Deuteronomy 25: A lesson in Law and Gospel

Both the Law and Gospel are necessary in Christian preaching and for living the Christian life.

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If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity
(Deuteronomy 25:11-12, NIV).

I have been reading through the book of Deuteronomy in my morning devotion and came across this passage which is not typically preached on from the pulpit. However, these two verses provide a marvelous example of what it means to preach both Law and Gospel. The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'” Precision is important; Christ did not redeem us from the Law, but from “the curse” of the Law. That is, the Law can no longer condemn us, but it does continue to tell us how God expects us to live.

It is understandable that a wife would want to help her husband if he was in a fight with another man. Yet, her method of assistance must not be unfair, shameful, or offensive. I played football in high school as a cornerback and a blocker on kick return, so I know how easy it is to accidentally put your hands forward to block someone in the back or to grab a facemask. It is much easier when you’re in the middle of the chaos than those who have never played think. None of that matters, however; to do either is still an unfair tactic no matter how much I or another player may protest. Players must be disciplined enough to be able to follow the rules even in the midst of chaotic play. The referee is still going to charge my block in the back with a 10-yard-penalty, or 15 for a facemask.

As Christians we must not resort to unfair – and especially not shameful or offensive – tactics in coming to another’s defense. I think every man would say that being kicked or hit “down there” in a fight is an unfair tactic! We must be holy, set apart, even in our disputes, abiding by civil “rules of warfare” regardless of what our opposition is doing. We are called to a higher standard, not a standard that necessarily avoids conflict, but knows how to engage in conflict in a fair manner.

You may be thinking, though, “Okay, I see the practicality of this text, but where is the Gospel? How is the Gospel practical for a text like this?” Well, how many Christian women do you know who have had their hands cut off for kicking or punching a man in his privates to end a fight? How many churches do you know about that would do such a thing to a woman in their congregation who did this? Although we are under the Law in the sense that it tells us how to live and what God expects of us, to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us, we are not under “the curse” of the Law, that is, the judicial penalties in the Law for God’s ancient people. A text like this tells us how God expects us to handle disputes, to not engage in unfair, shameful, or offensive tactics in defending someone else, while the gospel, the good news, tells us that in Christ we no longer have to worry about having our hands cut off if we accidentally slip up in our anger.

It is easy to see the practicality of the Law; religion is inherently practical. Yet, Christians often struggle to see the practicality of the Gospel. The Gospel’s practicality, however, is in the fact that we are set free to keep the Law while not having to worry about being condemned by it when we slip up because we will fail. The knowledge of the Gospel is what ultimately sustains us through life and sustains us when we are facing death, the knowledge that Christ was cursed for me and that despite the fact that I have failed over and over again, I am in Christ and have a place in heaven.

The apostle again says to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Law without Gospel only gives sin its’ strength; Christians need to hear both every day. We need to hear from God in his Word how he expects us to handle the varied situations of life, but we also need to be able to rest in the knowledge that we are safe in his arms because of what his Son, our Lord, has done for us on the Cross. Far too often churches fail to preach one or the other, Law or Gospel. Some churches preach morality without the good news which only creates Pharisees, and some churches preach “easy believeism,” never mentioning that God actually expects us to live according to a certain standard which creates an unregenerate fellowship that think they are okay. Jesus is both Lord and Savior; he expects us to live in accordance with the standard set forth in his Word but because of what he did, the Word can no longer condemn us.

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