THE NATURE AND ROLE OF LAW
During the construction of the Tower of Babel, God said, “Now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” If the Genesis analysis of man is accurate, and if this reflects how God perceives the corporate efforts of man, we can see why God frustrates man’s endeavors, as He did at Babel.
Other biblical accounts of man seeking to conquer and gain control include Assyria, Babylon (named after Babel), and Rome. Each time God intervened to stop them from accomplishing their goals. Then too there exists a host of illustrations not included in Scripture. The vision of a one-world government under the auspices of something like the United Nations captures the imagination of many philosophers and statesmen.
If such an effort proved successful, we would lose our hope in God and become eternally lost. In the last issue we noted that two objectives of the Mosaic Law were to define and ensure justice and to reveal the depravity of man. But the depravity of man precludes justice ever being ensured. Thus these two purposes of the Law work against each other. God intended it that way, not because He wants man to fail in his attempt to be righteous, but rather because He does not want unrighteous man to succeed in his rebellion against God.
God does not want man to govern his own affairs any more than He wanted man to be successful in building the Tower of Babel. To the degree that man can bring order, peace, and security to his environment, he will be inoculated from sensing his need for salvation. Christianity is a religion of rescue; it is designed for the desperate.
Let’s now move to the next major section in this series:
LAW AND REQUEST
What is the difference between a law and a request? The first and most obvious difference is, law is obligatory, and a request is not. Let me suggest a couple of other differences that may not appear quite as obvious.
First, most laws have the recipient’s best interest at heart, while requests generally have the requester’s interest in mind. I will again use my grandson’s playing in the street as an example. At our home I have a law that, under no circumstance, can he play in the street. I want to keep him from harm as autos speed past the house. My law is designed to protect him.
Now my grandson and I enter the house and I ask him to go to the bedroom and fetch me my slippers. This is not a law, but a request; he does not have to do it. But my request seeks my interest, not his. For the most part, this difference between law and request holds true.
To the degree that this is true, you would think that people would rather obey law than request. I would rather follow that which serves my interest rather than that which seeks the interest of another. But, alas, such is not the case. This should alert us that something is terribly wrong with how we approach life. Interestingly, the Bible claims that God’s law has both His and our best interest as its motivation.
Second, laws have consequences, while requests don’t necessarily have them. By way of example, my wife and I are sitting at the breakfast table and she gets up to do something else. As she leaves the table, I ask her to pour me another cup of coffee. Is this a law or a request? It depends upon how she and I view it.
If my wife answers me, “Do I have to?” I have to make a decision. I can view it as a request and respond by saying, “No, of course you don’t have to. I will do it myself.” Or I can view it as a law and say, “Yes, you have to. I am head of this home and you are biblically obligated to obey me. Stop this nonsense and get me the cup of coffee!”
I would be foolish to convert my request for another cup of coffee into a law. But more importantly, if my wife responded to my request with the words, “Do I have to?” it would indicate that there is something terribly wrong in our marriage. An eagerness to please forms the core of any healthy relationship.
THE NEED TO KNOW
You need to know what a person wants in order to give it to him. I remember when Leette and I were first married we desperately wanted to please each other. I would come home tired from a hard day, and think, “My wife has been in the house all day, maybe she would like to go out this evening,” even though I would rather stay home. When I asked her if she would like to go out, she would think, “He has had a hard day and probably wants to go out this evening,” even though she wanted to stay home.
We both went out seeking to please the other, while both of us wanted to stay home. We finally learned that we needed to know what the other person wants in order to give it to them. An eagerness to please has to be combined with honesty.
It seems to me that we should view the commandments of God from this perspective. Because our Lord Jesus saved us, because we are His obedient servants, and because He loves us and does all things for our good, we should be eager to please Him. He knows what we want, but gently reminds us that His commands should be viewed as requests, simply because He is eager to please us!
This may be what David had in mind in Psalm 19:7-11: “The law of the LORD is perfect,
converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
Again, Psalm 119:97-104: “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. 98 Thou through thy
commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. 101 I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. 102 I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. 103 How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.”
LAW, THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
When you view the commandments of God as a law obligating you to perform in a certain way, it indicates a breakdown in the relationship, as surely as my wife’s response, “Do I have to?” Law is the last line of defense in a deteriorating relationship. Forcing your will upon another through a law indicates that you are working towards damage control. By that I mean, when you have played the trump card of “law,” you have run out of options. When the other person breaks the law, you are forced to make them face the consequences. At that point the relationship is fractured.
For example, if a couple came to you for counseling before marriage, would you encourage them to have a pre-nuptial agreement before becoming husband and wife? There is nothing biblically wrong with such an agreement; I know of no command that prohibits it. But no same person enters marriage with a list of laws. Rather, love implies an eagerness to please. A request is enough.
What do you do when a person makes a request that you do not want to meet? In an earlier issue we noted that the force of law is in accountability. The absence of accountability may not void the law, but it does strip it of all effectiveness. In a certain sense, this is true for requests as well.
So when we are asked to do what we don’t want to do, we either consciously or unconsciously ask ourselves, “Is the request valid and reasonable, or am I lazy and selfish? Will saying no put the relationship in jeopardy? Do I care, or should I care, if I lose the relationship? Do I view myself as his ‘servant for Jesus’ sake?’” In the final analysis, you evaluate the cost/result ratio of the decision.
SEEKING THE BEST FOR OTHERS
Never make laws out of your desire to see people seek their best. I Corinthians 7 with Paul’s instruction on celibacy affords a good illustration. In this passage Paul says that single people have a better opportunity to seek the things of Christ than those married do. But he leaves the decision with the individual believer saying, “it is better to marry than to burn.” The Roman Catholic Church, understanding the validity of Paul’s argument, makes celibacy a law for those entering the priesthood.
We can easily do this with our children as we seek to provoke them to godliness. But we must constantly remind ourselves that a thirst for holiness comes from within the heart. Law is external, ignoring the heart.
Making laws is easier than influencing thinking. More often than not, however, exercising this option ends in being counter-productive to the relationship without accomplishing the desired objective.
The difference between a law and a request is attitude. Do you delight to do the will of God as both Jesus and the Psalmist testified, or do you view His commandments as intrusive and restrictive, and therefore seek ways to ignore them? We will explore this in greater depth in the next issue, but evaluating your attitude toward biblical commands will instruct you on how you perceive God. You cannot have it both ways: You cannot argue that our Lord’s commandments are created with an eager desire to please you and help you in life, and that your relationship with Him is marked by an eagerness to please Him, and then ignore His commands by saying they are cultural or non-essential.
His for a life of obedience,
 Cf. Genesis 11:6.
 Cf. II Cor 4:5.
 Cf. vv. 32-35.
 Cf. v. 9.