Don’t Take the Lord’s Law in Vain

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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In listing the qualifications of a pastor (Tit. 1:6-8), Paul told Titus a pastor must always be “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught” (v. 9), adding,

“For there are many… vain talkers…” (Titus 1:10).

What do you think those “vain talkers” were saying?  Well, since Paul warned Timothy about men who “turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law” (I Tim. 1:6,7), it’s likely the “vain talkers” Paul warned Titus about were also teaching the Law.

This is especially likely since these “vain talkers” were “specially…of the circumcision.”  The Jews of the circumcision loved the Law of Moses (John 9:28,29), and understandably so.  After all, the Law was once the word that spiritual leaders in Israel were expected to hold fast!  But part of the “faithful word” Paul teaches us to hold fast was the precious truth that “we are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:15).

How important is it to recognize this dispensational change?  Paul insists that teaching the law to people under grace is “vain.”  I wonder if he was thinking of how Samuel used that word to warn God’s people about idolatry, saying,

“…turn ye not aside… after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver…(I Sam. 12:21).

We know these “vain things” were idols, for God often associates idolatry with such “vanities” (Jer. 10:14,15; 16:19,20).  This suggests that Paul called the teaching of the Law “vain” because they of the circumcision made an idol out of it.  Of course!  Any time God’s people refuse to let go of something that is no longer a part of His program, it becomes an idol.  Remember, Hezekiah had to destroy the brazen serpent Moses lifted up when God’s people later began to worship it (II Ki. 18:4).

But did you notice how Samuel defined the word “vain” as something that cannot profit or deliver?  That was certainly true of idols in ancient Israel, but it is also true of the Law in the dispensation of grace.  You see, that word “deliver” is another word for save, as we see when we compare how Paul quoted the prophet Joel (Joel 2:32 cf. Rom. 10:13).

And that’s another reason Paul called the teaching of the Law “vain.”  In the dispensation of grace, the Law can’t profit or deliver or save anyone now that its time is past, any more than the brazen serpent could once its time was past.

Granted, the Law used to be able to save.  That’s why the David declared, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps. 19:7).  And that’s why he added, “I hate vain thoughts: but Thy law do I love” (Ps. 119:113).  Obviously the Law wasn’t vain when it was part of God’s program!  It wasn’t unprofitable back then because it could deliver and save men’s souls, when people like Zacharias and Elizabeth obeyed it blamelessly (Luke 1:6).  But now people are saved by receiving Christ by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8), and Paul tells us to walk in the same grace that saved us (Col. 2:6).

Do you see how crucial it is to always study God’s word by “rightly dividing” it (II Tim. 2:15)?  Unless you recognize the division between God’s plan for Israel in time past and His plan for people living today, you can’t even be sure of the plan of salvation, nor “how ye ought to walk and to please God” once you are saved (I Thes. 4:1).  In time past, God’s people walked in the Law (Ex. 16:4), but no longer!

This is why Paul told Titus that a pastor must always be found “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught,” for the “word” Paul taught was “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32)!  May all of God’s pastors and all of God’s people hold it fast!

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