Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Want to hear more 3rd Use?

You know, it always either amuses or frustrates me when people complain about not hearing enough 3rd use of the Law. This is because we forget what the Third Use of the Law is. The 3rd use isn't Christian advice. It isn't a specific method of phrasing the Law. It's not a style of Law.

It is a way in which the Holy Spirit uses and works any statement of Law.

For example - what "use" is this statement: If you are angry with your brother, you are liable to the council.

You know what - it could be all three.

If you are angry with your brother right now, it can be the crack of the Law that makes you stop your foolish and sinful action - that puts the fear of God into you. That's the first.

If you have been angry with your brother often, in the past it can be the mirror of reflection reminding you that you are in fact and sinful being and have not been as perfect as you ought. That's the second.

If you are thinking about how one ought to approach life, it can be that direction post and reminder of how important it is to show care and compassion and to keep your anger in Check. That the third.

So which is the "right" one. Whatever the Holy Spirit brings out and emphasizes. And you know what -- the Holy Spirit may in fact make you aware of all three, as needed.

But you know what this means? If you aren't "hearing enough 3rd Use" - you ought not complain about this to your pastor - it's not his "use" of the law. That's the Holy Spirit at work - you could take it up with him.

Or you might ponder what it means that you keep hearing 1st or 2nd use instead of 3rd. Maybe it means... you need to be hearing 1st and 2nd use.

Just saying. The Holy Spirit knows what He's doing... and actually, if you are upset with this fact, you probably do in fact need the first 2 uses more than the 3rd at the moment.


Bror Erickson said...

Brilliant Eric.
The further problem is that those who think they are giving "3rd" use aren't preaching law at all. 12 steps to a happier marriage isn't law, 1st second or third. Though shalt not commit adultery is law.

Pastor Gary Held said...

You've done a great job of making a much-needed point. We took up this topic on "Radical Grace" a few weeks ago. I think it's important to add that Third Use is a way of hearing the Law which is supposed to be a blessing and a kind of revelation (about life) for ourselves. We're not in the realm of Third Use when we want to get the Law to speak to other Christians to get them to shape up.

Libertas said...

What if we never hear an imperative verb in a sermon? What is so scary about imperatives? Is Walther going to rise from the grave and strike us down if we utter an imperative? Law isn't that bad. The inner man even kind of delights in it:)

Matt Cochran said...

Perhaps people want to hear more third use of the law because they want to hear more of the law period. I hear Lutherans teach about the law quite frequently: it always accuses, there are three uses, nobody lives up to it, Christ saves us from it, etc. As Libertas suggests, however, imperatives are conspicuously absent at many churches. If a pastor never uses them, he's never preaching the law at all.

I think this complaint manifests as a third use issue because that's the only use that a person can really want per se.

Mike Baker said...

Good points.

...but I'm not so sure that people wanting to hear third use is so much of a bad impulse in and of itself. If anything it is a natural impulse since the law is written on our hearts. Perhaps it is just one of those teaching moments more than evidence of someone getting off track and wandering into legalism.

If anything (in many cases at least), I think that it might be evidence of the Holy Spirit working those holy desires and new, godly passions that come with regeneration. When I hear someone asking for 3rd use guidance (especially when explicitly wording it those terms), it sounds like someone is wanting to use their Christian freedom to do what is pleasing to God.

I think it's definitely a case-by-case situation where you separate out the "what must I do to enter eternal life?" from the "now that I am saved by grace through faith, what should I do?"

...and, of course, one should always end up pointing both of those people to the cross! Let the gospel have predominance in all things. :)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here is what I will say.

Wanting guidance is not bad. Wanting instruction is not bad. Nor is wanting advice. Saying, "I want more third use of the Law" *is* bad, and it is bad for two reasons:

1. It's sort of telling the Holy Spirit how to do His job. Really - they are His uses... He will use the Law to guide you... and if you are saying that He isn't, maybe that isn't so much a problem with the Holy Spirit, or your pastor, but with how you yourself are approaching things.

Of course, this ties into the fact that we completely ignore that the uses of the Law are the Holy Spirit's uses and we think of them as our own.

2. "Third Use of the Law" - when it is desired on its own, is abstract. It's... hoop-jumpery. The Christian life is not abstract, it is not something that you just lump up into a category and say, "sure, give me some more third use please."

The Law is always direct. Love and serve God. Love your neighbor. Put your neighbor's needs above your own. Bear with his faults.


The bigger problem may be this - and Matt Cochran hits this -- often we don't preach law. We talk about the law, but we don't preach it, we don't proclaim it.

And this doesn't have to be "imperative" -- imperatives are over-rated when it comes to the Law. The Law shows us what we ought to be and how we are not what we ought to be.

When that is preached, our lack, our flaws, specific ways in which we fail in loving God, specific ways in which we fail in loving our neighbor... then all three uses will be present as the Holy Spirit needs them.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also - if you want advice, guidance, or counsel - go ask your pastor a question, and don't hope that he just randomly talks about your issue in a sermon. It's your issue, not the issue of the entire congregation.

Sometimes we expect too much from the sermon -- sermons can be tailored to the Congregation, but that still is somewhat broad. Go bounce stuff off your pastor - actually interact with him, attend bible studies... and see if that doesn't help to give you guidance and advice.

Libertas said...

If Lutherans think "imperatives are overrated" and the bible uses imperatives all the time, even when giving the 10 commmandments, which one is wrong?

Walthers thesis VII in PDBLG states that justification should be taught before sanctification, grace before good works. While I have no idea how this is consistent with the statement that Law should be taught before Gospel, I do believe Walther is correct on the first part. I have rarely ever seen this gospel then law preaching done in LCMS sermons.
The bible does it all the time though. Exodus 20: "You belong to God who redeemed you....imperatives 1-10 given."

The new testament does gospel then law all the time as well...God loves you and has forgiven you, therefore..... What are the therefores there fore?

Where is the disconnect? I think it may be because Walther says preach law then gospel, therefore most sermons end up being repent then believe, if law is preached at all.

Libertas said...

"Or you might ponder what it means that you keep hearing 1st or 2nd use instead of 3rd. Maybe it means... you need to be hearing 1st and 2nd use."

LCMS pastors tend to shy away from the law. Walther says to always preach more Gospel than Law. I also hear the statement that the law always condemns. This leads me to ponder...if when you hear or preach the law, all you hear is the condemnation of the law, are you that unsure of the Gospel?

I think that the law condemns only the law breaker, the old nature within us. When we hear the Gospel and are baptised, a new nature is born, a nature that delights in hearing and doing the things of the law. Paul tells us to walk in that new nature. That tells me it is ok to desire the things of the law. That tells me it is ok to try to discern between good and evil, and try to do good. The Gospel is always there to pick me up when I fail.

Matt Cochran said...

I agree that phrasing the question in terms of third use indicates poor catechesis w/ respect to how the Holy Spirit uses the law.

But if I may say so, just because a person's poorly phrased complaint belies ignorance, it does not mean there isn't a legitimate complaint in there. By all means, deal with the catechesis issue, but putting the best construction on everything would indicate that we should actively try to find that legitimate complaint as well. As Mike Baker points out, we teach that the Holy Spirit works new godly desires in believers. Any yet, so often, when a Lutheran asks for instruction in how to turn that God-given impulse to goodness into specific action, he is met with suspicion of being a closet pietist. Why should we be so very suspicious when our own teaching indicates that we should be expecting precisely that reaction?

Also, if a pastor never provides any counsel on how to do good in a sermon or Bible study, it seems odd that he would expect a parishioner to come to him with specific questions on any such subject. Usually, one goes to a person who he believes has the capacity to help. The parishioner may think it should be within the pastor's purview, but he'll have no reason to suspect that it actually is unless the pastor addresses such subjects occasionally. On that same note, if a pastor never regularly teaches on any such subject, he will probably be ill-equipped to give good counsel to the parishioner who does come.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few things:

1 - Matt - where do I say that a pastor ought never provide any counsel on how to do good in a sermon or bible study? I was speaking to the specific... if one is hoping that the pastor will speak about the specific issue, that implies that the pastor does provide some counsel in sermons and study.

The problem I was addressing is this - preaching is to a large group - it cannot directly address your specific questions because... well, I don't hear questions before I preach.

If you get accused of being a closet pietist for wanting to do good, you are wrongly accused. If you want instruction on how you yourself can shape and focus the love you show - that is a good thing.

But again - that isn't what I was addressing. If you are complaining that you aren't hearing enough 3rd use -- you aren't dealing with how your Pastor interacts with *you* but with how he interacts with everyone else.

And that's where the charge of pietism may be apt -- when your concern is making sure that others start behaving well, when you are worried about the specks in their eyes (and forgo asking about the log in your own) that's when the charge might be apt.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

2nd - Libertas,

In reality, many of the "imperatives" as translated into English aren't really imperatives. They are simply description of the Christian life.

For example, famous one - the so-called "Great Commission" - "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." See all those imperatives?

No - because they actually aren't imperatives - they are participles describing what our lives will be. Jesus has all authority, therefore, while we are out there going there will be instruction and baptizing and teaching.

It's not a wagging of the finger "you better get to it" - it's a description of what simply happens in the Christian life.

Of course, it's really funny that you bring up the Ten Commandments... because actually the Commandments... aren't imperatives either. They follow the same pattern noted above.

I am the God who brough you out of Egypt. And then in English "You shall have no other gods"

That's not an imperative. The imperative would be "Do not have any other goods."

They are all future tense (at least in Latin and Greek - Hebrew doesn't have tense the way Latin, Greek, or English does, but they aren't imperative).

The point is that God's action for us, be it delivering us from bondage (either bondage in Egypt or bondage to sin), or Christ having won all authority (which is always about forgiveness --- but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise and walk) shapes the new reality of our lives.

These aren't nearly as often commands, as though Jesus is saying, "If you want to be a good little boy, do X, Y, and Z" - but they describe reality.

Of course... this is the heart of the matter on works. From whence do works come?

Our Lord says, "I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever abides in me bears much fruit."

That's descriptive. That's not Jesus saying - "You bear fruit or else." It's rather our Lord showing us the truth - that when we are in Him, when we are receiving His love and mercy, we will do good. When we ponder His love, the love that we show (which is actually nothing but His love being shown through us - for it is not I who lives but Christ who lives within me) will be guided where it needs to go.

So yes, I think the desire for imperatives are overrated.

You're forgiven. You know Christ Jesus and His love for you. Now you will be living your life, showing love. It's as simple as that - really it is.

Michael L. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D said...

And this doesn't have to be "imperative" -- imperatives are over-rated when it comes to the Law. The Law shows us what we ought to be and how we are not what we ought to be.

The lesson from all this, I gather, is that I ought to think that "oughts" are over-rated.

But the logic of the lesson appears to hinge greatly, on what is meant by the words "imperative" and "ought."

While we're waiting for the definitions, may I suggest that imperatives are not over-rated, when it comes to the Law? The Law is more than a showing of yet more gray hairs, or less of it, in the morning. The Law surely kills, putting aside for the moment the theological fineries of "uses," which granted do serve often to keep the Lutherans blogs burning brightly, world without end, Amen.

The uncomfortable fact of the Law's death-dealing, killing function, is precisely why we need a Savior. Actually, its significance may be worth a separate use, all of its own.

As I see it, the "oughts" of the Law are the pestiferously imperative shalls and the demanding shalts, as in "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind ... and love your neighbor as youself."

Oh, dear.

The imperatives are condemning me to death. I can't keep them. You're being nice, I know, but don't try to make me feel better, or sooth me, by informing me that they're "over-rated." The imperatives are part and parcel of why the natural man hates God, and why our parents got the boot out of Eden. "Thou shalt not ... i.e., you ought not ... eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."

I look at this way. The "curb" restrains the rat, as much as a rat has a conscience, or the ability to tolerate a shock to the footpad; the "mirror" or DNA probe shows the rat, that he's genotypically a rat, all right; and the "guide" is an objective measure, which establishes that the rat behaves like a rat in the T-maze of life, 100% of the time. For all this, in the end, the rat gets killed for some immunohistochemical treated, frozen brain sections. After all, the guy in the white lab coat, does have his imperatives.

One of which is "publish or perish."


Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You are slightly off on the third use there -- again, there is the use of the Law that the Christian delights in. While the law always accuses, it isn't the only thing it does for believers. Another term (which I actually prefer) for the 3rd use is that it serves as a Trellis, a pattern upon which to grow. What's nice about this is that a trellis never causes a plant to grow... and likewise, the Law will never *cause* us to grow or to be able to do works... that is always something which comes only from Christ.

And in this aspect the imperatives are high over-rated. I can tell you, "do, do, do" until I'm blue in the face, but it will not give you the ability. The Law never gives strength or ability to do.

And again, remember that the third use of Law, by definition, isn't dealing with the "Natural Man" -- there is no 3rd use of the Law for the unbeliever, or even as approaching the Old Adam.

Now, as I am currently still in my old sinful flesh... I'm going to keep on having negative reactions against the Law (oh wretch that I am). But there is part of me that does wish to grow and learn... that is fine and good. But imperative don't give that part of me the ability to do anything.

Matt Cochran said...

Rev. Brown, you never said anything about what a pastor ought not do in sermons and Bible-studies, and I never implied otherwise. I was describing a situation faced by many confessional Lutherans (the apparent audience for your blog), not a situation that you called for. Indeed, it seems to me that our subject has been how a pastor ought to respond to parishioner complaints of not hearing about 3rd use issues. My concern is that pastors will use your original post to dismiss poorly formulated but otherwise legitimate complaints, and your most recent response only deepens that concern.

First, how exactly can one preach and teach the law only in general? "Love God and neighbor" is a summary of the law, but without encountering specifics, one could never know what that summary even means. Can a pastor ever cover every item of specific interest to his flock? Of course not. But if a pastor covers a variety of specifics (as opposed to continually using two or three favorite sins as examples when preaching about the law) and demonstrates an ability to do so in-depth (rather than just rote repetition of the SC explanations for the 10 commandments), then I think parishioners will be much more likely to ask privately about items of personal interest.

Second, is asking for group instruction on the law on behalf of one's neighbors:
A) A result of hearing several of one's neighbors complain privately about having insufficient instruction on the law?
B) A result of receiving sound & edifying instruction elsewhere and thinking that fellow congregants might also benefit from it?
C) A result of retrospectively recognizing that one would have very much liked to have received such instruction when one was in the same life stage as many fellow congregants?
D) A self-righteous hunt for specks in our neighbors' eyes?
E) All or several of the above including D?

Why jump straight to D? How is that putting the best construction on everything? Most likely the real answer is E--we all are self-righteous, but we are tempted towards this sin by legitimate concerns. It is, after all, usually good things taken out of their proper context that tempt us to evil. I'm simply pleading for pastors not toss out the baby with the bathwater here. Besides, if parishioners want to curb their neighbor's sinfulness, it's not 3rd use they're looking for anyway.

Mike Baker said...

You are slightly off on the third use there -- again, there is the use of the Law that the Christian delights in.

St. Paul and the Psalmist would disagree with you there. According to the Spirit the Christian does delight in the Law, but his members (the Old Adam)rebel against it according to the flesh. So that in his heart, he knows that the Law of God is good and he delights in it... but in the flesh he obeys the law of sin.

We may be talking past each other. When I say delight, I don't mean to say that a Christian delights in it because he keeps it perfectly... only that the Holy Spirit causes regeneration and a love of the law. Because, as you have said yourself on this blog, the law is good.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Mike - when I say that the Christian delights in the Law, I mean the one who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And even though the Holy Spirit causes this delight, the delight is and can properly be called mine. This is why St. Paul can say, "The good that *I* want to do"... of course, he doesn't do it, but hey, thus is life. So yeah, I think there probably is a bit of talking past each other.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


1 - You do bring up a point about pastors only preaching on a few favorite sins. To avoid this, I preach off of the Gospel lesson for the day -- and there is law in those texts, and I apply that law to life today. However, there is a difference between saying what one can do in a sermon and what one can do directly. Let me find an example of a law statement from a previous sermon. What follows is a quote from a sermon 2 weeks ago on Matthew 5:17-26.

"Oh, I’m a good person, I’ve never killed anyone. But have you been angry with your neighbor? Have you looked down upon them, insulted them, called them names, thought how you are so much better than them – were glad you weren’t a fool, and idiot like them? Then you are vile sinner, and Christ Jesus Himself says that you are liable to the hell of fire. The Hell of fire. His words. There’s no way to soft-sell that one – Jesus here is blunt."

I would call this "general" - even though it deals directly with a topic. Or perhaps if I could use a grammar term... it is "indefinite". It speaks about how you deal with "a" neighbor.

Specific is that "definite" sort, those times when it's not "a" neighbor, but I am angry with *that* neighbor, with how I handle Chuck across the street. (Sorry Chuck Awesome, Chuck is my generic name).

Thus compared to, "Yes, I know that you have been annoyed that Chuck leaves his dog out at night and the dog is loud. However, instead of complaining about how he doesn't care for his dog, have you talked to him about it? Do you know why he puts out the dog? Is there something going on that you might be of aid to him with? More over - ultimately, it is his dog, and if he wants it out at night - so be it. What are some ways in which you can arraign your life so that the dog bothers you less - because really you ought to be more focused on what 'you' do rather than what Chuck is doing, because you can't control Chuck's actions."

And actually - even that was a bit generic, because the options, the application would be so varied based upon what someone is thinking. Why are you acting is just as important as how one acts... and "do this" doesn't address the why.

This actually is the beauty of the SC on the 10 commandments -- they are ideas and guides that can be laid upon any situation.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Matt - As for the second question:

Note again what I said in the very first verse - when people *complain*.

There is a vast difference between someone asking me, "Pastor, why do you do X" or "why don't you do Y" on the one hand, and then on the other hand someone coming up and saying, "Pastor, you don't preach enough sanctification" or "Pastor, you need to preach more sanctification."

And here is the difference that moves me to D (or F - A desire to have a simple way to prove what a good Christian he is). The comment isn't about learning or understanding, but about commanding. There is no question, no inquiry. Rather, there are demands - you need to do this.

When one is already speaking in such a way as to try to force one neighbor to act in a certain way (which is what most complaints are), it is sort of standard course that forcing the other neighbors to do something is part and parcel of the picture.

So thus, what I would recommend is this (and this applies to all things) -- if you have a concern - voice it. Ask. Inquire. Ask why someone does something instead of saying, "Hey, you - you need to do this this way." That way you are prepared to give any advice or counsel -- or you may learn that what you thought was needed... might not be.

It is a dangerous thing to command another person to a certain course of action - unless given that responsibility by God in our vocation we ought to do so hesitantly (and even then I'd argue that if you are given by God the duty of command, then even then that is mean to be temporary or limited, and also for the purpose of instruction so that the person you've commanded learns to act properly without commands).


"Besides, if parishioners want to curb their neighbor's sinfulness, it's not 3rd use they're looking for anyway."

And here you are spot on -- but this is what gets called third use by so many today -- it's viewed simply the instructions on how to live... and boy, does so and so need it to get them in line.