We are sharing a series of posts that will coincide through our Community Group study in the book of Mark. We created a free reading guide that outlines a plan for studying the book in its entirety. Find this free guide here, and join the conversation in the Community Group here.
Living a Paradox
I am a paradox. I love creating lists and rules, but I hate keeping them. When I was a teenager deep in purity culture, it was "no dating until college." Then in college, it was "don't kiss unless you're going to get married." When I was newly married it was "make dinner five times each week." As a new mom, it was "make all my own baby food" and at least 100 other things.
All my life, I've leaned into rules in my relationship with God. It could be "quiet time has to happen in the morning" or "read through the Bible in a year." Some of these rules have been very beneficial to me. However, I have a tendency to use them as a crutch instead of a call to godliness. If I can just keep all these rules, then I will be godly. No real intimacy with God or humble repentance necessary.
So I see myself in the scribe from Mark 12 when he asks Jesus to name the most important commandment. He is not like the other religious elite who have been harassing Jesus with trick questions. You can hear the earnestness of the scribe in this passage as he asks Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?" (verse 28). This man has likely been taught Jewish law from birth. He's memorized it and studied it and argued it and overworked it to the point where he may be overwhelmed. The point of the law is that no one except Jesus can keep it all, so it's not surprising that an earnest learner might recognize that he can't keep the entire law. He wants to know the most important law because maybe he can at least keep that.
Jesus’ Answer Clarifies and Convicts
Jesus sees the heart of the scribe and calls him to something deeper than superficiality and legalism.
In response, Jesus quotes the Shema. These were verses found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 that Jewish people quoted every morning. By turning the focus to loving God, Jesus clarifies that the purpose of the law isn't that we would attempt to be perfect but to show our need for a relationship with God.
The way Jesus describes that call to love should convict us. Because it shows our inability to keep the greatest commandment, which highlights the necessity of what Jesus is about to do through the cross and resurrection. Jesus tells us to love God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:31). We don’t need to pick all those pieces apart to understand what Jesus is saying here. Together, heart, soul, mind, and strength simply mean love God with all of your everything.
We Could Never Do This Alone
No big deal, right? Piece of cake, easy peasy, just a walk in the park. Oh, wait! This commandment, along with the second greatest—to love one’s neighbor as oneself—is impossible to do in our human strength. It is not enough to devote simply our mind to God or our emotions to God or our desires to God or strength to God. Loving God must be all-consuming. We must love him with every piece of ourselves. To love God that way, we need God’s help. We need the Father loving us first, and the Son dying for our sin and offering his righteousness, and the Holy Spirit empowering us. To love God as we should, we need the Gospel.
A lightbulb goes on for the earnest scribe. His response to Jesus shows that he is beginning to see a foundational truth of the Gospel: God invites us into a relationship with Him. When the scribe notes that these commandments are greater than burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). I truly hope that this scribe ultimately discovered that loving God is only possible through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus Continues His Teaching with Contrasting Examples
This focus on love, not law, was counter-cultural in Jesus’ day. The most spiritual were those who kept the law and made sure everyone knew about it. In Mark 12:38–40, Jesus warns of the scribes’ love of being noticed and given precedence. Jesus told the disciples when they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In our social media age, we must be careful that we are not publicly displaying a love for God that does not exist in all of our everything in everyday life. Instead, we want to live lives of quiet faithfulness, serving others by loving our real-world neighbors.
Jesus then offers an example of loving God with all of your everything from an unexpected place. The woman Jesus draws attention to is not part of the religious elite. She is not someone people would naturally notice or admire. This woman is a poor widow, who quite literally offers God all of her everything as she places all of the money she has to live on into the offering.
His example is meant to convict. In our wealthy world, how often do we love God in a way that really costs us anything? Do we love God in a way that causes us to sacrifice our financial welfare? Our time? Our relationships? Do we dare sacrifice our position in society? Our jobs? Or our comfort? Loving God with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength means giving all that we have to God, like the poor widow.
We cannot love God on our own
But this ability to sacrifice our assets out of love for God doesn’t come by our own grit. Instead, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are enabled to live in a relationship with a Holy God instead of under the condemnation of the law. The God who loved us first offers us saving grace. This grace wipes away our sin so we don’t have to live in the futility of self-proclaimed righteousness like the scribes. Then God showers us with sustaining grace, which empowers the real transformation of our hearts. This allows us to become like the poor widow, offering all of our everything in loving God and loving others.
Meet the Author:
Maggie Combs is the author of the upcoming book Motherhood Without All the Rules: Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths (Moody Publishers, Fall 2020). When motherhood overwhelmed her, God drew her closer to him through writing her first book, Unsupermommy. She loves playing games with her husband and three boys, herding goats on their family farm, and reading young adult literature and cozy mysteries in her free time. It is her joy to disciple women in her local church and through her writing. Find more gospel hope to unburden your soul at www.maggiecombs.com or on Instagram and Facebook.