In an earlier post I described a concept for Christian living that I find to be one of the most helpful and crucial. For almost every biblical concept there tends to be another one or more pulling in a different direction. Successful Christian living requires that we recognize this dynamic and develop the necessary understanding of Scripture and skill of application to identify what biblical teaching takes precedent in every situation.
Because of the significance of this concept, I thought it might be helpful to expand on it.
Case in Point
In Matthew 12:3-4 we find Jesus responding to the Pharisees’ criticism of His disciples for plucking and eating grain as they walked through the fields on the Sabbath. The Pharisees believed that doing so broke the command to observe the Sabbath, and consequently they castigated Jesus for the behavior of His disciples. He answered them,
“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?”
Jesus is referring to an event recorded in 1Samuel 21:1-6.
The law regarding who was authorized to partake of this bread is recorded in Leviticus 24:9, “And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.” Note that this passage restricts those allowed to eat this bread to Aaron and his sons.
By His response to the Pharisees, Jesus is not nullifying the instructions in the Law of Moses regarding who was authorized to eat the bread in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Rather, He is teaching that some scriptural principles take priority over others, especially in given circumstances.
In the case of David, he was trying to escape from King Saul, and without adequate nourishment he likely could have been killed. Therefore, in this particular situation the principle of saving an innocent life took precedent over the principle regarding who could eat the bread.
Application to the Disciples
The situation with the disciples was somewhat different. They were engaged with Jesus in ministry. Though their lives were not in jeopardy, the passage states that they were hungry. (Matthew 12:1) They were not eating consecrated bread, but from the perspective of the Pharisees they were breaking the Sabbath.
Jesus in his response asserts that the matter of satisfying the hunger of His disciples took precedence over that of keeping the Sabbath.
The Underlying Issue
We see, then, that the particulars of these cases do not match. Rather, Jesus is teaching the principle common to both situations that in determining what God would have us do or not do in a given situation we must identify all biblical concepts applicable to the situation, and then determine which one takes priority in the specific circumstances at hand.
Challenges Confronting Us
In most decisions that confront us, more than one biblical command seems to apply.
For example, it is Sunday morning, and you have a cold. Which takes priority: the teaching related to church attendance or the danger of passing on your cold to others? Do you turn the heat down in your house to save money to give to missions or keep it up to protect your health? Do you lead a Boy Scout troop as an opportunity to witness and to mold lives, or do you opt out because of their acceptance of openly gay scouts?
The Value Judgment
Almost all of the decisions listed above entail a value judgment—a how much issue? How great would the threat to David’s life need to be to warrant breaking the commandments related to the bread in the Tabernacle? How much should you turn down the thermostat in your home, and what is the level of threat to your health in doing so? How much would you save anyway?
Making such value judgments requires substantial wisdom in analyzing situations and also substantial skill in applying Scripture. It makes the question “What would Jesus do” much more challenging.
In seeking biblical direction in every situation it is significant to ask whether we are considering all of the related biblical principles, whether we are carefully assessing the related value judgments, and whether we are giving priority to the correct scriptural teaching. These complexities should compel us to become even more serious students of the Word of God.