Jesus Christ’s message generally led audiences to respond in one of two ways: He astonished the general public; He angered the educated elite. We read of both reactions in Matthew 22:33-34. After seeing how the multitudes were moved by Jesus’s words, the Pharisees and Sadducees gathered themselves together to plot against Christ.
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked [Christ] a question, tempting him…” (v. 35). Put to silence by Christ’s message, the leading Jews conferred among themselves and then sent forward their lawyer. He wasn’t interested in truth. He wanted to “tempt” Christ—to trick Him into doing or saying something “unlawful.” But Christ would not be tricked. He knew how to expose the chicanery of so-called experts in Mosaic law.
In verse 46, it says “no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” Yet this was toward the end of His ministry. As we will see, Jesus Christ had several confrontations with lawyers prior to this. And in every case, they persistently dogged Him, trying to expose any flaw they could find, even after Christ put them to shame.
It was quite some time before Christ was finally able to silence the lawyers. His situation is not unlike the one we face today.
The Litigation Explosion
Concerning today’s presidential election controversy, some have suggested that it has given every American a wonderful lesson in civics, showing how our government works. While that may be true, the political dispute has also revealed a near-fatal flaw in American society. What used to be a nation ruled by law is now ruled by lawyers.
Gavin Esler, writing for the Independent in London, noted America’s propensity for being over-lawyered: “In the Stephen Sondheim song, when something bad happens in the circus, they send in the clowns. In America’s political circus, they send in the lawyers.
“The broad expanse of K Street in the heart of Washington D.C. is known as ‘Gucci Gulch,’ inhabited by the best-paid lawyers in the world. Gucci Gulch’s $475-an-hour legal gunslingers are now descending upon Florida to help aggrieved citizens seek redress for their inability to punch the correct holes in ballot papers, and other crimes against humanity….
“A few years ago, those voters in Palm Beach County who claim they were disenfranchised by a confusing ballot paper would probably have been too embarrassed to admit they punched the wrong hole in the polling booths. But now, like millions of litigants all over the United States, stupidity, ignorance or misfortune is a passport to Victimhood.
“The Victim Voters were victims of a system that they couldn’t understand, and victims, we will undoubtedly hear, of a conspiracy to steal the election. Florida’s Victim Voters fall exactly into the dismal new American tradition exemplified by lawsuits of the 1990s, including the woman who sued McDonald’s because she scalded herself with the cup of coffee she placed between her legs while driving.
“Once upon a time, America was a self-reliant John Wayne society where a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Now, America has become an over-lawyered society where nobody takes responsibility for mistakes because it is more profitable to claim victimhood and reach for a lawyer. The new motto is: A man’s gotta sue what a man’s gotta sue—in this case, sue the electoral authorities in Florida” (Nov. 13).
Overwhelmingly, the facts verify Mr. Esler’s argument. Paul Johnson, in his book A History of the American People, drew attention to the remarkable increase in American litigation in recent years. He said that from 1960 to 1985, the U.S. population increased by 30 percent. During that same time, lawyers multiplied by more than 130 percent.
The raw figures are just as staggering. America had around 250,000 lawyers in the late 1970s. Today, there are nearly 1 million—an average of one lawyer for every 300 people. It was Dan Quayle who remarked several years ago that America made up 5 percent of the world’s population, but provided 70 percent of its lawyers.
Influence on Leadership
In Washington D.C., the rise in litigation is even more sharp. In 1950, the nation’s capital had 1000 lawyers; in 1975, 11,000. By the mid-1990s, the number had ballooned to approximately 65,000. As Gavin Esler noted, “There are fewer than 600,000 residents of the U.S. capital, and you may well ask what kind of a society you get when 10 percent of the capital’s population are registered lawyers.”
The kind of society we get, to answer his question, is one ruled by lawyers. Paul Johnson estimates that during the mid-1990s, lawyers made up 42 percent of the House of Representatives and 61 percent of the Senate. And of course, the White House itself housed two well-known lawyers for the better part of a decade—the president and his wife.
All of these figures might well be encouraging if lawyers, in general, fought to uphold the rule of law. Most lawyers today, however, are like the ones who badgered Christ, desperately trying anything to get around the real meaning and intent of the law.
Jesus Christ, contrary to popular misconceptions, was not a soft-spoken, effeminate wimp. He boldly attacked hypocrisy and lawlessness with plain speech and hard-hitting condemnation. On one occasion, He said, “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them” (Luke 11:43-44).
In the next verse, we find evidence of the fact that many lawyers had ascended to leading positions in society, much like today. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been offended by Christ’s harsh criticism of the Pharisees. “One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also’” (v. 45; Revised Standard Version). Christ was unsympathetic. “And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (v. 46). These legal scholars actually added to society’s burden. In fact, the only burden they were interested in removing was their own!
“Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them” (v. 47). They were unscrupulous in their “legal” profession. They didn’t flinch at wrongfully accusing a defendant if it was in their best interest.
“Woe unto you, lawyers!” Jesus continued in verse 52, “for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Jesus said these lawyers took away the key to knowledge and prevented the masses from using it.
Yet these condemning words had little effect on the high-ranking officials of Christ’s day. It only made them angrier. “And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him” (vv. 53-54).
Isaiah prophesied that this same type of legal wrangling and disputation would pervade in this end time. And he attributes the result of an unjust, unlawful society to sin. Notice Isaiah 59:1-2: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Remember, God recorded the book of Isaiah in writing for the “time to come,” or the latter days—see Isaiah 30:8.)
Notice the consequences of a sin-laden society: “For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity” (Isa. 59:3-4). Isaiah is saying that we have become so steeped in sin that we can no longer understand the rule of law. The land is full of lies and perverseness. Instead of truth, or the rule of law, intellectual vanity reigns supreme.
Isaiah continues, “Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness” (v. 9). Wouldn’t you think, with 70 percent of the world’s lawyers, that America would be overcome by justice and crystal-clear understanding of law?
Yet it’s just the opposite. And the cause is sin, which the Bible defines as “transgression of the law” (i John 3:4).
“For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them” (Isa. 59:12). Our sins have removed good judgment from our midst. Isaiah 3 says God has taken away just judges and wise counselors from our midst. Again, He has done this because of our many sins.
Over and over, Isaiah keeps making the connection between sinful living and a perverted understanding of law. “In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isa. 59:13-14). The more we sin, the Bible says, the more we will try to circumvent the law. That is why, even in the midst of a lawyer boom in America, we are becoming increasingly lawless.
Thankfully, the same God who foresaw the present state of lawlessness and perverted judgment in our society has also revealed the only solution.
But why should we listen to God? Why should we care about what He says concerning law? Because He created all things, including man. He alone is able to save and destroy, as it says in James 4:12. Who are we to judge one another? Who are we to interpret law to mean what we think it should?
Additionally, John 5:22 says that God has committed all judiciary power unto His Son, Jesus Christ. Should we not then look to God and Christ for the right answers on how to re-establish the rule of law?
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge….” The key to establishing a society on the rule of law actually begins with fearing God. Not so long ago, America’s greatest thinkers, yes, even lawyers, understood that vital truth. Fearing God is the “principle part” of acquiring the right knowledge (see King James margin for that proverb).
Remember in Luke 11:52 where Jesus said the lawyers of His day had taken away the key of knowledge? Well, Proverbs 1:7 reveals one of their fundamental flaws—vanity. They had absorbed so much of man’s education that they rejected God and His authority. Yet, because they appeared to be so brilliant, the masses looked to them for understanding. The public relied upon them to interpret the law. That’s why society became so perverse! And that’s why Christ condemned the lawyers in the strongest of terms. More than anyone, lawyers should have been the ones upholding the law. Yet they were obstructing justice and hiding the key to knowledge.
Upholding the rule of law begins with fearing the supreme Lawgiver. It begins by fearing to disobey God. But it does not end there. Notice Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, andkeep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” God’s commandments are the foundation of every law-abiding society.
Doing the Law
Look at how David describes God. “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure” (Ps. 111:7). God’s work is built upon truth and justice. Who wouldn’t want to emulate that? “They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (v. 8). God’s fair and just judgments are eternal. He doesn’t change laws for His own benefit or to hurt someone else. Neither does He misinterpret His laws or try to get around them. He lives by those laws!
David wrote elsewhere in the psalms, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:7-8). Paul wrote in Romans 7:12, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
An honest study of Scripture reveals that, from beginning to end, God continually exalts and praises His law.
Back to Psalm 111: “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that DO his commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (vv. 9-10). Here again, the key to knowledge of God’s law begins with fear, but the real depth of understanding comes from obedience.
This is not just Old Testament religion. In the New Testament, Jesus actually magnified God’s perfect law (Isa. 42:21; Matt. 5:17-18). The Apostle Paul also exalted God’s law. After describing the virtues of God in Philippians 4:8, notice what Paul said in verse 9: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
I understand that what you have just read is most likely not what you have been taught at church. You’ve been led to believe that God’s law is too harsh, that it’s impossible to obey. You’ve been taught that His law is only for Jews or the Old Testament—that Jesus nailed it to the cross. Yes, that is what men say.
But what does God say? What did Jesus Christ say?
In Luke 10, we read of another important confrontation Christ had with a lawyer. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). Of course, this lawyer wasn’t looking for an answer to that question—he was again trying to trick Jesus. Notice Christ’s response: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (v. 26). How difficult it must be to explain this passage if you are one who rejects God’s law. Jesus, when asked how one obtains eternal life, pointed this man to the law!
The lawyer, well familiar with what was written in the law, put forth this response: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (v. 27). He recited the two great laws mentioned in Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). These two commands are what sum up the Ten Commandments (compare Luke 10 with Matthew 19:16-22).
Now notice how Christ unequivocally responded to this lawyer: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28). The lawyer gave the right answer, but he refused to abide by this law in his own life. That’s why Christ went on to condemn his religion. The lawyer certainly knew what the law said, but didn’t apply it to himself. Again in verse 37, Christ admonished this law “expert” to go and do the law—to live by God’s rules of conduct.
All through the Bible, God, Christ and all of their faithful servants are found to be the law’s foremost proponents and defenders. Consistently, they all upheld the rule of law.
When men come along and shove it aside, or pick and choose the laws they wish to obey, it leads to lawlessness and eventually anarchy.
I find it ironic that though the legal profession has produced many of our most corrupt leaders today, it has also produced America’s finest president. Abraham Lincoln worked as a lawyer in Illinois for 23 years before becoming America’s 16th president.
Lacking any formal education, Lincoln taught himself how to be a lawyer. His primary legal textbooks were the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Blackstone’s Commentaries and the Holy Bible. These “courses” taught Lincoln how to try his cases on principle rather than precedent—on what was right according to the law, not necessarily on how someone before him had interpreted the law.
Here is how Lincoln viewed the rule of law as a young lawyer: “Let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, or that grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible; still, while they continue in force, for the sake of the example, they should be religiously observed.” To Lincoln, obedience was more important than the law itself! He knew the Constitution wasn’t perfect. But it had to be religiously observed if unity and peace were to last.
Where do we see that kind of reverence for law and obedience today? Who is there among us that would uphold the rule of law the way that 27-year-old lawyer did then? Certainly, not all lawyers are corrupt in this day and age. But far too many of them are.
Years later, when Lincoln was sworn in as president, seven states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The survival of the nation was at stake. Before Congress, in the summer of 1861, Lincoln said the issue of secession “embraces more than the fate of the United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional government of the people, by the same people, can or cannot maintain its integrity against its own domestic foes…. Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people or too weak to maintain its own existence?”
To Lincoln, secession was wholly unconstitutional. It was treason. And he was willing to do whatever necessary to eliminate it.
Of course, as we all know, secession was not the only hot political topic at that time. Slavery was even more divisive. Lincoln hated slavery with every fiber of his being. Yet, curiously, he never mentioned it in that summer speech before Congress. This infuriated abolitionists who were expecting him to emancipate the slaves soon after becoming president.
Do you know why Lincoln avoided the subject altogether before Congress? Because slavery was lawful. The Founding Fathers had accepted the evil as unavoidable and actually inscribed it into the nation’s supreme law—the Constitution. How would you have tackled this dilemma?
Here’s what Lincoln did. He immediately declared war on treason, eventually overwhelming the South with strong force. In so doing, he saved the Union, preserved the Constitution and thenlawfully amended it to do away with slavery.
That is what one leader, who upheld the rule of law, did to preserve unity and a law-abiding society.
I don’t think Lincoln could have accomplished that without his many years of training in practicing law.
But look at how things have changed in little more than a century. What we are witnessing today is what thousands of leaders, who uphold the rule of lawyers, can do to turn society upside down by promoting victimhood, irresponsibility, disobedience and division.
Were it not for Jesus Christ’s return, our present course would eventually lead to anarchy and our ultimate ruin.