After God created humanity, the first institution he made was marriage, husband and wife. Genesis 1 and 2 tell us the story. In this week’s readings we read about the giving of the law. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 record how God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. Then Moses went up to God on the mountain to receive them from God’s hand written on tablets of stone. This event is a covenant ceremony where God takes Israel to be His people as a nation and Israel takes God as their one and only God. Many scholars have noted that this event has all the markings of a wedding celebration, complete with vows.
Israel verbally accepted God’s covenant offer and later Scriptural language describes God as Israel’s husband and Israel as God’s wife. Isaiah 54:5, Jeremiah 31:32, Ezekiel 16:8-14. Sadly, this marriage didn’t go well. Israel was unfaithful.
Romans 7, which is our text for today, starts by speaking of the law and, interestingly enough, begins with an illustration of marriage. But Paul puts the law in a different light. From the New Testament perspective, especially in Paul’s letters, the law came to make sin clearly sinful. It was intended to bring life, but instead, it brought death. (vs10). It was powerless to save, powerless to make man better, powerless to rescue us from sin, and in fact, the law exposed our sinfulness for what it is and left us without excuse, covenant breakers, spiritual adulterers, and condemned to die. That, Paul says, is not because the law is bad, but because we are.
And, as my brother-in-law Bill said, “The main cause of divorce is… marriage. Without marriage there would be no divorce. Without the law, Paul says, sin is dead. But the law, like marriage, is desperately needed and important to enlighten protect and guide relationships. They establish the boundaries of faithfulness. While God is always faithful, humans always fail. All we like sheep have gone astray. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even those closest to God are flawed.
Israel illustrated this truth over and over. Only rarely do we find a few that, though not perfect, were considered faithful. Why? In spite of their flaws, they loved God, they were devoted to His will and ways, and they did not give up, even when they stumbled. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses… thus far in our reading, these few come to mind. They are among the few, the humble, the brave and faithful. Few indeed.
This is (as I have shared before) the principle of fecundity. Of the millions of pieces of pollen, only one reaches the ovary and fertilizes the seed, of the thousands of acorns that fall from the tree, only a very few ever grow to become a tree. As my aunt Sarah said, “A mighty oak was once just a little nut that held its ground.” There are few little nuts that do this among the staggering number that are created.
Think of humanity.
Of the thousands of sperm cells generated, only one finds the egg and conceives an embryo. Of the billions of babies born, only a small percentage grow up and claim Jesus Christ as Lord. Of the millions of those who say they are Christians, only a few demonstrate their faith in devotion and obedience to His commandments. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many mighty works? Jesus said, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of lawlessness.”
If you are a Christian today, and a faithful one, you are extremely rare.
Let’s return to the wedding imagery for one more insight. When Jenny and I were married, the preacher said, “Do you take Jenny to be your wife?” And I said, “Yes.” That “yes” for her was also a “no” for the billions of other women in the world. By God’s grace we have been faithful to that promise. And what about your baptism into Christ? When you made the good confession and entered that covenant through baptism into His death, being buried with Him in baptism, and raised to walk in newness of life. This was your “yes” to Christ. In a similar vein, our “Yes” to Jesus Christ as Lord is also a “no” to the billions of alternative authorities in this world. Israel’s “yes” to the Lord as their God, was supposed to be a “no” to all other gods. But did they keep their promise? God certainly kept His. God is a whole hearted God. He loves with an astounding love. He IS love! What God was offering Israel in these 10 Commandments, was no less than a legal expression of His love and character. His covenant words that were meant to bring life, a life in which humans would experience a relationship of intimacy with God. Like a marriage. Like Christ and the church. God chose Israel as His people, His holy nation, His kingdom of priests. (Exodus 19:5-6). That’s what God’s word in Peter says we are!
Consider these 10 commandments.
The first four of the Commandments relate to how God’s people are to show their love to Him by their commitment to Him as God alone, and a commitment to spend time with Him. The rest of the Commandments focus on how God’s people are to relate to one another, and demonstrate love toward one another. First, is how children relate to their parents. (Fifth commandment). From here the commandments are all protective and universally applicable. All are based on the principle of love’s behavior.
Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” In Mark 12:29-31 we read His reply.
Matthew 22:40 Jesus said, “all the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Who does God love with all His heart, soul, mind and strength? John 3:16 answers this. As does Romans 5:5-10 and a host of other scriptures.
God designed you and me to be able to love Him. Every little speck of pollen has the potential to fertilize and conceive a seed after its kind. Every little seed has the potential to become a plant. Every plant has the potential to produce many more pollen and seeds after its kind.
People have done pretty well procreating in number, wouldn’t you say? How are we doing at producing the image and likeness of God in our offspring? God has given us a saving mission.
His law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. We need this information to know God and to understand His will and ways and to fear and love Him so that He forms us into that likeness which is His. We need to humble ourselves and commit to learning to turn from sin and seek His kingdom and righteousness first.
This week, as you read the Bible, ask God to teach you His ways. Give Him your heart, soul, mind and strength. It is His greatest desire and His greatest commandment.