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Sharing Scripture for November 13, 2021

Law and Grace

 

For use: November 7 – 13
Texts: Ezekiel 28:15, 16; Deuteronomy 4:44; Romans 3:20; Deuteronomy 10:1-15; Deuteronomy 5:6-22; Deuteronomy 9:1-6

 

When members of the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped 17 missionaries in Haiti last month, they not only broke the law, they also stirred up the wrath of civilized people worldwide (5 of those kidnapped are children, 1 an infant). One group, however, is choosing a different response to the outrageous crime. The Amish and Mennonite families of the victims are praying for the captors.

Their roots are in the Anabaptist tradition. Anabaptist history is rife with stories of persecution and martyrdom. Many of the hymns in their hymnal, the “Ausbund,” were written in 16th century prisons. The themes they sing about in their weekly services are heavy on loving and forgiving one’s enemies. Thus, many of these Christians naturally and easily offer forgiveness to the captors.

This can cause distress among some who fear that this forgiveness can minimize the need to see justice done to criminals—especially abusers. Often, victims of sexual abuse in these Anabaptist-tradition congregations are forced to reconcile with their abusers after a minimal amount of punishment and rehabilitation. The tension between law and grace can be palpable in these communities, and this latest kidnapping situation in Haiti once again brings that friction to the surface.

The tension between law and grace in Christianity has caused contention since the days of Paul, even though the law implied God’s grace from the beginning. In fact, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 suggests that even the giving of the law was in itself an act of grace. God’s only requirement of us, according to this passage, is simply that we love and serve God with our whole being.

The benefit we receive when we live by God’s laws and decrees, according to the Hebrew phrase “letov lak,” is that it is “for your own good.” Living with God, and for God, is in our own best interest. The law acts as a boundary of protection not only for the victims, but also for the abusers themselves.

The question for us in all this is how will we treat others? It’s often easy to say that we should always forgive people when they sin against us—indeed, according to Matthew 6:14-15 we are required to do that. How, then, do we extend grace to abusers? How do we fulfill the directive to forgive and yet protect ourselves, and others, from further abuse?

We offer grace when we forgive, and at the same time we can help the abusers by upholding the law, holding them accountable, and preventing them from committing further crimes for their own good.

 

For Reflection

 

Connecting: Which did you experience when you got in trouble in school—law, or grace? Did you deserve any punishment you received? What did you learn about dispensing punishment that applies now during those times when you’re in the position of judge and executioner?

Sharing: Can a legalistic approach to God’s law ever be good for a person?

  1. It can, since it keeps a person from acts that are potentially harmful to themselves and others
  2. Too often, though, legalists tend to be lax about their own behavior and harsh toward others
  3. It’s okay to hold to strict standards for yourself, as long as you offer grace and leniency to others
  4. Legalism ultimately implies a lack of faith in the saving merits of Jesus, and can lead to eternal damnation
  5. A proper approach to obeying God—tempered with grace—is never legalism
  6. Other:

Applying: How can you help affect a change in a law-based congregation toward becoming more grace-oriented? Can a deeply legalistic church even change, or would it be better to plant a new church and infuse grace in its DNA at its birth?

Valuing: When you examine your own relationship to both law and grace, which one usually wins out? Is it possible for you to have a proper balance between the two in your personal life? If you aren’t sure which side you tend toward (and if you are very brave) consider asking a close friend or two what they observe in you.

 

~Chuck Burkeen
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