Someone analyzing our community from outside would see a great
variety of attitudes to the same Gospel. Some of us would seem to
be more committed than others to the principles which we all believe.
Those who feel that they are highly committed to the Truth often
find it hard to live with and respect other believers who apparently
are not so serious. For example, a sister may make great efforts
to attend a Bible study: arrange a baby sitter, change her shift
at work...only to find that another two brothers have decided to
skip Bible study and go to a football match. It isn't difficult
to imagine her frustration with them and her possible anger. It
will be very difficult for her to get along with them in future.
Or, more realistically, consider the divorced brother who feels
that his first marriage (before baptism) was the only one valid
in God's eyes. He may personally believe that if he has another
relationship after his divorce, he will be committing adultery and
will be excluded from the Kingdom. But then he is invited to the
wedding of a brother divorced three times before baptism, who is
now marrying a sister. It will be hard, very hard, for the first
brother to see this brother get married, doing the very thing which
he has bruised his very soul not to do. And then he hears brethren
and sisters talking about " how sweet" the new couple
are. It's very, very hard for him to live in such a situation. The
usual Christian response to these dilemmas is for the hurt brother
to get up and go, muttering things about apostasy and guilt by association
as he does so. The two examples given may seem extreme; but there
are many many such things going on all the time. A brother
may have given up smoking because of his conscience towards God;
it must be very hard for him to see another brother smoking, with
an apparently clear conscience. What we need is a way of understanding
each other which enables us to cope with this kind of thing. I fain
would wish whatever words now follow could provide this; but perhaps
they will contribute something.
God makes concessions to human weakness; He sets an ideal standard,
but will accept us achieving a lower level. " Be ye therefore
perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt.
5:48) is proof enough of this. The standard is clear: absolute perfection.
But our lower attainment is accepted, by grace. If God accepts our
obvious failure to attain an ideal standard, we should be inspired
to accept this in others. Daily Israel were taught this; for they
were to offer totally unblemished animals. And yet there was no
totally unblemished animal. There are many other examples of how
God concedes to human weakness:
- Lot’s desire to flee to Zoar, albeit on irrelevant excuses
(“is it not a little one?”), was accepted by the Angel. The original
plan for Lot was amended in accordance with his appeal for a Divine
concession. But later he realized his error and fled right away
from any contact with the plain dwellers.
- God told Israel to totally destroy the spoil from the cities
they attacked. But when they failed to do this with Jericho, God
told them that with Ai, the next city on the agenda, they were
allowed to keep the spoil (Josh. 8:2); even though Dt. 20:14-16
said that this was how they should treat their distant enemies,
but not cities like Ai which were part of their inheritance.
This was an undoubted concession to human weakness. The
same concession to human weakness applied to other cities apart
from Ai; it became a general policy that " all the spoil
of these cities...the children of Israel took for a prey unto
themselves" ; and yet following straight on from this we
are told that Joshua " left nothing undone of all that the
Lord commanded Moses" (Josh. 11:14,15). God accepted those
concessions to human weakness, this living on a lower level, as
total obedience. The grace of all this is marvellous.
- It was evidently God's plan that Moses should be His spokesman to Egypt.
But when Moses refused, God didn't just give up; He worked with what He had
available, He didn't totally reject Moses, but instead put a 'plan B' into operation
by conceding to Moses' stubbornness and making Aaron the spokesman (Ex. 4:10-17).
The Exodus record is full of this kind of contingency planning by God. Pharaoh
had real possibility to let the people go, and therefore Ex. 4:23 NRSV implies
that God only therefore went ahead with the plan to kill Pharaoh's firstborn.
If the people don't believe the first sign, they may believe
the second; if they don't believe either of them then there will be
a third sign (Ex. 4:8,9). Yet God states in Ex. 3:18 that the people will
listen; and yet Ex. 4:8,9 accepts the possibility that they may not. In this
we see not only the essential hopefulness of God for human response to Him,
but His willingness to go along with our continued weakness and blindness in
an open-ended manner. There is, therefore, the possibility of living before
God on different levels. This connects with the whole concept of conditional
prophecy of which we have written at length elsewhere.
- Rather similar language is used about the Passover: “Ye shall
let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth
of it until the morning…” (Ex. 12:10 RV). This was a concession
to human weakness.
- The Lord Jesus didn't come to destroy the Law of Moses. It
still stood when He gave His teaching (Mt. 5:38). Yet He said
that instead of insisting upon an eye for an eye in situations
like a pregnant woman having a deformed child because of the violence
of a man, she should instead try to forgive him (Ex. 22:22-24).
He was not changing the Law, as some have wrongly thought. He
was saying that the Law was capable of being lived on different
levels, and that some aspects of it were a concession to human
weakness. Thus the woman with a deformed child could legitimately
express her anger by insisting on the physical deformation of
the man who had attacked her during pregnancy; but this, the Lord
was saying, can give way to a higher level: simply forgive the
- Lev.25:20 promised that if Israel had doubts about how they
would survive in the seventh year when the land rested, God would
provide them with bumper harvests in the sixth year. But when
the Lord bids us take no anxious thought what we shall eat on
the morrow, He is surely directing us to the higher level, despite
His willingness to make concession to human weakness.
- Zech. 2:5 had prophesied that Yahweh would be a wall of fire
around Jerusalem at the time of the restoration. But He allowed
and even enabled the fearful Jews to build a human wall for defence
in the time of Nehemiah. The higher level would have been for
them to have set their trust in these words of prophecy.
- It was God's wish that Israel would not have a human king;
hence His sorrow when they did (1 Sam. 10:19-21). Yet in the Law,
God foresaw that they would want a human king, and so He gave
commandments concerning how he should behave (Dt. 17:14,15). These
passages speak of how Israel would choose to set a King over themselves,
and would do so. Yet God worked through this system of human kings;
hence the Queen of Sheba speaks of how God had set Solomon
over Israel as King, and how he was king on God's behalf (2 Chron.
9:8). Israel set a king over themselves; but God worked with this,
so that in a sense He set the King over them. God's
ideal was that the Levites would live from the tithes given by
Israel (Dt. 14:27); but He foresaw that this ideal level wouldn't
be reached by them, therefore the Levites were given land on which
to grow their own crops for survival. However, it must be noted
that by opting to make use of God's concessions to human weakness,
real spirituality became harder to achieve. Thus it was harder
to accept Yahweh as King if they had a human king demanding their
allegiance. Josh. 23:7 made a similar concession regarding the
nations left in the land. The ideal standard was to destroy them.
But the concession was made that they should not socialize with
them or worship their gods. But inevitably they did mix with those
nations and learned their religions. Likewise the early Jewish
Christians were allowed to keep the Mosaic law (in concessions
to human weakness like that of Acts 15), but this really implied
a lack of faith in Christ's sacrifice, with the result that many
of them seem to have drifted back to Judaism.
- It seems that it is God's especial wish that a man conquer
some specific human weakness in his life. If he succeeds in this,
God may make concessions to his other areas of human weakness.
It seems that the Thyatiran believers had none other burden put
upon them than to resist the teaching and practice of the "
woman Jezebel" amongst them (Rev. 2:24)- although it would
seem there were other 'burdens' which the Lord could
have put on them.
- And likewise with the idea of a physical temple. It was God's
clearly expressed wish that He should not live in a physical
house (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Acts 7:48; 17:24). Yet He accommodated
Himself to human weakness in wanting a physical house in which
to worship Him; He came and lived (in a sense) in just such a
- Jeremiah was commanded not to make lamentation for the punishment
of his people (Jer. 16:5). But he did, and God inspired the record
of them in Lamentations, and because they are inspired words,
He spoke through those words to all subsequent generations.
- Ezra had the faith to make the long journey back to the land
from Babylon with no armed escort, despite the fact he was carrying
so much valuable material for the temple (Ezra 8:22). Yet Nehemiah
seems to have taken a lower level- for Neh. 2:7,9 could imply
he asked for an escort and was granted it. Yet it doesn’t mean
he had no faith.
- The boundaries of the promised land and indeed the individual
possessions of the tribes were changed by God in accordance with
the weakness of Israel to actually drive out the tribes and take
the inheritance (consider how the inheritance of Simeon and Judah
was merged because of this inability to expel the Canaanites,
Josh. 19:1). He “changed the portion of my people” (Mic. 2:4).
Yet God worked with them in this progressive lowering of levels.
When faced with the prospect of driving out the tribes, they procrastinated
by asking " Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites
first?" (Jud. 1:1). God could have responded: 'I have already
gone before you, all of you have a duty to go up and possess the
land, and to help your brethren. The question of who goes first
is totally faithless and irrelevant!'. But He didn't say this.
He told Judah to go up first (1:3). By contrast, if Israel had
been obedient, then “the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border”
(Dt. 12:2). This “blessed be he that enlargeth Gad” (Dt. 33:20).
Who knows the height and depth, length and breadth of what could
have been for God’s people? And the same is true for us today.
According to Israel’s perception of the land, so it was defined
for them. It seems they perceived the land to the East of Jordan
as “unclean”- even though right up to the Euphrates had been promised
to them. They were told that if they considered it unclean, then
they could inherit on the West of Jordan (Josh. 22:19). And so
with us- as we define God’s working, so, in some ways, will it
be unto us. Dt. 11:23,24 seem to imply that after God had driven out the seven nations which lived in Canaan, He planned- given Israel's obedience- to drive out yet greater nations from before them. I can only take that as meaning that His intention was to drive out the nations who possessed the rest of the land promised to Abraham, right over to the Euphrates. I see here a promise of ultimate victory against Babylon and Assyria, who controlled the Euphrates area. But the very opposite happened- even though potentially, those nations need never have developed and their empires were intended to be Israel's. These potential victories were to be because all the land Israel trod upon [Heb. 'to bend the bow against'], they would receive (Dt. 11:25). But they weren't ambitious enough to go much beyond their farmsteads. We too will be given all we tread upon, all we desire to inherit of God's Kingdom, if we go forward in faith. It's all potentially possible, if we bend our bow with ambition, we will receive are furthermost dreams and beyond. This line of thought inevitably connects with the incident where Elisha sees the shooting of arrows as a symbol of how far God would give Israel deliverance from Syria (2 Kings 13:17).
- The disciples literally did give up most of what they had and
follow the Lord. And yet there were evidently others who responded
to His teaching without doing this- Peter’s family (Mk. 1:29);
Mary and Martha (Lk. 10:38); Simon the leper Mk. 14:3). They made
use of the Lord's concessions to human weakness.
- Ex. 22:2,3 teach that if a man kills a thief while he is in
the act of breaking in to a home, this is not to be counted as
murder. But if some time passes and then the owner as an act of
revenge murders the thief, this is seen by God differently. Surely
this reflects the fact that God is more lenient to sins committed
in hot blood than those more premeditated. Yet on the other hand,
sin is sin. His law, as law, can appear to make no distinction
between sins of passion and premeditated sins, if the same act
is committed in the end. However, this and other examples indicate
God’s willingness to concede to human weakness, and recognize
sins of passion more leniently than others. And our judgment in
ecclesial life should reflect this too.
- Some of the reasoning used to inspire us is (sometimes admittedly)
human. Paul urges brethren to love their wives because the wife
so belongs to the husband that he is loving himself by loving
her (Eph. 5:29). This is a lower level of reasoning to a direct
call for selfless love. It is a concession to human weakness.
But it is nonetheless made by the Spirit. Likewise the appeal
for obedience because the day of judgment will be so awesome and
terrible (2 Cor. 5:5).
- Naaman was allowed to bow himself before Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18)
for the sake of losing his position. Yet the higher level would
surely have been, as Daniel’s friends, not to bow down to an idol.
And when we ask what the rest of the Jews in Babylon did on that
occasion, it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that they took
the lower level which Naaman did- and bowed down.
- We all offend others (James 3:2), and he who offends his brother
will be condemned. Those who are sleeping at the Lord’s coming
will be found unworthy, so says the spirit in Thessalonians. But
in the Lord’s parable, all the virgins are sleeping at
His coming, wise and foolish alike. They were all living on far
too low a level, and yet the Lord will save them [us] by grace
alone. God accepts we aren’t going to make it as we should. There
ought to be no schism in the body (1 Cor. 12:25), but He realizes
that inevitably there will be (1 Cor. 11:19).
- There are concessions to our human weakness throughout Scripture,
once we look for them. Ezekiel was told to bake his food with
human dung in order to show the extent of uncleanness Israel would
suffer. But his Levitical background made him ask for a concession
here. And the Lord gave it, in telling him to use cow's dung (Ez.
4:15). The ideal is for a sister to have long hair; but Paul admits,
" we have no such custom, neither the churches of God"
(1 Cor. 11:16), as if to say: 'This is the ideal, but as you know,
there is sadly no tradition of this among the ecclesias'.
- The Lord said that He didn’t receive witness from men;
but, because He so wanted men to be saved, He directed them to
the witness of John the Baptist (Jn. 5:33,34). This in essence
is the same as the way in which some people believed the testimony
of the Samaritan woman, but others said they only believed once
they heard Jesus Himself, as they discounted the testimony of
men / women (Jn. 4:42). And so in our day, the ideal witness is
that of the Father and Son themselves directly through their word.
And yet there are others who are persuaded not by that so much
as by the testimony of others who have believed. This may be a
lower level compared to the Lord’s ideal position of not
allowing the testimony of mere men; and yet He makes this concession,
for the sake of His burning desire for human salvation.
- There is such a thing as compromise in spiritual life. The compromise of Acts 15 about the demands placed upon the Gentile believers was an example. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that the Mosaic food laws had no binding at all upon Christian converts; and yet "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit" to endorse the compromise reached in Acts 15:28. The laws agreed there as binding upon the Gentile converts in Acts 15:29 are in fact the so-called Noachic or Primeval Laws, considered by some orthodox Jews to be binding upon all the sons of Noah. That interpretation of what God said to Noah is itself stretched and hardly on a solid Biblical foundation- but God was willing to go along with it in order to make concessions required so that there would at least be some human chance of unity in the early church. Note that the Western Text [Codex Bezae] of Acts omits "things strangled", leaving us with three basic laws about idolatry, fornication and bloodshed. In this case we would see an allusion to an uninspired passage in the Mishnah (Aboth 5) which taught that the captivity in Babylon came about "on account of idolatry, fornication and bloodshed". In this case we would see God willing to compromise and accept the terms which were familiar to the orthodox Jewish minds, rather than merely telling them that their Mishnah was uninspired and so often hopelessly incorrect.