Monday, December 6, 2010

The Purpose of the 3rd Use

The Goal of the 3rd Use of the Law is not to make you a "better person".

The Goal of the 3rd Use of the Law is to shape you so that you show your neighbor more love.

The Gospel is how God deals with you - the Law instructs on how you deal with your neighbor.

And by "deal with" I mean "love"

4 comments:

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

These are interesting aphorisms, but I would suggest that you study and ponder the whole matter again. Just a couple thoughts: your second statement is much too weak, subjective, and insufficient. However, to any degree that it is true, then your first statement is thereby contradicted. And the third statement falls short of a proper distinction because the law also instructs in how to deal with God. Remember the first table of the law?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Latif,

You are off here. Really. I think you missed the point.

The Law is now about "self improvement" or learning to "be a better you." The 3rd use is about learning to show love.

If you don't like this - if you think it is too squishy, then your problem isn't with me, it's with Paul (Galatians 5:13-15):

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."

Note there that the focus is totally and completely on loving the neighbor - or Ephesians 2, where we are created, not for personal holiness, but for Good Works which God prepared before hand.

You are to live for your neighbor - where your ever act, though, and movement is for his benefit. That is the Law.

Or perhaps you would heed the preaching of Dr. Luther - "Faith brings and gives you Christ as your own with all His treasures; love gives you to your neighbor with all your treasures. And in these two relations a Christian life consists, purely and completely. Then suffering and persecution follow for the sake of such faith and love. Thence grows hope in patience."

While showing more love might make you, in the eyes of the world, a better person, our concern is not to be what others think of us. Before every sermon I preach, I pray that God would be with me, not so that I might get the praise of men, but that I too might hear and learn His Word - that He might accomplish things through me.

So no, the purpose of the Law is not self improvement - it is so that I would learn to improve things for my neighbor - his honor, body, health, relationships, possessions, and all that is his.

As for the 3rd statement - God's love for you is not primarily shown by His Law - Paul is not determined to know nothing but the Law of God - but rather the point where Love for us is centered and shown - The Cross. For God shows His love for us in this - while we were yet sinners (vile breakers of His law, chief of sinners, even) Christ died for us. He did not come down to be a new Moses, but One greater than Moses - indeed, for us men and for our salvation.

In fact, upon receiving communion we give thanks to God for His great gift and ask that we might grow, not in personal holiness or perfection, but in faith towards Him and love towards one another.

(as a note: did you see that "better person" was in quotations, denoting a coloquial use of the term? Yes, when you grow in love, you are better, but that's not the point - your neighbor is always the point. Just as loving you is Christ's focus, for He is neighbor to you)

Finally, as for the first table of the Law - ah, yes - but we look for the day when no longer will one man have to instruct another saying "Know the Lord" - but even then, and indeed in the resurrection, we will still be focused upon loving our neighbor.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You expend a lot of verbiage trying to argue the truth of your first statement, but I never said that I disagreed with it. I was clear about that with which I disagreed.

Also, I never argued against the truth that the law would have us show love to the neighbor. I objected to your statement that the law shapes you so that you show "more" love. This is a weird subjectifying of the issue. In theological discourse you should be more precise, precisely because you are dealing with practical and real issues which touch real lives, in your parish, and in the world wide web. Both the "more" of the second statement and the "better" of the first statement make for similar and major theological difficulties.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ah - it is simply that? I don't think it is too odd or subjectifying to assert that one would want to grow in showing love, grow in kindness, or mature. This is a common idea, and what that is true - it is part of the paradox of the Christian faith - that we are to grow in Sanctification while yet remaining beggars before Christ.

Now, am I precise and specific - do I say, "if you grow in love, it will look like this"? No. Nor does John - in 1st John he doesn't listen "This is how you are to love" - he simply says, "Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." He says, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." Thus he describes love as sacrificial, but he doesn't say, "And this is how you must." He speaks to supporting a brother's need - but he doesn't say precisely how.

This is general - it isn't specific, pointing to direct actions - but rather teaches the shape one's life should take - thus allowing a Christian to rightly examine himself, not by checking a list, but by examining every action and thinking, "Am I showing love to my neighbor in this action."

That's the point that John, that Paul, that Luther, that Christ make over and over.

And I do not give a specific list precisely because I cannot even try to guess all the opportunities that God will set before you to show love tomorrow - I know not what sort of neighbors you will see in your life. But I can urge you to show them love, and kindness, and compassion.

I urge you to grow in this - and that will come by a focus on repentance and forgiveness.

Theology is simple. Deep, profound - there is always more love to show, we can always find more ways and more people to show love to - but it is simple and vaster than any ability to catalog.