The Law of “Doing” and “Being”

October 12, 2011

My weekly discussions around the Sermon on the Mount continue to stimulate application within the PCUSA context. This week’s topic was “The Fulfillment of the Law” (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus taught:

17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.19So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [NET Bible]

1. Jesus did not rescind, cancel, or render irrelevant the OT Law and Prophets, which means—at the very least—his followers are to be instructed by it and their lives shaped by its requirements.

2. That Law may be subject to interpretation, as Jesus amply illustrated in the verses and chapters to follow in his sermon, but we are not permitted to disregard any specific law unless he gives us specific instruction to do so. We will discover that Jesus’ interpretation of the Law raises, not lowers, the bar.

3. Rather, because of his claim to fulfill the Law, we post-resurrection believers in Jesus Christ are to see in him the actual life (being and doing) that God intended for humanity and described in the Law. If the Law had described the contours of a life wholly dedicated to God, Jesus was the fully fleshed out, animated embodiment of God’s design.

4. The requirement Jesus speaks of, then, is to keep or obey the law and to teach others to do the same. We heard him right: At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus charges his followers with making disciples by means of baptizing and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

5. One’s least-to-greatest standing (for want of a better word) in the Kingdom of Heaven is determined by the degree to which one obeys and teaches the Law. At this point, the issue is not what qualifies a person for salvation (Jesus saves that for later), but dictates the role a person plays in God’s economy. “The least” may have a small role to play in effecting God’s rule, “the greatest” will have a large role, and Jesus assumes that this in itself is a motivator of better “being and doing” under the Law.

6. The scribes and the Pharisees were not, at the time, exhibiting the sort of righteousness that would be manifest in faithful obedience to the Law. Though they had the reputation for persnickety attention to the law and the oral tradition that had built up around it, they in fact were lousy law-abiders. They put their effort into creating the impression of “doing,” but later (Matthew 23) Jesus would expose their failure to do and to be what the Law required.

For Presbyterians who are grappling with God’s will in the area of sexual practice (the issue on the front burner in these times), this passage alerts us to the seriousness of any attempt to deconstruct or “abolish” God’s Word. A life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is going to follow his lead in action (“doing”). Becoming Christ-like (“being”) with the Spirit’s power is going to produce character, morality, and faithfulness shaped by the Word. The obvious point must also be made: By embracing Christ we are also accepting the fact that there is a life-shaping, God-given Law, and it is incumbent upon us to orient our lives around it. There is a wrong way to interpret that Law and a right way. What follows in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus hermeneutical guide.

Stay tuned for future Sermon on the Mount installments to appear on Wednesdays in the coming weeks.

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One Response to “The Law of “Doing” and “Being””

  1. L. Lee Says:

    Mary,
    On Presbyweb, your article came right after Rev. Mark Achtemeier’s article where he explains his journey away from the “law” and toward acknowledging the gay lifestyle as “good”. he is an example of one who if living by his own rule of law. His interrpretation of Genesis is so far off of what God intended for His creation of a man and woman. How can someone who is a leader, teacher, and shepherd of many in Jesus name take such a stand and be so deluded in thinking.
    It makes me so discouraged with the PC(USA)

    I am so thankful for your wisdom and expertise and witness and will be praying for your continued witness and strength to carry the message of the Gospel forward.

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