Messianic Jewish synagogue members generally view the Torah positively while advocating the truths pointed out in GALATIANS 5:14: “For the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: Love your neighbor as yourself.” There can be nothing more Torah-true than loving GOD with all our heart and loving our neighbor as GOD would have us do. Ironically, as recorded in the epistle to the Galatians, Rav Sha’ul (Paul) champions Torah-based truth after chastising some of the Galatian Gentile believers who had fallen into what Dr. David Stern refers to in his Complete Jewish Bible translation as ‘legalistic torah observance’. Legalistic torah observance is in actuality a flesh-inspired and empowered perversion of attempting to walk out Torah truth. Yet, citing Torah truth highlights important aspects of Rav Sha’ul’s personal understanding of the role of Torah in a believer’s life. In other words, Rav Sha’ul uses Torah to champion the correct role and desired impact of Torah truth in a believer’s life. As we examine the New Covenant writings of Rav Sha’ul, we are able to glean what may have been his basic theological presuppositions concerning Torah. These presuppositions should also be ours. For examples:
1. Rav Sha’ul was not anti-torah; neither should we be anti-torah. We should be Torah-positive, viewing Torah for what it is, an important part of the word of GOD. Yeshua spoke the following words to His followers:
MATTITYAHU 5:18, 19: “Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah -- not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” CJB
2. Like Rav Sha’ul, we should humbly derive our theological conclusions from the whole Bible, from a panoramic view of GOD’s word. We should not pit one thing GOD said (e. g., the Torah) against another thing He said (the New Covenant). The Torah, the New Covenant and, in fact, all Scripture is meant to lead us to faith in Yeshua. Be sure the Gospels and the Torah have the same goal even if the impact upon us is different in purpose; they are not in conflict and both are fully inspired by GOD. Rav Sha’ul told Timothy as recorded in 2 TIMOTHY 3:15 - 17: “…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Messiah Yeshua…All Scripture is given by inspiration of GOD, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of GOD may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” When Rav Sha’ul wrote, “All Scripture”, the Torah was certainly front and center in his thinking; he often quotes from the Torah and the other writings in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures). In fact, the New Covenant wasn’t completed until after Rav Sha’ul went to be with the LORD.
3. Rav Sha’ul found purpose in quoting Torah to validate his goal for the Galatians. We would do well to make sure that which we teach and believe is found throughout Scripture. Nearly all important doctrinal truths and points of practice for believers in Yeshua are rooted in Torah. These Torah-rooted concepts include nearly every major point of theology and doctrine: grace, love, covenant, sacrifice, tithing, judgment, forgiveness, prayer, faith, sin, righteousness, atonement, offerings, redemption, deliverance, holiness, generosity, brotherhood, messianic prophecy, priesthood, community, circumcision and circumcision of the heart, congregational authority, prophetic utterances, the ways of the Adversary against GOD’s people, the immutable nature of GOD’s word, the deity of Yeshua and many such truths. Should we seek to know the deeper meaning of such important truths and principles as just listed, we would need to begin in the texts of the Torah, the first five books of our Bibles where such truths are rooted and first appear.
4. Rav Sha’ul recognized the word of GOD requires doing (deeds) (Ephesians 2:10) far more than just hearing (Yaakov 1:22; Devarim 28:1, 2, 15; Mattityahu 7:24 - 27). The doing is not done in order to gain merit or to earn salvation. The deeds done in faith show forth the fruit of obedience to GOD’s word. Ultimately, GOD desires the Good News (Besorah, Gospel) message to be continually outworked in our lives. Loving our neighbor must be more than a theological concept; it must be a practiced tenet of our personal theology. Through the exhibiting of GOD’s love to others, His kingdom process is furthered. As we exhibit His love to our neighbor, we acknowledge the LORD as a relevant partner in all our personal relationships. Messiah Yeshua is just that; relevant in all aspects of our lives including personal relationships.
5. Rav Sha’ul considered the Torah, with its clarion call to love GOD and to love our neighbor, as best lived out through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Our lives should exhibit the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit of GOD, as He enables. Underlying the operation of the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is the love of GOD. It was GOD’s love that brought redemption to those who trust Him. It will be GOD’s love exhibited through messianic believers that will show that we are His talmidim (disciples). As we closely examine the life of Rav Sha’ul we realize much of what he did was motivated by a sincere, deep love of the Messiah who saved him and called him.
A clear warning follows the statement in Galatians 5:14, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This warning is found in GALATIANS 5:15 “but if you go on snapping (Greek: if you bite like a snake) at each other and tearing each other to pieces, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other!” This warning from Rav Sha’ul reminds us of the importance GOD places on relationships within His body of believers. He is the Shepherd; we are His sheep. He deals with His flock as He pleases. We should do all we can to not trouble His flock including not snapping at or tearing others up. If we honor GOD by not troubling His flock, we will find ourselves content and blessed. If we dishonor GOD and do cause trouble in His flock, He deals accordingly. He has many ways to deal with His sheep who nip and bleat (complain, find fault) more than they obey and follow! Many leaders can testify of how GOD removed trouble makers, dealt with the divisive or led away those who were hindering the growth of His flock or disturbing His sheep. Rav Sha’ul warns of destructive results caused by wrong attitudes and actions within His flock, His messianic community: “watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other!” The LORD intervenes in His timing and in His way when it is His flock at risk often using leadership He placed as vessels of His correction. Thankfully, He is the Good Shepherd, not the bad shepherd, and He leads His sheep beside still waters for His name’s sake.
Lest there be any misunderstanding of the point the Shaliach is making, Rav Sha’ul writes further in Galatians 6:16: “What I am saying is this: run your lives by the Spirit. Then you will not do what your old nature wants.” If we were to state what the ‘fuel’ for our lives as messianic believers should be, the Spirit of GOD would be the most appropriate answer according to Rav Sha’ul. If we are walking, living, being led or conducting ourselves under the guidance of GOD’s Spirit, we will not be walking, be fueled or driven by the lusts of the flesh, its carnal desires or its powerful inclinations.
As Rav Sha’ul further explains his thoughts to the Galatians, he characterizes the underlying difference between being led by the Spirit and being led by the flesh or the old nature. The fact that the ways of the flesh are quite contrary to the ways of the Spirit is obvious to most believers as we seek to honor GOD by walking in love towards GOD and towards our neighbor. Rav Sha’ul explains this concept in the following manner: "For the old nature wants what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is contrary to the old nature. These oppose each other, so that you find yourselves unable to carry out your good intentions. But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism." Galatians 5:17, 18
A conflict exists between our carnal nature and the leading of the Holy Spirit, although often the conflict depicted is one of GOD’s law warring against GOD’s grace. Being led by the Ruach does not conflict with the ‘spirit’ of torah. Both are divinely instituted measures at work in the life of a believer. Legalism, a man-made perversion of Torah truth and practice, enshrouded as it is in religiosity, self-righteousness and judgmentalism, is a direct affront to the Spirit of GOD and true Torah teachings. Doing His will is Torah-positive, Yeshua-centric, and Holy Spirit empowered. Legalism, like other fleshly pursuits, brings bondage to a person’s soul, polluting a person’s relationship with his fellow humans and with GOD. Self-righteousness, divisiveness and arrogance can readily be associated with legalism whether in the Church or the Synagogue.
Ultimately, we are called to love GOD and to love our neighbor. To do so we need His grace, His empowerment by His Spirit and a willingness within ourselves to submit to the promptings of the LORD upon our lives. Grace is always challenged by pride and arrogance. GOD resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Growing in GOD’s love can be thwarted by hatred or disdain for others since anyone who says they love GOD but hates their brother is not truthful. Living a torah-positive lifestyle should be the modus operandi of true believers. But, if a believer believes GOD’s torah is of little or no value, his argument is with GOD who deemed it necessary to bequeath to mankind the Ten Commandments, the spiritual epicenter of Torah revelation.
Most important of all, we can consider what our Messiah has done for us and find in Him the example we all need to press on in life, to be the examples of love and faith He desires us to be and to proclaim His goodness to all we encounter, including our neighbors. The love of GOD shed abroad in our hearts by His Spirit will always point to the Messiah as the Savior of the world including the neighbor who we are duty bound to love as we love ourselves. And what GOD calls us to do, He graciously enables the willing vessel to do.