Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Law Falls Short of God’s Ideal (Mark 10:1-16)

The law is a useful thing to have by you at times of compromise and accommodation. When you’re in a tight spot a good lawyer can make the law say all sorts of things that those who originally drafted it never intended. Socrates was dead set against writing things down for that very reason. He argued that writing conveyed content without context and can therefore, in a different context, mean something quite other than what was intended. We see this at play in this passage. The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus out on a subject about which he had already said a good deal. Each of the gospel writers reports Jesus’ teaching on marriage so his views must have been well known. This works out rather similar to the paying taxes question (Mt.22:17) in that they thought whatever answer he gave he would be wrong. The Pharisees asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife (Matthew adds, “for any reason”). If Jesus answered no then he would be speaking against Moses but if he said yes then he would contradict himself.

His answer was damning of those who asked the question as he pointed out that Moses granted them divorce, not because it was God’s best for them, but because they were weak and hardhearted. The Law that granted them divorce was an example of God’s condescension in accommodating their weakness. Sin was at the root of broken relationships, sin and selfishness, and so God allowed a way for men and women to escape each other’s sin and cruelty in loveless marriages. God’s best all along had been lifelong commitment as demonstrated in the relationship of our first parents.

This is an issue that goes directly to the motives of the heart as men and women prove supremely capable of laying aside God’s best for their own selfish motives. In the context of God’s intentions divorce was a compromise and the law permitting it would never, therefore, lead to our living as God intended. Law never does bring us to the heart of God’s purposes, rather law makes us conscious of our falling short of God’s perfect will (Ro.3:20). Law also, as we see in this lesson, provides opportunities for sin as we cleverly work out our own interpretation of it.

As this passage ends we see Jesus’ disciples rebuking parents for bringing children for Jesus to bless. It is a wonderful teaching opportunity as Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In Israel a person became a “child of the Law” at the age of twelve. It was from this time that they began to relate to God through the Law. Jesus’ message was clear, i.e. that to enter the kingdom and relate to God according to his purposes meant to reject the Law and simply rely on the love and grace of God.

Today there are those, both inside and outside the church, who attempt to build a code of law designed to teach how best to approach God, how best to serve him. But the purposes of God are never served by legalism, which only adds burdens to our already burdened hearts, but by being close to the heart of God and depending on his grace to save. The next time we are tempted to judge others, or ourselves, according to some doctrinal “ready-reckoner” we should stop and ask, not what is permitted or prohibited, but what is the heart of God in this matter.

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