Sermon: Elements of Judgment (Part One)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 12-Apr-14; 70 minutes
Today I am going to begin a series that I think will carry me right on through to the Days of Unleavened Bread. I gave a series on this subject once before. As you begin to hear it, some of you who have been around for that long may recall it. However, the only time I gave it is within four days of being seventeen full years before. I think it is time for a rehearsal. This is an important subject.
This subject has produced many arguments in the church, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In addition to that, in the world down through the ages, this subject has been a topic of concern. It is one that people tend to have firm opinions about and can seemingly get bent out of shape over it quite easily. In fact, it produced what was one of the most emotional areas of doctrinal contention in the first century church. It is not, by my estimation anyway, the most important doctrinal issue. But it is one that seems to get us right in the places where we have some of the highest emotional regard for.
This subject is an area of doctrine that played a large role in eventually producing the break-up of the Worldwide Church of God. The brethren scattered to the four winds, as it were. We must seriously address it once again so that we are on the same page.
I will begin by saying that I believe that Herbert Armstrong got it right. It either was not explained well by him, by the ministry, or many in the church simply misunderstood. I cannot understand why so many might have misunderstood. Perhaps because many were unconverted or had not matured enough to grasp it well enough to truly discern what the subject was.
This subject has several different elements to it. There is at least one factor that each of the elements have in common. When I originally gave this 17 years ago, I titled this series, “Forms vs Spirituality.” I have since changed the title because I feel that the over-all subject is more pertinent to each of the elements. I have titled it, “Elements of Judgment.” That probably does not tell you much at this point. If I ask, “What do Old Covenant laws and the rituals have do with the New Covenant?” it might start to ‘ring a bell’ with some of you. Is the Sabbath only ceremonial and not truly binding? What about the holy days?
By the 90s, the Worldwide Church of God claimed those things were merely ceremonial and that they were not required to be kept. They kept following them anyway for several years after the break-up. They claimed they did it only because of church tradition. In other words, they were doing God a favor. They did not have to do this. They were just doing it so that other people would not get upset. That was nice of them. I wonder what God thought about that? We shall see!
That approach allows the door to be wide open for a major downside to that type of thinking. This approach, essentially, leaves people free to develop their own religious agenda, as long as they are ‘believing in Christ.’ That trumps everything in their minds!
What good is a covenant when each person’s concept of the terms of the covenant are free to be set individually? It leaves us with a circumstance that is twice mentioned in the book of Judges. That there were no kings in those days. Everybody was doing what was right in their own eyes. Take laws out of the covenant and you remove the standards that is in our relationship with God.
Their ‘believing in Christ’ seems to trump everything to the point that such obviously pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter, became part of the Worldwide Church of God’s worship. That is how far they have drifted.
What about other issues like tithing? What about clean and unclean meats? The Worldwide Church of God said do not be concerned about them. What about getting the leavening out of one’s home and not eating it during the Days of Unleavened Bread? The Worldwide Church of God said do not be concerned about that either.
What about eating blood and fat? What about the sanitation and quarantine laws? They are in the Old Testament too. What about becoming unclean from contact with pigs, which God has something to say about? What about dead animals? God has something to say about that as well. What about dead people? He has something to say about that too!
What about ‘coming into contact’ with people who have infectious diseases? These questions are still alive to this day. They never die out because different people keep coming up with the same basic questions. Those who had them previously, never seem to advance and let these things go or to get them resolved unless their resolution is to just forget about them.
The question facing us is, ‘How important are these and other related issues spiritually?’ It is right here that this subject becomes serious for us. It will be a long time before we get to that point. We need to begin thinking about what our approach should be. Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Is everything that appears to be part of the Old Covenant obsolete? This is important. This subject involves sin and love because both are defined in the Bible as matters of law. It is God’s law, to be specific.
The overall subject of this series could easily be given as judging righteous judgments. The object of these sermons is to help us to become better able to use God’s laws for more perfect judgments of ourselves, of others, and of situations and circumstances that arise. In one sense, this fits right into Ecclesiastes. It is one of the major themes. Solomon shows how important the relationship with God is. I want you to turn in your Bible to I Kings 3.
I Kings 3:5-12 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore, give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.
Solomon was about 30 years old, but he felt like a little child. He was given a responsibility for which he was not qualified so he is like a child. He did not know which way to turn.
In verse 9, when Solomon asks for an ‘understanding heart to judge Your people,’ we are getting to the meat of his request. Everybody thinks he asked for wisdom. No, that is not quite correct. Wisdom was the fruit of what he asked for. You cannot have real wisdom unless you first understand what you are dealing with. Then wisdom can be applied. These are powerful terms: understanding, judging, discerning good and evil.
This verse will serve as an introduction as to why this subject is so important. Are we not called, brethren, to be kings and priests? We are going to be doing an awful lot of judging in the future in the responsibilities that God is going to give to us. But along the way, we are going to be judging ourselves. We are going to be judging each other as well. We are going to be judging what the world is doing. We are going to be judging what the churches of the world are doing. We are going to be confronted with decision making from now till the end when Christ returns and we are changed.
When you begin to think about this, I think you are going to think in terms of fulfilling the responsibilities so that we are prepared for the Kingdom of God. There is hardly a subject more important than this right now. We are making choices all the time.
We are making choices based on how we judge situations. Are our judgments fair? Are our judgments correct? Are they incorrect? Are we being overly rigid with others and overly loose with ourselves? That is a tendency for all of us.
(That sets the stage for what the overall subject is of these sermons. I do not know how many sermons there will be.)
Please turn back to the New Testament to the book of John.
John 7:21-24 Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
The background of this situation is that Jesus knew, before this experience occurred, that some malicious, religious Jews were conspiring to kill Him. Incidentally, this occurred at a Feast of Tabernacles. More common folks were unaware that this conspiracy was under way. The immediate charge against Jesus was that He had healed a man on the Sabbath.
Jesus argues that they, the people making the accusations, were in the habit of breaking one law, the Sabbath, to keep another law, circumcision. How does that balance in your mind? Incidentally, this may surprise you, Jesus gives the impression that He agreed with their practice!
He continues His argument along the same lines. His argument was defending Himself. The first part of it was to show them clearly what they were doing. His argument is that He appeared to break the Sabbath to mercifully keep God’s law by healing and thus making a man whole.
What He did is He just shot them down. They had no comeback. If Jesus was guilty of breaking a law, then they were guilty too in their circumcision practice. He had them strung out and they had no way to turn. That is why Jesus warned them not to judge according to appearances. In other words, you guys are as guilty as I am! They had nothing to accuse Him of.
As I told you, He agreed with what they were doing by circumcising on the Sabbath. It was because that had a purpose behind it that overrode and, in a sense, was more important than that specific Sabbath that they circumcised on. It was the making of the Covenant. That was more important than that singular Sabbath. That is why Jesus agreed with what they were doing.
Jesus was constantly being misjudged in many areas of His life and ministry because those judging Him did not grasp that the intent of God’s laws was living, guidance, and mercy. That is what God’s law is. It is a living guidance. It is standards for life that please God and they are merciful. If you keep God’s commandments, you are being merciful to those in whose presence you are keeping them. That was good.
In an overall sense, the central issue in this series involves basic understandings that we need for making proper judgments regarding the way God perceives balanced judgments based on His laws. That is important. His laws.
The Pharisees' judgments were seriously unbalanced towards rigidity. They had no ‘bend’ in them at all. This subject involves growing into the image of God and this central issue of life is what the Days of Unleavened Bread are all about. That is, we are constantly making choices and making them as close to absolutely right as we possibly can! That is how we come out of sin.
This subject is not small potatoes, as the saying goes. We are going to look very briefly at the very early, intense problem that seriously disturbed the unity of the church in the first century. We are going to go to Ephesians 2 as we continue to set the foundation here. We have advanced to what was causing the problem. It begins a bit abruptly. I will explain it a little bit later. Let us start with verse 10 because it helps lead in.
Ephesians 2:10-18 For we are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we [Christians, whether they are Gentiles or Israelites] should walk in them. Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh [The Ephesian church was predominantly Gentile.]—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ [before their calling], being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one [Jew and Gentile], and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. He came and preached peace to you who were afar off [Gentiles] and to those who were near [Jews or Israelites]. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
This series of verses is briefly giving an overview of what happened when these two very different groups of people were brought into close contact with each other within the same congregation. These people were not enemies in the normal sense, but they were not natural friends either. That is why Paul talks about the ‘wall that separated them.’ That ‘wall’ is the things that we just read about there. The covenants, the law of God, and so forth.
In other words, the wall that was separating was something that the Israelites had that the Gentiles did not have. It was necessary for the Gentiles to know about what they did not have, but the Jews did have. The problem was that they were very much uneducated about the background of the Israelite people and their relationship with God stretching all of the way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on up through the centuries.
It was necessary to bring the Gentiles most of the way up to speed, so that they could understand where, as we would say today, the Jews were coming from. The Israelites had a relationship with God that the Gentiles lacked. This big difference between them irritated both sides. What way do you think the Jews felt? I have something you do not have and I am better than you! That would be very humbling for the Gentiles, who were proud in their own right. This set up the stage for all kinds of bickering.
In Luke 12, we will look at a principle here.
Luke 12:47-48 “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
I mentioned that the Israelites had something that needed to be overcome. They were proud of their relationship with God. However, they needed to be humbled by the fact that despite their vague relationship with God, they were in reality, no better spiritually than the Gentiles! They both were sinners. Because the Jews were not really holding up their end of the bargain with God in the Covenant. These are people, both Jews and Gentiles, being called into the church in order to be converted.
In fact, it probably was really humbling for the Jews in terms of being judged. They may very well have stood in a worse place of judgment with God than the Gentiles who knew almost nothing. That is why I read these verses. That servant, the Jew, who knew his master’s will and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. He who did not know, yet did things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. That is a very clear judgment on Jesus’ part.
This difference created a great deal of fighting and bickering within the two groups of people. We are going to go to Acts 15. We will not spend a great amount of time here, but I want you to see what this difference between the two groups brought about.
Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them [the Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
We are getting into an area of law here. Peter is speaking in verse 9.
Acts 15:9-11 “and made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
This argument was probably the most intense, internal issue the fledgling church had to face. It was brought to a head because so many Gentiles were being added to the church. The Gentiles, with little familiarity with the God of the Bible, the Covenants, and His purpose, found themselves between a rock and a hard place. In addition, there is little evidence within the New Testament, that the apostles had any experience with what the church was going through at this time. What was happening was a brand new phenomenon. The Israelite people of God had never really had to face something of this magnitude in a spiritual area.
We are going to leave Acts 15 and go to Exodus 12. We will be turning to a lot of scriptures. I want you to see the proofs right out of God’s Word. The subject is in regard to Gentiles keeping the Passover.
Exodus 12:48-49 “And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.”
I want you to see that God had always permitted Gentiles to make the Old Covenant. Bringing Gentiles into the church, in the time after Christ’s resurrection, was not unusual. What was unusual was the number of Gentiles being called. God was purposely and personally inviting them to be one with the Israelite people. This is what the Israelite people had to overcome. Through faith, they had to recognize that God was calling them.
In reality, God had laid the foundation for the Gentiles coming into the church, all the way back to the original keeping of the Passover. Now, in the New Testament, God is openly inviting them. That is what is causing the problem. The Israelite people, in the church, were having a hard time adjusting to this. They had, in Acts 15, no small dissension and disputation going on among them. One said this; one said that. A decision had to be reached.
There is an additional circumstance that was a cause of this issue. God made a change in the way He dealt under the Old Covenant and what He was doing now in the New Covenant. This difference is actually quite important. We are going to go to the book of Amos.
Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
You might be surprised by what the change was. It plainly says there that God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants, the prophets. We generally use this verse solely in regard to prophesy. It has a much wider application than that. In the Old Covenant, in His dealings with Israel, God would send a prophet to announce what He wanted the leadership of Israel to do. Notice a difference in the New Testament in the book of Acts where God altered this procedure quite radically. At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has just risen to heaven.
Acts 1:15-26 In those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry. (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” They proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. They prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” They cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. He was numbered with the eleven apostles.
In Acts 1:20, Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to understand the scriptures quoted in Psalms. When you read Psalms, it seems to have nothing to do with what we are reading in Acts 1.
Do you see the difference here? God did not send a prophet to tell them what to do. Under the New Covenant, because He has given His Holy Spirit, He requires the church leadership in counsel with others within the body, to reason any changes through an alignment with laws and principles that have already been revealed within His Word. That is much different than it was done under the Old Covenant.
Nobody knows for sure what the term ‘cast lots’ means here. The common thought is that they did what was done before the high priest. They cast lots and then God showed them what the decision was. But ‘cast lots’ may have been considered a procedure similar to a vote. We see this happening later on. In the book of Acts, they did not cast lots anymore. They just decided amongst them who the Holy Spirit was appointing to do the responsibility. Cast lots may have been a procedure similar to a vote.
One might ask today, ‘Did you cast your vote?’ In a sense, this new procedure opens a can of worms. Acts 15 shows us what the result was. They had a big dispute. What did they do? They got together and argued it out. I will use the term ‘argue’ because the words used there are pretty strong. They were heated when discussing this problem they had regarding the Gentiles coming into the church and running headlong into hardheaded Jews. The Jews did not understand that they may have been wrong in their approach to this.
You will recall in Acts 15, terms like ‘circumcision,’ ‘cannot be saved,’ ‘Pharisees,’ ‘law of Moses,’ ‘purified by faith through grace we shall be saved,’ and finally the term, ‘yoke unable to be born.’ We will come back to this section later in the series for a fuller explanation. Every one of these terms is a hot button, major salvation issue.
You see this major difference God made by not just telling them what to do. Instead, He made them think it through. He wanted them to do what? He wanted them to use the examples and laws in the Old Testament and put them to use in this new situation. They were to come up with a procedure that was right, true, and in alignment with what God wanted. They did not always hit the nail on the head. They made some mistakes along the way.
Remember, they were trying to work through this as well. You need to understand the change that God made was actually good for them. Why? Because it taught them how to think wisely. It taught them how to think in alignment with God’s Word, God’s law, mercy, and love. By doing that, they learned the principles of laws and how to be like God. Gradually, this wisdom that they were accumulating by being forced to do this, created within them the image of God.
That is what we are going through here. We are getting firsthand experience, using God’s law and coming to conclusions that are in alignment with God’s Word. In order to do that, we have to pool information, knowledge, and understanding from God’s Word. We have to put it together to reach a right conclusion to what is truly wisdom.
The broad explanation of these terms that are used in Acts 15 will occupy the bulk of these sermons and a lot more besides. As I am going through the sermons, I will be answering the questions that I posed at the very beginning of this one. The first thing that I feel I must do is to help you establish two valid biblical principles concerning love, the fear of God, His law, and God’s purposes.
If you were to ask a fairly religious person out in the world, why he does not keep the Sabbath, I would guarantee that it is almost 100% certain that the person will reply that the Sabbath is done away. I know that you do not believe that and you are correct. Remember how I worded this, ‘a fairly religious person out in the world.’ They are unconverted. They would reply that the Sabbath has been done away. Why would they do that? Because that is what they have been taught. Who taught them? Their preacher taught them that because that is what he believes.
That is the kind of situation that they were running into in Acts 15. It did not really involve the Sabbath; it involved other things. But it was the same principle that is involved here.
Here is a key question. What is your thought about whether any of God’s laws are done away? Not just a ‘biggie’ like the Sabbath, but I am talking about any of God’s laws. Is there a possibility that some laws have been done away and are of no value regarding one’s life and glorifying God by means of the way that we live?
Everybody understands that the sacrificial laws are no longer required of us having been replaced by Christ’s sacrifice. However, mark this down in your mind, those laws are still in the Bible. Do we ignore them because they are done away? If they are done away, why did God leave them in the Book? You do not need these anymore! In a way, that is the issue which I will show you here in just a little bit.
If some of God’s laws are done away, and yet remain a part of Scripture, then how are these next two very familiar scriptures to be understood and applied within our personal relationship with God? Turn with me to the book of Deuteronomy. We are obviously in the Old Covenant here.
Deuteronomy 8:3 “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Does living by every word of God, in this context in Deuteronomy, apply only to those who lived under the Old Covenant? Let us make it narrower. It is a fact that Deuteronomy was written by Moses in the last month of his life before Israel entered the Promised Land. So that is when Deuteronomy 8:3 was written. Does this then only apply to those who tramped through the wilderness for 40 years? We are beginning to eliminate people when thinking about this law.
Let us take this a little bit further. Let us go to the New Covenant to the book of Matthew.
Matthew 4:4 But He (Jesus) answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Luke 4:4 But Jesus answered him saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’”
This ought to broaden our understanding immensely. The fact is that this same command appears twice as applying to those under the New Covenant. That command in Deuteronomy 8:3 is for you and for me, as is Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4. Is not what Christ stated still part of the Scriptures? Those supposedly ‘done away with sacrificial laws’ are still a part of the Scriptures. Did Christ give any intimation whatever about laws being done away, when it is recorded in Matthew 5:17. It is a scripture that you are all familiar with and Christ is speaking.
Matthew 5:17 ’Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.’
In addition to that, He makes it very clear.
Matthew 5:18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
That is awfully conclusive. Not one jot or tittle will pass from God’s law. There is no excuse whatever, in the face of scriptures like that given by our Savior, to think that ANY law of God is ever done away! They are not! That is so plain and clear. If we start doing away with God’s law, we lose the ability to judge things rightly. That is the ultimate conclusion. When we judge wrongly, we sin.
Go with me to one more scripture. I feel this one nails this down. It is in the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
If that does not nail it down for somebody, what can you do for them? Nothing. I am of the opinion that thinking that God arbitrarily does away with laws reflects the teaching about a God who is desperate about saving people. It goes a long way toward diminishing His creative purposes for each and every one that He calls.
God is preparing something for us to be part of. He is a creator and we are new creations of His. It downplays that we are a new creation and that the potter is forming and shaping us with our having a small role through voluntarily choosing to make wise, righteous, loving choices to submit to His creative efforts.
Here is the principle. I said as I began this section, I wanted to give you two principles. The first one is actually a paragraph long. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away. Rather, because the Author of those laws in scripture is God—He is all wise—we should assume these supposedly done away laws are still in some way binding on us. We should seek ways to apply them and glorify God in so doing.
There is a second principle that stands true and parallels somewhat with mankind’s laws. Teaching this principle will occupy a major portion of these sermons. This principle is easily understood because we all have knowledge of this. In many cases, we have experience with it.
It is this. Every law, whether man’s or God’s, is not on the same level of seriousness in regards to God’s purposes. Some laws are more important than others. Thus, in regard to God’s laws and man’s laws, breaking the law against murder is far more serious than breaking a community law of painting your home a color not permitted by the community’s governing association. Evelyn and I faced that. We did not break the law, but you understand. I wanted to make a big wide difference so we can understand that is the way law is, whether it is God’s law or man’s law. Not every law is as important as every other law.
We naturally want everything pertaining to God, as in sin, righteousness, obedience, holiness, and justice, to be absolute, simple, clear, and straightforward. But in actual day to day practice, life is not that simple. If everything was the way we would like it to be, it would make for very easy judgments. Boom, boom, we would be like a bunch of Pharisees. Right, wrong, but that is not the way life is. Life requires evaluating circumstances, things, the importance of laws, and on and on it goes.
Judgments are not always easy to make. We get confused. That is alright. We can become unconfused if we are not too impatient and go barreling ahead.
I want to give you an example. God’s Word shows clearly that whether an act is committed deliberately with forethought, passively through weakness, or even accidentally, makes all the difference in the world regarding the severity of judgment. We will look at a clear example that everyone is familiar with. This appears in John.
John 8:3-5 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. When they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now, Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned, but what do You say?”
John 8:10-11 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one Lord.” Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
She seemingly was as guilty of adultery as one can get. Let us pause for just a second and ask this question. What about the circumstances, including the vindictive attempt by her accusers, of judicial trickery to enable them to accuse Jesus? They had turned her into nothing more than a thing, a tool, to get at Him. She became a mere pawn to be sacrificed for their vindictive, vanity-driven drive to gain power over Him. Thus, they were willfully abusing her within the context of their sin!
We call this activity today, entrapment. It is in our court cases occasionally. That is what they were doing. They were entrapping her. That was a miscarriage of judicial procedure which is something modern prosecutors are still attempting. She was indeed guilty of law-breaking. Thus, Jesus forgave her with a warning. But, that was as far as He went.
Because of that and other factors. The ‘that’ was the fact that they entrapped her. Another factor was that He was in no position in the community. He was not empowered with authority to act within the community. They were really going above and beyond in their attempt to catch Him.
Their sin was deliberately, conspiratorially, committed. They were far guiltier than she was. Even though she was guilty of committing adultery, she probably was doing it out of weakness. I am pretty sure that is the way Jesus saw it. But what they did was deliberately arranged to make them look bad. He considered that far worse.
It is very clear that Jesus values some things more than others. Otherwise, He would have said, ‘Woman, you are going to go to your death too,’ or done something to have her put aside. But He did not. If we are going to be in His image, and make correct judgments as well as the correct witness to each other and the world, we should strive to understand and do likewise as Jesus did in this case. In a sense, though she was as guilty of sin as you can get, He dismissed her. He put what the Jews and Pharisees did up here and put what she did down here, in terms of importance.
We will move on. This will become clearer and clearer. Not everything in God’s law bears the same weight. We will go to a scripture that I know you will recognize.
I Corinthians 13:13 Now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I chose to begin here, showing other differences regarding values, because it is so clear. If you have been told at some time or another that faith is the greater of all qualities, then you are wrong. The greatest gift, the greatest quality, or attribute of mind, of character, and personality, is love. That is very plainly stated. Let us look at a couple more scriptures regarding this.
I Peter 4:7-9 But the end of all things is at hand, therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers and above all things [Notice, ‘above all things’. Peter agrees with Paul regarding love.] have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.
Nothing is excluded in those comparisons. Paul says love is the greatest of all attributes of God. Peter says above all things, have fervent love for one another. Nothing is excluded. The apostle John used love to concentrate, to epitomize, to magnify what God is in His wholeness when He wrote, ‘God is love.’ You begin to get the picture. God does this throughout the Bible. He shows ‘this’ is more important than ‘that.’ ‘That’ is more important than ‘this.’ ‘This’ is more important to develop than ‘that’ and so forth.
This is going all through the Scriptures. Why does He do that? So that we learn what is more important to Him and begin to apply those things in our lives with our dealing with one another.
I Corinthians 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Paul deliberately contrasts love with other highly respected qualities men esteem as being very important. Eloquence of speech that enables one to be persuasive, knowing the future so that one can rightly direct his steps in wisdom, in addition to having the power of great faith to affectively accomplish, even making large material contributions and sacrificing oneself in martyrdom and service as a great cause, are not as great as love.
Unless one’s qualities motivate to produce love, it is of little spiritual value. Unless these acts are acts of godly love, towards God’s glorification and His purpose, they do not do us much good in winning favor of God. Paul finds them all lacking, paling almost into insignificance because when contrasted to love, all those other qualities are nothing.
Do not forget what Paul is saying. It is inspired by God. Paul’s writing is the means through which God expresses this fundamental of all truths. In practical application, what Paul is saying here, it means because we have God’s Spirit, regardless of whom one is in the body of Jesus Christ, whether apostle, recent convert, or elderly widow, all have the means to express in their own experience this most important of all qualities. God has not left us standing behind the door with nothing.
That is what Paul is saying. We all have the means to express love. Love is the most important of all qualities.
It does not stand alone because, brethren, it takes understanding and wisdom to know when to give love and when to not do it, what we might consider to be love. Not every decision or choice we make, at least based on our feelings, is necessarily going to please God as being an act of love. Sometimes we do things just to please ourselves to glorify God. This is something that is pretty difficult to grasp and pretty difficult to grow into. It is right here that the book of Ecclesiastes fits in again. I keep coming back to that because I feel that I am learning so much that is of practical good use in Christian life.