One news headline caught my attention today. This is what it said:
The headline caught my attention not because it’s the biggest news story of the day, but because I have friends and family who live and work in this area, so it was a matter of concern for me. The story is relatively mundane (hey, it’s life in the Junction!), but one line in particular startled me.
When speaking of the ‘neighbourhood bully’ who has been forced by the courts to move, one man offered this profound theological insight:
“The law can’t force a person to love thy neighbour,” John Ritchie said. “But the law can stop the conduct and this behaviour.”
Wow! Unless this man is a pastor, theologian, or mature believer, I think he probably spoke better than he knew. This is biblical truth.
In the older covenant, God called a people who were to be his own. But though their mouths worshiped him, their hearts were far from him. God had given them a promise, but they weren’t living like he was real. That’s why he gave the law. If he couldn’t capture their hearts yet, he could at least curb their behaviour for a time.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made… (Gal 3.19)
Jesus gives several examples of this as he teaches about God’s true righteousness in Matthew 5. Here’s one:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt 5.38-39)
They had heard it said… where? In the law (here’s where). What Jesus is ultimately driving at is this: There is a love that is greater than the law because it is a deeper and fuller reflection of the character and righteousness of God than the law (Matt 5.48). The law (‘an eye for an eye’) was meant to curb behaviour until the ‘promised offspring’ should come and reveal to us once and for all the nature of the love that actually compels us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Paul puts it another way in Galatians 5. He says that love is the true ‘filling up’ of the law (Gal 5.14). And since we are called now to live by true, gospel-grounded, Christ-modelled, God-reflecting love, we are no longer in need of the law’s behaviour-curbing (Gal 5.18; cf. Rom 8.2-4).
The law can’t force us to love our neighbours. It never could and wasn’t designed to. It was given ‘because of transgressions’, to curb behaviour.
Ultimately, though, we don’t need the law if we are to truly change. True love for neighbour comes only as the Spirit of God indwells and sanctifies and produces fruit like joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
And there sure is no law against those things (Gal 5.22-24).