Tag Archives: legalism

God’s People, part 127: Scribes

Read Matthew 23

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Scribes_at_Tomb_of_EzekielPart 127: Scribes. In today’s time, most of us are both keenly aware and yet ignorant of what a scribe is. It is language we simply do not use anymore, yet the function of the ancient scribe still carries on in our world. When we think of scribes, we probably imagine a monk passed out at his desk after countless hours of transferring the holy writ (the Bible) from old pages to new ones in order to preserve the holy Scriptures. Indeed, that would be on function of a scribe.

Yet the scribe was more than just a preserver of ancient texts. A scribe in the ancient Jewish world functioned as lawyers, journalists, government ministers, judges and/or financiers. While some scribes copied documents for sure, that was not necessarily a part of their job description. This, then, helps us to get a better understanding of the scribes in Jesus’ day and why he ended up confronting them so vehemently.

The scribes were professionals who were, no doubt, weighing in on the “legality” of what Jesus was teaching. Did it hold up to the first century Jewish understanding of the Torah and the prophets? Did Jesus have the authority to teach in ways that contradicted, and humiliated, the professionals? Just who is this Jesus anyway. Who died and left him the expert in such matters. THEY WERE THE EXPERTS!!!

Thus, the scribes were among the Jewish groups that pushed back against Jesus’ teachings, especially when it came to matters of the law, of taxes and money, and other such matters. This Jesus was stepping on their toes, stepping into their space, and assuming their role in authoritative ways. As a result, he and his teachings were a threat to their livelihoods and they, no doubt, took his resistance of their authority as a personal affront to them.

The challenge for us is to reflect on the ways we are the scribes of today. Do we hold up our interpretation of the law, of what is right and wrong, over and above what Jesus taught and commanded? Does Jesus threaten us and our way of thinking? Does he pose a threat to our political worldviews and agendas? Does he rudely burst in our lives, into our space and step on all of our toes?

If so, then we need to consider how much of a follower of Jesus we really are. We need to reflect on our loyalty, our faithfulness to Jesus. If we are not aligned with him, but are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will divinely strengthened and guided to make the adjustments needed so that we become more like Christ. To not do so not only separates us from Christ, but it most definitely brings others down along with us.

The Holy Spirit works within us the changes that God sees necessary in our lives.

Lord, keep me from becoming like the scribes and seeing you as a threat, for you are my Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Other Sins Like These

Read Galatians 5:13-21

“He has enabled us to be ministers of His new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryOWORKS OF THE FLESH: Other Sins Like These. One of the things that I think plagues the church is this notion that the Bible, the Church, and religion in general are nothing more than a set of dos and don’ts in order to strip fun away from people, as well as to hold them in subjugation to those who claim to have the authority to teach and enforce such rules and regulations. There can be no doubt that there is some truth to Karl Marx’s words, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The Church, and the leaders within the church have, in some cases, abused their authority and, as a result, have done a disservice to Christ, to the Christian community, and to the world. With that said, the same is true with any ideology, religious or not. Take a long hard look at Communism. Any ideology can be used as an opiate to the masses.

So, while there is some truth to Marx’s comment, it is far from THE TRUTH as a whole. Christianity is not merely a list of dos and dont’s. When we come to those places in the Bible that list what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, it would benefit us to at least research the historical context behind those dos and dont’s. What’s more, when have done that kind of deep probe of the Scriptures, we begin to see that those dos and don’ts are, more often than not, a social contract between God and the world, between God and God’s people, and between God’s people and their fellow human beings. We all live in a social contract today whether we practice religion or not. We have all agreed to live and abide by the rules of our local governments for the benefit of the whole community.

At the heart of the Bible is LOVE. It is our guide to learning how to LOVING God by loving others as God loves us. God wants nothing more than that. It isn’t about an egotistical God who, like a big bully in the sky, demands we follow arbitrary laws…just because. The Bible is our guidance to what a right relationship with our neighbors and, by virtue of that, what a right relationship with God looks like. Some of those laws in the Bible make sense for us today, some of them no longer make sense because we have come to understand otherwise, but the heart of the BIBLE…THE HEART OF THE LAW…remains the same: LOVE! That is a constant that will never change.

To conclude on the “Works of the Flesh”, it is important to realize that Paul is not trying to give us an exhaustive list but, rather, he is listing specific sins that are going on within his church. We can see this in his summing the list up with “other sins like these” (Galatians 5:21). It is also important that we do not view Paul’s words as a list of dos and don’t. Instead, it is better to view them as a moral compass to help guide us all into a better relationship with God, into a better relationship with our neighbors, and into a better relationship with ourselves. That is the ultimate goal, it is what God wishes for all of us. Now, let’s go onto Paul’s “Fruit of the Spirit.”

“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” – Max Müller

Lord, fill me with your love so that I may live freely into the spirit of the law. Amen.