Monday, 25 April 2016

‘An eye for an eye’

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand….    (Exodus 21:23,24)

The MORAL CODE of the Ten Commandments was given in Exodus 20.  Now in chapters 21-23, it is being applied to the CIVIL CODE, affecting the community.  Does it look a little draconian?  It’s actually pure justice!

1. The principle of equivalent damages.  Here was guidance for Israel’s magistrates, in setting out the level of compensation for injuries inflicted within the community.  The principle was to be as exact an equivalent as was possible.  The best evaluation of a servant’s eye which had been knocked out was to give the servant his complete freedom (v. 26, 27).  For some injuries, money equivalents could be paid over (v. 30).  After all, a lost tooth was barely compensated by the attacker losing his own tooth.

2. The principle of community protection.  Jesus corrected the Pharisees’ tendency to apply the principle to the area of personal relationships (Matthew 5:38-42).  No one was to take the law into their own hands – and certainly any concept of family feudings or ‘honour killings’ were ruled out from the beginning.  This was community law, to be applied by appointed magistrates, for the security of all.

3. The principle of no personal revenge.  In this, Christ is our supreme example (1 Peter 2:21-23).  In his forbidding of individual revenge, he was simply upholding the Old Testament law of Leviticus 19:18: that declared: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.’

Uphold justice publicly; express love personally.  That’s the balance!


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Total Depravity!

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing        (Romans 7:18)

In Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul is describing his state, not as he was before his conversion, nor even as a convinced follower of Christ, but as an advanced believer.  “Wretched man that I am!” he wrote.

By this he did not mean that he was forever wallowing in guilt.  The Christian life is one of joy, freedom and confidence.  Yet the theologians use the phrase ‘Total Depravity’ to describe the human condition.  They do not mean that humanity is as bad as it is possible to be, for noble acts of kindness and unselfishness can be found in people everywhere, however pagan. The term means, rather, that there is no part of us that is not affected by the original Fall, recorded in Genesis chapter 3.

It is not possible to exaggerate what the Fall has done to the human race.  It had no part whatever in Marxist thinking of old, and indeed its effects have been underestimated by many in Christian circles. In typical Anglican under-statement, the nineteenth century bishop of Ely described it as no more than “a most deplorable change!”  Yet, from the Fall onwards we were like a jelly mould that has been dented.  From then on every jelly bears the mark of that dent.  “The most remarkable thing about wrongdoing,” wrote Stephen Neill, “is that it is universal.”

The experience of the apostle Paul is duplicated throughout history.  The further believers advance in godliness, the greater their knowledge of themselves as sinners ‘very far gone from original righteousness’ (Article 9 of the Church of England).  Humankind, at base, is not to be trusted.

And yet, the buffeted new believer can be comforted.  As former slave-trader John Newton declared when he became a Christian, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I hope to be, I am not what I wish to be – but by the grace of God I am not what I was!”


Monday, 11 April 2016

Under God’s Banner

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my banner    (Exodus 17:15)

Here was a new adventure for the Israelites, after years of oppression in Egypt.  They’re out at last – heading towards their Promised Land.  It’s a picture of what the new believer can expect, coming over -

1. Across the Border.  To cross over the Red Sea is like being converted; your past is behind you, and you’re the citizen of a new kingdom – the kingdom of God!  Suddenly there are new situations confronting you every day, new decisions to make, new habits to establish …. and it isn’t always a comfortable experience.  But this is the normal Christian life….

2. In the wilderness.  They’re in south-west Sinai (chapter 17:1,2),  and the grumbling over lack of provisions is only halted when the miracle of water from the rock takes place.  This is a lesson that we ourselves must learn – that the resources to keep us going require daily trust in God!

3. Under attack.  A third ordeal.  The hostile Amalekites were godless desert marauders.  The battle took place – physically - below on the plain, and – spiritually - at the top of Mount Rephidim, where Moses sat, with the rod of divine authority raised as a kind of prayer banner, symbolising the Israelites' dependence upon God for victory.

After the victory he sets up an altar; ‘The Lord is my Banner.’  Yes, it is never money, might, or personality that advances God’s kingdom.  ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4).