Lectionary Commentaries for September 10, 2023
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 18:15-20

Richard Ward

Strange, isn’t it, that the lectionary has jumped to this text over some dramatic episodes like the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13) and the healing of a demon-possessed boy (17:14-21), then over an intriguing teaching of a coin-bearing fish that enables payment of the Temple tax (17:24-27)? Now we find ourselves in a section of the Gospel that deals with “normal” stuff like life in the church. The preacher might consider a sermon series on this topic. The text for today is surrounded by others that are designed to shape conduct within the community of believers. 

First, would-be leaders in the community are to be as humble and teachable as children (Matthew 18:1-5). Next, Jesus’ followers must attend to matters of personal morality so that they don’t become “stumbling blocks” in the paths of others (18:6-9). Third, faithful disciples cultivate care for one another (18:10-14) in the manner that Paul writes to the Romans. “Owe no one anything,” he says, “except to love one another” (13:8a). Fourth, be persistent in resolving situations involving conflict (see the discussion below on the text for today). Then, be prepared to offer forgiveness to one another, “seventy times seven” if necessary (18:21-35). 

Within this set of practices is perhaps the most difficult one to address—conflict. If there is one thing we can be sure of in the era of rapid social changes that affect church life, it is that conflicts will arise. The question is: how will we deal with it? Churches are certainly aware of this. In every search process for a pastoral leader I’ve been aware of, the question will always come up: “how do you handle conflict?” The candidate also has a request of the committee: “How have you handled conflicts in the past?” And so it goes. Here Jesus speaks about the matter with an assurance: “When two are three are gathered in my name” (even to deal with conflict), “I am there in the midst of them”. 

Preachers and their congregations know that even the finest preachers can’t just “preach away” a conflict. They can certainly set up a theological framework for difficult conversations, but at some point, preachers must step out of the pulpit and assume a pastoral role in some kind of process. That’s what Matthew outlines here for his congregation. 

Step one: privately take your grievance to the one who has “sinned against you”. If you feel heard, well and good. If not, go to step two. Take a couple of folks with you that both of you can trust. If you are heard then, fine. All is well. If not, take the matter before the local body of believers. If the offender still doesn’t listen, then, tragically, a bond is broken and the offender must be treated as an “outsider”. That certainly doesn’t mean that the offender is outside of God’s care and concern. It doesn’t mean the offender is to be treated with contempt. What it does mean is that an offender is to be treated with compassion and a hope that fellowship can be restored. This is, to be sure, an idealized process and as such bears scrutiny. It does, however, point to the need for any church to have a road map to a hoped for reconciliation. 

As important as processes are, the principles that guide them are even more so. These principles go to the very heart of what it means to be the Body of Christ in our world. According to the Apostle Paul, one part of the body cannot say to another part of the body: I have no need of you! (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). These are strange words to ears in our culture of individualism. More familiar words are independence, self-reliance, and “I am my own person” so “I have no need of you”. It’s hard for a cluster of well-meaning but self-sufficient individuals to think of themselves as a mystical “Body” when they come together for worship. It’s often in worship, though, when we begin to feel more like a Body than a loose collection of individuals. 

For example, during “joys and concerns” heart-felt utterances of one’s need for prayer or an announcement of some good news knit a community together in ways that surprise us. We catch a glimpse in such moments of how we are bound together in the Body of Christ and how painful it is when conflict affects that bond. 

When conflict goes unaddressed, hearts begin to harden and the experience of being the Body of Christ fades into memory. When it is addressed, but done as if the church is only a collection of individuals and nothing else, then a pastoral ministry can end in bitterness, relationships are broken, and “alleluia” gets stuck in the throats of those that are left. 

When we do address conflict believing that we are not simply an “institutional church” but a place where “two or three can gather together” in the presence of Christ, we are freed to be what we were created to be—God’s agents of reconciliation. Consider the immense need in our culture for communities where simple virtues are practiced—respect for the dignity of each individual, humble servant leadership, understanding and exploring racial and cultural differences with curiosity rather than fear, taking responsibility for wrongdoing and offering and accepting forgiveness, and empathizing with the pain and isolation of another. 

One of the dominant themes in contemporary culture is “loss”—loss of faith in democratic institutions, loss of national pride and international prestige, loss even of some common understanding of “truth”. We’ve lost much because in our society we’ve forgotten how to deal with conflict. However, those of us who are bound together as the Body of Christ serve a God whose will is that not even little ones should be lost (Matthew 18:14). In service to our God and in the name of God’s Christ, we become agents of reconciliation to each other and to the world that God loves.

First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 33:7-11

Dale Coulter

The pericope reminds Ezekiel of his call to be a watchman over the house of Israel. His prophetic task is to call Israel to repentance when she falls short of her covenantal responsibilities before God. While this task involves declaring God’s judgment for Israel’s sins, it also means inviting Israel to repent in light of the lovingkindness of God. In Ezekiel, divine justice is restorative not punitive. It is to remove the cancer eating at the nation and bring her back into health so that she can embody the holiness of God in her life and witness. Without this holiness, there can be no justice or righteousness. 

God calls leaders to guard the deposit of faith so that the church may remain holy before God in her proclamation of the gospel. In the light of Pentecost, the prophetic task has been extended to the whole church but manifests itself particularly through the ministers who serve the body. While the prophetic task is to call the church to holiness in light of the dangers of capitulation to the idols of the age, this task always occurs in the context of the lavish grace of God that calls all to repentance. 

The passage speaks to the prophetic call to guard the church and the message of costly grace without which the people of God cannot bear witness to the one who bids the world to come and die. In short, the church must guard the grace of God so that it is not cheapened.

The call to guard

The prophetic task flows from the greater vision of God as the holy one of Israel who calls the nations to follow his way of holiness. The pericope begins with God’s reminder to Ezekiel that God has called him to be a watchman (Ezekiel 33:7). The language of “watchman” takes Ezekiel back to the original call in the context of his visionary experience of God’s mobile throne (Ezekiel 1-3). Ezekiel’s call comes from his vision of the nature of God as holy and just and one who calls all to follow Him. This is the vision of faith and its movement to sight. Only as we see God can we then engage in the task of proclaiming this God to others.

The prophetic task involves critique. Ezekiel must remind the wicked of how far they have fallen from the covenant and the consequences of their wickedness. This is what it means to guard and watch over the people of God. Normally, a watchman guards against external forces. Ironically, however, the enemy is within the nation. It is the wickedness of her own life that calls down judgment. Ezekiel must warn the wicked (Ezekiel 33:8) lest he be judged for failing to heed his prophetic vocation. The prophetic task of critique is not an option. The church must constantly remind herself of how she falls short of the gospel. Before she bears witness to the world, she must examine herself to see where she has failed God.  

The call to grace

Divine judgment comes in the context of grace. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declares that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). This declaration points forward to later chapters in which God will breathe life back into the nation through the Spirit (Ezekiel 37). God longs to give and restore. It is a vivid reminder that God’s love is the constant flow of grace and mercy toward creation. God’s delight is to restore to wholeness, not to punish. In this sense, Ezekiel provides the negative counter to the positive proclamation that God is love (1 John 4:16). 

Divine judgment restores to life. The contrast in 33:11 is between death and life. This harkens back to the two paths God had set before Israel in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). God is the God of the living who brings life even to the darkest places. God’s justice does not destroy life but heals and delivers. It is life-giving. For this reason, there can be no final contradiction between justice and love. Justice is merely one expression of God’s love. It is God’s refusal to allow death to win and to allow his people to wallow in their own destructive ways. 

 The call to turn

The call to grace involves a call to turn away from wickedness and toward holiness. The final appeal of God in this passage is to turn (Ezekiel 33:11). There is no holiness without justice and no happiness without holiness. This is because holiness is about the proper ordering of all things in the self and in the world. We normally think of justice as rendering to others their due. Justice is about rights. Yet, scripture sees justice more in terms of blessedness, which is the biblical way of orienting us toward wholeness and flourishing. To be just is to bring God’s kingdom—God’s own orderly reign—to all of life. The gospel is the good news that God’s kingdom is here to facilitate a journey toward a wholeness and holiness that leads to our flourishing. To be healed is to have God re-order our desires so that they no longer take us down destructive paths. 

The first step toward this healing is repentance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned the church in Germany that grace was always costly. Cheap grace is grace without repentance and discipleship. Costly grace involves the call to come to Christ and die. Yet, this death is to the very behaviors and beliefs that are destroying us. The path to life involves laying down the sins that so easily entangle. 

Repentance is the radical decision to turn away from the destructive forces of death and enter the path of life. It is by no means easy, any more than becoming a great musician or athlete is easy. It involves constantly cutting ourselves off from behaviors that do not promote our spiritual health and well-being. Yet, the end of this costly grace is the life of blessedness in which we become all that God intended us to be. 

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 12:1-14

Kimberly D. Russaw

I grew up in the church. I was one of those kids that participated in the local church’s youth-related activities, such as choir, Girl Scouts, and Sunday School. If there was a reason for kids to be at church, my parents loaded my sisters and me into the car’s backseat and ensured we were there! In Sunday School, I was exposed to a god who creates in seven days, trusting patriarchs like Abram, tricky characters like Jacob, faithful characters like Hannah, dynamic leaders like David, and brave women like Ruth and Esther. One of the stories I remember from childhood is about Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues. I remember being worried about the baby floating down the river, repulsed by the idea of ugly frogs taking over the city, and invigorated by God parting the waters of the Red Sea so the people could leave Egypt. As a kid, I was so awed by the miracles of the plagues and the parting I did not consider the marvel of the Passover.  And I do not think I am alone. I suspect most people—kids and adults alike—who read the book of Exodus focus on the scourges and the separating and do not consider the sacrament. A closer look at the Exodus 12:1-14 text illuminates the relevance of this ancient ordinance for modern congregations.

In the first part of the book of Exodus, the pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites leave Egypt, and God responds with a series of miracles that attest to the formidable power of the god of the Israelites. In quick succession, the Lord puts blood in the water, releases frogs, gnats, and flies upon Egypt, strikes the livestock with a deadly disease, infects the people with boils, rains down thunder and hail, overruns Egypt with locusts, dispatches darkness to the land, and announces the pending death of the firstborn in the land (Exodus 7-11). As the severity of the plagues escalates, and the sense of intrigue heightens, readers of the biblical text stand on virtual tiptoe looking over into the 12th chapter of the book to see how the great god of the Israelites will execute the next plague only to find the Lord giving Moses and Aaron instructions regarding the institution of a community ritual. Amid the dramatics associated with a hesitant Israelite leader repeatedly confronting a stubborn Egyptian pharaoh, an obedient sidekick marveling at frogs appearing when he stretches his staff over the waterways, and other out-of-this-world phenomena that stump the esteemed magicians of the Egyptian court, readers are met with detailed instructions for a ritual. Lodged between the announcement of the death of the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 11:1-10) and deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12:33-51), readers find the details of a communal sacrament. While the placement of our focus text may seem anticlimactic to invested readers of the sacred text, the canonical ordering of the Passover during demonstrations of the Divine’s power memorializes its importance.

Exodus 12 includes the institution of the Passover festival, which commemorates how the Lord spared the Israelites and did not destroy them when the land of Egypt suffered the tenth and final plague. Linguistically, the Hebrew word for Passover, pesach, means to “leave or spare by passing over.” The word comes from a verbal root meaning “to spare” or “to pass over.”¹ The Hebrew word points to the physical “passing over” when the angel of the Lord destroyed the Egyptians. The meaning of pesach is essential, but the mechanics of the first Passover are also significant.

While still in Egypt, the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron to inform the Israelites that each household was to sacrifice and hurriedly eat an unblemished lamb (or sheep or goat if they did not have access to a lamb) on a specified night (Exodus 12:1-8). While many English versions of the Bible translate the Hebrew word seh as “lamb,” this word represents a much broader group of animals. Because a seh is an animal of a flock, the Passover makes room for those who could not afford a lamb to participate in the ritual with a less premium animal like a sheep or a goat. Furthermore, if a household was too small to consume the entire animal, it would join its neighbor to participate in the ordinance. The mechanics of Passover make provision for all in the community. 

“… then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.”  Exodus 12:6

There is something powerful about engaging in rituals with others. Individual acts of worship seem more earnest, and their effects are more remarkable when done in concert with others. In my faith tradition, we recite the General Confession when we celebrate the Last Supper every first Sunday of every month. I am always awed at the splendor of people across the globe, pausing to acknowledge their unique relationship with the Divine reverently. Men, women, and children representing various positions in the society gathered with their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands, eating hurriedly (Exodus 12:11). How awesome must it have been when the Israelites gathered as a community to participate in the first Passover? The communal aspect of the Passover acknowledges the fact that the individual is, indeed, part of a larger group: that everyone belongs. The mechanics of Passover are communal.

The unleavened bread and bitter Passover herbs represent the Israelites’ pain. Once the households prepared the animal, members were to eat it quickly with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The unleavened bread (matzah) is an essential element of the Passover because it reminds us how the Israelites had to leave Egypt in such haste that the dough for their bread did not have time to rise.² The bitter herbs serve as another reminder of the harsh enslavement the Israelites endured in Egypt. The mechanics of Passover make room for our pain.

As a preface to the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the mechanics of Passover make provision for all, are communal, and make room for pain. The mechanics of Passover also serve as a reminder of the promises of God.  According to the writer(s) of Exodus 12:12-14, the Israelites were also instructed to put the slain animal’s blood on their doorposts. The Lord promises to pass over those blood-stained doors when the tenth plague falls upon the land of Egypt. “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The mechanics of Passover serve as a reminder of the promises of God.  

The Passover, as recorded in Exodus 12, not only interrupts the demonstration of the power of God but also amplifies the importance of making provision for everyone, belonging to a community, remembering our pain, and celebrating the promises of God. I do not think modern readers of the Bible will ever not be awed by the stories of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But those Hollywood-worthy exploits should not overshadow the sacrament detailed in the book of Exodus. Modern readers of the Exodus story are encouraged to consider the importance of the Passover ordinance as well.


  1. Eugene E. Carpenter and Philip W. Comfort, ed., Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), page 134.
  2. Ken Royal and Lauren Royal.  The New American Haggadah: A Simple Passover Seder for the Whole Family.  (San Clemente, CA: Novelty Books, 2012), 21.


Commentary on Psalm 119:33-40

Jason Byassee

Reading Psalm 119, one can appreciate why Jesus’ contemporaries objected to his ambivalence about the law.¹

His own protestations aside (Matthew 5:17), he seems to have played rather fast and loose with his own Torah. Sabbath gets nudged aside (Mark 2:27), kashrut laws are put in their place (Mark 7), and he says astonishing things about his own nature that fiercely monotheistic Israel must object to (Luke. 10:22), to give just a sampling.

A devoted reader of Psalm 119 would agree that Jews can argue till hoarse about this or that law and how to honor it. But whether to honor this or that law, or the law as a whole, is not up for debate. Those who pray Psalm 119 love it too much for that.

We might divide this section of 119 into two parts. Verses 33-35 deal with the heart and its instruction. The law is not a matter of cerebral knowledge alone, but of the heart’s delight (verse 35). The second section, verses 36-40, turns to the removal of obstacles in the way of following the law — vanities, unconfirmed promises, disgrace, lack of life.2

Think of the psalm as a lover longing for her beloved. First she enumerates his delights, then she bewails the things that could keep him from her. The section has an importunate tone as it prays — with 9 petitions in just 8 verses. Most are followed with a rationale.3 All positively demand something from God.

There is no limit to observing the law (verse 33). The end of our observation is the end of our life, as the Psalms make clear often — only the dead cannot praise. Its adherents never relax and settle into living like those without love for the law.4 The heart is, of course, the seat of affections in the Bible. The metaphor is so normalized among us we should perhaps point to other bodily regions — to keep the law with our whole guts (to use another biblical metaphor) or our whole throat perhaps. Our more vulgar age has its own imagery for half-heartedness. When Homer Simpson is upbraided by his boss for working “half-ass,” he whines back, “I thought I was using my whole ass.”

Delight is a key biblical category (verse 35). St. Augustine tells a catechist who is struggling with teaching that its key is delight. Those learning will notice what delights you, he says. So, delight in Christ and the scriptures, and those in your charge will slowly catch this benevolent contagion.4

The warning against “selfish gain” is about as biblical as biblical can get (verse 36). It not only makes the Big Ten (Exodus 20:17), it also seems here in the Psalm to compete for space with God. Spurgeon glosses over this verse by saying that covetousness “dethrones God.” It pretends to decide for oneself who gets what, by whatever injurious means.

To covet is to oppose God’s reign of grace, which should invoke gratitude, rather than the envy that seeks to acquire at all costs. It is sobering to think that our entire economic system in the West is premised on defying this unequivocal biblical command.

“Turn my eyes” from vanities, the psalmist prays. Psalms of instruction like the 119th often take up similar themes to the bible’s wisdom literature — in this case the book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity,” the Ecclesiast prays regularly. The psalm is less absolute — there are vanities, and God can help our attention turn to less vain things, like God’s own decrees.

I’ve worked as a movie reviewer and love films and television, but of course sometimes you see things you shouldn’t. And once the eye has seen something it cannot unsee it. A person “should be thankful in this world to have eyelids, and as they can close their eyes, so they should often do it,” one commentator says.6 Spurgeon’s Victorian age often waxes poetic on this theme: another commentator he reports upon says “A careless eye is an index to a graceless heart.”7

The psalm concludes with several notes about fear (verses 38-39). Who doesn’t fear disgrace, shame, opprobrium from others? The one who fears God, that’s who, the psalm says. It takes a greater fear to drive out a lesser. And the empire of fears that rules our lives can only be chased away by a fear even more imperious.

Both “fear” and “delight” describe the same thing — the presence of God, in this psalm embodied in the Torah — its laws, commands, decrees, and ordinances.

We Christians have had our reasons for setting the law aside. Jesus and Paul do it. Those of us who are Gentiles are grafted against our nature into the tree of Israel, and as bitter arguments in the New Testament sorted out, we do not have to keep Israel’s food laws or practice circumcision. Not because those laws are bad — look at Psalm 119, they’re delightful! But because God’s promise to stitch the world back together through Abraham’s family has come to fruition in Christ.

Israel was to be a people set apart to show that God has not abandoned the world. In Christ, God’s repair of the world is here in full. Jews and Gentiles eating together around one table of which Christ is head is a sign to the world that God’s reclamation of the world has begun in earnest. When the church divides, bickers, or spreads calumny rather than good news, we undo our very nature and mission.

Maybe a good place to reclaim it is to rediscover this psalm’s delight in the law. We cherish Israel’s statutes because they show God has not abandoned the world or the children God loves so very much.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on February 19, 2017.
  2. Psalms 3 in Hermeneia by Erich Zenger and Frank Lothar Hossfeld (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 269.
  3. C.H. Spurgeon in The Treasury of David: Spurgeon’s Classic Work on the Psalms, ed. David O. Fuller (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 521.
  4. Ibid.
  5. William Harmless Augustine and the Catechumenate (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1995), 160.
  6. A. Barnes, reported in Spurgeon, 524.
  7. A certain William Secker, ibid.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 13:8-14

David McCabe

Paul’s letter to the Roman believers is saturated in the Scriptures of Israel—Torah, Prophets, and the Writings. Their voices reverberating through these allusions have become the witnesses in the court of testimony pointing to the God of Israel’s justice-work in the Jewish Messiah.

Mid-way through Paul’s ethical exhortations to the house churches in Rome, he offers an anchor that may at first glance be puzzling: “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” (13:10). The bewilderment arises because Romans has often been read as “the death sentence” to the Law as a guide or principle for directing Christian action or conduct in the world. At the very least, the Torah of Moses has too often been relegated to the position of an Accuser in the divine court of judgment. “Grace is good; Law is bad.” Isn’t this what Romans is all about? Why would Paul revert to an opinion of a lower court? Furthermore, many have observed a perplexing absence of the explicit activity of the Holy Spirit in these communal exhortations of Pauline paraenesis (12:1-15:13).

The role of Torah is actually much more complicated in Paul’s argument. There are certainly claims which identify the Torah’s role as the prime evidence for a swift conviction: “For the Law brings about wrath; where there is no law, neither is their violation” (4:15). Indeed, “by the actions performed in accordance with (or actions performed by) the Torah, no person will be deemed just in God’s sight” (3:20a) because “Torah exposes knowledge of sin(fulness)” (3:20b). Just as the logic of Israel’s covenantal mandate in Torah undergirds the condemnation of corrupted humanity exchanging God’s glory for created imitations (1:18–32), the verdict finds succinct expression in the indictment: “all people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (3:23).

Paul’s ethical instruction in 13:8–14 sounds like generic Judeo-Christian decree. That is, there is nothing here that wouldn’t fit comfortably in the letter from James or other Jesus-following teachers who advocate for faithful Torah-observance. The latter balance of the Decalogue is even quoted by Paul as witnesses of testimony to his case, in the order of the 7th, 6th, 8th, and 10th commandments (Romans 13:9; see also Exodus 20:13–17; Deuteronomy 5:17–21). 

This may be surprising precisely because of how Paul has postured the Torah in the development of his gospel message. Already indicated above are some of the claims where Torah enacts condemnation for the condition of sinful humanity. But, there is an even more conspicuous case of implicating the Torah as an opponent of his “gospel of faith.”

When Paul begins to arraign humanity, he builds a case for universal complicity in the scheme of Sin leading to death (5:12–14, 17a, 18a, 21a). It is here where Paul makes a shocking reveal: “Torah entered the scene so that the transgression might increase” (5:20a)! 

Paul already made the audacious claim that “the justice of God has been revealed apart from the Torah” (3:21a). Contemporary Torah-observant Jews and covenant aficionados in Paul’s day would likely have heard this claim similar to someone entering a fundamentalist, Bible-believing congregation and declaring, “God’s word is now known apart from the Bible!” Edge of blasphemy! In the opening statements about divine wrath condemning idolatrous and perverse humanity (1:18–32), Jewish teachers would have been in firm assent: humanity is plagued by a sin problem! With the statements about sin, transgression, condemnation, and death in Romans 5:12–21, most fellow Torah-observant Jews would have heartily agreed. However, in this story where humanity has committed sin and were condemned to death, most Jews would have told the story in such a way that God’s gift of Torah was seen as the resolution to the sin-problem. Adam sinned, and this would lead to his death. His descendent co-conspirators followed suit and were condemned to the same fate. But! Torah entered the scene as the remedy to this sinful mess.

Paul, on the other hand, locates the arrival of Torah on the side with the problem of Sin and condemnation. It’s even worse than this! Paul can talk about Sin as a powerful force “reign[ing] in death” (5:21, ebasileusen), which resulted in Death “reigning” over humanity (5:14, 17, ebasileusen), and even portray Sin as an oppressive slave master (6:12–14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22), or like a virus that invades the body and takes over (7:14–24). He locates Torah in the same camp. While Sin and death “reign over” (ebasileusen) humanity, the Law “lords over” (kyrieuei) those under its jurisdiction (7:1). While being in the rebellious aeon of “the flesh,” “sinful passions were aroused through Torah” (7:5).

This argument necessitates that Paul address his own apparent implication: “Is the Torah (itself) sin?” (7:7). While he strongly rejects this ruling, and even declares the Torah to be “holy and just and good” (7:12), he still implicates Torah as insufficient for the task of divine justice. Torah gets co-opted by Sin to serve in the sole capacity of condemning humanity under Sin’s sway, tormented with the awareness of the Torah’s demands, but unable to comply (7:15–23). 

Nevertheless, God accomplished through his Son what Torah could not do because of the weakness of humanity’s Sin-oppressed “flesh” (8:3), and so redeemed the Torah itself! Torah is no longer co-opted and governed by Sin and Death (8:2b; see also 7:23) but has become the instrument of the Spirit of life (8:2a)! 

In the previous era, to embrace the covenant justice of the God of Israel meant that one must “climb Sinai” and wear the trappings of Torah observance. Paul by no means completely rejects his heritage of “the ordinances of God” (3:2) or the accompaniments of Torah’s many blessings (9:4–5). Instead, Torah’s key role, along with the Prophets, is to point forward toward the coming of Messiah as the performance of God’s justice (3:21–22). In fact, Christ is the end-goal (telos) of the Torah (10:4) and the proclamation of the resurrected Christ is Torah’s proper message (10:6–10; see also Deuteronomy 30:12–14). 

Now, living at the precipice of the fulfillment of the turn of the ages (13:11–12), the believer is free to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14), namely to practice the love that Christ himself has demonstrated (8:35,39; see also 15:7–13). “Love enacts no evil for the neighbor; therefore, love is fulfillment of Torah” (13:10).