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Love is the Fullfilling of the Law

by David A. DePra

     Paul the apostle was accused of many things during his
ministry. But no one could accuse him of being a hypocrite. If
Paul believed something was the Truth, then he dedicated
himself to it fully -- right or wrong. Before his conversion he
excelled above his peers in the traditions of the fathers. He
poured out his life in the study of the law, Pharisaism, and then,
in the persecution of the church. After his conversion, he fully
dedicated himself to Jesus Christ. He meant what he said, and
said what he meant. There was no duplicity in the apostle Paul.
     It is remarkable, from perspective of natural thinking, that God
used Paul as He did. No one whom God ever used had been
more bound to legalism. Yet God used him as His chief
instrument to reveal the gospel of GRACE. God showed through
Paul that a person can, in Jesus Christ, be set free from all past
patterns. And He showed that the change which comes from
seeing the Truth can put a man at complete odds with what he
used to believe.
     Paul's legalistic life before conversion might, to some people,
have disqualified him as an apostle afterwards -- especially as
an apostle who would preach freedom from the law. Some
individuals, upon reviewing his history, might have said, "This
man Paul teaches freedom from the law because he is reacting
to his old beliefs -- going to the opposite extreme. He has
become so tired of law that he now preaches against it. His
history proves he is not balanced enough to be an apostle."
     Natural thinking cannot understand the ways of God. And
certainly if we seek to discredit any man because of the path he
has taken to find the Truth, we must discredit Paul. We are to
believe the Truth because it IS the Truth. Not because it is
coming through someone whose history, or path to Truth,
appeals to us.
     In Paul we see a good example of how God may prepare a
man. In order to condition Paul's heart for the Truth, we might
have expected Paul's life before conversion to be filled with
grace. But we find exactly the opposite was the case. It was filled
with legalism. In order for Paul to truly grasp the Truth of grace,
God had to let him fully experience the futility of legalism.
     God often does this with His people. He will allow us to utterly
exhaust ourselves along some religious or legalistic line. It may
take years for the process to run it's course. But because these
patterns are in us, that is, we are in bondage to them, we will only
get free if it is demonstrated that they cannot give us life. Then,
and often only then, will we be depleted and reduced enough to
be free of the bondage and receive the Truth.
     Notice the key here. The issue of freedom is not a matter of
simply discovering "the right doctrine." It isn't a matter of merely
adjusting my belief system. It is a matter of issues being
resolved in ME. It is in MY heart and in MY character that the
keys to freedom reside. God starts there, not merely in some
external way.
 

The Issue of Circumcision

 
     So God called Saul, the Pharisee, and he became Paul, the
apostle. Saul, who persecuted the church as a Pharisee, had
become Paul, the persecuted.
     Yet here is where some irony comes in. Paul is never said
to be persecuted by the Pharisees -- his former friends and
acquaintences. Rather, he was persecuted by those who called
themselves Christians.
     The raging debate of Paul's day was the place of Moses' law in
the life of the Christian. The debate really hasn't changed all that
much in two thousand years. But the difference is that we have a
dissimiliar starting place today. Today most of us aren't Jews
whose entire lives have been immersed in OT practices and
law-keeping. We don't have to come out of that. Rather, we
have to keep from getting into it. Neither are we pagan Gentiles
in the conventional sense of the word. Most of us have grown up
in a Christian society. We have all heard the gospel to one
degree or another. Thus, when Paul writes about issues having
to do with the religious climate of his time, we might be apt to
think his teaching does not apply to us. But it does. It ALWAYS
does. God didn't waste any space in His Word. It always has an
application to us today.
     One of the central points of contention surrounding Paul was
circumcision. Read the epistles and you sometimes get the
impression that it's all people wanted to argue about. Why?
Nobody even talks about it today. Why was it such a big deal
then?
     The modern Christian can scarcely grasp the significance of
the issue of circumcision in Paul's day. It was not a "side-issue"
among Gods people in the days of Paul -- it was THE issue.
Going back to the OT tells us why. Circumcision was not merely
part of the Old Covenant. It was THE physical sign of the Old
Covenant. Get that. It was THE sign:
 
This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you,
and your seed after you: Every man child among you shall be
circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin.
And it shall be a token of the covenant between Me and you.
(Gen. 17:10-11)
 
     To be circumcised meant you were identified as one of the
people of God. This entitled you to many rights before Him.
You were under all of the Old Covenant which God gave Israel.
In effect, circumcision and the Old Covenant were inseparable.
You could not be part of the Old Covenant unless you were
circumcised.
     Now imagine Paul coming along and saying, "Neither
circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but a new
creation." (Gal. 6:15) This would not have been a problem for
the Galatians, or for the other Gentiles Paul taught. But it would
have been a huge obsticle for some of the other teachers in the
church of that day. They simply could not accept the fact that
the Old Covenant was finished.
     These Paul sometimes referred to as "Judizers." These were
those who taught you must be "under the law," and must keep all
of the law of Moses to be saved. They tried to create a
Christianity which was a mixture of the Jewish religion of the Old
Testament, and the Truth found in Christ. Paul did not minch
words with them. He said, "You can't do that. It's all Jesus
Christ. It's all grace. You must leave the rest behind."
     Thus, we have Paul's proclaimation, "Neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision availeth anything, but a new creation." (Gal.
6:15) It was a unthinkable concept for those who insisted
otherwise.
 

The Other Side of the Story

 
     It is important, however, to catch BOTH sides of what Paul is
saying. He is clearly saying, first of all, that circumcision is NOT
necessary. It means absolutely nothing in the eyes of God if you
are circumcised. Rather, God looks at the heart. God has made
a new creation. He desires "faith working through love." But
notice what else Paul is saying: UNcircumcision doesn't matter
either. Just as being circumcised does nothing for a person
spiritually, so does being UNcircumcised do nothing. Being
UNcircumcised makes you no more special in the eyes of God
than being circumcised makes you special.
     Some Christians in Paul's day considered themselves special
because they were circumcised. They were, in their own eyes,
"the special ones." But there were also those who considered
themselves special because they were NOT circumcised. They
thought themselves "special" because they "weren't deceived by
this circumcision business." Paul is saying neither condition
means anything in the eyes of God.
     We see in the teaching of Paul a spiritual Truth. It is indeed an
error to believe that doing a certain thing gets you closer to God.
But it is just as big an error to believe that NOT doing a certain
thing gets you closer. In the former case, the law or principle you
keep is your "claim to fame." But in the latter, the law or principle
you refuse is your "claim to fame." Paul says, "Neither is to your
merit. Jesus is your claim to fame."
     The fact is, if I am refusing to keep a law or principle, and
exhalting myself because of my refusal, I am under the law just
as much as if I exhalt myself because I DO keep it. How so?
Because I have created a NEW LAW which I am using to
establish myself before God: The law of refusing to keep laws. I
use this refusal to establish my own righteousness, instead of
relying solely upon Jesus Christ.
     There have always been legalists -- those who will tell you
that you must do such and such in order to be saved. But there
have also been others who go to the opposite extreme. They
oppose everything. Their lives are wrapped up in pointing our
what is wrong with everyone else. They refuse to be a part of
anything in the Body of Christ -- and use this refusal to call
themselves "free."
     Now notice: It isn't being a part of things, or not being a part
of things, that is the issue here. It is the fact I am using either
stance as a means of establishing myself before God. If I am
doing so from either end of the spectrum, I am "under the law." I
am NOT free. My faith is NOT solely in Jesus Christ.
     To these, Paul would say, "The only means of freedom is
through faith in Jesus Christ. Then you will be truly free. You will
be free to do, or not do, according to God's will for you. But your
your freedom won't come from what you are doing or not doing.
It will come from where you place your faith."
     So we see this Truth: What I do, or don't do, isn't what makes
me free. I am free in Jesus Christ alone. But if I am free, then I
can do, or not do, and it won't hurt me. I can discern and obey
the will of God in any matter and remain free.
 

Paul's Example

 
     Paul's stand for true freedom in Christ is the theme of his
letters to the churches. In the book of Galatians, for instance,
Paul not only gives teaching on this subject, but relates an
instance where he publically opposed Peter on the issue. Peter
had apparently been eating with the Gentiles. He, as did Paul,
knew that circumcision meant nothing, and that God had called
Jews and Gentiles alike. But when influencial Jewish Christians
arrived on the scene, Peter withdrew himself from eating with the
Gentiles. He was afraid of how the Jews would react if they saw
him. He wanted their approval and feared their criticism. It was a
clear cut case of misrepresenting the Truth. Paul publically
rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy because of the danger that it
would lead others astray.
     Through this incident with Peter, as well as others related in
the book of Acts, we find that Paul was not ashamed of the
gospel. He gave no apology for it. He stood for freedom in
Christ at all costs. Yet in Acts 16 we find an interesting situation
-- one which might make us question Paul's committment.
     Notice: Paul had just disputed, in Acts 15:1, with those who
claimed circumcision was a requirement for salvation. Yet in Acts
16:3, we find Paul circumcising Timothy -- "because of the
Jews." Had Paul given into the same pressure that had briefly
overcome Peter? How could Paul argue that circumcision was
unnecessary, and then one chapter later, circumcise Timothy
"because of the Jews?"
     Paul had reasons for doing what he did. He was not being a
hypocrite. He was actually practicing what he preached. He
had said that circumcision meant nothing. What was important
was "faith working through love." Now he was going to live out
that Truth.
     Since the issue of circumcision was the central dispute in the
church, Paul knew Timothys state of uncircumcision would be a
continual point of controversy. Paul was therefore faced with a
dilemma, and with a choice: Should he refuse to circumcise
Timothy, claiming that his refusal was a stand for freedom in
Christ? Or should he circumcise Timothy? Of course, he
circumcised him. But why?
     There are many ways in which Paul could have been wrong in
this matter. First, he could have said, "I know the Truth. And
because I know it I am not going to allow anyone to intimidate
me. Therefore, not only will I refuse to circumcise Timothy -- I
will make it a point to let these Jews KNOW I refuse to circumcise
him. Then they will see they cannot intimidate me."
     Despite the fact that Paul knew circumcision meant nothing,
and despite the fact that we should not allow our conduct to be
the product of intimidation, Paul would have most assuredly
been wrong had he taken this attitude. His motivation would
have been spiritual pride -- a spirit of protest against the Jews
who insisted upon circumcision. Instead of "faith working
through love," Paul's attitude would have been no more than
personal, religious pride.
     Knowing the Truth about something is not a license to carry
around a "spiritual protest sign" in our attitude against any who
would disagree with us. The Truth is supposed to set us free --
not bring us into bondage to pride because we know it. Paul
knew that unless the love of God governed his actions he would
be worse than those who believed the error against which he was
preaching.
     Paul could also have chosen to circumcise Timothy because
he intimidated. He could have said, "These Jews could cause
me much trouble if they see that Timothy is uncircumcised. I will
therefore sucomb to their wishes even though I know they are
wrong. I want them to think well of us. It will further our message
to them."
     It is always easy for Christians, especially those in ministry, to
adopt the attitude that "the end justifies the means." But it never
does. In fact, with God, "the means" is just as important, if not
more, than the result. That's because "the means" is always a
representation of Jesus Christ. And it will, in time, affect the
"end."
     Capitulation to pressure would have been wrong for Paul.
THAT was precisely what Peter had done: He had feared what
people would think. Paul would not repeat the error. He did not
circumcise Timothy because of pressure from the Jews. But then
why did he circumcise him?
     Paul circumcised Timothy because he was FREE from the law
of circumcision! Paul was so free that he could either circumcise
Timothy, or not circumcise him, based on what the love of God
indicated for the situation.
     It is vital to see this. Paul was FREE. The Truth that neither
circumcision nor uncircumcison meant anything had set him
free! Free to do what? To EITHER circumcise Timothy, or not
circumcise him. Paul was absolutely free to do whatever
equalled LOVE in that situation.
     When you are free, you will not insist on your own way. You
will not insist on your point of view. You will not demand that
other people's relationship with Christ be according to your
pattern. You will not demand this even if you are right! Rather,
you will make yourself available to God on their behalf, and do
whatever God directs in the situation.
     This is not hypocrisy. It is not misrepresenting the Truth. No.
You will stand at all costs in the Truth you know. And you won't
budge from it. But for the sake of other people, you may
relinquish your freedom in a situation. You may relinquish it
because doing so will remove obsticles which people have put
between themselves and Jesus Christ.
     We are not talking here about misrepresenting Truth to
people. We are talking about representing Truth to them -- but
in another way. This is what Paul did. He discerned that he
could not teach these Jews the Truth about circumcision. It
would have stumbled them. So he bypassed the specifics about
circumcision and illustrated to them the Truth of love.
     Note that. The Truth Paul represented to them was the Truth
of freedom. The Truth of love. He was saying to them, "I know
you can't handle the Truth about circumcision right now. So
instead of making an issue of it, I'm going to show you how free I
am. I'm going to show you how certain I am that neither
circumcision nor uncircumcision matters. I'll circumcise
Timothy."
     True freedom is a two-way street or it is NOT freedom at all.
If I am free from a law then I am free from keeping it. That is
obvious. But if I am TRULY free from a law then I am also free TO
keep it -- if doing so constitutes the love of God for other
people. My motivation for keeping it in that case is not peer
pressure. It is love. I want to illustrate to people freedom in Christ
in a way which will not stumble them.
 

The Need for Discernment

 
     There is clearly a call for discernment in this principle. Paul
doesn't teach, nor does the Bible show, that just because
someone will be personally offended by our actions, that we
should accomodate them. Sometimes the only course of action
dictated by the love of God IS to offend them. Jesus did it all the
time to the Pharisees. Paul did it too. So where do we draw the
line?
     The line is here: If offending someone stumbles them in their
walk with Christ, then I must not offend them. But if offending
them stumbles them in a walk AWAY from Christ, then they need
to be offended. They WILL be offended. But in that case,
offending them is love.
     There is another way to say this: If offending someone puts
an obsticle between them and Christ, I must never offend them.
But if offending them removes an obsticle between them and
Christ, then God may use me to do so. It is His love.
     Of course, I must NEVER be motivated by personal pride in
these matters. Consequently, I must make sure MY heart is right
before God before I can be used of Him in such matters. Unless I
allow God access to me FIRST, I will cause others to stumble. I'll
cause them to stumble because I won't be any more free in
Christ than they are free. It will be the blind leading the blind.
     Paul was not a hypocrite and neither should we ever be
hypocrites. We are never to compromise with the Truth or
disobey God to please others. Neither are we adopt an attitude
of the superior person -- as if others are too stupid to see as
we see. Paul did not act from any of these errors. He KNEW
circumcision didn't matter. And because he knew the Truth, he
was free. He was free to either circumcise Timothy or refuse to
circumcise him. In this case, he discerned that the highest love
was to circumcise him. In some other instances, Paul chose not
to circumcise. He saw that the greatest love was to refuse to do
what others wanted him to do.
     Walking in freedom never means insisting on my point of
view. It means doing whatever is necessary to make it easier for
people to find the Truth. If a person is free in Christ, he can
submit to many things he knows are meaningless. He will do so
because he will know that the real fulfillment of the law is love:
"For love is the fulfillment of the law." *

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