Christians are confused about the purpose of the law. This is not surprising as even the people who received the Ten Commandments were confused did not understand its role. The first table of the law can be summed up in the command to love God. The second table of the law can be summed up in Jesus command to love our neighbours. The second five commandments are all about our relationships with the people live around us.
God gave the law to Moses at a time when Israel was move to live in a defined area of land. He gave the law to enable them to live together harmoniously. This is the reason for focus on preventing adultery, theft, slander and murder. These are four sins are the ones that disrupt the relationships between the people living together in a community. If I am proud and arrogant, my neighbours may not like me, but they are not harmed. If I steal from other people, those I steal from do suffer. A good society needs protection from theft.
There are four ways that another person can harm me. They can steal my possessions, assault my body, lie about my character, or break up my family. Lies, theft assault and adultery are sins that directly harm other people. The last five commandments deal with these sins. The law was given to prevent these sins from breaking down the structure of society.
The context of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 21-23 makes their purpose clear. The case laws that follow the Ten Commandments do not refer to personal holiness. They describe things that happen when people harm those living around them. Solutions are provided for problems between people and their property.
The law of Moses was designed to deal with the issues that arise when people live together in close proximity. This is the purpose of the law. In the modern world, people still have problems with each other and their property, so the need has not disappeared. We still need the law of Moses.
Paul understood the purpose of the law. He knew that it was directed towards those who would disrupt the peace of society.
Paul says the law is not for the righteous. The law is for thieves, murderers, adulterer and perjurers. These are the people who disrupt peaceful and harmony of society. The righteousness of Jesus cannot deal with these people, as they are hostile to him. Until they are transformed by the love of Jesus, society will need the law to prevent them from harming other people. Law provides a solution to the problem caused by people who are willing to harm others. It is the only way to deal with them.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for dulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers (1 Tim 1:7-9).
The prophet Habakkuk understood the purpose of the law.
Destruction and violence are before me;there is strife, and conflict abounds.Therefore the law is paralyzed,and justice never prevails.The wicked hem in the righteous,so that justice is perverted (Hab 1:3,4).
When God’s law is ignored, strife and violence abound. Without God’s law, justice is perverted and the wicked prevail.
The consequence of our failure to understand the purpose of the law is prophesied in Proverbs.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,but those who keep the law resist them.Evil men do not understand justice,but those who seek the LORD understand it fully (Prov 28:4,5).
When God’s people forsake his law, wicked people benefit. In the last century Christians have rejected God’s law. The result is evil run rampant. Our failure to understand justice, has allowed lawlessness to prevail.
The law deals with people who do not respect their neighbours. Nothing more, nothing less.