The second use of the Law

Let’s do a series on God’s Law. . . .Last time we discussed the first use of the Law, the civil use.  The second is the theological use, the confrontation with God’s demands that makes us realize our sinfulness and our desperate need for the Gospel.

When we read a book, we might consider how we situate ourselves as readers.  That is, in the case of a novel, whom do we identify with?  What side of the conflict do we see ourselves on?  Who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and which are we?

In the reading the Bible, we tend to identify with the “good guys” and scorn the villains.  We can also situate ourselves as external observers, learning various truths from the text and gleaning useful lessons for our lives.  That’s well and good.  But to gain the most benefit from God’s Word we might situate ourselves differently.  Read the text so that it accuses you.  So that you recognize that you are the bad guy.  That the judgments against sinners apply to you.

When I read the Old Testament, with its seemingly odd prohibitions and harsh punishments, I see that all of the death penalties recorded in the old and superceded covenant are for things I have committed!  I have disobeyed my parents and so, by these standards, deserve to be stoned.  I have committed idolatry and so deserve to die the death.  I am Abihu, presuming to come into God’s holy presence on my own terms rather than His.  I am the wicked Canaanites.  I am the rebellious children of Israel.  I deserve the death penalty that I will eventually receive.

When I read the New Testament, I do not just learn about Jesus so that I can emulate Him and answer the question “what would Jesus do?”   I know I should do that, but in all honesty I find that His is a standard that staggers my best efforts.  When I read the Beatitudes, I realize that I am not poor in spirit or pure in heart or a peacemaker and that I am not blessed.

The Bible, read in this way, terrifies me.  But then in the Old Testament, my horror gives way to God’s constant and unmerited deliverance of His people, to the bloody charnel house that was the Temple with its sacrifices for sin, to the promises that God will send a Savior who will bear my iniquity and heal me with His stripes.  And then in the New Testament, my dismay at Christ’s example gives way to marveling at His work of Redemption and free forgiveness in His Cross and Resurrection. And I realize that He is poor in spirit and pure in heart and a peacemaker and that I am blessed after all in Him.

Sometimes I read the Bible–or hear it preached–in other ways, as information or as a learner, but I am always in need of repentance and of depending on Christ more and more.  So I am always in need of the second use of the Law.

(Any other insights or applications regarding the Second Use of the Law?)

 

The first use of the Law

We’ve talked about the second use of the Law (which convicts us of our sin and drives us to the Gospel) and the third use of the Law (its role in the Christian life).   But we have perhaps neglected the first use of the Law, the civil use, which restrains external evil so as to make life in society possible.   The civil use doesn’t save anyone, and it isn’t even religious as such, applying to all people whether they are believers or not.  But the civil use would seem to govern the extent and limits of Christian political involvement.

We ARE to promote civil righteousness in the social order–opposing abortion, working for justice, fighting corruption, protecting families, etc., etc.  That does NOT mean we are trying to impose our religion on anyone, much less trying to seize power to bring on a Christian utopia.   It does NOT politicize the church.  In the civil arena, we battle abortion in an effort to restrain our sinful impulse to kill our own children; in the church, though, we bring forgiveness to women and doctors who have committed abortion.  Furthermore, believing in the first use of the Law does NOT mean just going along with whatever happens in the civil order, as some have mistakenly interpreted the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  Those who believe in no morality at all are not following the first use.  The first use of the Law would seem to govern issues such as gay marriage, legalized euthanasia, and other controversial issues in the public square.

This is my understanding of the first use of the Law.  Do I have it right?  Am I missing anything?   How else could this doctrine be applied?

Evil eyes

As you will have noticed, I am interested in language, idioms, figures of speech, and imagery.  Our pastor’s sermon, which is worth reading in its entirety, looked at a Biblical expression that is usually translated away.  Rev. Douthwaite was preaching on Matthew 20:1-16, the parable about how the laborers were all getting paid the same, even though some worked longer than others, and told the Master that he was being unfair:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Now, those last words there are a bit of a paraphrase. The original puts it like this: Or is your eye evil because I am good? That gives us a bit more to work with here, especially because just a couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus say: And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

Now, usually – and as I talked about that in the sermon two weeks ago – we usually think of “our eyes causing us to sin” in terms of seeing things we should not see. And a common example of that are the sexually-charged images all around us in the world today – in movies, on TV, and in advertising – stirring up lustful and impure thoughts in our hearts. And that’s certainly true. But here today, Jesus is, perhaps, giving us another way to think about that: that the “evil eye” we need to beware of is not just what goes into our eyes, but – in a sense – what comes out of them. How we look at other people. How we look at God. Do we give them, and God, an “evil eye?”

That’s what those disgruntled workers in the vineyard were doing. They were giving an “evil eye” to the owner’s generosity and their fellow workers’ good fortune. And this “evil eye” perhaps caused them to resent their fellow workers, and certainly to resent the owner. He was wrong. He was unfair. He was . . . evil.

And that is the danger for you and me today. A constant danger. That we will look at others and their life and what they have received with an “evil eye,” thinking them unworthy, magnifying their sin, and resenting the good they have received. Then that we will look at ourselves, and with an “evil eye” think more highly of ourselves than we ought, belittle our sins, and think that we have deserved better. And then that we will finally look at God with an “evil eye” and judge Him! That He is wrong. That He is unfair. That He is not giving as He should. That He is . . . not good.

You’ve thought that. I know you have. For that’s what’s behind all of our “why” questions. When we ask: Why me, Lord? when something bad happens to us. When we ask: Why him and not me, Lord? when something good happens for someone else. Why did you do that, Lord? Are there not judgments in those questions? An implication that something is not right, not fair, not deserved?

And so we need to repent. And learn to see with “good” eyes, God eyes, faith eyes, eyes that have been renewed by the Gospel. And it is not impossible to do so. For while what the prophet Isaiah says is true: that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways, our Lord has given you His Word and Spirit, that you might know His thoughts and ways; that you know His goodness toward you, and learn to see with new eyes, good eyes, Gospel eyes.

Those eyes do not look at others and what they have. They do not look at ourselves and what we don’t have. They don’t look into heaven and try to figure out what God is doing and why. Gospel eyes look to the cross.

For there is where we see most of all that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. For there we see the one who truly bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day. There we see that with God there is no negotiating or re-negotiating, but the 100% unadulterated harshness of the Law, and the 100% pure sweetness of the Gospel. And that it cannot be any other way.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 14 Sermon.

The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven

More great preaching from our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, on the text Matthew 18:1-20.  Read it all.  Here is the beginning and the end.  Notice how the law passages are all brought down on Jesus:

In common thinking, the phase of life called childhood is something to pass through. But for Jesus, to become as a child is something to attain, and a place to remain.

In common thinking, children need to be taught to become adults. But for Jesus, adults need to be taught to become like children.

In common thinking, children grow up to become something great. But for Jesus, greatness is in being like a child.

Clearly, Jesus is looking at things quite differently than we often do.

For being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with your age. Whether you are the youngest of the young or the oldest of the old, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how much you know. Whether you have been a Christian all your life and know your Scriptures and catechism well, or you are just beginning in this life of faith, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how you act or your level of spiritual maturity. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, an apostle or a catechumen, a leader or a learner, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

And so the disciples’ question today, “Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” betrays the fact that they are not thinking as Jesus thinks, or seeing as Jesus sees. And so Jesus rattles them good! No beating around the bush with Jesus. He grabs a child – who, by the way, always seem to be around Jesus, have you ever noticed that? He grabs a child, stands him (or her) right in the midst of these big disciples and says: Here you go. Greatness. Be like this child. Humble yourselves. And if you don’t, you will never, ever, not in a million years or a million tries, enter the kingdom of heaven.

As usual, the disciples got more than they bargained for. But its always that way with Jesus. He is always giving more than we ask or imagine or think. And so the disciples ask a greatness question, and Jesus gives a faith answer.

For that’s really what this is. It’s not primarily about what we do, it’s about faith. For to be a child as Jesus is describing here means to be dependent. To be dependent upon your Father in heaven, like a child, for everything – to supply your needs, to give you your identity, to rescue you, and to protect you from your enemies. It is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, utterly dependent and in need of Christ and His provision. It is to be weak and vulnerable, and to learn to see yourself in this way.

For no matter how strong or high or learned or powerful you may be in the world and in the eyes of the world, none of that matters when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. Here, greatness is quite different. Here, greatness is to be among those whom Christ serves. And to see others and to serve others in the same way. . . .

And so you are the greatest when you are the least, for then all that you are and all that you have is of Christ and not of yourself, as He supplies your need, as He gives you your identity as His child, as He rescues you, and as He protects you. For greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not to accomplish the most, but to receive Christ and what He has done for you. For He has come and given His hand and feet and eyes in place of yours. He has taken the millstone you deserve and put it around His neck. He was cast into the hell of fire on the cross, for you, in your place.

And so if it is better for you to be hacked and plucked and drowned, far better is it for you that Jesus has come to do this for you! That the Father has sent His child, His beloved Son, to seek and to save the lost. That you have a faithful Father, a Good Shepherd, and a Spirit given to you and living in you. A Spirit by which we pray, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) as His children, and knowing that our Father has heard our prayer for Jesus’ sake, and will always do what is best and good for us. . . .

For Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Working! More huge words! Promise words. Words you can count on as you ride the Gospel all day, until your Father calls you to come into your heavenly home.

And with those words – did you notice? – we’re back where we started – except now the child in the midst of us is the very Son of God. And He really is. Not just in some mystical way – He really is! In His very Body and Blood, given to you here in the midst of your sin and mess. But He is not ashamed of you, to give Himself to you, to forgive you and give you life again. He is happy that you’re here. Not because of all that you accomplished this week, but because you are His little one. Which makes you great. For in the end, greatness is not what you do, it’s who you are. And you are a child of God.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 12 Sermon.

Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)

The King James Bible at 400

My long-time friend Leland Ryken has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the King James translation of the Bible, which marks its 400th anniversary this year.  After telling about how the new king of England granted only one of the Puritans’ requests–to make a new English translation of the Bible–and how 47 scholars completed the project in only 6 years, Lee discusses its impact:

The King James Version was not an original translation. It was a revision—technically of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, but actually of an entire century of English Bible translations starting with William Tyndale. This history lies behind a famous statement in the preface to the King James Version: “Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”

The King James Bible is familiarly called the Authorized Version, but the king who lent his name to the translation never officially authorized it, even though he hoped that the new translation would help to unify a politically and religiously divided kingdom (a kingdom that would erupt into civil war not long after his death in 1625). Nor did church officials authorize the new translation. The King James Version in reality was authorized by the people, who chose it over others. For three and a half centuries, when English-speaking people spoke of “the Bible,” they meant the King James Version.

The King James translators believed their task was to take readers as close as possible to what the original text says, and in doing so they created a great work of literature. Its style is part of its magic. Yet that style is hard to define.

Modern readers are too quick to conclude that with its now-archaic language and grammar, the Bible’s style is embellished and formal. But thee and thou pronouns and verb endings like walkest and sayeth were a feature of everyday speech in the early 17th century.

However imitated or parodied, the language is dignified, beautiful, sonorous and elegant. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”—six words and unforgettable. “Give us this day our daily bread.” “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” The King James style is a paradox: It is usually simple in vocabulary while majestic and elevating in effect. . . .

For more than three centuries, the King James Bible provided the central frame of reference for the English-speaking world. Former Yale University Prof. George Lindbeck well claims that until recently “Christendom dwelt imaginatively in the biblical world.” During the years of its dominance, the King James Bible was the omnipresent force in any cultural sphere that we can name—education (especially childhood education), religion, family and home, the courtroom, political discourse, language and literacy, choral music and hymns, art and literature. For more than two centuries children in England and America learned to read by way of the Bible. . . .

The influence of the King James Bible is perhaps most profound in the realm of literature. From Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to Toni Morrison’s “Paradise,” it is a presence quite apart from the author’s religious stance. In his book “The Bible as Literature,” British literary scholar T. R. Henn said it best: “The Authorized Version of 1611 . . . achieves as we read a strange authority and power as a work of literature. It becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source.”

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is consistently, year after year, either second or third on the list of current Bible sales in the United States. Furthermore, the King James Version lives on in two modern translations that perpetuate the translation philosophy and style of the King James Version while updating its scholarship and language. They are the New King James Version and the English Standard Version.

via Leland Ryken: How We Got the King James Bible – WSJ.com.


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