Wednesday, May 24, 2006
The Letter and Spirit of God’s Law
One of my little boys came into the house for the evening looking like any kid after a summer’s day of hard playing. I ordered him to go upstairs and get into the bathtub.
Thirty minutes later, my son reappeared in the den wearing clean pajamas, but his hands and feet obviously had not been washed. “Why didn’t you get in the tub?” I asked him.
“But, Daddy,” he protested. “I did get in the tub.”
He certainly had not had a bath, but his protest sounded sincere. I didn’t want to call my boy a liar. Then I remembered how it was when I was his age and said, “But you didn’t put any water in the tub, did you?”
“No, Sir,” he admitted. “You didn’t tell me I had to get wet.”
What was a father to do? Should I laugh? Should I punish my son for disobedience? Should I just be sure to remember next time to stipulate that water be in the tub? I asked him to sit down and told him it was about time I explained to him the differences between the letter and spirit of the law.
Regrettably, our American judicial system is one which does not balance the letter of the law with the spirit of it. The letter of the law, or legal technicalities, matter most. Because of this imbalance in our judicial system our newspapers are filled with reports of known murderers, thieves and admitted criminals who have been set free by our courts because they managed to come within the letter of the law, regardless of how much they violated the spirit of it.
In the courts of God we are judged both by the letter and the spirit of His law. Jesus’ sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is perhaps the best example on the subject ever given. Jesus made it clear that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He added a new spiritual dimension to the legalistic interpretation of the law given by the Pharisees.
As examples, Jesus pointed out that the letter of the law forbids murder, but the spirit of the law makes it just as wrong to hate. According to the letter of the law it is a sin to commit adultery, but the spirit of the law says that those who lust have committed the same sin in their hearts.
Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” but when it came to the legalistic religious people he could be very harsh. The Living Bible paraphrases His words: “Yes, woe unto you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders – hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but leave the more important things undone.” Matthew 21:23.
Once Jesus stopped for a drink of water at a well outside a village in Samaria. A woman there, one of the best known sinners in town, questioned Him concerning some legalities of God’s law. The answer Jesus gave her still applies to all God’s children everywhere: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”