What 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.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
We are faced with contradictory messages every day. I was in a restaurant yesterday which, as now required by law, contained the phrase “The average adult needs 2000kcal per day.” A burger on the menu was listed as containing 2150kcal (I’ll leave it to your imagination what my decision was…).
At first glance, this part of Paul’s letter feels a little bit contradictory, or perhaps dual purposed. When was he ever a simple writer?! Paul rushes to his own defence after yesterday’s claim of having “died to the law” and no longer “under the old written code.”
But we could interpret Paul’s writing here as literally talking about himself, a personal admission, and reflection on his own failings, rather than using the first-person pronoun to imply it could be any one of us.
But an honest reflection from Paul can offer us the opportunity to do this ourselves, as well. Reflecting on how we interpret law, spiritual, civil, God’s etc.
Obey the law. Don’t obey the law. Go to work. Stay at home. Go out once a day. Leave the house. Don’t go to work. A combination of familiar phrases from, what feels like, years ago! Lockdown was a time when we were faced with potentially contradictory laws, leading to an opportunity of abuse through wide scoping individual interpretations.
Sin still happens without law. Law (in whatever context) simply provides an opportunity to see something as sin, like an X-ray machine showing an issue, without it being the X-ray’s fault that the issue is there.
The Bible, particularly the New Testament, brings the law into question on several occasions, including Nicodemus, Pilate, and primarily Jesus himself.
Where confusion may lie about what to follow, what to pay attention to, aside from the obvious “don’t sin” line, what do we have left? Follow Jesus. Simple? Well, give it a go…
Lord of all, We get confused sometimes, okay, a lot, Our confusion is down to our humanity, for you are not a confusing God, albeit beyond our understanding. Help us to be patient, to not necessarily look for quick answers, But to acknowledge that you have a plan for us, That we can trust in you, and you will remain alongside our confusion, Providing us with reassurance, that it’s okay to falter. You will be with us. Let us remember. Amen.
Dan Morrell, Director of Media for Ministry, worshipping at St Thomas Crookes, Sheffield