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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Mirror, Mirror
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-02-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,6                                                                                   

Ps 118:1  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Deuteronomy 4:1-14; James 1:21-27

Hy 28:2,4,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 2

Hy 11:1,2,3,9

Ps 1:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, for most of us, getting ready in morning includes a stop at the bathroom mirror. Unless you’re really pressed for time, it’s part of your morning routine: standing there in front of the mirror, grooming yourself, checking things over, making the necessary adjustments. Then we head out the door.

That’s a basic human activity—looking in the mirror—which makes the comparison in James 1 so appropriate. For James compares the law of God to a mirror. He says that the law of God is something we’re supposed to look into on a regular basis. With its help, we can properly examine ourselves, correct ourselves, and get ourselves ready for God’s service.

Because just like a mirror, the law of God is very revealing. If we’re honest about what we see there, the law of God reveals our failures, exposes our blemishes—it plainly points out the things that need to be fixed or adjusted. And that’s something we need to reflect on, each day. Sure, it’s only on Sundays that we actually hear the Ten Commandments. Yet the law of God is something that should be on our hearts, all week long. Like Psalm 19 says so positively about the commandments, “By them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is a great reward” (v 11).

Today let’s consider God’s gift of the law—better yet, let’s look intently into the commandments, even as we study our reflection in the mirror. Be warned that when we look into the law like this, we’ll see some ugliness, for we’re going to see the truth about ourselves. But that won’t be the last word. Because we’ll also see how Christ has redeemed us, and how the same law of God can so beautifully order our lives as his people. I preach God’s Word to you as summarized in Lord’s Day 2,

Take a good look into the mirror of God’s law:

  1. it is perfect
  2. it is revealing
  3. it is liberating

 

1) the law of God is perfect: “Perfect” might not be the first word we think of when it comes to the law of God. The law is burdensome, we feel. Difficult. Sometimes painful. But is it really perfect? For the law is often thought of nothing to celebrate. We hear “law,” and we think of all the “thou shalt nots”—heavy rules and regulations.

In fact, there are many churches where the Ten Commandments are no longer read. Isn’t the law outdated, or doesn’t it hint at a salvation-by-works? The law’s been fulfilled in Christ, so why read it? Even by us, the law is sometimes shrugged off. We still read it on Sundays—but is anyone listening? We still include it in the liturgy—but do we really know why?

Let’s see the law for what it actually is, the gracious gift of our God. And a good passage for teaching this is Deuteronomy 4. Moses is speaking to Israel as she’s about to enter the Promised Land, and he’s reminding them of all the things they need to know for the future.

And the thing Moses emphasizes is the need for God’s people to keep and to observe his covenant law. That’s actually why Moses gives the Ten Commandments for a second time, in Deuteronomy 5. It’s not like they didn’t know the commandments—there it was still, in Exodus 20. But for something so important, the repetition could only help.

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments,” Moses says in 4:4, “just as the LORD my God commanded me.” Already we hear that keynote truth: the source of the law is God. He entrusts the law to his people as the words of his very own mouth.

Let’s think carefully about this. What does it mean that God has given us his law? What’s the significance of that? It means that we’ve been given insight into the very mind of the LORD! With the law, we know his perfect will in a clear and concrete way. This is how God wants us to think, and to talk, and to act. 

And yes, without the law, we wouldn’t know. We’d have no idea about a God-pleasing life. Sure, Scripture says his law is written on every human heart, but it also says all people are corrupted and confused by sin. Without being guided by Scripture, people like you and me will imagine and say and do all kinds of foolish things.

Far from speaking of it as a tiresome chore, Moses focuses on the law as a gift. He puts that in front of the people: “What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (v 7). Before we reject the law, put it in this context: the law is a vital part of the relationship between the LORD and his people. The LORD God is always near us—always! Who else has this? “What other nation is so great?” What other people has this privilege?

“Look around, Israel, and see how blessed you are,” Moses says. Not one of the other nations has a god like this: a god who is real, and near, a god of love and justice. Beloved, we ought to do the same: see how many people don’t know the LORD, how many live and die without having a healthy and good relationship with God through his Son.

But we know the Truth. We have the Word, and Lord’s Day 1 is our good confession. And we say that humbly, for we see how privileged we are, and then we receive God’s perfect law with grateful hearts.

The point is, God never calls his people to a blind obedience, a fearful submission. Sometimes exasperated parents will say this to their disobedient children, “Obey me, because I said so!” God never needs to say that, because He’s already given us every reason to obey. It’s because we know our gracious God and all the marvelous things He’s done!

Which brings us to the second question of Moses: “And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (v 8). The one gift follows from the other. If knowing God is such a blessing, then knowing his law is the same: it’s a blessing. What we have is a special inheritance, a perfect gift.

This is how God’s children have always looked at the law. Think again of Psalm 19: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (v 7). Whenever God commands us to do something—even if it’s hard, challenging, and smacks down our desires—we can be sure that his law is going to be fair and good, it’ll be a source of wisdom and instruction.

The law of God touches so many fine details of our everyday life. For example, what does God say about earning and spending money? What does He say about how we entertain ourselves? What does God say about the relationships of children and parents, husbands and wives, citizens and rulers? What does God say about how we conduct our business or treat our employees? What does God say about our attitude toward public worship? What does God say about purity or contentment or anger? If you want to know, consider his commandments.

There can be complex ethical situations when we struggle to know what is God’s will. But often, it’s quite simple. With good reason, the Catechism includes those refreshingly direct words of Christ: “You shall love the Lord your God. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Q&A 4). Can’t we do so much with those words? It is instruction to live by.

What does God require of me? What’s my calling in all the situations and scenarios and circumstances that I face on a given day? What kind of person will I be? I know that I need to live with a genuine love for the Triune God, my Saviour. And I need to show a sacrificial love to these people God has put in my life, my friends and my fellow saints and my children and neighbours. The law of God shows the way. For that reason, God wants the law at the forefront of our minds. It’s a gift to be used daily, studied and applied.

           

2) the law is revealing: Whenever God grants you a gift, the next question is what you’ll do with it. Will we use this blessing like it’s meant to be used? So for the law. And like James tells us, we must be doers of the word, and not hearers only.

That’s the real struggle of our life, isn’t it? Trying to walk the talk, practice what we preach. Doing the deeds that agree with our creed. It’s a struggle, because we all know the good we ought to do, but so often the evil prevails. Even in the same hour that we hear God’s law, we surrender to disobedience in our thinking or speaking.

Which brings us to James’ comparison of the law to a mirror. For this perfect law reveals an ugly truth! As Lord’s Day 2 says: “From where do you know your sin and misery?” (Q&A 3). Who told you about your sin? How’d you find out about your misery? And the answer: “From the law of God.” When I look into that perfect mirror, I see it plainly. It jumps out at me, hits me in the face, and there’s no denying it: I’m a sinner.

In his letter, James is rebuking some lawless Christians. They said it didn’t matter whether they kept the law or not—they were religious, that was the main thing. They knew about salvation, they read the Scriptures, and they had their church membership card safely tucked into their wallets. With all that good religion, they didn’t have to bother with trivial things like speaking the truth or loving their neighbour or avoiding the impurity of the world.

But James calls them fools, and says their faith is worthless. It’s not enough to be baptized, have a Bible on your shelf at home, sit under the preaching every Lord’s Day and go to club each week. We have to do the Word! We have to put it into practice.

“This is what you’re like,” James says to those who talk a good religion, who know all the right answers, but who essentially live like unbelievers, “If anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (vv 23-24).

It’s an absurd picture. Just imagine looking into the mirror at 7:45 on Monday morning, and forgetting what you look like by 8 o’clock! That wouldn’t happen, because a mirror shows a person as he really is on out outside. When you look at your image there, you can hardly forget: the shape of your nose, the colour of your eyes, the location of various freckles and sunspots. It’s all so familiar.

Now, mirrors in the time of James were different than mirrors today. A mirror back then wasn’t made of glass, but a metal like bronze or silver or even gold. You’d take some of this metal, beat it flat, and then polish it to a very high shine. Then you could use the reflection as your mirror. The image wouldn’t be perfect, so you had to look at the mirror from various angles. To get the right picture of yourself, you’d have to look with care and attention. A passing glance into this kind of mirror wouldn’t be of much value at all.

So for the law of God. As a perfect mirror, God gives it for our correction and improvement. When we examine ourselves with God’s law of love, we do see spots and blemishes and shadows on our attitudes and behaviors: we see pride, or envy, or a lack of trust, or greed, or whatever else. And seeing these blemishes, we should want to make the necessary adjustments and put things in order.

Yet some use God’s law in only a superficial way. Someone who is just a hearer of the Word barely pauses to consider it before he hurries away. He doesn’t think about how this or that text might apply to him. He doesn’t act on what he’s heard or seen.

Like we said, we could be in church every Sunday and read Scripture at mealtimes. From the outside, it could look like we’re always attentive to the Word. But are we really reflecting on how it relates to our life? Are we actually doing the Word? Maybe there’s someone who always has the right answers, but who really lacks a Christian compassion. Or someone who rarely misses a worship service, but he never hears a word of it.

And let’s not be proud. Any of us could make that assumption of ourselves: “I know the Word pretty well. Overall, I’m a pretty decent person, well-behaved and moral,” we might claim. “At the end of the day, sometimes it’s hard to think of specific sins that I’ve committed.” Then we haven’t been looking carefully enough, or honestly enough. It’s like glancing into the mirror, and immediately forgetting what kind of person you are. Instead, we have to use God’s law in the right way. Verse 25 says we must “[look] into the perfect law of liberty and [continue] in it.”

Literally, he says we must look intently into the law. We have to look from every angle in order to get the right picture of ourselves. What are my words like? And my desires? What are my true securities and joys in life? Only when we look intently into God’s law do we see the whole truth. In fact, the law will show us our many spots and wrinkles and warts. It’ll reveal what is wrong, how we’ve fallen far short of God’s glory.

Just like when you glance into your bathroom mirror, the law is very personal. The imperfect person you see there is yourself! It’s always easy to think of how this or that text or sermon applies to someone else. But when we look directly into the mirror of God’s law, it reveals what’s wrong with us. When I read it, the Word condemns me: “I’ve been proud. I’ve been spiteful. I haven’t thanked God like I should or given him my best. I haven’t put others ahead of myself.”

And it’s whenever we read Scripture (not just the law) that we see this. Reading any of Paul’s letters is like putting a revealing mirror in front of us. Reading the Sermon on the Mount—another mirror to our lives. Reading the book of Proverbs—an exposing reflection. For when we listen to the Word humbly, we see our sin in all its shame. Have we loved God with heart, soul, and mind? Have we loved our neighbour, even half as much we love ourselves? No, we see that we have not been “doers,” but so often we’ve only been hearers.

So do we despair? Do we throw a rock into the mirror so we never have to look again? James tells us, “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (v 21). Notice that middle phrase, “Receive with meekness the implanted word.” Don’t ignore the mirror, but plant yourself in front of it, and be honest about what you see. Yield yourself to it with “meekness” or humility, lowliness. When we see the ugly problem of our sin and misery, we’ll seek the beauty of our deliverance in Christ. And when we do, we’ll find that…

 

3) the law is liberating: Though Moses and James are separated by 1500 years, their message is the same, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Let’s understand what they’re saying, and why they’re saying it. Obedience is never about earning merit with God. The law has never been a means to salvation.

No, it’s all grace. This is how the Ten Commandments begin, “I am LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exod 20:2). Every time the Israelites heard the law—every time we hear the law—the spotlight is put on the source and fountain of salvation. God delivered you. God is giving you this land. God sent his Son as your Saviour.

Just think of the One who gave the law’s summary in Matthew 22: Jesus Christ. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and Christ expressed and embodied this very love with his entire life. He who said, “You shall love the LORD your God and your neighbor as yourself,” did what we could never do: He practiced what he preached! Jesus’ love for God was evident in his whole life, as He did the Father’s will to the end. And He showed love to his neighbor, obeying for a people who could not obey, being condemned for a people who could not endure God’s condemnation. In love He did it for us!

Out of the greatness of his love in Christ, God has brought us into fellowship with himself. But if we’re now going to enjoy life as God intended, certain rules are good and necessary. The law of the Lord gives order to our lives.

Just think about what things would be like, apart from it. Without the fourth commandment, we’d probably be slaves to our work, seven days a week, never having the chance for relaxation. Without the fifth commandment, our families would quickly break down, parents and children completely at odds. Without the seventh commandment, our marriages would disintegrate with constant unfaithfulness. And our other relationships would be destroyed by murder, and theft, and lying. Sin provides all the ingredients for a miserable life!

That’s why James calls the law “the law of liberty.” We may think we’re free only when we disobey—free to do whatever we please. But it’s actually when we keep God’s law that we show that we’ve been set free. For we don’t have to listen to the devil anymore, or be slaves to our desires. Through the Holy Spirit we can do God’s will freely, whenever we want, as much as we want, and even in whatever way we want—as we are guided by God’s Word. It’s the law of liberty!

People sometimes get excited about a day for “random acts of kindness.” The idea is that you do something nice, “just because.” You pay for a stranger’s meal. You make a donation to some charity you’ve never supported. You pick up the garbage along your street. And there’s something nice about this idea. For kindness doesn’t have to be carefully thought out. It can be random, done freely and unexpectedly.

In a way, that’s what the Christian life should be like. We can delight in doing good to others, at any time. We can think of new ways to show our love, or to use our talents for glorifying the LORD. We have great freedom in being servants of God!

So look diligently into the law and Word of God. Look and see how much we need a Saviour. Look and see how much Christ did for us. Let’s look into the Word, and let’s begin to dress ourselves properly, putting off all sin and putting on Christ, getting our lives in order for him. Standing in front of the mirror of God’s Word, we offer this prayer: “O LORD,” we pray,

“Let your commandments teach us/

Our sins and misery to know/

That we, delivered from all evil/

To you our thankfulness may show” (Hymn 11:9).  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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