This weekend God showed me the clear difference between keeping the letter of the law and following the spirit of the law.
I’ve known it before, at least from reading about it. Isaiah 58 is a rebuke to God’s people of whom He says “seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”
However, in the next few verses He severely rebukes them for faking it. “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” They kept the letter of the law by going through the motions, but the rest of their lives did not match.
Being a fake has never had much appeal to me, yet I’ve wondered how to keep God’s commands when they seem contradictory. One is from Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love.” At times the truth seems very unloving. At times love seems to fly in the face of truth. How can I obey this command in the spirit of obedience, not in the letter of its ambiguity?
God set me up. The scenario is a person who is constantly saying things that are sometimes immature, sometimes ignorant, and sometimes disrespectful. Most of the time I don’t respond, partly because I sense my own annoyance and know that I can’t say anything, truth or otherwise, with a loving attitude. During those times I’ve not felt God’s conviction that letting it pass was violating truth. Perhaps He has been teaching me self-control?
However, this weekend this person said something that was blatant rude and selfish toward someone else. It happened at a time when the Holy Spirit had His hand on my heart. I was filled with peace and joy. Responding by speaking the truth in love was easy. It just came out. I felt no anger, frustration, or even annoyance at this person. My sense of the Lord’s closeness was not interrupted or clouded as I said what had to be said, mostly aware of the Lord directing me, but also aware of the effects of this person’s attitude. Thinking and talking like that could bring a backlash of all kinds of trouble.
1 Timothy 1:5 is not necessarily talking about the command to speak the truth in love, but nonetheless it applies to what happened, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
That day, by the grace of God, my heart was pure, rather than annoyed. My conscience was clean too, all known sin confessed, but also no sense of God saying “Wait” or “Don’t” or “Just leave it.” He gave me full freedom to open my mouth.
As I think about what I said, my words were based on what I’ve learned through faith, and because I thoroughly believe all that God is teaching me, my words were sincere. They could have been sharp, unkind, retaliatory and so on, but not this time.
I don’t know what the other person thought, but this was a huge learning experience for me. Over and over God teaches me things using life events that I could not foresee, make up, or orchestrate. They just happen, and in the happening I find out that He knows what He is doing. I can intellectually understand His commands, maybe muddle through in feeble attempts to obey, but when He puts me in a hot spot, fills me with His Spirit, and has me spontaneously obey Him, then I understand the reality of how He wants me to live.