Monday, April 18, 2016

Self-Examination, and the Three Weightier Matters of the Law

A tradition of members of the Church of God, based on the Bible, is to examine ourselves in preparation for Passover to be able to take Passover in a worthy manner. "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Self-examination is not the only thing we should do to observe Passover in a worthy manner - we should also observe Passover according to the instructions in the Bible and we should be mindful of the profound meaning of Passover and the sacrifice of Christ, and we can study scriptures on that subject as part of our preparation for Passover - but self-examination is one of the things we should do. We should examine ourselves in the light of God's word and law to see where we fall short. This helps us to appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for we see our need for forgiveness made possible by Christ's sacrifice. It also helps us to see where we need to repent.

One of the ways we can examine ourselves is to review major points and principles of God's law and way of life in the Bible and compare our lives with God's standard. We can also compare ourselves with Jesus Christ, our example (John 13:15, Philippians 2:5-8).

God's law is very broad and deep. The whole Bible teaches the various details and applications of God's law, but it also summarizes God's law into major points.

All of God's law can be summarized by the one word, "love". "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8, see also 1 John 4:16).

God's law can be further summarized by the two great commandments, love towards God and love towards neighbor. "Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.' " (Matthew 22:35-40).

The ten commandments also summarize God's law, but break it into finer detail, four points, the first four commandments, to describe how we are to love God, and six points, the last six commandments, to describe how we are to love our neighbors (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:4-21, James 2:10-12).

One of the best summaries of God's law and the application of it is in the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7). I find it helpful in self-examination to review the two great commandments, the ten commandments, and the sermon on the mount, and compare my life with those passages to see where I fall short. The sermon on the mount helps us understand the full spiritual application of the ten commandments.

In this post I want to focus a bit on another summary of God's law. Jesus spoke of the "weightier matters" of the law, and He mentioned three: justice, mercy, and faith. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23).

We can also review the three weightier principles of God's law - justice, mercy, and faith - in examining ourselves.

In previous posts, I examined the weightier matter of faith, and I also explore this in chapter 6 of my book, Preaching the Gospel.

Faith means believing in God and believing what God says. It means believing God's word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, John 10:35, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18). Moreover, it is to be a living faith that produces fruit (James 2:14-26). Our faith should produce good works and obedience. Faith is an aspect of trust towards God. We trust in God's knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and we trust Him to tell us the truth. The Old Testament emphasizes trust in God and the New Testament emphasizes faith to believe God, but that New Testament faith is a part of the trust that the Old Testament speaks of. And both trust and faith towards God are part of how we love God with all our being.

One of the ways we exercise faith is to believe God's word, the Bible, and strive to obey it. We are to believe the Bible more than we believe our own opinions, our traditions, and our ministers. Only God is infallible and perfectly righteous at all times, and only God is worthy of our unconditional faith and trust.

In this post I want to focus on the other two weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy, and show how these two principles relate to each other.

Mercy is love towards our neighbor. We show outgoing concern for our neighbors by showing mercy to them.

If I were to ask you, what is greater, justice or mercy, you might say mercy.

There is a scripture that backs this up. "...Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).

Yet, in the weightier matters of the law, justice is listed before mercy. And just before the statement that says that mercy triumphs over judgment, the Bible also says, "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13).

So mercy does not override judgment for one who has shown no mercy. That too is an aspect of justice, the justice that he who has not been merciful will himself not receive mercy.

There is an aspect of judgment or justice that mercy overrides. But there is an aspect of judgment or justice that mercy does not override, the judgment against one who himself has shown no mercy.

This is illustrated by the parable of the unforgiving servant. Forgiveness is an aspect of mercy. God can be merciful to us to forgive us our sins. But notice that God does not give us that mercy in every case. If we ourselves are unmerciful to others, God will take away His mercy and His forgiveness, and we will be condemned.

Jesus gave the general principle in the sermon on the mount. "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Here is the parable. "Then Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?'

"Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, "Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all." Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

" 'But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me what you owe!" So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you all." And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

" 'So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses' " (Matthew 18:21-35).

Jesus further hammered the point home in His description of the judgment. "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'

"Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:31-46).

So God can be merciful to us, and justice will be overridden by God's mercy. Actually, God's justice is still fulfilled, for Christ had to pay our penalty for us, and this is the meaning of Passover. The sacrifice of Christ meets the demands of both justice (our sins are paid for) and mercy (Christ paid the penalty in our place).

Christ paid the death penalty for our sins by His shed blood so we do not have to die eternal death. This reconciles us to the Father and enables God to give us eternal life in His kingdom. Christ also suffered for our sins and his body was broken so we do not have to pay the penalty of continual suffering brought upon ourselves by our sins. This enables God to heal us both physically and spiritually. The suffering of Christ enables us to be forgiven of our physical sins, the sins of breaking the laws of health, so we can be healed of our physical sicknesses, injuries, and disabilities. But it also enables us to be healed spiritually of our damaged character, character damaged by sin, which has caused us to continue to sin and suffer the painful fruits of sin in our minds and in our lives. God heals our character by His Holy Spirit.

"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).

The spiritual and physical healing God begins to give us in this life will be completed in the resurrection.

So in the sacrifice of Christ we see both justice and mercy in action.

But for us to actually receive that mercy, we must also be merciful to others. For if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. And if we refuse to be merciful to others, God will not be merciful to us. And thus, if we refuse to be merciful, we will lose out on salvation and die in the lake of fire. That is God's justice, and that is why justice is listed before mercy in the three weightier matters of the law.

How do we apply mercy in the Church of God today? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves?

The specific application of that law and the specific actions we take vary from individual to individual, depending on our circumstances and opportunities. When we see someone in need, if we are able to help, if helping that person does not cause greater harm to others, we should help. That does not mean we let our children go hungry so we can give to charity. But it means we have an outgoing concern to help others as Christ would have us help others. And if someone offends us, we should be willing to forgive. Perhaps that person needs to repent first. But we should desire their repentance for their long term good, and we should rejoice if they do repent. And if the offense against us is habitual, we can take measures to protect ourselves from harm, but we should not hate the person who is against us.

But there is one application of showing mercy to our neighbors that really applies to everyone in the Church of God. I have written about this before in previous posts.

One of the greatest and most universal needs of almost all our neighbors in the United States, Great Britain, and other Israelite nations, is a need for a warning message, the warning message God gave to the prophet Ezekiel, a message God has commanded us to deliver (Ezekiel 3:16-21, Proverbs 24:11). They need to be warned of God's punishments to come if they do not repent. And many of our people, those who are religious and follow the doctrines and practices of traditional churches, do not know that some of the things they do, such as the keeping of Christmas and Easter, are wrong and they need to repent. They, most of all, need to be informed and warned.

And if they are warned, they will benefit. What if they do not believe? Most will not believe. But they will still benefit from the warning. Why?

If they are warned but do not believe or heed the warning, then later in the tribulation when they find out that our warning was real they can know that God was fair and kind to give them a warning, through us the Church of God, before punishing them. That will help them to understand God's love and fairness and it will make it easier for them to trust God and repent of their sins. But if they cannot remember ever being warned, their repentance will be harder.

What we do now in regard to the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning can directly impact the welfare of tens or hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead.

And there may not be a lot of time left. At some point, the doors that are open for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning will be closed and there will be a famine of the word (Amos 8:11-12).

And the doors can close for any one of us individually if we prove to God that we are not willing to love our neighbors and show mercy to them. How? If we selfishly hold the truth to ourselves and not share it with others as God commands, God can take the truth from us. That is God's justice. Any one of us can fall away, and it is only by God's continual mercy and His work through the Holy Spirit that we are able to continue to know the truth. If we show ourselves unmerciful to others, God can allow us to be deceived and to fall away from the truth. Then the door is closed for us personally to do anything more to preach the gospel even though the door may remain open for others in the Church.

And in any case, none of us knows the day of his death.

Remember, we need God's continuous mercy to remain in the truth and grow in the truth. Without God's mercy, we have no protection against Satan's deceptions. But God teaches in the Bible that if we want His mercy we must be merciful to others. And if we are unmerciful to our neighbors who need the gospel and the warning, if we are not merciful to share with them the truth God has given us, God may take His mercy away from us and we will lose the truth He has given us. That is God's justice.

How do we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to our neighbors? How do we show mercy towards them so God will be merciful to us?

Every one of us should get 100% behind some Church of God fellowship that is preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, to support that effort. How? If we have money or a steady income, we can support the message with our tithes and offerings. Whether we are able to do that or not, all of us can pray for a group that is preaching the gospel, beseeching God to help that group be effective and open the doors wider for them. In some cases, some of us can contribute volunteer effort. But one way or another, all of us can help get the gospel and the warning message out to a world that needs it.

Justice, mercy, and faith.

If we show mercy to others, God will be merciful to us. But if we do not show mercy to others, God's justice comes into play and God will not show mercy to us.

Studying these principles and the application of them and meditating on them can be part of the self-examination we do before Passover.

We need God's mercy. We need to be merciful to others. If we have not been merciful to others in the past, we need to repent, and if we do, God will forgive us. But if we do not repent and change, God will not forgive us.

"With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd" (Psalm 18:25-26).

"In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

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