“‘Woe unto them who fill themselves
with that which is not theirs,’ and ‘He who delves
into the world for profit, though he gain
the whole, shall lose his soul and know the pain
of loss.’ Yet tedious would it be to show
from all the Law what any man can know
who reads it: Avarice is a mortal sin.
‘You shall in no way covet what is in
your neighbor’s hand.’ ‘You shall not kill.’ For he
who murders cannot with the Savior be.
‘Who hates his brother kills,’ or, we may say,
‘Who does not love his brother walks the way
- Patrick, Letter Against the Soldiers of Coroticus
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
- Matthew 5.21, 22
The exercise of church discipline requires judgment. And that judgment must be righteous, as Jesus explained (Jn. 7.24). From the tone of his Letter, it is clear that Patrick was outraged and angry. But outrage and anger are not sufficient grounds for making judgments. Righteous judgments require a righteous standard, and that standard is only to be found in the holy and righteous and good Law of God (Rom. 7.12).
Patrick’s basis for excommunicating Coroticus and his soldiers was that they had wantonly violated the Law of God by covetousness, theft, and murder. The ethical and moral basis for all righteous judgment must be the Law of God—the Ten Commandments and the precepts, statutes, and rules, spread throughout Exodus to Deuteronomy, which help us understand the application of God’s Law in specific situations.
Patrick’s preaching and teaching certainly depended heavily on the Law of God. By preaching the commandments of the Lord, Patrick awakened people to their sins and pointed them to Jesus as their sin-bearer. But Patrick also taught the people that, though the Law of God cannot save, those who are saved need the Law to guide their new life in Christ.
Jesus kept the Law of God, and He explained that He had not come to set the Law aside; rather, He insisted that keeping the Law and teaching others to do so was a key to greatness in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19). The apostle John insisted that anyone who wants to follow Jesus must walk the path of the commandments of God, just as Jesus did (1 Jn. 2.1-6). Paul explained that, while the Law of God cannot save us, it is nonetheless established as integral to our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (Rom. 3.31). James wrote that believers should conduct themselves with an understanding that their works are judged by the Law of liberty, the Law of God (Jms. 2.12). The Holy Spirit, Whom God has sent into our hearts and by Whom we are saved and declared to be the sons and daughters of God (Gal. 4. 4-6), has as His primary work to rewrite the Law of God on our new hearts and to empower us to will what God wills and do what lines up with His pleasure (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Phil. 2.13).
So what are we to make of the widespread ignorance concerning the Law of God among those who claim to be followers of Jesus? Of pastors and theologians who deny any ongoing relevance to or need for the Law of God? And of believers who tend to judge more by what they feel than what they know of God’s Law in making their daily choices?
It’s no wonder that today we are hearing cries—from outside the church as well as from within it—that Christians are not a loving people, that we’re more concerned about our own happiness and that of our Christian friends than of all those to whom God sends us day by day. After all, Jesus warned us that, if we neglect the Law of God—which teaches above all how we must love God and our neighbors (Matt. 22.34-30)—then our love for all people will grow cold (Matt. 24.12).
Patrick loved his flocks enough to teach them the Law of God and to come to their defense on the basis of it. And he loved the enemies of his flocks enough to point them to the Law in the hope that the Spirit would use it to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16.8-11). We ignore the Law of God to our peril. Whereas the Scriptures call us to meditate day and night in the Law of God (Ps. 1), to delight in, meditate on, hearken to, and live by the Law of God (Pss. 19, 119), our generation of believers prefers another route to realizing full and abundant life in Christ. God says to us, “This is the way, walk in it!” But we say, “I think I can do better than that.”
We are fools, like Coroticus and his soldiers, who think we can make up our own rules about how we must follow Jesus. Better that we look to Patrick and follow his example, whom God blessed so richly because of his faithfulness to all the counsel of God in Scripture, beginning with His Law.
1. What role does the Law of God have in your walk with and work for the Lord?
2. What could you do to realize more love for God and your neighbors through the Law of God?
Psalm 119.20-22 (Open My Eyes: Open My Eyes, That I May See)
My soul with longing breaks for You;
all of Your judgments I would do.
For You rebuke the proud and the cursed,
who from Your Law have strayed, and worse.
Take from me all contempt, O LORD,
for I have kept Your holy Word.
Lift all reproach from me, O LORD—
my soul renew!
Lord, create in me a hunger for Your Law, that I may learn to…
T. M. Moore
You can read more about the impact of Patrick’s ministry in our book, The Legacy of Patrick. Here you’ll learn how Patrick’s work has affected generations of Christians down to our own day. Order your copy by clicking here.
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.