Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Creating Rules for Non-Existent Things

Suggested Reading: Mark 10:17-27

In my first youth ministry experience, in a little church on the Texas coast, I had the privilege of working with a young man who was very inquisitive about the scriptures. He wasn’t a Christian when I first met him, but he was curious, and he was serious about investigating scripture’s claims, trying to verify them, and deciding whether scripture was true or not. One day he came to me very troubled by something he had found. He was studying the Ten Commandments and was troubled by the implication of one of them. The commandment? You shall have no other gods before me. He wasn’t troubled by the idea that we were only supposed to worship the One God of the Bible. He was worried that God was saying there actually were other gods out there. Didn’t most of the Bible teach that there was only one God? If that is the case, what was the point of prohibiting the worship of other gods? Why prohibit worshiping something that doesn’t exist? I prayed quickly and answered, “Whether those other gods really existed or not, the people thought they did. And it was more effective to prohibit the worship of those non-existent gods than to try to convince the people of Israel that they didn’t really exist. That would come later, but God was meeting them where they were at that particular moment in time.” At least in part, I told him, God was picking the battles that were most important.

I recently had my own experience with scripture that took me through the same process as I examined the passage. In Mark 10, Jesus told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:25-27, ESV). The disciples’ reaction to Jesus' claim of how difficult it was for the rich to be saved was met by the reaction that it must be impossible for anyone to be saved. The disciples, like many Jews of the day, believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on a righteous life. They knew of exceptions to that rule, I’m sure, but that was the thinking of the day. So, if the people God was blessing couldn’t be saved, how could anybody be saved?

Though the disciples were operating under a false premise that the rich were more worthy of salvation than the poor, Jesus didn’t correct that premise. Instead, he pointed them to the bigger picture – human beings are hopelessly separated from God, but anything is possible with God. Rich or poor, wise or foolish, Jew or Gentile, God could save anybody because nothing was impossible with God. Jesus could have gotten hung up on correcting the disciples’ false premise, and the disciples, as wool-headed as they were, probably wouldn’t have been able to grasp what Jesus was saying. Instead, Jesus chose to teach them a larger principle, a principle which would eventually correct the other one anyway.

As we interact with people, as we witness and as we teach our kids, as we disciple and mentor, there will be times when we encounter false premises, bad ideas, and foolish notions. Sometimes those things will have to be addressed, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the bigger picture so that we can share a truth which is bigger than their misconceptions, a principle which, once they learn it, will eventually correct the little things, too. Rather than correcting every little thing and getting bogged down in the minutiae, we must point people to the bigger, more powerful truths, like the love and power of God and the commands to love God first and love our neighbors like ourselves. We must learn which inaccuracies we must correct and which to let stand for the moment because something bigger is at stake.

Let’s not get bogged down with insignificant distractions. We must choose our battles carefully and never sacrifice the war for the sake of a single battle.

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