Practicing (Law According To) What God Preaches
Background: I Thess. Ch. 5
[A]lways seek after that which is good for one another and for all men. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, . . . Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. I Thessalonians 5:15b-18,24
Always? All men? Without ceasing? Everything? Surely these are meant as aspirational exhortations, along the lines of the canons in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, not as normative standards.
There is, of course, no legislative history or social policy to support such an interpretation. In fact, given the usual rules of statutory or contract construction calling for consistency within a document, and in light of what we know about the Drafter’s intent, we can only conclude that the words mean what they say. It is our experience and preferences that create the problem.
How do these verse apply in the day-to-day life of a lawyer, in this life that we call “practice” and the pursuit of justice? The passage suggests at least four things.
First, I should love others, always seeking their good. “Who is the neighbor whom I should love?” asks the lawyer. My neighbors, those whom I meet along my way, and especially those in need, undoubtedly include family and those next door. But my paths meander much farther. I meet clients, some of whom refuse to pay bills, and secretaries, some of whom are lazy, and partners, some of whom are greedy and associates, some of whom are flatterers, and students, some of whom are spoiled. I meet judges, some of whom are biased, and witnesses, some of whom are arrogant. I meet cab drivers, janitors, waitresses, and civil servants, some of whom are smelly or inarticulate or gruff or inefficient. And I meet opposing counsel, some of whom are hateful. Some even are enemies, but they too are neighbors, and Jesus said to love them as I love myself.
At the same time, secondly, I should rejoice always, nurturing that childlike wonder at all that God has done. With a flick of His fingers the universe exploded into existence, and on its canvas He painted the night sky with sparkling diamonds. The teeming life in a single drop of pond water is His doing. He has crafted billions of unique human beings, whose singular personalities and abilities provide color to my world and in whose lives I glimpse something of our Creator. In Him, all things are made new (II Cor. 5:17). His mercies are new every morning, every minute. We are never so important or involved in matters so weighty that we can afford to jettison the wonder.
Third, I should pray ceaselessly, being thankful in everything. This is God’s will for me. There is nothing that does not come through the hand of God for my good and His glory — and I deserve no credit or blessing. I must “not think more highly of myself than I ought” (Rom 12:3). Indeed, to think of myself at all is to step toward either that precipice reserved for the proud or that cliff that awaits the self absorbed. God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6) and I ought no even be concerned for food. It is the Lord who provides us “our daily bread” and who instructs us to be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6). Even the strength to work comes from God (Deut. 8:18). How much more will He care for me if He feeds the sparrows and clothes the flowers as He does (Matt. 6:26-30).
Fourth, I must remember His faithfulness in fulfilling His plan. To say that history is not circular, that the story has an ending, is to say that the part I play makes a difference. God has cast the whole production, and no role is dispensable. The clients I represent and the arguments I make are matters of consequence. What we must not forget is that it is God who has set the stage (and who is the audience). He is faithful and “He will bring it to pass.” As Solomon wrote, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:6).
The success with which lawyers maintain these perspectives varies considerably. I know one who despite his influence and responsibility seems to live and practice enthusiastically, without pretense, enjoying obstacles as challenges and people as co-travelers. I know another who has devoted his career to serving the legal needs of the poor, who in conversation, without being patronizing, is much more inclined to listen than to speak. I know a third whose life seems utterly angry, emptied by years of unprincipled devotion to his clients’ causes and poisoned by his own venom. And we all know practitioners who pretend that what they do makes no ultimate difference, that they can divorce themselves from the positions they take.
How can I be more like these to the extent that they are like Jesus and less like them to the extent that they are not? How can I seek their good, loving them in all events, praying without ceasing, walking in praise and thanksgiving, rejoicing always? “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able” (II Tim. 1:12).
Suggested additional readings: Matthew 6; Philippians 4; I Corinthians
By Alan Button
A. Button, Week 7: Practicing (Law According To) What God Preaches, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 20-22 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).
Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.