Paul once wrote:
“But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differs nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world” (Gal. 4:1-3).
In this context the apostle refers to the condition of the world (including the Mosaic system) prior to the introduction of the religion of Jesus Christ. It was a child-like state, lacking maturity; it was a sort of “kindergarten” condition, where only the ABCs (cf. “rudiments”) were known. By way of contrast, Christianity is a system that expects a deeper level of service to God. There are several ways to illustrate this principle.
Greater Degree of Tolerance
When one is a child, more is tolerated in terms of behavior. For example, we may think it “cute” when a baby throws his peas on the floor. We would not entertain a similar view if our twenty-one year old offspring did the same. We anticipate that siblings will argue occasionally over a toy; we hope they will not stoop to such as adults.
The Bible makes it clear that, during the pre-Christian ages, God was more tolerant of humanity’s weaknesses than is the case now. For example, in the infancy period of history, Jehovah “suffered [permitted] the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). He “overlooked” their ignorance, but now he exacts a more demanding response; the Lord commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
Jesus once acknowledged that under the Hebrew system, Moses, because of the hardness of the people’s hearts, allowed the practice of capricious divorce (Mt. 19:8). The Lord affirmed, however, that this did not represent the divine ideal. “...[F]rom the beginning it hath not been so....” Under his regime, a higher level of accountability would be required.
“Whoever shall divorce his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, is committing adultery...” (9).
The writer of Hebrews makes it frightfully clear that those who flaunt the law of God in the Christian age will receive a “sorer punishment” than those who disobeyed under the former system (10:29).
In view of this, how could a person, living in the Christian era, ever feel comfortable attempting to justify his moral or religious conduct by the standard of the Old Testament? A man once argued to this writer that he believed God would ignore frivolous divorce and remarriage today. His reasoning was: If the Lord tolerated such under the Mosaic period, surely he will do so today; otherwise, there was more “grace” then than now. I suggested that if his argument were valid, a man could have multiple wives today, for God tolerated (and even regulated) that practice under Moses. The brother winced, but then suggested that he would not have a problem with that!
The Carnality of the Mosaic system
When one is young, he requires lots of visuals in his education. As he grows older, he learns to reason and to think abstractly, hence, he is able to act more responsibly. This circumstance explains why there were so many carnal elements in the Hebrew system.
In a discussion of the Old Testament tabernacle arrangement, the writer of Hebrews argued that these trappings were but a “figure,” i.e., an Old Testament type, a prophetic visual aid, given in preparation for the “time present,” i.e., the Christian era (9:9). He continued by describing the components of the Mosaic law as “carnal ordinances” imposed until a time of reformation, i.e., until the Christian age (10).
For instance, under the Levitical regime, there were animal sacrifices. All of these were made obsolete by the offering of Jesus (Heb. 10:10-14). Today, Christians themselves are living sacrifices, offered daily in divine service (Rom. 12:1; 2 Tim. 4:6).
Under the Mosaic administration there was a material temple, but this has been replaced by a spiritual edifice of living stones (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Acts 17:24). Additionally, the tribal priesthood of the Old Testament gives way to the fact that every child of God in this age is a priest, qualified to approach the Creator directly (1 Pet. 2:5,9).
During the Israelite economy, worship was offered in the burning of incense, and, at the behest of David (cf. Am. 6:5), Jehovah was praised on various instruments of music. Under Christ, the instrument of musical praise is the human voice combined with the melody of the heart (Eph. 5:19). Moreover, we burn no material incense; rather, our prayers ascend as a sweet aroma unto the Lord (Rev. 5:8).
Why is it that many today long to return to that “kindergarten” system, instead of enjoying the blessings of maturity in Christ?
On Your Honor
When one is a child, he must be told virtually everything to do. Brush your teeth, pick up your clothes, etc. As he grows, he is able to act more responsibly, functioning according to loftier principles, and exercising choices which bring honor to his parents.
The Jewish rabbis had a collection of 613 commands (248 were positive; 365 were negative). In addition, they had fifty volumes of commentary explaining those detailed rules. The Mosaic code itself contained dietary regulations, clothing specifications, etc. — a plethora of civil, social, and religious minutia. The New Testament system is not structured in the same fashion.
While it certainly is true that we are under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2), and though it is the case that there are some strong specifics (e.g., as prohibitions against murder, theft, and adultery), nonetheless, in many instances the New Testament deals in principle. It addresses motive and encourages responsible submission to the will of God. Think about these concepts:
- “All things whatever you would that men do unto you, even so do you also unto them” (Mt. 7:12).
- “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33).
- “Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17).
- “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22).
Think about all the problems these principled statements could solve. Marvel at how God has honored us by allowing us to make mature decisions, instead of having a “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” for every contingency in life. Consider this when you are tempted to ask: “Show me where the Bible says I can’t gamble, take a social drink, or go golfing Sunday morning!”
Let us abandon childish attitudes, and serve the Lord with mature dignity.