December 10: Constructing Lives by the Law
Jeremiah 18:1-18; Romans 2:12-29; Proverbs 16:12-33
Dispensing good, helpful advice gets the benevolent juices flowing. As easy as it is to give advice, though, it often hits me with the irony of a cartoon anvil when I end up tripping over my own counsel. When this happens, I’m convicted to examine my motives for advice-giving.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges the superior mindset that was common among some Jewish people at the time: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve the things that are superior, because you are instructed by the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Therefore, the one who teaches someone else, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:17–21).
Paul is explaining why looking to the ot law for righteousness is futile. No person could perfectly keep the law. By holding to it, they were in fact condemning themselves. Paul even points out that some Jews thought they had attained a higher moral standing because of their knowledge of the law—and believed they were in a position to teach others. Yet they were still breaking the law.
It’s easy for us to discard this as an early church issue. Yet we still sometimes take comfort in “keeping the law” today. If we cling to our own good behavior rather than the righteousness we have in Christ, we commit the same sin. We can attempt to live like a saint—we can cultivate a reputation for goodness and dishing out wisdom—but we’ll set ourselves up for imminent failure because we can never keep up the pretense of godly behavior on our own.
However, if our “circumcision is of the heart”—if we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our righteousness and the Spirit is working in us—then our hearts will be in the right place. That place is where we know we are great sinners, and where we are receptive to His transforming work to bring us into complete loyalty to Him. Then we will seek God’s favor, not the favor and superiority we crave from others.
If our lives are truly changed, we will be motivated to love others out of the love God shows us. That will give us the right perspective for seeing the transformation that God is working in their hearts. And it will free us to give the best advice of all: Seek God in everything.
What are your motives for giving advice?
Rebecca Van Noord
Barry, J. D. – Kruyswijk, R., Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan (Bellingham, WA 2012).
The determination with which nowadays Jesus’ birth “of the Virgin” is rejected cannot be explained by pointing to the historical problems. The real and sustaining reason inspiring the historical questions lies elsewhere: in the difference between our world view and the biblical account, and in the notion that the latter has no place in a world determined by natural sciences. Any world view is always a synthesis between knowledge and evaluation. And in this indeed lies the problem. Regarding the tenets of our world view that would psychologically compel us to declare the Virgin Birth an impossibility, it is clear that this is not a result based on knowledge but on evaluation. Granted, a virgin birth, now as then, is improbable but not at all simply impossible; there is no proof of its impossibility, and no serious scientist would assert there is. By no means are we thus dealing here with incidentals but with the central questions—who was this Jesus? who or what is man?—and ultimately with the question of all questions: Who or what is God? This question, in the last analysis, decides the definition of what man is—even an atheistic conception of man, by way of denial, is determined in its question about man by the question about God. The testimony about Jesus’ birth “of the Virgin Mary” is not merely some fringe devotional corner in the context of New Testament Faith; it is not merely the private little sanctuary of two Gospel writers, easily and without loss dispensed with. Rather we touch here on the question about God: Is God, somewhere, a deep dimension of all being, holding up everything like buoyant water, as it were, with no one knowing how; or is he the one who acts, who has power, who knows and loves his creation, is present to it and active in it, forevermore, even here and now? Natus ex Maria virgine is in its core a theo-logical statement: it testifies to a God who has not abandoned his creation. On this is based the Christian’s hope, his freedom, his serenity, and his responsibility.
See: Daughter Zion, pp. 57–61
Ratzinger, J., Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year (ed. I. Grassl) (San Francisco 1992) 388-389.