Sermon: The Beauty of God's Law
A Blessing to Those Who Obey It
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 07-Aug-21; 70 minutes
I have a question for you today. How do you define beauty? A dictionary will provide a definition something like this: "The quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exults the mind or the spirit." Now I would call that mouthful, an academic definition of beauty. A similar, slightly expanded one is "a quality or combination of qualities that gives pleasure to the mind or senses, and is often associated with properties such as harmony of form or color, proportion, authenticity, or originality." Like I said, those are mouthfuls and sometimes it might be a little bit difficult to get your mind around it.
Simpler definitions are easier to digest, at least for my mind. This one, I thought, was great because it is so simple. "Something that is particularly good or pleasing." That is nice and brief, there is nothing there to misunderstand—unadorned.
German Romantic poet, literary critic, and philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel said, "Beauty is that which is simultaneously attractive and sublime." I like that one. Now, this definition of beauty, a more modern one, a more subjective one, appeared in the Huffington Post in essay form, but it could have easily been stated in the last three words as you will find out here. "Beauty has varied throughout time, various cultures, and the vast different perceptions of the world. Beauty has been described and depicted through pictures and concepts penetrating our minds. Beauty has been defined in so many ways. What I have discovered is that beauty is simple. Beauty is happiness." Finally got to the point there, at the end of that bit of a paragraph.
In a similar way, John Keats writes in his poem "Endymion" back in 1818. He said, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever, its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness." And Edmund Burke agrees, "Beauty is the promise of happiness." So does Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote, "Beauty is whatever gives joy." So there is an emotional response in beauty that we do when we see something or hear something or experience something that we consider beautiful.
Now, we are getting to the nitty-gritty of it here, because many people, many philosophers and thinkers, link beauty with the truth, with morality, with divinity. Keats again said, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." because he pretty much equates them there. Henry David Thoreau says, "The perception of beauty is a moral test." So, when you consider something beautiful, it is saying something about your own morality, it is a moral test. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting." And finally, Sir Francis Bacon (we are going back several centuries here), said, "Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the infinite." Meaning it is God or what God has created, that sort of thing, that we can sense with our physical senses.
Confucius just decided to cover all his bases with a very simple statement here. He says, "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." He may be on the right track because beauty is a multifaceted, often time-dependent subjective matter. As some of the definitions alluded to we see beauty in people. We see it in words, in objects, combinations of objects, design, harmony, gracefulness, skill, proportion, originality, color, sentiment, truth, and we can go on and on with things we see beauty in. I mean, some people will see beauty in dirt. I am sure many farmers believe dirt is beautiful because that is where they get their income.
But I guess Confucius was right then—everything is beautiful in its own way.
Some beautiful things are very ephemeral, like mist on a pond in a pretty picture. Or subject to the ravages of time, like a pretty face or an idyllic landscape. Or it can be eternal, like the truths of God. As the old saw goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
But today I want to concentrate on those truths of God that I mentioned a couple times, particularly God's law. Now, I do not want us to get fixated on law specifically. But I want you to think of it in terms of the word Torah, which is more generally instruction—God's instruction. I will be using the shorthand God's law throughout this sermon, but we are really talking about the whole counsel of God, the very breadth and depth of the truth of God as being beautiful, as my recent study into the Ten Commandments showed me. (If you want, you can see my essays in the CGG Weekly. I did a little 1,000 word essay on each one of the commandments for the past ten consecutive weeks. You can sign up for the CGG Weekly on our subscriptions page at www.cgg.org if you so desire.)
And I really began to see, after all these years (I have noticed it before, but it just never hit me the way that it did while studying for writing those CGG Weekly essays), that God's law really is beautiful. It has a harmony and a purpose and an outcome that is absolutely wonderful. But sometimes we disregard it or ignore it or whatever, and do not really see it as maybe we should. But I want to stress in this sermon that God's law has its own beauty that most worldly people absolutely miss. They cannot see it. And I use "cannot" advisedly. They cannot see how beautiful the law of God is. Most of them, many of them consider the law of God a curse rather than beautiful. It is a curse rather than a blessing to them so they are unlikely to see anything attractive in it. They will not think of it as beautiful. But I wish to expound throughout the rest of this sermon on its goodness and thus its beauty, so that we can have a greater appreciation for it.
We will start, however, by seeing from Scripture why so many nominal Christians dislike and distrust God's law. What we are going to see is that there is both a natural antagonism toward God's law and also a conditioned aversion to it, because that is the way they have been taught to look at it, either through instruction, the doctrinal teaching of the church they happen to go to, or the way their parents brought them up to have a negative view of law, and specifically God's law.
These two factors make it very difficult for an unconverted person to comprehend why we would sing something like, "Oh, how love I thy law!" in the hymnal or why we would sacrifice pork, bacon, and shrimp for the rest of our lives or eat matzo for a whole week during the springtime or give up each Saturday to the boredom, as they would see it, of the Sabbath. They cannot understand that. They cannot understand why we would look at God's law and do those things when we could be far better entertained or have far better, as they would see it, sensual responses to things and whatnot in this world, yet we do. We keep God's law and sacrifice those things so that we can please God.
They see God's law as obsolete, as distasteful. They consider them harsh rules from a musty, dusty defunct tome—something written 2,000 years ago, 2,500 years ago, 3,500 years ago. Those things are not applicable, are they? They did not know that much back then, did they? So why should we listen to them? Why should we listen to Moses? Why should we listen to David? Why should we listen to the prophets? Even why should we listen to Jesus? That stuff is passe´, they say. At least they say it to themselves.
I want to start with the most basic thing, in Romans 8. All you old timers probably know exactly where I am going. Mr. Armstrong talked about this quite a bit, used it in many of his final sermons.
Romans 8:6-7 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
Paul here writes about humanity's natural antagonism. He calls it here enmity—its hostility, its hatred, its stiff opposition. They do not like God and it is because of their carnal, fleshly mind. That is, we call it these days human nature. The nature of humanity is set against God's law. It is a mixture of good and evil and just like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we have rejected God, and each one of us do it at some point in our lives. God has called us from that. But there are many, many, many, many, many more people out there in the world who have not been called from it and still have that attitude toward God and His law.
So, due to our innate selfishness of the flesh and Satan's influence working on us and all the world as peers telling us we should do these fun things, or we should do these things that are enjoyable or we should do these things that do not make a sacrifice, so they consider God their enemy. These people will not listen to Him even when His Word is so ubiquitous out there, it seems like every family has a Bible on the shelf collecting dust somewhere and they could turn to it at any point. You can get all kinds of different translations on the Internet. It is not very far off, yet they ignore it. They will not look into it, they will not listen to God. So because we will not listen to God, we will not subject ourselves to His law. It is just that simple.
In fact, Paul says here in verse 7 that in our natural state, meaning cut off from God, human beings cannot be subject to God's law. It is just impossible. Their nature is dead set against it. So, your humanity lives in a state of rebellion against God and all of His instructions. Maybe people will cherry pick a few that they are willing to go by. But definitely they are against the great bulk of the things that He says.
Even so-called Christians out there in the nominally Christian world reject God's law. They do it blatantly, right out front. They prefer a theology that makes no demands on them. They say very willingly that God has done away with His law, which is a lie, but that is how they look at it. They want a theology that not only makes no demands on them, they want a theology that gives the rewards, like eternal life or as they would say, heaven, without any kind of onerous obedience. They do not want to have to go through anything in order to get what God will graciously give. They do not think He requires anything of them. And so they teach that and think that they could find biblical proof for it. But there are very specific things in God's Word that clamor against that vociferously.
Let us go back to Romans 1. We are going to see the process human beings go through to reach this conclusion and what God's response is to this, and it has been the same all through history. He has never deviated from His response to this process of human nature, people thinking through their own human reasonings about why they should not submit to God. Paul says,
Romans 1:18-19 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them [or to them], for God has shown it to them.
God has been very open about Himself and He expresses it through His creation. You would think that people up here in the Pacific Northwest would have a greater appreciation for God because it is beautiful up here. It is a beautiful area. I know why people wanted to come here, but they never make the connection that those things that God has made shout about His existence and that if He has made this, He is worthy of worship, definitely. But that connection is never made.
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead [or His divine nature], so that they are without excuse, . . .
This is God's judgment. He says, "I put it out there and made it so plain and so available" to our senses that people are without excuse for not making that connection between the creation and the Creator.
Romans 1:21-25 . . . because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lust of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.
Like I said, this is the process that humanity goes through, everybody in the world goes through a process very similar to this. God makes Himself known in various ways, whether it is through creation, whether it is through something like literature, words, whether it is the preaching of the gospel, what have you. God makes Himself known. He is not hiding in a corner anywhere. He makes His way known. He does that a lot through His own people. He does it through His Book, sure, but He also tells His people to go out there and be a light to the world and be a witness.
So, the knowledge of God and the way of God is not invisible. It is out there and can be seen. It is not hard to find. But they, those people out in the world, suppress these very evident truths in unrighteousness or by unrighteousness. That is, they want to sin, they want to do the things that they lust after or have the things that they lust after. And so this lust, or their unrighteous deeds, become so great to them that it hides God's truth. It suppresses it, they ignore it, they tamp it down, they do whatever they can so that they are not confronted by it all the time. They would rather just hide it, put it away. So they do not think about God because they are too busy thinking about their own righteousness. Those things become more important to them.
They stifle God's revelation because their nature wants to continue its selfish, ungodly lifestyle. It wants to do what it wants to do. And so, it wants to commit adultery, it commits adultery. It wants to break into people's homes, it robs people, they burglarize. If they want to kill, they will kill, because they want to satisfy their nature, which is carnal—fleshly—certainly not godly. And they certainly prefer to do all those things that I have mentioned, to things like submit or to practice humility. Or "What! Obey?" People hate obeying. It makes them feel so small and human nature does not like to feel small and obey. And they certainly do not want to do anything like repentance. "Change? Why? I'm having a great time." That is how they think.
They want freedom. They call it freedom, but it is license to sin. They want to be able to do what they want to do. And they do not want anybody looking down his or her nose at them saying, "You're a sinner!" They do not want to feel guilt, they do not want to be beholden to anyone or anything.
Like I said, they do not want to change. And so as a result they become, as Paul says here, futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts, their minds, are darkened. They do it to themselves. They think their philosophies, their thinking processes are so enlightened, what they think is right and good. It will give people freedom to be themselves. I am sure you have heard a lot of this lately. But all they are doing is hurting themselves, because all these thoughts lead to sin, and they are going on a path, as Paul puts it, of darkness internally. Their mental state is not going toward the light, it is going towards the darkness. The darkness of grief, of hurt, and at the end, destruction and death.
It is not the way of good and of life. They are fooling themselves. And what happens, these ideas, I called them philosophies before, these thinking processes, they become hardened into worldviews. They could become hardened religiously into theologies and people follow them. We call them antinomian theologies. Antinomian is just a fancy Greek word, Anglified Greek word, that means "against law." They are totally against law. And so you have theologies out there that preach against the law all the time.
What does Paul say about that? He judges them fools. They are sinners and idolaters, and they are without excuse. There is so much evidence out there that God's law is good and beneficial. God's way will instruct them in righteousness and lead them toward the light, as they would think of it. But they have rejected it. That is foolish.
But they know what they are doing. It is a purposeful rejection of God. Rejecting God's law is a way to deny God's authority over them because they certainly do not like God's authority. They do not like the fact that He is the judge. They do not like the fact that He dispenses good things, as well as wrath, because they want all that power to themselves. They want to be God. They want to determine what is right and wrong—for themselves and for as many people as they can influence. They want to live free, as they think of it, and without guilt. Because guilt is so stressful, guilt makes them think that they might be wrong and they do not want to think that they are wrong, because they are right. Everything they do is right in their own minds. They think they are the way, the truth, and the life, not Jesus Christ.
So once they reach this conclusion—and they all do, we all do before conversion—God says, "Fine, that's the way your thoughts have run, okay, fine, let's see where that gets you." That is what it means there, when he says He gives them over to their desires. He lets their rebellion run its course. He lets them believe the lie that they can live without God. And He says, "Okay, you want to do this the hard way." He is good with that at this point, because you need to learn through the university of hard knocks how you are thinking is just horrible, terrible, does not work, does not get you where you think it is going to get you.
And as I mentioned before, they find out over many years that their sinful, godless ways always end in grief and destruction and death, and they may go down to the grave shaking their fists at God and blaming His law for all their troubles. But they have had an experience that God will use at some point in the second resurrection, and He will say then, "Look, you fought Me through your whole physical life and look where it got you. Now do it right this time and I'll give you access to a tool that will help you do that. So you can live, really live."
Let us stay in the book of Romans and go to chapter 7. I want you to see the difference here between how people look at God's law versus how Paul looks at God's law and of course he is trying to reflect God's own mind on the matter.
Romans 7:1 Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
That is a good principle to remember. The law is in force as long as somebody is alive, man or a woman. It is in force over all people. God does not specifically mention here that it is just over the people who know God's law. He just says "a man." So it is in force. It rules over everyone, every human being while he or she is alive.
Romans 7:5-6 For when we were in the flesh [He is talking about those who know the law, who have have God's Spirit, he would call those people "in the Spirit." Now he is looking back.], the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death [because the law was in force, right? It was ruling them.]. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
He is saying there has been some separation from the law's dominion over us because we were baptized and received God's Holy Spirit. That does not mean that the law is done away. It just means that it does not have the hold over us that it once did, because now we are keeping it in the Spirit by the Holy Spirit rather than just in the flesh. So he is saying there has been a line of demarcation there at our baptism where we can understand the law better and make use of it in the proper way. But it is not hanging over us now because of what Christ did with His sacrifice. So we are in a very sweet position here.
Romans 7:7-11 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? [Well, he says] Certainly not! [That is a terrible definition of the law, trying to equate law with sin. He says] On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin [notice where he puts the emphasis here], taking opportunity by the commandment [or by the law], produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
Notice where Paul's emphasis is here. It is not the law that has done these things. It is the sin! The law is as a code there that tells us what sin is versus what proper godliness and righteousness is. So the law does not make us do anything. It is rather neutral. The law is a list or a series of instructions that define good behavior or bad behavior and lets us know what it is. But in terms of having any power, it does not force us to sin. We are the ones that sin. So he concludes here,
Romans 7:12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
I called it neutral. But in reality it is actually on the positive side. It is not causing sin. It is just defining sin. And in that way, because it is from God and because it is actually good and leads us to goodness if we use it properly, that is why it is holy and just and good. It is a tool that God has created for us and given us so that we can do good things and be like Him. So he says here,
Romans 7:13-14 Has then what is good become death to me? [Has it suddenly reared up and gobbled me up and killed me?] Certainly not! [Paul says, "No way!"] But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
What Paul is saying here, when it comes down to it, is that the law is a great thing. Like I said, a tool provided by God. But it is our carnality, our sinfulness, that turns it into something evil. It is our own attitude toward it. It is not God, it is not His law that is bad. He gives those things and the examples of Himself and His own way of life, as good things, as blessings to us. But it is our attitude that turns good into bad, our sins that do all the corrupting.
So let us review here what we saw in this in this very long paragraph. God's law rules or is in force throughout our lives. And it is only satisfied, if you will, it only becomes ineffective over us when we die, or when Christ's sacrifice is given for us and we accept that sacrifice and our sins are forgiven us and we are justified before God. And we can live before God by His Spirit with Christ helping us and forgiving us and moving us along toward His Kingdom. That is when the law is as ineffective as it can be. Paul says, the law exists to state and explain what sin is. It is to show them how people missed the mark before God, how they do not come up to the standard of God's character or the image of Christ. We know what sin is because the law tells us what it is. It is very simple.
Now, Paul tells us very plainly here in this paragraph, that God's intention in the law is for it to bring us life. It is a good thing. When we submit to God and follow His law, we proceed through sanctification to eternal life. The law is most effective for good when we follow it, because we have God's Spirit and we are trying to transform into the image of Jesus Christ. The law gives us a path to follow. And so in that sense, it is very much holy and just and good, leading us toward life.
But for most people, I am talking about the unconverted here, it brings death to them and they see it as a horrible curse because of their own sin, because of their own carnality.
Sin is always the problem. Our sin is always a problem. Sin generates ungodly passions. Sins produce evil desires like covetousness. Sin deceives us. And so what happens is, sin activates the law. It had lain dormant until the sin started coming. Then it had to act because that is what it does. It shows what is good versus what is evil. And it brings on, then, an automatic curse. That is the way God made the law. That if you do what the law says, it brings blessings. But if you do not do what the law says, you break the law, automatic curses come down. You become guilty, at the very least, and things start to happen badly for you—eventually or right away. Just depends on how the curse fulfils itself in that particular situation and bad things start to happen.
So these unregenerate people, we might call them, those without God's Spirit refuse to admit that they are carnal, that they are sold under sin. That is what Paul says here. That they are unable to control themselves, but they are under the control of sin. That sin has become their slave master. Their flesh drives them to selfish words, into selfish actions, and they live in sin.
So what do they do? What is their reaction? Well, they are, first of all, not going to admit that they are weak or that they are even guilty. That would be pointing the finger at themselves and how often do people accuse themselves of evil? Human nature in us always makes us think of ourselves as the good guy. We are always justifying ourselves because our human nature does not want to be seen in any way to be evil or to be bad, to be the black hat. So what do they do? They blame the law. It is the law's fault! If the law was just different or done away, then they would not have sinned, there would have been no guilt. And so it is the law's fault that these things happen to them, that they were cursed. It was not themselves.
We play tricks in our mind, with our thinking. That is why Paul said in chapter 1 that they were futile in their thoughts and they became foolish in their reasoning. We trick ourselves all the time, and we especially did that before we had God's Spirit. But they refuse to admit that God has not abolished His law. It has not been done away. But no, he says that His law is holy and just and good. It is spiritual.
So what they are doing, what the ungodly do in blaming the law, they are in fact deflecting guilt back toward God and His law, or through His law. It is not their fault they behave badly. It is God's fault because of His horrible law that caught them in the act, that presented this automatic curse for their wrongdoing. Now this sounds pretty stark, but it is essentially what every unconverted human has done, at least subconsciously, because we all have a very similar human nature, and that human nature, as Paul points out in chapter 8, verse 7, is hostile toward God and it is hostile toward all the things of God, except those things that they think can benefit themselves.
They hate God and His law because they hate the restrictions on their behavior and they hate feeling guilty. So the law becomes anathema to them. It is a curse. And then they point fingers at us who want to keep the law. They call us legalists. We practice legalism. They even get anti-Semitic and say, everyone who keeps God's law is a Jew. They say we are attempting to be justified by works, even though we are using it not to be justified, but to please God and to become holy and righteous as He is. And of course, they certainly do not allow themselves to see its beauty. They do not want to think of the law in good terms at all. They want to think of it as horrible and unjust and old and something to be done away. But thank God, He gives us a different Spirit to see His law in a more accurate way.
Now, the Bible does not say anywhere explicitly that the law is beautiful. There is not a verse that we can go to that says God's law is beautiful. It is just not there in His Word. That is my word to describe it and its effects. However, it does use the expression "the beauty of holiness," which the law is there to help produce in us. Let us go to a few of these places. This expression "beauty of holiness" or "beauties of holiness," where one time it is plural, is used five times in the Old Testament. This is the first time.
I Chronicles 16:29 [He says] Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
This is the song that David wrote to thank God for bringing the ark into the Temple. And he tells the people to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. There is another place we could look:
Psalm 96:8-9 Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.
So he is talking about the beauty, the attraction of holiness, of goodness, of righteousness, and of people coming before God in unity and worshipping Him in song and other ways that we have done as a way to bring glory and honor to Him. That is beautiful. That is a beautiful thing to come together as brethren. David, in this case, was talking about the whole nation coming before God and giving honor to Him. So there is a beauty in that sort of thing.
Now, the English Standard Version does not render this Hebrew phrase as beauty of holiness, but the splendor of holiness. That it is a splendid thing. It is wonderful and awe inspiring to worship God in holiness. The Bible also uses the phrase the "beauty of the Lord" two times. I am going to read the one in Psalm 27. There is also one in chapter 90, verse 17, that song Moses wrote.
Psalm 27:4 One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
The reason why I went to those is to show you that the Bible does look at God and the things of God through the lens of beauty, through the lens of His splendor and His awesomeness, that we can just stand there in awestruck amazement to see. And this goes down through all the other things of God that He has revealed to us so that we can understand that this is from Him. It is one of the ways that He shows that has His stamp of approval on it because it is so beautiful. He does not create ugliness. He creates things that are wonderful and beautiful, especially all those spiritual things. We may think, bugs are not pretty or beautiful, and there are other things that we would turn our nose up at. But like Confucius, we can say everything has its own kind of beauty, does it not, if you just look at it close enough and we see His intricate handiwork there.
The things that are truly ugly are the things we have done because of our sin, the way we have corrupted things. But God's things are beautiful. Especially His law, His plan, His purpose, and all the ends that He is working toward. All the spiritual fruit that He wants to see, they are beautiful things because they have God's mark on them. Something that He is working out.
So the major takeaway here is that God, His nature, His way, and all the things of God, including His law, are beautiful. Like Schlegel said, which we heard a little earlier, "They are simultaneously attractive and sublime." They pleasurably exult the mind or the spirit if we have the right attitude. Because they are good, they promote good and they produce only good things. And like I said, any ugliness or evil or curse that we might claim to see in those things, we bring them of ourselves. They are our contribution and not good contributions at all. God and His things are, like we saw in Romans 7, holy, just, good, spiritual, pure, and beautiful.
So how is God's law beautiful? That is the question today. What qualities does it have or produce that are so lovely? That are so awesome? Well, let us read the Ten Commandments. Go back to Exodus 20. I am not going to read them all. I am going to start in verse 8. Remember I said that this idea spawned from me going through the commandments. So I want to kind of take you through some of these and think about at least one major point from them that is beautiful to behold. We will start with the Sabbath commandment.
Exodus 20:8-17 "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. You should not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."
As I was going through these for my CGG Weekly essays, something began to pop up on my radar as I thought about these things and studied them. And that is my first point in terms of the beauty of God's law. Keeping God's law is not only individually profitable, but it also benefits everyone around us. It makes community living enjoyable and profitable.
Now, I did not read the first three commandments, and the reason I did not read the first three commandments is that they are very personal. They are very much to the individual. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make any graven images or bow down to them. You shall not take God's name in vain.
But then you get to the fourth commandment and it does tell you you need to keep the Sabbath, you need to remember the Sabbath day. But it also says in verse 10, "you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, female servant, cattle (!), and the stranger within your gates." He is saying your whole community needs to benefit from this rest and you, as the one in charge, let us say, the parent, the father, you are the one that is supposed to make sure that everybody under your authority enjoys the Sabbath—rests and takes advantage of the Sabbath day. So if we keep the Sabbath, everyone in our sphere of influence benefits from the rest that they receive, if only it is just the physical benefit of rest, not even the spiritual benefits that we get from it.
We can go on. The fifth one benefits parents and in effect, it benefits the whole family when we honor the father and the mother. The seventh ensures trust between spouses and their children because adultery does terrible things and wrecks families and destroys trust. The sixth commandment, the eighth commandment, the ninth commandment, and the tenth commandment keep peace in the community, wealth in the hands of those who earn it, it maintains trust between neighbors, and inordinate desires that lead to conflict in check. The community is often implied in these commandments, but both the ninth and the tenth commandment specifically mention our neighbors. Of course, the fourth mentions all those who are under our supervision.
I should mention too that the first three actually also have a communal element to them, but it is not emphasized because if everybody worships the same God, does not bow down to idols, and everybody bears God's name in a good and purposeful way, everybody benefits.
So that is a beautiful thing that if we keep God's law, everybody around us, our whole community, and then it goes out to a whole nation, and ultimately it will be to the whole world, that people will enjoy the benefits of God's way of life. We have often said, it is very clear in Scripture, that the last six commandments are expansions of the second great commandment which we find in a both Leviticus 19:18 and in Matthew 22:39, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And so we see the channels through which we can love our neighbor, and it is through keeping these commandments.
We can love our neighbor by keeping the Sabbath. We can love our neighbor by honoring our parents. We can love our neighbor by not killing them. I think that is pretty obvious. We can love our neighbor by not having extramarital sexual relationships. We can love our neighbor by not stealing what they made through their own work. We can love our neighbor by not lying and deceiving them, and we can love our neighbor by not coveting the things that he has. All these are expansions.
These are further expanded in Leviticus 19 within the Holiness Code. I am just going to read some of the scriptures here and notice how these are expansions of the commandments.
Leviticus 19:3 Every one of you shall revere his father and his mother, and keep the Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:9-11 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
Leviticus 19:13-14 You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
And it goes on and on. We could go down at least through verse 18 and see a lot of these things being expanded out into more specific situations. But they are all a part of loving the neighbor, which is the second great commandment of the law. God has put it up there as a beacon of good behavior and a way of making communities work.
So we have an obligation, then, looking at the law through the Spirit, to watch out and benefit those we live around—by keeping God's law. And when we do so we do our part in including them in the benefits God promises to those who obey Him. If kept, God's law produces communal harmony, and that is a beautiful thing. Would we not all like to live in a community where everyone lives the right way? How much easier life would be! How much less stressful life would be.
Let us go to Deuteronomy 28 and see another one of these beauties of God's law. Obviously this is the blessings and curses chapter in Deuteronomy. Let us just start with verse 1.
Deuteronomy 28:1-6 "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out."
And on and on it goes.
Deuteronomy 28:13 "And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them."
So the second way that the law is beautiful is that keeping God's law results in abundant blessings and the favor of God. There is a natural blessing that takes place just from the fact that, if we obey God, we do not have to deal with the curses that come automatically for those who break the law. That is the first thing. In Exodus 20:5, God says that those curses for disobedience can last to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Him. While the blessings of obedience last for thousands of generations, that is, they can last forever. They have eternal consequences.
But beyond not experiencing the negative, God promises to add significant benefits. Now we can go and read Psalm 103, where there are a lot of benefits listed—both physical and spiritual. But from what is written here, those obedient to God live what we may call a charmed life. We may not think of it like that as we go through it, but like King Midas, everything the obedient person touches has the potential to turn to gold. His every endeavor seems to prosper. And that is often eventually and certainly spiritually. Ultimately, the person who obeys God finds honor and praise and prominence. And that is certainly true in the goal of the Kingdom of God.
You might want to write down Ephesians 3:14-21. There Paul tells us that God gives us benefits and blessings exceedingly abundantly, more than we could ask or even think. Now the abundant blessings he promises are heavily weighted toward the spiritual because those are the things that affect us on as we prepare for His Kingdom. But He will give us whatever we need physically so that we do not have to worry about it, do not have to worry about our basic needs. Is that not what Jesus Himself said? Do not be anxious for these things. Are not the the lilies of the field arrayed in beauty? "I can do that. That isn't hard," He says, "I will give you those things." That is in Matthew 6:25-34. And we can take those those promises to the bank.
Remember His promise in Malachi 3:10? That even with tithing, He promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there is not enough room to receive it. He just wants us to obey Him and move along on His way. Let us go see another one in Psalm 119. I would recommend reading this whole psalm on a fairly regular basis so we can be reminded of all the blessings and benefits that He gives us through His law.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
So the third beauty of God's law is that God's law provides insight into ourselves and lights the way forward. When we study, when we keep His law, as James put it in chapter 1 verse 25, when we look into the perfect law of liberty, we receive instruction that applies directly to us. And if we can see ourselves in it for good or ill and put it into practice, it becomes so beneficial. We begin to see all of its benefits. It shows us what we need to do, what direction we need to go, so that we can please God and fulfill His purposes in us. So it gives us guidance and illuminates our path, tells us where we are stumbling, and shows us how we can get back on our feet.
Psalm 119:133 Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.
Let us go back to verse 25. This is getting to the fourth way God's law is beautiful.
Psalm 119:25 My soul clings to the dust, revive me according to Your word.
Psalm 119:28 My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.
Psalm 119:32 I will run the course of your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.
This is the fourth way God's law is beautiful. God's law provides revival, strength, and encouragement. We could also add hope. Verses 49-81, God's Word gives us hope. We can add delight to this, like in verse 35. "Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it." Also liberty—God's work gives us liberty. Look at verse 45. "I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts." It gives us good judgment and knowledge. Look at verse 66, "Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments." And understanding, of course, God's law gives us great understanding. Let us read verse 97. I quoted it earlier.
Psalm 119:97-104 Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
So it builds us up, God's Word is edifying. That is what that word means. It builds up, it is full of edification. We could go on and on with these ways that God's law is beautiful.
I want to go back to Psalm 19, where we will conclude. David here gives us an encapsulation of what is later written in Psalm 119. But this is about how he perceived the law of God and you can tell he saw it as a very beautiful thing.
Psalm 19:7-11 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.
This paragraph just sums the matter up. The writers of the Bible cannot stray into hyperbole in their appreciation of God's law because it is even greater than they can describe it. So they have to use these words that just are so over the top. But they are true by every measure. The law of God's beauty is beyond compare as it is the expression of God's very mind in the form of words.
As the disciples said to Jesus after He asked if they would leave Him as others had done because of His teaching, they said, "Why would we? You have the words of eternal life." They said that in John 6:68. "You have the words of eternal life."
What could be more beautiful than that?