12 May 2022
Interesting discussion the other day; it raised an issue over which most western Christians stumble all the time. The answer is rooted in what Paul told Timothy about "rightly dividing the Word" -- your convictions already know the answers. It's the mind that needs training so you can work out how to obey.
The Word for Paul and Timothy was still the Old Testament at that time, so it required some good scholarship to discern how it applied to their context. Of course, they had the teachings of Jesus as an oral tradition at this point, but the Bible tells us that the Twelve transmitted them faithfully. After Pentecost, the Spirit was able to bring it all back out of their memories. Their teaching was already solid and widespread within just a few years after Christ ascended.
More importantly, the Spirit was able to give that teaching life. It's not like learning principles, but getting to know a Person. The brain cannot possibly get the whole picture by itself because it's not designed for that. It requires the heart. Your love and commitment makes you pay attention. As time goes by, your exposure to that Person improves your grasp on His character and personality. Faith is a commitment to a Person, not a body of teaching.
As my friend likes to say, in the Hebrew culture there was no such thing as "propositional truth". That was an obsession with pagan Greeks and Romans, not with Jesus and His nation. The Covenant is a connection of real living persons.
Thus, we note that there are things Jesus didn't talk about because they weren't issues His nation had. Jesus didn't have to condemn things like sodomy; His nation already condemned it. It was one of the few things they got right. Paul had to condemn it because he took the gospel to Gentiles who practiced it widely. It's the same underlying moral issue behind divorce, which Jesus did condemn. There is an established moral proposition in being fallen and needing to form families, and then to form communities. The pursuit of God's provision of shalom requires a certain structure, and both divorce and homosexuality threaten it.
The same with something like polygamy. It was tolerated under Moses as a cultural legacy of the Ancient Near East, but Jesus excluded it in His comments about divorce. He said one man and one woman pairing for life was the original design. That inherently excludes polygamy and sodomy; why do we even have to discuss it?
It's only a legalistic spite that tries to look for specific wording and loopholes. This was precisely what was wrong with Pharisaism. That kind of analysis of the Word was a very long way from "rightly dividing". If you don't already love Jesus, you will struggle with what He said. Porn? Paul warned about filthy communications, so that seems to cover it. In the end, your heart knows it's idolatry, so that should be good enough. Biblical mysticism doesn't work like rationalism at all.
What most people don't see is that a major element in Biblical Law is the dire necessity of community peace -- AKA shalom -- which comes with social stability. You don't get social stability with divorce, polygamy, open marriages, sodomy, etc. Fallen humans can dream all they want about how those things are possible, but God warns that such degrades things. He's the one who knows best how we are wired; He designed us and did the wiring. Those deviations from His plan guarantee we will not have shalom. If you don't have peace with Him, there is no peace at all. Creation (i.e., reality) itself is wired that way, and it will act on His behalf to ensure you don't have a peaceful life contrary to His revelation.
To rightly divide the Word means we will also know where the draw the line between things we should hold in common, and things that are for us alone. There are things about which I hold strong convictions that I know aren't for you. The Word teaches me that there are some issues for me alone. It also teaches me that some issues are for my dominion, and that if you want my spiritual covering, you'll have to go along with my convictions on them. Not because it's right for you, but it's right for my dominion. And then there are some issues that seem to me so obvious that if you differ, I have no obligation to take you seriously.
And if it matters that much to you, why should you care in the first place what I believe?
There's nothing wrong with asking questions. My whole life is devoted to bringing the Word to life, so there's nothing so sacred that we cannot discuss it. It's my mission to explain. I may not be able to word it properly for you, but I'll certainly try. Still, the bottom line is whether you love the Lord enough to really care about what He says to you. You can check with 1 John 2:20 -- the Presence guarantees your heart already knows. You study the written record of revelation so your brain knows what to expect.
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