Anterior to presenting a study on "Let not," we need to be reminded of Jesus' authority. Jesus, in fact, possesses "…all authority in heaven and earth" (Matt. 28: 18, Col. 3: 17). God, therefore, has every right to issue commands to man and to expect man to listen and obey him (Lk. 6: 46). Jesus speaks through his word as the means of conveying his will to man (cp. Heb. 1: 1, 2, 2 Jn. 9-11). I read a lot of different material to be exposed to all kinds of perspectives. A book that I just finished reading is the autobiography by George Foreman. In addition to Mr. Foreman's boxing experiences especially after he became a religious man, he mentions some points about how to study the scriptures. There are some good points presented, such as always considering the speaker and those addressed, realizing that there can be instances of peculiar and not universal application (By George, pg. 176). Mr. Foreman continues:
"Synonyms proved useful, too. For instance, people often interpret the word 'let' (as in 'let every man') to signify a commandment. But substituting 'allow' clarifies the intent…." (Ibid.)
I am not sure I fully understand the point George is making, but I would like to share with you some grammatical and philological facts about "let" and especially the opposite combination, "Let not."
There are two different words in the Greek New Testament that are translated "Let not" and "not." Both these words are negative particles. By this, I mean that they restrict and forbid. One is the Greek "ou" (omicron upsilon) and the other is "me" (mu eta, "me" is pronounced with a long "a" sound). While these two words, ou and me, are similar in some respects, they seem to also have slight nuance difference capabilities. Lexicographer Henry Thayer comments thusly on "ou" and "me":
"A particle of negation, which differs from ou (which is always an adverb) in that ou denies the thing itself…but me denies the thought of the thing…" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 408).
The granddaddy Greek grammar pertaining to the New Testament says the following regarding ou and me:
"An effort to prevent what has not yet happened (Robertson says this regarding me, dm)…if ou denies the fact, me denies the idea" (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament…., A. T. Robertson, pg. 1167).
When the careful student explores the very language used by the Holy Spirit, he discovers many fascinating facts about how God teaches man. He marvels at the precision, clarity, and often picturesque nature of Greek syntax. He also sees in such cases as "let not" that God not only absolutely forbids certain things as expressed by such words as the Greek ou, but that he also provides teaching that is preventive, as seen in the Greek "me."
Our simple study shall involve the use, placement, and teaching set forth by the Greek particle of negation, "me."
"Let not your heart be troubled," said Jesus (Jn. 14: 1). Jesus had just mentioned to his apostles that he would be leaving them (he would die) and they are very sad and broken hearted (Jn. 13: 36-38). However, Jesus immediately injected that his departure would not signify the end but only the beginning and the hope of everlasting life with him in heaven (cp. Jn. 14: 2-4). The child of God is clearly taught to avoid anxiety that burdens the heart and poses a spiritual threat (Phili. 4: 6). In view of the use of the Greek "me," Jesus is not only prohibiting anxiety and worry, but he is saying, "Do not even think about allowing a condition that will result in being of a heavy heart!"
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body," commands the apostle Paul (Rom. 6: 12). A biblical truth that is unknown and denied by many is the fact that one's proximity to God is determined by their proximity to God's commandments (I Jn. 2: 3-6). John taught that one cannot practice sin and be saved (I Jn. 3: 7-10). Paul joins John in declaring that the Christian does not practice sin. Paul explained that the one who has put on Christ in baptism is to "…walk in newness of life" and that "…the old man of sin is crucified" (Rom. 6: 1-6). Paul refuted the then and now belief that the grace of God excuses the practice of sin (Rom. 6: 1).
Paul did not simply forbid the practice of sin by using the Greek "ou," but he taught even the idea of practicing sin is not to be present by using the Greek "me." If the thinking is not in place, then, the overt act will not follow.
"Let not then your good be evil spoken of," we are taught (Rom. 14: 16, 17). On occasion, the Christians intends to do good, but due to bad judgment, timing, and other matters, the good turns out to be viewed as evil. I recall a Christian who became dangerously involved in a situation, meaning to do good. A female member of the same local church was putting away her husband based on fornication (Matt. 19: 9). Before the decree was issued, the man physically threatened his wife and this intending to do good Christian ended up spending the night at the woman's house, arming himself with a weapon to protect her. "I did not think how it would look or what could possibly happen, I just wanted to help," he later explained. We must not even toy with the idea of doing good in circumstances where our good can be viewed as evil.
"Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not," we are warned (Rom. 14: 3). The setting of this prohibition pertains to matters both morally and doctrinally benign and indifferent (Rom. 14: 14; 5, 21). There are liberties to which a Christian has the right and others must not condemn in such cases. If one elects to personally participate in such a matter, others must not judge or condemn. Many problems within local churches that sometimes even result in open division, have begun regarding one doing something that is a liberty to which they are entitled and another making an issue out of it. The Christian must be very careful to distinguish between matters of wrong and matters of liberty. In fact, Paul is saying, "…do not even think about or entertain the idea of judging one in matters not involving sin."
"Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," the Christian is told (Eph. 4: 26). Not all anger is wrong (Mk. 3: 5). Some anger is wrong in view of the precipitating circumstances and the very nature of the involved anger (Col. 3: 8). Even if the anger is justified, it must not be allowed to tarry and fester. I believe this is what the language, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath" means. When anger is allowed to linger, it often eventuates in "wrath" and wrath can result in "malice" (Col. 3: 8). God's word teaches that even the circumstance for such conditions as malice are to be eliminated. This is done by not even allowing the consideration for such precipitating anger, as expressed by the Greek negative, "me."
"Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth," warned Jesus (Matt. 6: 3). Jesus' teaching has been badly abused to teach spontaneity and the lack of forethought. The setting of Jesus' words pertain to ostentation in giving. Some of the Pharisees loved recognition to the point that they staged even their giving so that others would be sure to see them (Matt. 6: 1-3). It is in this climate that Jesus said, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." In common parlance, do not even allow the idea of doing what you do for the purpose of show.
"Let not the church be charged," Paul warned (I Tim. 5: 16, 9). There is a difference between the individual action of a Christian and the combined action of Christians in the activation of the treasury of the local church, this is clearly seen in I Timothy 5: 3-16. Children and grandchildren are to take care of the needs of their parents and grandparents, not the church.
There are all sorts of financial burdens that would be placed on the local church today. All sorts of needs, orphanages, hospitals, and general benevolence. In addition to all these things, there are those who would burden the church with all manner of entertainment, baby sitting, and child care programs, even secular education. Such is not the work of the local church (cp. I Tim. 3: 15). Paul said that even the thought of charging the church in areas not the work of the church is not to be considered.
When possible, prevention is certainly desirable and preferable. The wise man said, "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished" (Prov. 22: 3). The Greek "ou" shows God's aversion for sin and the fact his children are not to sin. However, "me" shows that God wants Christians to even avoid the idea of evil. I am not saying that just the simple or passing thought of evil is sin, because one could not be tempted at all. But in such cases as we have noticed, the idea of excessive anxiety, sin reigning, good being evil spoken of, judging in areas of liberty, allowing anger to tarry, ostentation, and burdening the local church with matters not the work of the church, these things are not to be even entertained much less done.