02. November 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: God · Tags:

Obedience to the letter of the law can lead to disobedience to the spirit of the law. Mark 2:23-3:6 gives us two instances of Christ’s early conflicts with the religious authorities over this issue.

In the first passage (Mark 2:23-28), the disciples are plucking grain and eating it on a Sabbath. In the second (Mark 3:1-6), a man with a withered hand is in the Synagogue – perhaps a trap by the Pharisees? – and Jesus heals him. Both of these acts are labeled “working on the Sabbath” by the Pharisees.

In the first passage, the Pharisees’ interpretation is “honoring the Sabbath means self-harm (going hungry and needy instead of eating).” In the second narrative, the Pharisees believe “honoring the Sabbath means harm to others.”

(Of course, both times, the Pharisees are only forcing their interpretation on OTHERS… Luke 11:46)

How often are we like the Pharisees – so focused on obedience that it leads to harm, contrary to God’s will for us in the very passage we seek to obey?

It can take many forms: an isolated devotion to self-righteousness that excludes any evangelistic relationship with others. A heavy focus on “proper” worship and living such that outsiders are kept away*. Or even forms harder to identify: losing sight of the joy of being a child of God because of an improper focus on obedience (more on that another time).

And it need not be so legalistic, either. There are those who preach an ‘easy’ gospel, one of universal salvation and an idolatrous view of God where his love lacks justice. Those who believe God’s love means that they can do whatever they want, free of consequence. They will face a sad moment: crying, “Lord, Lord,” they are answered with “I never knew you – depart from me.” Lasting harm.

I’m not arguing against self-discipline (fasting, abstaining from the world, etc.), or against holding one another accountable. Neglecting those are just as harmful. But when we’re discussing obedience to a passage, we need to make sure we’re living a letter that is in harmony with the spirit of the revelation of a God who saved us, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”

Fortunately, in these very passages Christ gives us the solution: God’s word is always for our own good, not harm; and we should seek and save the lost, regardless of what others think of our methods (provided those methods aren’t sinful). If we find our interpretation deviating from this – we’re wrong.

* I don’t mean, of course, that proper worship and living are unimportant – they’re critical. But as the Pharisees show, when it becomes the focus of our life, rather than a tool in our service to the Focus, it’s another idol. See Mark 2:15-17 for an example of the religious authorities missing this: the Holy and Righteous Son of God still got his hands dirty.

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