Thursday, February 9, 2012

What is the Law of Christ?


We are almost to the end of our journey through the maze of biblical law.  It has been a long road.  A three-week sermon series has grown into twice that.  We have done our best to try to understand the relationship between the New Testament believer and the Old Testament law.  Our study has included the essence of the law, the purpose of the law, interpretation and application of the law, and the New Testament “law of love.”  But there is one kind of law that we have not yet addressed – the law of Christ.
Just when this complicated issue seemed to be making more sense, now we have a whole other element to factor in.  Is it back to the drawing board?  I don’t think so.  The law of Christ does not complicate things at all. 
We find the phrase “law of Christ” twice in the New Testament.  The first is 1Cor 9:21 –  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  The second is Gal 6:2 – Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  So what is it? 
Some scholars believe that the law of Christ refers to all the ethical teaching of Jesus.  So all the moral commands that we find in the Gospels would be included.  Some would add all the moral commands in the epistles since the writers of the epistles were taught by Christ.  That would essentially mean that the law of Christ refers to all the ethical teaching of the New Testament.  I do think that is possible, but there may be a better answer.
The translation of the parenthetical phrase in 1 Cor 9:21 is a little clunky.  A more literal rendering would be “not being without the law of God, but with the law of Christ.”  When Paul writes to those outside the law I became as one outside the law, he is referring to Gentiles.  The Gentiles did not have the law of God.  But so that we do not mistake him to mean that he became lawless in order to win the Gentiles, he clarifies that he does not mean he was outside the ethical law of God, since he is governed by the law of Christ.  But this context itself is not super helpful in determining what he means by “the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:2 is more helpful.  Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.  That seems peculiar at first.  The one act of bearing another’s burdens fulfills the whole law of Christ?  That’s one small body of ethical teaching! 
But the way Paul has phrased this should remind us of something else we’ve seen in recent weeks.  Remember what he wrote in Romans 13:8-10 regarding what has been called “the law of love”? 
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  
The one act of loving another fulfills the whole law.  That sounds strikingly similar to Galatians 6:2.  Bearing one another’s burdens is a demonstration of loving one another.  The former is said to fulfill the law of Christ, the latter the law of love.  Could it be that they are one and the same?
I think this makes perfect sense in light of the most prominent thing Jesus said about the law in Matthew22:34-40.  There He identified the commands to love God and each other as the two greatest commandments (cf. John13:34-35).  All the other laws of God hang on the commands to love. 
So I would equate the law of Christ with the law of love.  As we have seen in recent weeks, all the moral commands of God display for us what it means to love God and love one another.  For that reason, I would not limit the law of Christ to the ethical teaching of the New Testament alone.  The law of Christ includes all the moral commands of God, which together explicate the pathway of love.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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