The Family, the Torah and Grace
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 13 April 2002
I have long maintained that the family unit is the chief model given to us by Yahweh with which to understand our own relationship to Him. As you survey the various religions you are at once struck by the fact that all of them, with the exception of Christianity, put a price tag on salvation. Hindus, New Agers and Buddhists are occupied with accumulating good merit and karma to make their next supposed incarnation easier, Muslims in doing enough good works to enable them to be saved (unless they take the Jihad or 'Holy War' shortcut), and so on.
I once asked a religionist whether he ever charged his children for their upkeep. My question surprised him somewhat and he asked further, "What do you mean?". "Well," I replied, "I'm thinking of all the clothes, food, shelter, heating, repair, medical and other kinds of bills that we have to pay in order to see our children from birth to maturity and to the time when they can start earning their own keep. Don't you think we should give them a bill when they're grown up, to pay off their debt to us?"
At length my friend got the point. You see, parenthood is not the same as being a shop owner. But if it was, and were it to be run along the lines that Yahweh parents us, this is basically how it would go.
Everybody would be a shopkeeper with their own small corner store only when each shop keeper wanted something, he wouldn't help himself from his own goods but go along to someone else's. No shop would charge anything. Furthermore, no shop would give to a customer more than he genuinely needed. Thus no money would actually be exchanged and everybody would take care of everyone else.
When we bring up our children we take care of them at no cost. Nothing is expected of them except that they learn to help around the home, doing various duties in-between schooling, but never so much that they don't have time for school, rest and leisure. But we never look upon this as a "payment" for all we have done for them but rather as a moral duty. It is understood that when they grow up, they will do the same for their children, and so on, generation after generation. At no time are any bills presented for the time that they are dependants.
This instinctual behaviour is so universal that nobody in any culture or religion thinks of questioning it. It is placed in us by the Creator. And what's more, it's a behaviour that is supposed to teach us what our relationship to God is supposed to be like.
The Scriptures teach that we are Yahweh's children. We are, in fact, dependants - we can't manage without Him. Yes, we can become like some of the street children in Brazil and other countries who have no parents and are forced to take care of themselves but when we do it is not long before we are in a sorry spiritual state, just as those poor orphans are. Just as a soul without God is forced to spiritually cheat in order to survive, so a child without the protection of parents and home is forced to turn to crime in order to live.
As Christians in this mortal sphere we are supposed to live in utter dependency on Yahweh leaving Him to take care of us. That does not, of course, mean that we are to remain idle. He gives us jobs to do - responsibilities. They are not forced upon us but when we do them, there is no question that we grow up into balanced and mature human beings. They are for our character development.
Salvation is free. There is no charge. Christ did it all for us on the cross. But once we accept that salvation, which protects us against eternal dissolution, we are invited to give of our lives to others in the same way in which Christ gave Himself for us. In the ideal Christian community, all material things are held in common so that nobody can amass a personal fortune, large or small. The heavenly way is one of complete equality, though not forced as in communism or other forms of socialism.
Salvation is a strange thing when compared to worldly ways of being. It is not at all unlike the manna sent by Yahweh from heaven to feed the starving Israelites in the wilderness. They were permitted to gather no more than they needed for each day, and a double portion for the Sabbath. If anyone tried to store it any longer than 24 hours, it turned rotten.
In the same way, God's love cannot be hoarded to ourselves. It has to be given to others. And as it is, it supernaturally reappears within us so that we always have a plentiful supply. Like a child growing up at home who, unless the family is in a desperate situation itself, it never wants, always having its needs met without it having to worry about where its supply is going to come from, so the Christian has to learn to similarly yield himself to Yahweh's bountiful care.
In recent years our family has been able to see the interaction of both heavenly provision to the family as well as parental provision to our children. We have been desperately poor, at times not knowing how our next bill would be paid. We have gone without heat in the winter and sat around in winter clothing indoors, and there have been times when we have had no money to buy food. But because I have always insisted that we maintain a food storage for at least a few weeks, if not months, we have been able to eke out an existence from that until better times came along.
There are times when we go spiritually short too and the only way we can be prepared for these is if we have been doing with our salvation what we are supposed to be doing. The soul who has received Christ but who never shares Christ with others experiences no spiritual multiplication within because his supply of light is never replenished. His inner larder gets barer and barer with the passing months and years. And then, when Yahweh comes to test us with one of hose regular mini-judgments, and cuts off the supply of grace for a while so that we can measure ourselves, we become utterly dependent on what we have stored up or not. It is such times that people's faith begins to waiver and they wonder if there really is a God or not because their prayers remain unanswered and their outer circumstances seem only to get worse and worse. So when the going gets tough and heaven seems silent, do not despair, but understand that this is part of the spiritual growth cycle. Yah'shua (Jesus) had to go through exactly the same time of isolation on the cross, to be utterly alone with Himself and the sins of the world. So bad was the loneliness that he cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt.27:46-47, NKJV). Not that Yahweh had, but it felt like He had ... For a short while.
There is a time when every parent knows he or she must throw his children out of the protective nest called the home which he has made for them. That is not to say that he is disowning them or saying that they are no longer his children, for he will always be their father, but rather that the season has come when they must learn to prepare for parenthood themselves. Depending on how they have been brought up and their attitudes to Gospel principles, leaving home can either be a happy or a frightening experience. But leave home they eventually must in order to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. Unlike today where grown-up children scatter across the world when they leave home, in patriarchal society sons would remain in the tribal territory and usually in the ancestral village in order to maintain the cohesiveness of family life where an extended system of care could be provided. Daughters, of course, would leave and live in the tribal territory and home of their new husbands, much as they have always done down the centuries.
As maturing believers, we are expected to remain on Yahweh's turf, going out to bring converts home. Becoming a mature Christian does not mean, as Mormons seem to believe, that we leave God behind somehow and become our own gods, any more than sons growing up and leaving home means that they somehow abandon their wider family. Modern secular society is not too interested in the wider family and is built upon the principle of fragmentation; but in the godly way of living, the family remains but is simply subdivided. Just as Yah'shua (Jesus) assigned the care of his mother to his most spiritually senior apostle, John (Yochanan), so fathers in Christian families assign responsibility to the eldest son to take care of the family duties, including caring for his mother when he passes on. And his other brothers are supposed to assist him in this. In the Torah (Law), the firstborn son not only has extra privileges but extra responsibilities too.
As the firstborn Son of Yahweh, Yah'shua (Jesus) not only has the privilege of being "Lord of lords, and King of kings", but was also given the heavy burden of atoning for our sins - in short, taking care of our spiritual welfare. We, who have been saved through His blood, receive a commission from Him to look after one another and to try and reach the unsaved, to bring them under the protection of His spiritual covering.
My eldest son will one day become the head of my family and have the responsibility of looking after its interests. His brothers will have the responsibility to assist him in every way they can. He will become the family patriarch, or father, not only for his own immediate family but also for the extended one. Not only will he provide, without cost, for his own children, but similarly protect the interests of those immediately beyond it.
This is the true family order, and it is upon exactly the same pattern that the heavenly one is founded too. God and heaven are, indeed, the very epitome of family - an ever widening circle of love and care that forgets noone under its watchcare. Of course, the eldest son will not only have the suppport of his biological brothers, but of the wider Family of God, the local congregation, which is itself a mutual support system.
The rewards of heaven - in that life which is of ultimate concern to all who are spiritually-minded and looking beyond this short earth life - are measured out to us in proportion to our faithfulness here to our various stewardships as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters. Our mutual care should, if we are truly in Christ, never have a price tag upon it, but be given without ever counting the cost. Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
"But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matt.6:3-4, NKJV).
If everybody was to live in that way, think what happiness and freedom there would be! For there is nothing quite so terrible as having a bill thrust under your nose, as every householder knows, and there is nothing quite so enslaving as to know that somebody else's love comes with a price tag on it, explicit or implicit. One of the characteristics of the cults is that they want "repayment" of their love if you should ever threaten to leave them, using emotional blackmail to keep people in the fold. They will often say things like, "Oh, but we love you so much!" (implicit emotional blackmail) and "look at all we have done for you" (explicit emotional blackmail) in order to make you feel guilty and stay. But just as a true parent does not put a price tag on caring, so Yahweh does not put a price tag on salvation. Of course, there is no greater satisfaction for a parent than to receive appreciation for all that they have done for their child just as no greater joy comes to Yahweh when as His children, who have received His free gift of salvation, we express our thankfulness in our obedience to Him, for such obedience results in the happiness of everyone else.
One of the reasons I have always supported state health care is that like love, health should never have a price tag put on it, and all the citizens can contribute to the upkeep of such a system, everyone paying proportionately according to their means whether they ever have need of health care or not. Can you imagine anything quite as terrible as a child who is seriously injured being asked whether they have done their domestic duties before being given any help? When we take care of those who are ill without any sort of cost it is no different than our Heavenly Father taking care of us when we are in desperate spiritually straits. Of course, we have to believe in the health system just as we must believe in God, for a hospital cannot be blamed if a patient suffers and maybe even dies because he doesn't believe in health care (like the Christian Scientists, so-called) or refuses blood transfusions (like the Jehovah's Witnesses). Acceptance of the care by both requires faith.
I suppose what I am trying to say today is this: has our view of God been conditioned in any way by false views of salvation? And do we perhaps, unknowlingly, look at family life in the same way, forgetting that the heavenly way is based on grace and not works? I would say that this is probably the most difficult and historical controversial doctrine that Christendom has ever had to wrestle over.
We have, amongst Protestants and Messianics, two opposite views. On the one hand, we have the ultra-Protestants who say that everything is grace and that the Law (Torah) is no more. On the other hand, we have the ultra-Messianics for whom the Law (Torah) has become their daily bread, as it were, and has supplanted grace in importance. Then there are those who say we are saved by both grace and Law (Torah).
In my 25 years journey in Christ I would say that this has been one of my chief areas of struggle. Time and time again I have had to remind myself of how I treat my children as a parent and what it is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) has placed in my heart. Though I know and teach the great importance of discipline, yet I have to confess that administering any kind of punishment causes me the deepest of grief. It always has done. And yet I know it must be administered for righteousness' sake, otherwise undisciplined children grow up precocious and lacking in love and character. I am quite sure, therefore, that it deeply grieves our Heavenly Father to punish us when we deliberately rebell, and I believe that not just because of what the Ruach (Spirit) witnesses to me but because of the way that Christ reacted in so many similar situations. For is He not, in fact, known as the "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa.53:3, NKJV)? I am persuaded that the greatest pain of the Son of Man upon the Cross was not the agonising physical pain of crucifixion, terrible though that was, but the deep, deep sorrow as He experienced the sins of all mankind within Himself. Our foolishness broke His heart.
And so I ask: what does our Heavenly Father truly want of us? Is it the cheap grace of the ultra-Protestants who consider sin to be of little consequence practically, or the crippling legalism of the ultra-Messianics for whom the word "grace" seems to be an incomprehensible, unreachable abstract philosophical concept? To answer that question, I think you first need to be a parent, or at least to be around and know a parent, who has a heart for children and their welfare.
Torah (Law) is a glorious, protecting and character-enhancing set of principles given for our collective happiness, but it is not supposed to be a millstone around our necks. The heart of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) has always been, and will always be, grace - the undeserved loving kindness of God. It is this grace which we are supposed to live by in our conduct towards others:
"For the law (Torah) [the foundational principle] as given through Moses, but grace and truth [the crowning principle] came through Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah)" (John 1:17-18, NKJV).
In Yah'shua (Jesus) the fullness of the heart of Yahweh is revealed, completing the meaning of Torah, giving it its actual heart-essence. For Law without Grace is slavery, and unless it is led by Grace, it will always be a taskmaster. I suggest that we can never truly understand or love Torah until we have first found and are immersed in Grace, and I suggest furthermore that is why the Saviour said:
"Jesus (Yah'shua) said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God (Yahweh Elohim) with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets"" (Matt.22:37-40, NKJV).
Like a soldier hanging on a parachute for his life, so the Law (Torah) must cling to these two great commandments to have any meaning at all. Without love, Torah is an instrument of death. In its bosom, it is an instrument of protection and safety.
I will always believe that after God, the family is the most precious things that we can ever have. The family is a reflection of Yahweh's heart for it is here that all the truths of eternity are to be learned and realised. So with Paul I join in saying to you something he said 36 times in scripture, and must have said thousands of time in his life to the saints:
"Grace to you (the undeserved loving kindness) and peace from God (Eloah) our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah)" (Phil.1:2, NKJV). Amen.
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Last updated on 29 March 2002
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