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律法的来龙去脉 Why the Law?

Sermon passage: (Galatians 3:15-29) Spoken on: May 30, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Galatians

Tags: Galatians 加拉太书

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: Why the Law?
Date: 30th May 2021
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Why did Paul say in today’s passage Galatians 3: 21 For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin. That seems to imply that the laws of Moses had failed to be life-giving, which is a very grave charge. Today, I will provide a brief summary of Paul’s perspective regarding the law: first I will talk about its purpose, then its problems, and finally the solution to its problems.

First, let me talk about the purpose of the law. When was the law given? It was when the people of God were out of Egypt and about to enter the Promised Land. What began with the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has now turned into a huge community, and eventually they will become a kingdom. As Niebuhr said -- while individuals can generally respond positively to love and forgiveness, when people operate on a collective basis, you need laws so that power can be kept in check, and society can be kept in order. So you see that the law is a matter of necessity for Israel to operate as a kingdom.

The darkest times of Israel with mass murder and rape were during the times of Judges 17-21, when “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This means that when the laws were not enforced, the people really went haywire. But when there were good kings like David and Josiah to enforce the law and prophets and priests like Hosea 4 and Ezra 7 to teach and remind the people of the law, the law played a critical supervisory role. The title that Paul used to describe the role of the law in Galatians 3:24 is “guardian” or “disciplinarian”, which refers to a person who watches over children until their maturity. Although this person is involved in teaching and caring, their main function is protection. Internally, the guardian protects his charge from committing wrongs; externally the protection is against sexual predators (which you can extend to immoral influences).

It is easy to claim that the laws were a reflection of God’s goodwill for his people, and that they were life-giving for ancient Israel. But without a deeper analysis of the laws, such cursory remarks would remain unsubstantiated. So in 2012, I suggested running through all the Jewish laws in Deuteronomy as a sermon series, and eventually that became a 6 months sermon series from July to December in 2013. 【1】 You can revisit these sermons on our church website and see how all the laws of the Old Testament were explained and given modern applications. It was no easy feat because many of these laws were highly contextual, and without a time machine, it is quite common to find no direct meaning to some of the obscure laws. In the end, after making the effort to plow through every single one of these Jewish laws that were frequently neglected by Christians, we managed to show how the laws are life-giving when they are obeyed, as it would enable lives to flourish for the people of God in the Promised Land. The laws would transform how people value one another and also their relationships with God.

Secondly I want to talk about the problems with the law despite its good intentions. Let us revisit the purpose again. Paul asked in Galatians 3: 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions. This could mean either the law helped to teach the people to stay away from transgressions, or a more likely interpretation is that the law is the way in which transgressions can be convicted. This means that without the law, wrongs are still wrongs, but judgments against them are not enforceable. So the consequences of the laws are that the people of God are now held accountable for their wrongs. If you think about all the recent laws enacted in Singapore against fake news, personal mobility devices, and safe distancing measures during the pandemic, you can see the effects of laws. By enacting such laws, the government can then justifiably take action against undesirable behaviors.

Therefore, the problems of such consequences are that the laws become convictions for sin when they are broken by the people. Sure, there will be those that manage to stay righteous according to the law like how Luke described the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6) and how Matthew described Joseph, the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:19), but collectively the people of Israel had failed in keeping the law and exemplifying its goodness to the world. Judgment was harsh and painful as the book of Lamentations will tell you. In short, the problem with the Law is that the Law that was meant to be life-giving ended up bringing about the consequence of death.

Lastly, I want to talk about the solution. Thankfully, the role of the law as a guardian or a disciplinarian also means that its role is a temporal one. Paul used the analogy of inheritance laws and guardianship because it fits quite nicely with the temporal nature of the law. When a child is given an inheritance in accordance to a will, you can think of it as the original plan. But while the child is not yet ready to inherit, the guardian is there as protection to buy time. However, the guardian plan does not negate the original plan. It is not even as good as the original plan since the guardian plan needs a mediator – the guardian, whereas in the original plan the blessing comes directly from the parent’s promise. But it is fine because once the child is ready, when the child matures and is ready to become an heir to the family, the guardian plan can be put aside, and the original plan is restored as the will dictates. It is as if the father takes back control of the child’s future and the protection of the guardian is no longer needed. And in a way, that’s the story of the law for the people of God. Even though the judgment from the law as a guardian was tough to swallow, the law did its work in protecting the people of God till the coming of Jesus Christ. Now it is time to hand over.

Jesus is the seed that was supposed to inherit the original promise of God that was made to Abraham. And that’s how Paul perceives the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Law. Jesus was the original plan all along and in New Testament times, this plan was finally revealed. Paul marvelled at what a wonderful plan this was in Ephesians 3: 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. I think Paul felt so strongly about this original plan because he experienced the transformation himself, the remarkable difference between living under the law and living under Christ.

When he was under the law, he was as fervent as he could be. He was even chasing down Christians in Damascus who broke the Jewish laws. But this law is ultimately about self-preservation so that the identity of the people of God can be protected. And in the process, it discriminated and separated people, as you can observe that many of the purity laws are about what is clean and unclean. Then Paul experienced the total opposite in life under Christ. Paul experienced that grace directly from Jesus Christ: that even he as a persecutor of Christians can be accepted into Christ. If he can, then truly everybody can. In the original plan: 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. There is no discrimination in life under Christ. The time has come that all the promises of God given to Abraham can be inherited by Jesus, and everybody, who are in union with Jesus by faith can also do likewise, whatever your background.

As I think about the transformation from life under the law to life under Christ, I have 3 reflections to share. Firstly, as a Christian community, just like any human society, we need rules and regulations to govern us so that we can socialize and work together. I regularly have well-meaning church leaders and members pushing me to set the bar higher so that we as a community can better ourselves for the good of everyone. We need better theology, better love, better evangelism, better community work, better everything. But what differentiates this from the laws of the Jews, and how do we balance the desire and expectations for a better community with the grace of God? My only solution is to share the gospel again and again. We are motivated by the love of God, not by the need for a better performance or a better result. We are free to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the community because we want to, and not because it is demanded of us. We equip ourselves to be better in theology and evangelism skills because we enjoy the fruits of the harvest, not because anybody is measuring us, not even God. And only when our motivations are intrinsic, then can our works be by grace and not by law.

Secondly, I want to challenge the unity of our Jubilee community. In the early church, the separation was between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. And in early Singapore society, the separation could be between the towkays and coolies, or between the educated and the illiterate. What about today? Maybe we are still divided into the English speaking and Chinese speaking, the young and the elderly, or the local Jubileans and the newly baptized. This separation is natural, but it is the exact opposite of what the Gospel envisions. I want to set a target for everyone that I think is achievable this year. I want you to get to know someone in Jubilee that is very different from you, either in language or in age or in their years in Jubilee. Someone that is outside of your current comfort zone. Years down the road we can look back to this day where the Jubilee community started to look more and more like a family of God’s children.

Lastly, I hope to change this Us-Them mindset of Christians vs non-Christians. That is the mindset of self-preservation. While it may be useful in protecting your self-identity, it is a hindrance to evangelism. Because you will think that only when non-Christians are converted, then they can be accepted. Instead, I ask that you see everyone around you as children of God though they may have not accepted it by faith. Isn’t this the story of Ananias in Acts 9? God called him to look for Paul who at that time was still called Saul and yet to be converted. Ananias was right to be fearful. Acts 9: 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But in the end, Ananias went, and Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul. We are no longer under the law but under grace, and in grace, let’s not call what is clean to be unclean. I believe this is the true spirit of Sharing God, our theme for this year. Our love and kindness should be offered to everyone in need, and accepting them just as they are. When we let others experience what it means to be one in God’s family, I think they will come to faith in Jesus Christ because they will witness that what we believe is true.


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