“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7 21-25)
I have been thinking about arguments and the destruction they cause, particularly the ones that arise out of misunderstandings. Also I am reading Paul’s letter to the Romans at the moment, and I have reached Romans 7. Now I have read Romans 7 many times, but have always tended to move on to the next chapter and the glorious conclusions that Paul draws in its verses. This time though, I asked the Holy Spirit to explain chapter seven to me, particularly verse 8 – “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” I asked the Holy Spirit to explain how it is that the law brings sin. And while thinking about arguments, I was asking how it is possible to love through false accusations that can arise from misunderstandings. Unrelated questions? God didn’t think so. What He showed me was sticks in the fireplace.
Jackdaws have nested in our chimney, and in doing so have dropped a lot of sticks down the flu, so we have a little pile of dead sticks, put there by the jackdaws, like a fire waiting to be lit, in our fireplace. The sticks in the picture are exactly as they have landed. What I felt the Holy Spirit revealed to me was that those sticks are like little bits of law that I appeal to, in order to try and prove that I am right. But by appealing to them I still live under them; I am still “in captivity to the law.” Carry on reading – hopefully you will see what I mean.
If we argue, I am lost in that pile of sticks. I try and use a stick of mine against a stick of yours. Every attempt at an explanation, every effort to refute an apparently false accusation, is just another stick in the fireplace. My stick is right, I say, and yours is wrong! But which law is at work here – the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or the law of sin and death at work in my members? There is obviously only one answer to this one. My flesh is trying to preserve itself by appealing to the law that says I am right and you are wrong, and in doing so is delivering itself to death. The sinful passion that is aroused by this law is the desire to justify myself. It only goes one way if I don’t stop trying to prove that I am right, which of course is where the enemy of our souls is trying to guide it – because if I keep going it will get to the point where he can put a match to it all by tempting me to say something intentionally destructive. At which point the whole thing goes up in flames.
Yet there remains a problem. “Lord,” I say, “What if I am right??”
“Yes you may be right,” He says gently, “But that’s beside the point. Being right has nothing to do with being righteous. The point is this. You all sin. You all fall short of my glory. You are all like china shops, where some of the items in the shop are real, and some are imagined. Some are “right,” after the flesh, and some are “wrong.” What do you do? Should you behave like a bull in someone else’s china shop, charging around in your own direction and your own thoughts, and then trying to justify why you broke some of the pieces; or do you love enough to consider all of their china – whether it’s real or imagined – and walk carefully around it? After all, who are you to judge what is true?”
When we argue, it brings death. Arguing is carnal, not spiritual. The consequence of an argument within a relationship is always in some way the wages of sin. The jackdaws are the flesh; the sticks in the fireplace are the law of sin and death which is served by the flesh. The law of sin and death is what the jackdaw flesh nests in. Yes, we can spend our time cleaning out the fireplace, going for prayer at every other meeting; and yes we can repent and seek forgiveness of one another. The grace of God makes this provision. But the jackdaws always come back, and they will always drop their sticks. How much better to realise that God has given us a completely different, brand new fireplace where the fire of His love is already burning in our hearts?
Paul ends Romans 7 with these famous words: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25). If we can use our minds to direct us to the fire of God’s love in every situation, we will not lose ourselves in the sticks of dead wood which the enemy is waiting to put a match to, and which, even if he doesn’t succeed, will only ever be used against each other.
“When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7: 5-6)
I am dead to the Law, for I died with Christ, and I am alive to God. God always wants me to love. He wants me to choose being righteous above being right. To do so I have to look into the china shop before charging in with the first thoughts that are in my head: consider what pieces of china might already be there, and consider what effect my words might have on them. If I do that, I will be speaking in love before I open my mouth. Think how much time is lost in an argument, besides other considerations of the fruit that is borne through it to death. It might take a bit longer to think before you speak, but it wastes a lot less time.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” (Rom 3: 21-22)
The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus is apart from the law; it’s a different fireplace. We need to choose to be righteous, not to be right.