December 10: Constructing Lives by the Law
Jeremiah 18:1-18; Romans 2:12-29; Proverbs 16:12-33
Dispensing good, helpful advice gets the benevolent juices flowing. As easy as it is to give advice, though, it often hits me with the irony of a cartoon anvil when I end up tripping over my own counsel. When this happens, I’m convicted to examine my motives for advice-giving.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges the superior mindset that was common among some Jewish people at the time: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve the things that are superior, because you are instructed by the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Therefore, the one who teaches someone else, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:17–21).
Paul is explaining why looking to the OT law for righteousness is futile. No person could perfectly keep the law. By holding to it, they were in fact condemning themselves. Paul even points out that some Jews thought they had attained a higher moral standing because of their knowledge of the law—and believed they were in a position to teach others. Yet they were still breaking the law.
It’s easy for us to discard this as an early church issue. Yet we still sometimes take comfort in “keeping the law” today. If we cling to our own good behavior rather than the righteousness we have in Christ, we commit the same sin. We can attempt to live like a saint—we can cultivate a reputation for goodness and dishing out wisdom—but we’ll set ourselves up for imminent failure because we can never keep up the pretense of godly behavior on our own.
However, if our “circumcision is of the heart”—if we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our righteousness and the Spirit is working in us—then our hearts will be in the right place. That place is where we know we are great sinners, and where we are receptive to His transforming work to bring us into complete loyalty to Him. Then we will seek God’s favor, not the favor and superiority we crave from others.
If our lives are truly changed, we will be motivated to love others out of the love God shows us. That will give us the right perspective for seeing the transformation that God is working in their hearts. And it will free us to give the best advice of all: Seek God in everything.
What are your motives for giving advice?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
- The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down into the potter’s house, and there shall I show thee my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay, was broken in the hand of the potter, so he returned, and made it another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter, saith the Lord? behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine hand, O house of Israel. I will speak suddenly against a nation, or against a kingdom to pluck it up, and to root it out, and to destroy it. But if this nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their wickedness, I will repent of the plague that I thought to bring upon them. And I will speak suddenly concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom to build it and to plant it. But if it do evil in my sight, and hear not my voice, I will repent of the good that I thought to do for them. Speak thou now therefore unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I prepare a plague for you, and purpose a thing against you: return you therefore every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your works good. But they said desperately, Surely we will walk after our own imaginations, and do every man after the stubbornness of his wicked heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Ask now among the heathen, who hath heard such things? the virgin of Israel hath done very filthily. Will a man forsake the snow of Lebanon, which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters, that come from another place, be forsaken? Because my people hath forgotten me, and have burnt incense to vanity, and their prophets have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient ways, to walk in the paths and way that is not trodden. To make their land desolate, and a perpetual derision, so that everyone that passeth thereby, shall be astonished and wag his head. I will scatter them with an East wind before the enemy: I will show them the back, and not the face in the day of their destruction. Then said they, Come, and let us imagine some device against Jeremiah: for the Law shall not perish from the Priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the Prophet: come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words. Jeremiah 18:1-18
- For as many as have sinned without the Law, shall perish also without the Law: and as many as have sinned in the Law, shall be judged by the Law, (For the hearers of the Law are not righteous before God: but the doers of the Law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles which have not the Law do by nature the things contained in the Law, they having not the Law, are a Law unto themselves. Which show the effect of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts accusing one another, or excusing.) At the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the Law, and gloriest in God. And knowest his will, and triest the things that dissent from it, in that thou art instructed in the Law: And persuadest thyself that thou art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness. An instructor of them which lack discretion, a teacher of the unlearned, which hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest, A man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest, A man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, committest thou sacrilege? Thou that gloriest in the Law, through breaking the Law, dishonorest thou God? For the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily is profitable, if thou do the Law: but if thou be a transgressor of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision which is by nature (if it keep the Law) condemn thee which by the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outward: neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew which is one within, and the circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God. Romans 2:12-29
- It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is stablished by justice. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and the king loveth him that speaketh right things. The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it. In the light of the king’s countenance is life: and his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain. How much better is it to get wisdom than gold? and to get understanding, is more to be desired than silver. The path of the righteous is to decline from evil, and he keepeth his soul that keepeth his way. Pride goeth before destruction, and an high mind before the fall. Better it is to be of humble mind with the lowly, than to divide the spoils with the proud. He that is wise in his business, shall find good: and he that trusteth in the Lord, he is blessed. The wise in heart shall be called prudent and the sweetness of the lips shall increase doctrine. Understanding is a wellspring of life unto them that have it: and the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise guideth his mouth wisely, and addeth doctrine to his lips. Fair words are as honey comb, sweetness to the soul, and health to the bones. There is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the issue thereof are the ways of death. The person that travaileth, travaileth for himself: for his mouth craveth it of him. A wicked man diggeth up evil, and in his lips is like burning fire. A froward person soweth strife: and a taleteller maketh division among princes. A wicked man deceiveth his neighbor, and leadeth him into the way that is not good. He shutteth his eyes to devise wickedness: he moveth his lips, and bringeth evil to pass. Age is a crown of glory, when it is found in the way of righteousness. He that is slow unto anger, is better than the mighty man: and he that ruleth his own mind, is betterthan he that winneth a city. The lot is cast into the lap: but the whole disposition thereof is of the Lord. Proverbs 16:12-33