into glaring, undeniable detail. Have you ever been partial to rich or poor, Christian or Non-Christian, white or brown, male or female, those who do things for us and those who don’t? Of course we have. Most of the time we do it, we don’t even think about it. That’s the way of sin.
Calling ourselves Christian isn’t enough. Making token appearances and gestures isn’t enough. (17) “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” And that’s why God gave us the Law, so we couldn’t hide from the truth of our thoughts, words and deeds, or their consequences. The Law is a gift of a second look. (9-10) “But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
But even this function of the Law is done in Love. God’s royal Law is Love. A love that does not want to see us stumble in our delusions and blindness. A love that doesn’t want us to unwittingly flatter ourselves all the way to hell. God wants us to know exactly where we stand with Him because of sin. The Law shows us that very clearly. (Ps. 14:3) “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Ecc. 7:20) “There is not a righteous person on earth who does what is right and never sins.”
When those Old Testament words were written they were the truest words ever put to page. Indeed, in referring to us sinful human beings today, they are still 100% valid. But things have changed. Jesus Came. There has been one man who did not hide from the Law. There is one man who lived under the Law perfectly. There is one man who did not turn aside, who did not become corrupt, who did nothing but good and who never sinned even once. The Law is why He came. (Matthew 5:17-18) “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
And that is exactly what Christ did; He accomplished what we could not. He lived up to the Law of God. (Romans 8:3-4) “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Having lived a perfect life under the Law He sacrificed that one and only life which earned it’s way into heaven. And that act of sacrifice was but the final perfect fulfillment of the Law of love. Never before and never again will such an act of love be made on behalf of the unlovable. He willingly gave up his perfect life on the cross, so that sin could be paid for; so that everyone could have that eternal life He earned. The life He lived so perfectly, has now become yours. Through the gift of faith Christ lives in you, and everlasting life, hope, and joy are yours. Your life is no longer lived under the sin of the flesh, but under the Spirit of righteousness. And this changes everything . . . including what the gift of God’s Law means for us.
No longer is the Law simply a Fence or a Mirror. It is no longer just a gift of security or a second look. It is now also a gift of opportunity to we who believe. The Gift of God’s Law is, for Christians, like a map. The kind of map you pick up at any tourist information stand. A map that leads you to all those wonderful, out of the way, attractions and experiences you would have missed if you just drove through on your own. God’s Law is also a gift of Opportunities. An opportunity to show our impartial love for one another through our prayers, and words and actions. Showing kindness to rich and poor alike. Helping out the cold and hungry, the lost and hurting, the orphans and the widows.
And doing it all, not because we have to; Jesus already guaranteed our entry to heaven; but rather, doing it out of joy. Doing it all to say thanks for the gifts of the Word and Sacraments, forgiveness of sins and everlasting life we have already received. (5) Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? By the workings of Jesus under the Law, God has granted us a salvation we could never have gained by ourselves. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, He now also gives us the opportunity and the ability to fulfill God’s Law of Love, not out of fear, but out of thanksgiving for God’s good and perfect gift of the Law!