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Genre: Ethical Instruction November 4, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Howdy. Today I would like to talk about ethical instruction. Ethical instruction is broken down into three sections: Proverbs, Laws and Promises. These all fall under the larger genre of Discourse material, but are distinct enough to merit addressing these separately. Basically, proverbs are short wise sayings to help you live better, laws are requirements of God, and promises are statements of what God will do for people. The three things that I want to emphasize are that proverbs are not promises, not all laws are universal, and promises have prerequisites.

Proverbs

There is an entire book devoted to proverbs, but they can also be found in Ecclesiastes. There are a few instances throughout the rest of the Bible, but the majority of them are contained in these two books. Proverbs are meant to be memorable. They are short and use figures of speech like metaphors and similes to get their point across. They are often set up in a parallel structure, where the second part either restates the same idea (synonymous parallel) or says an opposite idea (antithetical parallel). In Hebrew thought, ideas that are important are repeated for emphasis. As you read through the book of Proverbs you will notice that there are recurring themes and ideas. Each proverb is self contained. There is one idea that the proverb is trying to get across and our goal is to figure out what we are to learn from it. The most important thing to know about proverbs is that they are not promises. They are simply statements on how to live a more righteous life and avoid foolishness. If we take them as promises we risk falsely accusing God of not doing what He said. Let me give one example that is often taken as a promise instead of a proverb. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (NIV). We can tell this is a proverb, because it is in the book of Proverbs, but it also has that short memorable quality and is intending to impart wisdom. As a proverb, we need to ask how can I apply this to my life? In this case, parents need to train their children, giving them the wisdom and knowledge to succeed and live righteously. This does not mean that children of Christian parents will automatically become saved or live for God. Everyone has to make their own decision to follow Christ. I personally enjoy proverbs, because they are easy to understand and extremely applicable.

Laws

There are a lot of laws and commands in the Bible. Laws are simply commands from God to people. (There are commands and laws given by others, such as King Xerxes decree in Esther that the Jews be annihilated. These laws and commands are obviously not from God and therefore we do not need to follow them.) When a command is given in the Bible we need to find out who it is directed toward. As radical as it may seem, we do not need to follow every command of God. Some of these commands were given to specific people for specific situations. I’ll start with the most obvious: Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Noah was commanded to build an ark, Abraham was commanded to move from his home country, Moses was told to go to Pharoah and tell him to let God’s people go. In the New Testament, we see Jesus commanding his disciples to take their boat to the other side of the lake and to go into Jerusalem to prepare a place for the last supper. Sometimes God spoke things to the Israelites that weren’t necessarily intended for us today. He gave them instructions regarding the tent of meeting, the tabernacle and even how they were to collect the mana which he sent from heaven. These are all situation specific commands.

This gets tricky when we get to the book of Leviticus. This was written before Christ came, and became a permanent sacrifice for us. But we can’t simply disregard everything in the book, saying that it doesn’t apply to us. As a general rule, the laws that we need to follow from the Old Testament are those that are repeated in the New Testament. For instance, we can see the 10 commandments repeated in the Gospels. People are encouraged to give tithes and offerings to God and avoid immorality. Leviticus 11 gives a list of animals that the Israelites could eat and those that were unclean. (Among the unclean animals were camels, pigs, lobster, and snakes. Some of the clean animals were locusts, dolphins, penguins and grasshoppers.) When we get to the New Testament we see Peter having a vision of all kinds of animals. God tells Peter to eat them, saying “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).

On a side note, homosexuality is wrong and is condemned in the Bible. It is clearly stated in Leviticus and then restated multiple times in the New Testament. Some Christians would like to say that this falls in the same category as the law against planting a field with two different types of seed, but the difference is its repetition in the New Testament and its universality. It is placed in the same category as all other sexual immorality including sex before marriage and adultery. Just like pre-marital sex, this sin is becoming more normal in our culture and is trying to infiltrate the church. We can not allow ourselves to become desensitized, but it is also just as important for us not to become judgmental. Sin is sin, in whatever form it comes it is just as detestable in God’s sight. We need to have just as much compassion for those caught in alcoholism as for those caught in homosexuality.

As for the rest of the commands in the New Testament, for the most part we should obey them, unless they are clearly for a specific person or people, such as in James 5:1-6, where he is speaking to the rich (unless you are rich, in which case you should pay extra attention to this passage).

Promises

I already touched on promises in a previous post, so I will just give a quick recap. Promises are things that God says He will do. Sometimes God promises something to a person and the effects of that promise continue down through their children. The important thing to realize about promises is that they come with prerequisites. For the most part when God gives a promise it comes with stipulations that we obey Him or continue following Him. You can’t take a promise for yourself without taking responsibility for fulfilling its requirements. Joshua was given great promises about taking possession of the land and defeating his enemies, but he was also given the charge: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Josh 1:8-9). Not all promises have prerequisites though. Sometimes, God is awesome enough to give us promises without any responsibility on our part. We can simply believe that what He says is true and accept it.

Summary

– Proverbs are general statements designed to help us live better. They are not promises of what God will do.
– We need to follow the OT laws that have NT counterparts.
– When we come to a promise, we need to look for what God expects of us.

Reflection

1. Prov. 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion”. How does this analogy help us to “visualize” what the proverb is trying to teach?

2. Lev. 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself”. What passages in the NT say the same thing or something similar?

3. In John 14;12-14 Jesus gives some big promises to his disciples. What is our part in receiving these promises?

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