Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Law in Light of Christ's Teaching

The next two day's readings will be centered around the law and Christ's teachings.  As we go through Calvin's writings, I think the thing to remember is that Christ is God, God never changes, therefore Christ taught the law of God.  He did not annul any previous commandments nor did he add commandments which contradict the law.  The law teaches us what the image of God looks like.  If we were to fully follow the law, we would truly reflect the image of God.  "For God has so depicted his character in the law that if any man carries out in deeds whatever is enjoined there, he will express the image of God, as it were, in his own life."  Moses wrote, "...that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days..." (Deuteronomy 30:20).  By following his law, we may "cling" to Him.

Matthew 22:37-39 reads, "Jesus said to him, ''You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.''"  Calvin writes about this saying, "First, indeed, our soul should be entirely filled with the love of God.  From this will flow directly the love of neighbor."  When we truly love the Lord, it is a natural response to love our neighbors, especially since they are made in his image.

Often Christ and the apostles referred to the commandments in the second table only.  This was not an accident nor were the commandments from the first table implied.  Look at the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  When the ruler asked what he must do, Jesus responded by reciting the commandments from the second table.  Calvin says the reason for this is that these commandments can be an external witness to righteousness.  Commandments from the first table are often in the intention of the heart or ceremonial.  If the commandments of the second table are truly followed, then these are signs of the true Christian life, and therefore it demonstrates a real fear of the Lord which is the intention of the first table.

Calvin then teaches us that the whole of the law can be boiled down to one word: love.  Galatians 5:14 reads "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  However, man cannot maintain true love unless he earnestly fears God.  We all are born with a self-love, therefore there is no need to have a commandment for it.  "Hence it is very clear that we keep the commandments not by loving ourselves but by loving God and our neighbor; that he lives in the best and holiest life who lives and strives for himself as little as he can, and that no one lives in a worse or more evil manner than he who lives and strives for himself alone, and thinks about and seeks only his own advantage."  Calvin later tells us that this love that we have for ourselves must be extended to our neighbors and we should care for them just as eagerly as we care for ourselves.

He then answers the question that has come up in countless Sunday school classes for children and adults alike:  Who is our neighbor?  Easy, the entire human race - not just those who live in our communities, cities, etc.  Calvin writes, "Now, since Christ has shown in the parable of the Samaritan that the term 'neighbor' includes even the most remote person, we are not expected to limit the precept of love to those in close relationships."  Later he writes, "...we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves."

There are those who believe that Christ's teachings are optional.  Really, we must follow the big ten, but anything that Jesus added on is a little superfluous.  These people refer to the additional instructions by Christ as "evangelical counsels."  They believe that only monks and the like are really bound to these teachings.  Calvin argues that these people misunderstand who Jesus Christ is: "Either let them blot out these things from the law or recognize that the Lord was Lawgiver, and let them not falsely represent him as a mere giver of counsel."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.57-2.8.59

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