My goal with this brief series is to hopefully fill a small part of the massive void that exists in one particular area of preaching (the OT law). I admit that much of what I’ve read in this area has been frustratingly shallow or excruciatingly academic. The former often dives into a tail-spin of silly typology and the latter is often guilty of dismantling the message of a passage so that no message remains. I have one simple conviction that forbids me from going in either of these directions: God wants us to preach all of His Word faithfully. Each word in this conviction statement is loaded and not all who read this will agree with me but I want to break it down. It means that our message has divine origin (“God wants”) and that the message is preached through human vessels (“…us to preach…”) and we are to preach the whole thing and not just the parts we like (“…all of His Word…”) and we are to take a high view of Scripture so that we will not manipulate the message or meaning but deliver it to a people who need to hear from the Lord (“…faithfully.”).
As I have said before, this is not the final word on this matter but hopefully will offer a practical look at a common problem (and by “problem” I do not mean with the text but with preaching). Much of what I say here might bore the academic or be seen as confining to those who think spiritualizing the whole OT is okay. However my focus is on those who preach and teach the Bible in the context of the local church (whether paid or not).
As a follow-up to our last post on preaching the OT Law Greg asked, “how would you teach the passage on a garment woven of two types of cloth?” [i.e., Lev. 19:19]. This is the million dollar question to ask because this was one of the passing examples I used to introduce the topic. I would enjoy hearing how some of you would answer this question but to start off I will offer a few thoughts.
First, I would never preach Leviticus 19:19 on its own. That is, I would never preach it as a stand alone verse divorced from its context. I love Spurgeon more than anyone and he was a magnificent preacher but he was also susceptible to take a verse and run with it beyond the borders of what God intended. Now Spurgeon never preached on this verse but he did preach a number of times from Leviticus. For example his sermon from Lev. 11:2-3 starts out well and he makes some fine comments that accurately reflect the meaning of the passage but he quickly moves to application which is strongly spiritualized and not clearly tied to the meaning of the text. He is a notable example and modern examples could certainly be multiplied. My point is that Lev. 19:19 can only be understood in the context of the entire chapter itself so any attempt to preach it without making such a connection will fail.
Secondly, we must realize that the specific laws mentioned in this chapter are what some would call “time-bound and not directly applicable to believers in the church today” (Rooker, 264). The specific law mentioned in 19:19 was given to distinguish Israel as the Lord’s covenant people in a land of foreigners. However the focus of the chapter was not on the particular laws but what those particulars pointed to. The point of the passage was the holiness of God’s people which was ultimately to be a reflection of the Lord’s holiness (19:2). Therefore everyone who is holy in Israel will flesh this out by “loving your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). New Covenant believers are not under these specific laws but James notes that we are still under the same stipulations of holiness and love since we are under the “royal law” (Jam. 2:8) or the “law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25; 2:12). Therefore in the progress of revelation some of the particulars fade off the scene (i.e., mixed garments) but the point of the passage is still the same message for today’s people. In fact a careful study of how Leviticus 19 is used in the NT would help our people to see that God’s desire for our holiness and love remains one of the consistent themes of Scripture (some references and allusions might be Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jam. 2:1,8-9; 4:11; 5:4, 9, 12).
Therefore the connection between Israel’s neighborhood and my neighborhood today is that we serve the same Lord who desires us to be holy and live our lives in a way that manifest love for those around us. It was impossible for Israel to do this without knowing the Lord and as New Covenant believers this stipulation is impossible without knowing Christ who “came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).
I hope this is a small step in the right direction, I’m sure I’ll hear it if it’s not. Blessings to all.