Legalism and eternity

Just thinking about a book that probably doesn’t get read much by most Christians: Leviticus. This is the “how to” manual for priests, of the tribe of Levi. Details, details; it’s all in the details.

Leviticus also, of course, contains much wisdom for how we should organize our societies and what is good in the eyes of the Lord, and what is not good. Or, in the text, an “abomination” unto the Lord. Most of us simply don’t bother with Leviticus, and when it comes to morality, we prefer to take it directly from the Gospels or Paul’s letters.

But from whence do we think Jesus got his standards? Or, for that matter, Paul? There’s only one source; it is the word of God, as given to Moses at Sinai, and in the incarnation of the Word, Jesus Christ. This is what is eternal — the Word of God: Book and Savior.

True, Jesus simplified matters, telling us that we should not let legalisms deny meeting the second great commandment of loving our neighbor. But in no way shape or form did Jesus excuse us from meeting God’s commandments. This raises another problem. One may hear, in many if not most churches, that Leviticus was fine for the ancient Israelites, living in the Near East of 3,500 or so years ago. Those rules just can’t apply to our modern, post-Enlightenment society.

True, there’s no longer temple worship, and the details of a priest’s ephod, or, for that matter, specifications of the ark of the Lord, don’t seem to have much relevance for the problems we face today.

What is eternal is the singular precept expressed by Jesus in the first great commandment. From Mark 12:30:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The eternal nature of this commandment should be self-evident: it was true in the beginning; it was true for the Israelites at the time of Sinai; it is true for us.

From perhaps the greatest preacher of all times, C.H. Spurgeon, some words on this most important commandment:

Our Saviour said, “This is the first and great commandment.” It is “the first” commandment—the first for antiquity, for this is older than even the ten commandments of the written law. Before God said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal,” this law was one of the commands of his universe; for this was binding upon the angels when man was not created.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be. God is eternal; His Word likewise. What changes is only our limited perception of that word. And what we fail sometimes to acknowledge is that the Lord knows how to communicate with His audience; hence the form may change.

But never the substance.


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