When I sat down to write about the church being hopeful and offering hope I had in mind to write about being a resurrected people, living with the faith that despite the darkest of times we face we live in the hope that resurrected life is just around the corner. I come to this but I had spotted a meme doing the rounds on social media stating: “People are confused because we BAIT them with GRACE, BIND them with LAW and call it abundant life.” From what I can find it started as a tweet by Pastor Hart Ramsey in May 2016. I have not looked into the theology of Pastor Ramsey but the words sum up quite succinctly the disappointing view people have of the church because so often this is exactly what the church offers. The church fails to offer lasting hope because it has got itself caught up with policing behaviours and not offering grace.
Laws are important but the laws of scripture are not designed to be used to entrap or bind people they are meant to provide the necessary boundaries that are needed to support our relationships with one another and with God. Some of the laws in scripture make sense for the time they were written and cannot be transferred literally into the 21st Century others transfer across time and space. The Ten Commandments should be seen as offering hope not rigid uncompromising edicts. Rules for not killing give us the freedom and hope of life; laws for keeping a Sabbath tell us of the need for rest to remain healthy physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially; commands for not coveting or stealing provide the freedom to own property and commit to relationships of trust. A civilised and functioning society requires laws so that we know the boundaries and can live and work together.
The church also needs laws or rules. Matthew 5:17 quotes Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus did not seek to abolish the laws or create anarchistic society or religion but his life and teaching offers fresh understanding of the laws and the values behind them. What is important about Jesus’ teaching and his life, death and resurrection is that they should be symbols of life and hope. Rather than enforcing dogmatic laws to control people Jesus demonstrates that the laws of God are full of grace and love. The laws of God offer hope and liberation because they call for justice and compassion.
The apostle Paul writes ‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). Christian’s often mistakenly claim that the command to love our neighbours as ourselves was given as a new commandment by Jesus. In truth Jesus was quoting the ancient Levitical law:
‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.’Leviticus 19:18
‘The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’Leviticus 19:34
Such laws were given that we might have hope. The new commandment of Jesus takes this command of loving our neighbours and foreigners to another level; not just loving as ourselves but loving one another as Jesus loved (John 13:34). To love as Jesus is to willing lay down our lives.
Imagine a world, a society, or a church that actually took this seriously, willing to give up our very lives for the sake of others. The church should be hopeful because we know that Jesus died and rose again, we know that we are invited to join Jesus in his resurrection. Giving our lives for others should be the nature of the church. The church should offer hope and not condemnation. The church has the laws of God and should seek to live by these that they offer hope to the world, light in the darkness.
Jesus’ promise of abundant life does include the laws, but they are not laws of control and condemnation but laws of liberty, encouraging loving relationships, and offering fullness of life:
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:39
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:10
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.Psalm 62:5-8
Hope comes through inclusion, acceptance, affirmation, interconnection and relationship just as we are and not for what we can do or offer; we can find this through God and so it should with his church.