[Note: The following article is a continuation of the paper presented by Rev. Lubbers at the Office-bearers Conference held on March 4, 1975.]
If this love for the neighbor is the law and the prophets then this ought to become evident also in a detailed study of the “law” of the Old Testament. This means that we must look for the “law of Christ” in the Old Testament Scriptures.
This means that we must look in the moral law for this law of Christ, which is the law of the Spirit of Christ. This we find in what is sometimes called the great “Shamah-Israel,” “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:4, 5) This means a love for the God who has saved us from the bondage of Egypt, set us free, so that now we may walk at liberty. This places us not under law, but under grace. This is the “Lord, our God.” Thus it is in the beginning of the law inExodus 20:1. He is Jehovah, the I am that I am, who saves Israel in His great love and mercy, so that they may walk in thankfulness. Thus are the two tables of the law, which were not simply written upon the tables of stone, but which were nigh to Israel, even in their heart and mouth. (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8) In this moral law we have “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Now no one can love his neighbor who does not love his Redeemer God. The latter is basic. It is basic to all ministering to the saints. This ministering to the saints is the law of God, it is eternal, unchangeable. It is woven into the very essence of salvation, as we have pointed out earlier. Without ministering to the saints, salvation is not salvation. Such is the doctrinal import of the moral law of God. That is why it is treated in the Heidelberg Catechism in the “Third Part” of what a Christian must know to enjoy the only comfort in life and in death. Here is the basic cleavage between the humanistic philanthropy and Christian ministry to the saints. And this is a principle from which we must live, and we must not lose sight of it. Such is the Law and prophets.
But this principle that we are “under grace” is also true as far as the “civil law” is concerned. This becomes very evident in the “Magna Carta” as given in Exodus 21-23, which is the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:4) that Moses read to all the redeemed people of Israel; which Book he sprinkled with blood (Heb. 9:20; Heb. 13:20) as well the entire congregation. This was a blood-sprinkled Book. It was Gospel-obedience that was required under the types and shadows in ,the land of the Promise. No such Charter could ever be promulgated in the world of men. It was a Book which advocated ministering td the saints.
One has but to study such passages as Lev. 19:11-13;Deut. 24:14, 15; Ex. 22:21-24; Lev. 19:33, 34; Deut. 10:17-19 and other passages to see that the civil law in Israel had its motivation in the grace of God, whereby they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt’s tyranny of sin and death. They had been delivered under blood. And “when I see the blood” I will pass over. This was, therefore, a law of Christ and not a legal code of precepts for those who must work their own righteousness. It will not do to enter into all of these passages cited. We shall limit ourselves to a few verses from Deuteronomy 24. We notice in Deut. 24:17, 18 that the Lord will have mercy because we have received mercy from Him. Moses writes, “Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless: nor take the widow’s raiment to pledge. But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.” Now this is very instructive indeed. This is the key-note in the civil law. We notice the following elements:
1. We have been redeemed from Egypt. That was the benefit of grace, the fulfillment of the promise. Such was Israel’s status in the plains of Moab.
2. We must never forget that we once were bondmen, and now are free. We once were strangers. We know the feeling of having been estranged from the life of God. We were in our misery and sin. But we have been translated from darkness to light.
3. This has, therefore, special reference to our treating of our neighbor, of ministering to the saints. We must remember the weak, the poor. The pure religion and undefiled is to visit widows and orphans in their afflictions. This is expressed negatively and prohibitively here in Deut. 24:17, 18 that we shall not (a) pervert the judgment of the stranger; (b) Nor shall we do injustice to the fatherless; (c) We shall not take the widow’s raiment for a pledge. In our judgment we have here the key to understand the Christological character of the civil law of the Old Testament; it is a blood-sprinkled law and advocates the proper manner of fulfilling the law of Christ and ministering to the saints, selecting the stranger, fatherless and widow as examples.
When we turn to the ceremonial law it strikes us also that this law is most intimately connected with the temple-worship, with the Levites and Priests and High-priest, as well as with the helping of the stranger, orphan, and widows.
It is true that the titles in the Levitical law were primarily for the Levites and for the priests and High-priest. The Levites had no inheritance in Israel but lived in their appointed cities, forty-eight in number, six of which were cities of refuge. (Num. 35:1-8) Their appointed livelihood, was, besides a little land surrounding each of their cities, (Num. 35:5) the offered titles which were to be given them from the rest of the tribes, both from the flocks and herds, as well as from the land and the vine. This was to maintain the temple worship in Israel. Israel was to take heed that they would not forsake the Levite as long as they lived on the earth. The teaching ministry and that of the sacrifices in the temple were not to be neglected. They were to keep the pictures, shadows, and types of the temple, as these pointed to the Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. When Israel did not pay the tithes and bring their heave-offerings, they did not desire Christ. That is why Malachi speaks so strongly against Israel for “robbing God.” They robbed His altar, as it pointed to Christ. They did not maintain the Levites, priests, and high-priest. They did not love the house of God. Christ comes and will be busy in this house of God. He tells the unbelieving Jews, who desecrate the temple, of His authority in the temple. They must break it down, but He will rebuild the temple as the Son of God in three days in His death and resurrection. Thus the angel of the LORD suddenly comes to His temple. (Mal. 3:1; Matt. 11:10; John 2:18-20) Then shall there be sweet sacrifices as in the days of yore, in the best times of Israel’s worship.
Still it must not be overlooked that the tithes were not only for the priests, but that they were also shared by the poor. There was a special provision for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow on each third year. Then the poor could also eat in the temple of God. This was the germ, so to speak, of the poor eating from the altar of God in the New Testament ministry to the saints in Christ’s name. These two eat from the altar of God, which is a far cry from eating from a government hand-out. We read in Deut. 26:12f, “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and has given unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates and be filled, then shalt thou say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them . . . . Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.”
For our purpose it is important to notice that the ceremonial law also made provisions for the stranger, fatherless, and widow. The law is one, whether it be moral law, civil law, or ceremonial law. The law and the prophets are all taken up in this one word: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Thus the great Magna Carta of the Old Testament Book which was sprinkled with blood comes to its own. It is the Law and the Prophets of which Jesus speaks. It was ministry to the saints in the temple of God, “that they may eat within thy gates and be filled.” (Deut. 26:12)
1. From the foregoing study it appears that the ministry to the saints is not some appended duty to the Christian religion, but that it is of the essence of the true religion. It belongs to the office of all believers, both in the Old and in the New Testaments.
2. It is also evident that ministering to the saints is rooted in God’s great love for us, in His unspeakable gift. (II Cor. 8, 9)
3. This ministry of the saints cannot be set aside; it comes in many forms. In the days of affluent society this rule of the Spirit of Christ must not be overlooked. The church must not deny the tithes in the temple for the Levite, poor stranger, fatherless, and widows.
4. Widows and fatherless should be instructed in what it means to eat from the altar of the Priests and Levites in the temple. Deacons should be deeply conscious of their high calling in this regard.
5. The “case-study” of II Corinthians 8 and II Corinthians 9should not be neglected as the basic principles of New Testament giving. We are not under the “law” of giving one tenth. The following obtains for us:
d. That the deepest principle and incentive for our giving both in the Old and New Testament is that Christ became poor that we might become rich. (II Cor. 8:9) That is the deep meaning of what the Lord says in the Old Testament “. . . for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD”. (Lev. 19:33, 34)
May the Lord increase our knowledge in His will concerning the “Ministering To The Saints” also by these our humble efforts.