By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. January 13, 2002)
Since I last spoke, you have all been going through a trial - I am not the only one being tested. As others have implied but not told you plainly, you could also look at recent events as chastisement from our father.
Are we going to study his word?
And once we know what it says, are we going to believe it?
For my part, I have not taught you what a church teaches. That was not the job God gave me to do in this congregation. In all good conscience, I have never taught you what a church teaches. What I have done is strived to teach you God's word and not the word of a man.
I make a distinction between God and men, and I do not regard the person or face of any man, and I do not hold sacred the doctrines of men.
I do not think that I am more important than other men, (which is what arrogant means). I just do not think any other man is more important than I am, which is what the scriptures say. (1Cor.3:21-23). Now, I might esteem you better than me - but when it comes to the light of God's truth, you are not more important. I would to God that everyone had that spiritual perspective, so that your faith would stand on the word of God without the fear of men.
There is a lesson to be learned in every trial. You may see it right away, or it could be decades later when it dawns on you what you learned and how it changed you. God loves you all the way through the trial and wants to perfect you.
Now, I have been accused of teaching error to you from this pulpit. I have been accused of attacking the church. What I have actually done is taught you what Paul taught to the Romans in Chapters 1-5, that the Gentiles were not under law, (Paul calls them "those without law" 2:14) and that they were not under law between Adam and Moses, (the period of time Paul calls "until law" and "when there is no law" 5:13).
As far as I know, the Christians at Rome did not vilify, slander or hold Paul up as an arrogant teacher of error when he told them the same thing I told you.
If what Paul says upsets my theological apple cart, then I have to start considering that my theology might be wrong or at least needs some tweaking.
The only passage of scripture that has been put forward to refute Paul's teaching (the only one that speaks to the point and with which I have not already dealt in my last lesson) is
1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
2 Then Jehovah appeared to him and said: "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you.
3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.
4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."
So, obviously this is a further ratification of the covenant that started with Abraham and is now confirmed to Isaac. To understand what is being said, we have to look at the subject of covenants.
The I.S.B.E. says, "Covenant, Heb. berith, (to cut); Grk. diaqeke, diatheke, (a disposition)"
"... it is regarded as a mutual agreement; God with his commands makes certain promises, and men agree to keep the commands, or, at any rate, the promises are conditioned on human obedience. In general, the covenant of God with men is a divine ordinance, with signs and pledges on God's part, and with promises for human obedience and penalties for disobedience, which ordinance is accepted by men.", (op. cit.).
Thayer's Lexicon says: (op. cit.) "Covenant is used to denote the close relationship which God entered into, first with Noah, Gen.6:18; 9:9; then with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their posterity, but esp. with Abraham and afterwards through Moses with the people of Israel. By this last covenant the Israelites are bound to obey God's will as expressed and solemnly promulged (sic) in the Mosaic Law, and he promises them his almighty protection and blessing of every kind in the world, but threatens transgressors with the severest punishments."
I would like to illustrate my points with a simple chart. When I think of covenants I think of a measuring scale where the two sides hold a certain weight. The scales are not always equal, but both sides have a weight of obligation to fulfill.
Type God Man
1. Promises > < N/A
2. Promises > < Faith, Obedience
3. Promises > < Faith, Obedience to Law
4. Fulfilled Promises > < Love
Covenant = contract.
God is the party of the first part. Man is the party of the second part.
There were many varied forms of covenants, some had stipulations and laws with punishments and some of them did not. It could be one sided - just an oath or promise from God. Here are four types of covenants.
1. The Covenant between God and Noah and all living creatures.
9 "And as for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you and with your seed after you,
10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.
11 Thus I establish my covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."
12 And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud;
15 and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."
17 And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
This covenant consisted of God's promises to every living thing on the planet and a token or sign of the covenant. No stipulation, no laws. The only one who can break it is God.
A covenant could contain one statute or many or none. It could be with one individual or race and leave everyone else in the world out. You could have a covenant of blood, the true berith, an example of which is the covenant with Abraham where animals are cut in half and laid on the ground and both parties pass between the pieces, probably signifying the passing through death away from the old ways and adopting the form of the new arrangement, or it could signify the debt of death if the contract is broken. Or you could have a covenant of salt, where you sit at a meal and share in someone's salt.
2. The Covenant between God and Abraham.
This was a fairly simple covenant, God promised innumerable offspring, a land inheritance for them to live in and the blessings of God upon the whole world through his child.
On Abraham's part he would believe the promises of God and obey his voice, the stipulations of his commands and statutes and laws. Let us review this in detail from the scriptures.
Gen.12:1-3; 7 Promises
Gen.15:1-21 Abraham believed and the covenant was cut.
Gen.17:4-14 Stipulations, commands, laws.
Gen.22:16-18 Abraham fulfilling his obedience by faith.
Now, did this involve the rest of mankind? Was the covenant with them? Did they have to keep the stipulations, the charge, the commandments, the statutes and laws? No.
3. The Covenant with Israel.
Now, the covenant with Israel was an amplified and extended version of what was already contracted with Abraham.
7 He is Jehovah our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers his covenant forever,
The word which he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 The covenant which he made with Abraham,
And his oath to Isaac,
10 And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 Saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the allotment of your inheritance,"
12 When they were few in number,
Indeed very few, and strangers in it.
13 When they went from one nation to another,
From one kingdom to another people,
14 He permitted no one to do them wrong;
Yes, he rebuked kings for their sakes,
15 Saying, "Do not touch my anointed ones,
And do my prophets no harm."
43 He brought out his people with joy,
His chosen ones with gladness.
44 He gave them the lands of the Gentiles,
And they inherited the labor of the nations,
45 That they might observe his statutes
And keep his laws.
Was the rest of the world involved with this? Did they have to keep this law? No.
17 O Jehovah, why have you made us stray from your ways,
And hardened our heart from your fear?
Return for your servants' sake,
The tribes of your inheritance.
18 Your holy people have possessed it but a little while;
Our adversaries have trodden down your sanctuary.
19 We have become like those of old, over whom you never ruled,
Those who were never called by your name.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
His statutes and his judgments to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any nation;
And as for his judgments, they have not known them.
That is how Paul can say the Gentiles were not under law, they were never in covenant relationship with God. Does that mean they could not have faith in him? Does it mean that they could not know him as God and do what was pleasing in his sight? No.
Check out Rahab the harlot. (Josh.2:9-13)
Check out Naaman the leper. (2Kings 5)
Check out all the Gentiles in the Bible. (Acts 17 and Rom.1:20-32; 2:26-29)
4. The covenant promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ.
6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
10 For as many as are of the works of law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
14 so that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Just as Abraham and God passed through the death of the animals and bound themselves by blood to the covenant, so we too pass through death. First Jesus by his own blood - as the blood of the covenant, passed into death and was raised again, so we are united with Jesus by immersion into his death and come out the other side, raised to walk in newness of life. Thus the covenant is ratified and confirmed in us and we receive the promise of the Spirit, and through the strength of Christ and his love for us we keep the stipulation of the new commandment of Love. John says it is really not new - it is what God has always required from the beginning. So we can add and apply this one stipulation to all the rest of the covenants at which we have looked. Love.
~ Invitation ~