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The fishhooks of the law

Paul is using widowhood as an illustration, but illustrations matter. Note that in Timothy he recommends that younger women to remarry, and this is righteousness for them. If you look at that passage it is clear that Paul does not want anyone idle and gossiping, stirring up trouble, but looking after their children.

For raising children, particularly young children is a full-time job, and running a household was the work of many. Also note that it is the duty of children and husbands to provide for their wives and mothers: to do not is to be worse than a unbeleiver, for they do this.

And that there is no liberation from the duty of love in Christ. We do not live for our self-indulgence, but for each other.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.

I Timothy 3:3-15, ESV

Before we go to the text of today, it is clear that the widows were under a vow to devote themselves to prayer and service, and supported by the community or congregation. The text implies this: like the nuns, their marriage was no longer to some earthly spouse but to Christ. To abandon those vows was to be as faithless as a man who does not support his mother or grandmother.

Paul is speaking to those who know the law: who are Jews or God fearers, and the idea of breaking these filial duties was unthinkable, or being like the pagans and considering marriage and children fungible. The illustration has power. For we are bound not to our sin, but in Christ we have been declared dead to sin, so that law does not apply. We are alive in Christ.

Romans 7:1-12

1Do you not know, brothers and sisters – for I am speaking to those who know the law – that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

7What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

The word of God is living and active (and yes, I am alluding again to Timothy) and the Spirit enables us to see beyond the mere letter of the law to the fishhooks of our sin, that drag us down. One may be faithful to one’s spouse, not a thief, a murderer or a perjurer… but desire that which is not yours. You may be envious. Envy and greed are almost universal temptations[1], and they are pandered to by the propagandists of this age, most of whom work for advertising agencies.

We go into debt for that which our friends have, instead of being content with what we want. We must have an Iphone 9, or the latest computer, when our old gear still works. Our eyes may not be tempted by this, but by gold, by wealth, or by the wish of a reputation that we lack.

To meditate on the law is to discover that one is not just imperfect, but desperately fallen. Praise God that we have a redeemer, and he has paid for all our errors, known, unknown, past, present and future. For he will preserve us and bring us together, as a great congregation, purified, zealous to share in the creating and preserving of the world. For when Christ is glorified, we rejoice. In the world to come, our rejoicing will be greater, richer, and deeper than anything that our greed and desire for this world will provide.

And the covetous? The gossipers? The virtue signallers? At times they are us. But we must leave that behind with our childish toys. For Christ will not allow the taint of unholiness in a Church he has preserved.

Do not preach such. And, by the grace of God, we will not be such.
1. I accept there are some natural minimalists. But I am not one of them.

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