As we continue on our summer sermon
series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, today’s question is a pretty big one
that I think will help us think about some of the previous questions we’ve
tackled that are directly linked to laws found in the Old Testament, specifically
the questions about Same Gender Marriage and Sabbath.
Today’s question is, “Which Old
Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?”
Before I get into the thick of things
I think it is worth recommending everyone go home and read Luther’s explanation
of the 10 commandments as found in his Small Catechism, because that’s not the
direction I’m going today.
This question about Old Testament laws
is one that was first dealt with by the early church at the Jerusalem Council,
the record of which we find in both the 15th
chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Let us pray
Both Acts and Galatians agree on why
the first council of Jerusalem
was called. It was about the question of circumcision.
Paul and Barnabas were serving a
Gentile church in Antioch, Syria and came into conflict with Jewish
Christians from Jerusalem
who insisted they were preaching a false gospel, because these Jewish
Christians believed to become Christian you need to become Jewish first. More
specifically, they needed to accept the most physical of community boundary
If you’ve ever read anything by Paul,
you’ll know very clearly his response to such requirements. Not only no, but hell no.
So Paul goes before the Apostles and
they discuss his Christian mission to reach the gentile world, and come up with
simple guidelines for Gentile Christians to follow—essentially they ask “Which
Old Testament Laws do Gentile
Christians have to follow?”
And that’s where Paul and the author
of Acts, we’ll call him Luke, disagree.
Luke says the decision made at the
Jerusalem Council was that Gentiles needed to follow four Old Testament Laws:
refrain from eating food offered to idols, as it is written in Exodus 34,
Meat that has
been strangled or containing blood, as in Leviticus 17 and 3.
And they must be
sexually chaste, as in Leviticus 18.
These are all laws found in the Torah
said to apply not only to Jews, but also to gentiles living with Jews.
So, as Luke understands the Council’s
decision, Gentile Christians are only
to follow the Old Testament Laws which were
put in place for Gentiles, and specifically put in place to make sure non-Jews don’t do offensive things
in the presence of Jews.
other words, if Jewish and Gentile Christians are in community together the
Gentile Christians need to make sure they don’t do things which would break fellowship
with their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters.
So that’s Luke’s account of what Paul
and the Apostles decided. It is not
however, Paul’s account of that decision.
Paul’s answer to the question, “Which
Old Testament Laws do Gentile Christians have to follow?” is much simpler. It
is “Remember the poor.” That’s it…
Okay, maybe that’s not it. The phrase “Remember the poor,” is
actually rather complex once you start looking at the other places where Paul
speaks in similar terms.
At face value of course this is an
admonition to take care of the least of these,
to not turn away from the poisonous effects of
or forget that
we are all beggars.
All themes we
can find throughout the Old Testament and especially in the Prophets.
But, for Paul, the Poor doesn’t just mean the actual poor, but also the Church in Jerusalem, the saintly apostles.
In addition, to a basic economic
understanding of “The Poor,”
he is also
speaking of his ongoing “collection for
the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,”
as he calls it in his letter to the Romans.
He understands full fellowship between
Jewish and Gentile Christians as involving money,
that the ethnic
divisions of his time were most plainly bridged by economic interdependence,
a sharing of funds for the sake of the ministry.
Few things connect you to another person,
like co-signing their lease/
Few things get your skin in the game, like
green-backs riding on that game.
Yet, even that doesn’t fully get to
where Paul is going with this collection. He sees the collection as a
fulfillment of prophecy.
Remember, the reason the three gentile
wise men show up bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus in Matthew, was to fulfill
prophecies about the wealth of the gentiles flooding into Jerusalem…
so too, Paul
believed the collection from the gentile
churches was cut from the same clothe—it was an end-times act, it was a
fulfillment of the scriptures.
So, again, to the question, “Which Old
Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?” It would seem between Paul and
Luke’s interpretations of the 1st council of Jerusalem,
we end up with rules that try to bridge
relationships between Christians who are different from one another.
The basic rules for us, are rules that bind us one to another.
They bind us economically to one another, but they also bind us to a modicum of
decency and consideration for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in
But, there is a bigger point to be
made here. Faith is not about rules, but about trust in the one who meets us in
Andrew James Forys (4eeees), there are
many laws that bind you, many rules by which you will be judged.
There are rules
about sex and Sabbath, money and mold, religious scruples and regard for
parents, and you will probably be judged
as wanting in at least some of those areas, but that doesn’t separate you
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The amazing thing about our Lord is
that he acts for us, even before we know how to act.
Our Lord promises life,
even when we are
even as we are
oppressed by Sin.
Jesus, through the water and the word,
make us his siblings, binds us to the family of God our Father, through the
power of the Holy Spirit.