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Classic JM: Psalm 1, the Law, and the Missional Church

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 24, 2007

The following was originally posted on February 25, 2005.

Today in my Old Testament class, we analyzed Psalm 1. Our analysis showed that Psalm 1 is a chiasm, which contrasts the righteous and the wicked. Every verse has a parallel in the psalm, except verse 2, which is the key point of the psalm. Verse two shows us that the difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the righteous man delights in the Law of the Lord. The Psalms talk a great deal about delighting in the Law. The Law is important to the life of justice and righteousness.

When the modern Christian reads the Psalms, and they come accross Psalm 1:2, what do they think of?

 Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.

Most of us would interpret this passage to say that “blessed is the person who delights in the Scriptures,” right? I think this misinterprets the role that the Law played and plays. The New Covenant equivalent to the Law is not the books of the New Testament. It isn’t the Gospels or the Epistles, or even the Sermon on the Mount–at least not directly.

For the Christian, the Spirit fulfills the role played by the Law in the Old Covenant. This isn’t to denigrade the role of the Scriptures for the believer, but to put it in the proper perspective. Our churches must read and iterpret the Scriptures. But the Scripture is not authoritative in the life of the Believer. The Spirit is. This isn’t to say that the truth in Scripture isn’t authoritative…but to say that the truth within Scripture isn’t accesible apart from the constituting, guiding presence of the Spirit.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that we don’t need the Bible, nor am I saying that the sort of revelation the Spirit gives you while you are in prayer is as authoritative as the revelation of Scripture. By no means. However, the Bible isn’t revelation unless it is illuminated by the Spirit. The Bible is useless without the Church, just as the Church is crippled without the Bible.

All this is to say that the Spirit MUST take a center role in our understanding of ourselves as the Body of Christ. There is no church apart from the Spirit. Scripture is worthless apart from the Spirit. We must be a people constituted by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Viewing 13 Comments

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    Great post! I love what your where your going with this.
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    I'm glad! Any thoughts about potential implications?
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    Sounds kinda Barthian. I've always found that very attractive in most ways, as long as the word is the word on it's own too. Sounds like you've processed that well, my friend. May the Spirit ROCK you and me and this city!
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    In a typical day, do you read The Book more than other books? Other books have a needful place in the life of a Christian, but not nearly as needful as the only Book inspired by the Holy Spirit.
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    Yes, I think I do. I hope I'm not sounding like the Bible isn't important, or that other books can be used by the Spirit to speak into our lives even remotely the way Scripture can. However, the Scripture isn't a magical book. Without the Spirit, it lacks the power to tranform.
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    Bravo to that! Good answer!
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    I applaud your conclusion that the Spirit is essential for the Scriptures to be what they have been designed to be but I balk at the idea that the Bible is "worthless" without the church and by implication, without the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it finds full fruit when, in the context of a body of redeemed, Spirit-led individuals, it is read, understood and obeyed but it stands as truth regardless of the Spirit's enabling and makes truth claims that are relevant even to the uninitiated. For example, laws have been established in unregenerated contexts (ie. nations that are unreligious) that prohibit murder. The Bible, while not necessarily consulted, confirms the validity of such a law. American theory of esablished government is based upon a biblical assumption that leaders are not to be trusted without checks and balances... again, confirmed by the truth claims of the scriptures. I agree that illumination by a supernatural engagement of the Holy Spirit is necessary for full effect but I also believe the bible stands alone as revelation in and of itself, regardless of its affect upon men. Inspiration demands it.
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    I may have been overstating things a bit (which I tend to do for the sake of effect), but inspiration doesn not demand it. Everything you mentioned that can be accomplished apart from the Spirit can also be accomplished by other documents than the Bible. The Bible is given for salvation, not as a guide to national governments to do good and sound laws. I know alot of people will disagree with me, but that's how I see it. Part of the problem in the world today was that governments started becoming vaguely and partially Judeo-Christian...the CHurch has lost its distictiveness and voice in part because of this. I know I sound a bit catholic or a bit anabaptist in my view that the Bible needs the Church and it nees the Spirit, or it stays only half a document, without the power to speak. To say that the Scripture is inspired in and of itself is an odd notion that doesn't find any real support in Scripture.
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    You're right. Inspiration as well as illumination are both equally supernatural dynamics that produce the effect of truth in the life of a believer in tandem with each other. I guess that what unnerved me was the notion that the Text is worthless outside of the context of the local church and guided by the Holy Spirit. I only suggest that there are many elements of value contained in scripture that have been understood by unregenerate man, albeit incompletely, that demonstrate that the Bible still has value to a lost world. Financial advice from Solomon makes its way into the unsaved business world, relational advice from Jesus makes its way into self-help books and even dietary advice from Moses gets touted as a better way to get roughage than our current pattern of eating. Add to that the physical benefits of resting every seventh day and you see real functional value apart from the rich spiritual benefits that the Spirit adds by His teaching to the soul. Anyway, enough said and thanks for your thoughts.
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    Sorry for coming to this discussion a little late (I was fasting from the internet during Lent), but you never say what the law IS in your post, you only say what it isn't.

    I just got done teaching Psalm 119 to high school kids, and in my study I had a really similar feeling: You can't just plug in the word New Testament everywhere it says "law" or "ordinance" or "command."

    But what do we plug in? And what is the main point of passages like Psalm 1 and 119 for NT believers?
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    But I do say what the Law is...it is the Spirit. The Spirit speaks to the community. The Old Testament community needed the Prophets and Priests to mediate the will of God. Passages like Psalm 1 and 119 are still helpful and essential because we can still learn about God from them. It is just that our relationship to the Law is more intense, since we have a more direct relationship with the Lawgiver. We now, as Scripture says, follow the Law of Christ or the Law of the Spirit, which don't contridict the Old Covenant...no they fulfill and absorb it, since now our relationship with YHWH is direct.
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    Right, that much I got. But what does that mean practically in terms of how we use Scripture as disciples of Jesus, and, more specifically, in terms of how we interpret references to the law in the OT?
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    I believe Mark Van words in this post those are Blessed are those
    who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. Thank you for this wonderful statements.

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