Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Devil in the Details? Matthew 5:18, 19 and the Authority of Scripture

Bartley's quotations say that "the devil is in the details" is actually a modification of the original quote, "God is in the details." Does it surprise anyone that the quote has been altered? After all, God is in the details. We see that nowhere better than Matthew 5:18, 19, where Jesus says,
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Often when this section of Scripture is quoted, you get only 17 and 18. However, verses 18 and 19 fit together too. If you leave out v. 19, you miss what Jesus was talking about here. "One jot or one tittle" in 18 connects with "one of these least commandments" in 19.
I've never said that I disagreed that this part of Jesus' sermon isn't about the authority of Scripture. It is; not about authority alone, but it is about authority. God's authority reaches to the smallest details of what He said. He wants us to do every part of Scripture without exception.
Why Was the Lord Bringing Up "the Details" of God's Word in the Sermon on the Mount?
Everything in the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with a stronghold that was in the audience to whom Jesus was speaking that day. The Pharisees saw the devil in the details. That was one way that they clashed with the Old Testament. So Jesus was reminding them that God was in the details and that He still was in the details. From the rest of His sermon, you can see that Jesus saw this as a major issue with that crowd. The religious leaders had twisted the Old Testament into something convenient for them, "allowing" them to "obey" God's law without actually obeying all of it.
The Pharisees obeyed a part of the law and called that obeying all of it. They left out the passages that they didn't like to keep. They could do this by either ignoring those sections or explaining them away. Like today, when you get enough people disagreeing with what a text is saying, then you can just say that it is too difficult to understand so that you're no longer responsible to keep it. "If God wanted us to obey this, He should have made it clearer." By doing this, they essentially made it so that they could keep God's law without having to keep all of it, especially the "nasty" details.
After this in chapter five, the Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said" (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). These references of the Lord are not every single violation of God's Word by the Pharisees. However, they do represent how these Jewish leaders were dealing with God's law. In their teaching and practice they were leaving things out that God had said. By doing so, they were sinning. Those "least of the commandments" were still authoritative. They had not and would not pass from the law. They were still responsible to keep them, even if they had what they thought was a legitimate excuse.
Since keeping all of God's Word is impossible for anyone, people who are trying to become righteous by their own efforts almost always minimize what God said to make it easier. They might add to Scripture too, but they more commonly take away from the Bible. That's why Jesus mentioned nothing "passing away." He doesn't say, "Not one jot or one tittle shall be added to the law until all be fulfilled." The problem here wasn't adding, but it was taking away. Adding certainly is a problem and the Pharisees sometimes did that, but their biggest problem was taking away.
Within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was exposing the unrighteousness of the people. They couldn't match up to the perfect righteousness of God that was required for them (Matthew 5:48), which is why they needed to follow the narrow way and build their house upon Christ (Mt. 713, 14, 24-29). The false prophets of which they needed to beware (Mt. 7:15-20) were showing them the broad road, which is easier and more people are on it. The broad road is more popular and why do you think that is? The broad road promises less regulations, so more fun. You don't have to worry about every jot and tittle on the broad road. The narrow road says that if you are going to follow Jesus Christ, you will want to do what He says, that is, "the will of the Father which is in heaven" (Mt. 7:21).
The Rebellion against God's Details
"Taking away" from God's Word is still the most common problem. Men rebel against God especially in the details. Instead of seeing God as a good God that gave the details for our benefit, they choose to see the devil in the details. They probably won't verbalize their disbelief in the goodness of God. As a matter of fact, they'll talk about how that they love God more than those who care about the details. They'll explain how that their love is "in their hearts," which is "what God judges." They opine that God doesn't care so much about the outward appearance, but about the great feelings and desire they have for God.
Jesus later says to His disciples that if we love Him, we will keep His words, sayings, and commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24). He doesn't say anything about how they feel in their heart or about their desire, sometimes expressed by these types in their breathy tones. The impressive heart for God will show up in deeds, even as 1 John 3:18 says:
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Of course, the heart must be a part of it. When Mary praised God for God's benefits to her, her "soul" magnifed the Lord and her "spirit" rejoiced in God her Savior (Lk. 1:46, 47). Worship of God must be in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23, 24). No doubt God doesn't want heartless obedience. However, in Isaiah 1 when God expressed His disgust with their heartless worship, it was because they were disobedient to many of the other things that He had told them to do. In other words, heartlessness reveals itself when we stop caring about the details of what God said.
How Are Details Being Lost Today?
Churches which fudge on the details of God's Word on average are exponentially larger in numbers than those who care. Men want convenient religion to count as commitment. I think everyone knows that. Sadly, the larger churches are marked as those having the greatest success. It's possible for a church doing right to become large, although it doesn't jive with the "few there be that find it" that we see in Matthew 7:13, 14, especially in a U. S. culture that is institutionally hateful to Biblical Christianity.
In a capitalistic country where success is judged by numbers, property ownership, and extent of growth, religion has followed suit. One common conclusion is that the leaders of the big churches must be doing something right or better than the those of the smaller ones. I believe that good churches will grow. How and why they grow is important. We can't judge success by size. What do the large churches do about all the things that God said that their people are not doing? How can they say they are representing God, when they are leaving out many of the teachings of God's Word? There are a whole lot of ways that this gets done today that I want to enumerate.
"Many Things in God's Word Are Doubtful"
God knew that men would say that Scripture wasn't accessible to them. He knew that they would use this an excuse for not doing what He said. This is one important reason why He said this in Deuteronomy 30:11-14:
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Several of the deeds God mandates in Scripture aren't easy to do because they clash with the world system. When men haven't wanted to keep those teachings, they have developed a "new interpretation" to those passages. After several new interpretations are invented, then it is too difficult to know what it means because there are "so many different interpretations."
The Bible says that wives submit themselves to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). The unbelieving world chafes at this. They start calling it the chauvenism of a bygone era, and they say we're past that paradigm of human relationship; "we've advanced." Many women don't want a patriarchal society. They like to take charge. Churches once stood for male headship anyway, despite whatever consequences. After decades of erosion, now many churches see it as too controversial to practice, that we really didn't understand the intent of the words of the passages. So we have churches who are egalitarian in their relationships. They don't want "to hold women back." They portray their position as superior. Gender distinctions in dress were the first to go, and then the alteration of the authority structure followed.
This is one easy example, but there are many other means of taking away from God's Word. The egalitarians would say that we need to "agree to disagree" and learn to see these things in different ways to keep the unity that is so important. And that brings us to a second way that we eliminate the details of God's Word.
"We Must Stay Together for the Gospel"
"We've Got to Major on the Majors"
Stay tuned as I deal with at least these two others in part 2.


Bro Tim said...

I found your post on Bro Nicholas's blog and all I can say what tremendous post. I enjoyed it very much.

Bro Tim

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Bro. Tim. I'm passionate about this and I'm glad you are the same.