Hearing and Doing God’s Law in the Information Age

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (From Wikimedia Commons)
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)
(From Wikimedia Commons)

Second Sunday after Pentecost / Second Sunday of Matthew, June 14, 2015
Romans 2:10-16; Matthew 4:18-23
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

St. Paul, in his words from the second chapter of Romans which we heard today, has something to say about what we’re supposed to do with what we hear from God.

If you read the Bible, if you come to church, if you read other spiritual writings, you will hear the words of the Law of God. You may hear about the ancient Law of Moses which was given to the Jews to set them apart from the nations, or you may hear about the higher Law of the New Testament given by Jesus not just to the Jews but to the whole world.

In the Scriptures, in the Divine Liturgy and other services of the Church, in the words of a sermon, in the holy icons, in the writings of the Holy Fathers, and in spiritual conversations with family and friends, we receive a lot of content.

We live in an “information age.” We are bombarded with content from almost every direction. Whether it’s from our TV, our smartphone, the radio, the Internet, billboards or other advertisements, we cannot quite escape this unending stream of content. Most of this content we just absorb as entertainment, content that distracts us or occupies us just for a moment, something that grabs our minds to keep us from getting bored. And sometimes, once we have absorbed enough of this content on a particular subject, we may choose to do something about it, especially if we have been advertised to enough so that we buy whatever it is they’re selling.

All of this makes it very hard to learn the lesson that St. Paul is teaching us today. We are so used to taking our experiences of content, whether images or sounds or text, and just filing them away in that big file of entertaining, distracting content somewhere in our minds.

But when we hear from God, we can’t do that. When we hear from God, we have to put everything else aside and listen, because this is really important. This is more important than anything else. These words will last forever, because they are the words of the everlasting covenant that God has ordained for His people whom He has come to save and release from the oppression of the devil.

If you were in captivity and someone came to you and told you how you were going to be set free, wouldn’t you listen? Well, God is telling you this. You are in captivity, even if it’s not obvious to you. So you need to listen. I know it’s hard. There are so many distractions. It’s so easy to get bored. It takes work to listen and not just be entertained. But the words of God are not entertainment. So we have to work. So let’s work a little right now. Let’s listen to what Paul says about hearing from God.

The first thing he tells us from God is that there is “honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Why “to the Jew first”? It is because the Jews first received the Law from God. God began His revelation to Israel. What does “and also to the Greek” mean? Does it mean you have to be Greek? No, Greek here is a general term for the Gentiles, that is, anyone who is not a Jew—most of the Gentiles who surrounded the Jews in the first century were indeed Greeks. So this honor and peace come first to the Jews but then to everyone else, if they do good, because “there is no respect of persons with God.” That is, God will honor and give peace to anyone who does good, no matter what group they belong to.

He then turns it around and says that “as many as have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and as many as have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” So sin affects you either way—your sins will bring perishing and judgment upon you whether or not you have received the Law of God, whether or not you were part of that Old Covenant with Israel or the New Covenant with the New Israel.

Here’s where he gets to the core of what he’s talking about, and this is the part I would especially like us to listen to today: “for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law are justified.” Did you hear that? Whether or not you hear the Law, whether it’s the Law of Moses you heard as a Jew or the Law of Love that you heard from Jesus, if you are not a doer of the Law, then you are not justified.

Before we go further, we should probably say something about what it means to be “justified.” It means that you are righteous before God, that you have held up your end of the deal in the covenant. One who is “justified” in a covenant is someone who has done what the covenant required of him. God is always justified in His covenants, because He always does what He promises. But mankind is frequently condemned rather than justified, because we don’t hold up our end of the deal and we don’t repent when we do that to bring us back.

The repercussions of condemnation are to be cast out of the covenant people once the reckoning finally comes around. Being justified means that you get to remain in the covenant people and receive all the good things of the covenant when the reckoning comes. In the case of the covenant which is now in force, the covenant with the New Israel, the Church, what brings us into the covenant is baptism, which justifies us before God. But we can be cast out of the covenant at the end of time if we do not do what is expected of us. In the end, it’s only the doers of the Law who will be justified.

And God will judge everyone on that basis, whether they have heard the Law of God or not. Paul says that the nations have the work of the Law written in their hearts, that their conscience bears witness to this, so even if someone does not know the teachings of Christ, he is still responsible to what God has written in his heart. God speaks His words to every one of us in one way or another. We have all heard the Law in one way or another, though not everyone has heard the fullness of the Law. But everyone will be either justified or condemned on the basis of what he did with the Law that he knew.

So what does this mean for us? How does all this apply to us here and now?

As members of the Church, as members of Christ Himself, we have access to the full revelation of God to man, the full accounting of what He has said about Himself, His rescue of His people, and how He expects us to hold up our part of the covenant. This is a lot more than what people have who only have their conscience to guide them. We have our consciences, yes, but we also have the Scriptures, the divine services, and all the messages that God sends us through His servants, including those He speaks directly into our own hearts. So that means we are actually much more responsible for what we have than those who have only their consciences. To whom much is given, of him much is required (Luke 12:48).

So we have a much greater responsibility to filter out all the noise of the modern information age, to listen specifically for the words of God that He speaks to us. We can’t let them get lost in the noise. And we also can’t treat these words like we treat everything else.

The Scriptures are not entertainment. A sermon is not entertainment. The divine services are not entertainment. These things are not distractions meant to occupy us for a time before we get on to something else. If we go home today saying, “I really enjoyed that service” or “I didn’t like that service,” then we have put the precious and glorious things of God on the same level as whatever just started streaming on Netflix.

Our worship here in the Church should spur us to action. Our membership in Christ should spur us to action. When we have access to what is holy, it should spur us to action. We cannot just come to church, read our Bibles, hear a sermon, or whatever it might be, and then say, “Well, that was nice” or “Well, I didn’t like that” and then go about our lives. If it’s the truth, it doesn’t matter if we like it. It doesn’t matter what we think about it. What matters is what we do with it. What we hear has to be met with action.

So we have to listen, and we have to listen well.

And then we have to go and do something about what we have heard, because it’s not the hearers of the Law who are justified, but the doers. Are you a “doer”? When you hear the words of God in the many places we as Orthodox Christians have access to, ask yourself what you will do about what you heard. Because you have to do something about it.

Today’s action is to remember to listen. Don’t let God’s word get lost in all the noise. And in the future, when you listen, remember that you have to do something about what you hear. It is is the doers of the Law who are justified in the covenant with God.

To our Lord Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.