The Right Question
Shaun LePage, June 14, 2007
One of my favorite books is The Question Book by Bobb Biehl. It’s full of thousands of questions. Questions you should ask before you buy a car. Before you start a business. Before you enter the military or choose a college or hire an attorney or get married. Biehl wrote in the introduction, “No problem in the world has ever been solved without a question.” That’s great stuff! He’s so right.
Despite his great wisdom, in almost 400 pages full of questions, Biehl didn’t come up with one of the greatest questions every humanoid should ask! In fact, my guess is that most people—even most Christians—fail to ask it. This is why we often spend so much time chasing after all the wrong things in life.
In the time between Moses and Jesus—when God gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai to the time of Jesus—Jewish scholars had identified 613 specific commandments in Scripture (the Old Testament). There were 365 negative commands—“Thou shalt nots—and the rest were positive—“Thou shalts”. They debated among themselves about what commandments were most important.
The thing that always scares me when I read about the Pharisees and Sadducees and all those Jewish leaders is that in many ways, they looked like you and me.
§ Like us, they knew the Bible. They studied the Bible. The Bible was one of their core values.
§ Like us, they were constantly participating in some sort of religious activity.
§ Like us, they prayed, they tried to live by the rules and they gave offerings to God.
In fact, they were probably more faithful in all these things: They studied their Bibles far more diligently than I do. They participated in religious activity on a daily basis. They prayed multiple times per day and diligently lived by the letter of the law. Their giving would probably put most of us to shame.
What scares me is that Jesus wasn’t impressed. He said, “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Matthew 15:8,9).
What was missing? What was wrong? Why was their “worship…in vain”? At least part of the answer is: they were asking the wrong questions! Do you realize that all our church activity could be a big waste of time? Do you understand that our Bible studies, our prayers, our giving, our worship—could be “in vain” (i.e., useless)? All of our religious activity has the potential of being far from pleasing to God. It can look great to us, but be a fowl stench in the nostrils of God if we don’t ask the right questions.
Mark 12 contains the right question. In fact, Mark 12:28 tells us the last question anyone dared to ask Jesus. His answer silenced Jesus’ critics for good. But I want you to see that question:
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
There it is: “What commandment is the foremost of all?” It gave Jesus the opportunity to teach what God really wants. That’s the answer we all need most of all—God is our Creator and Father and Judge and we will screw up our lives if we don’t know what He wants. We will waste our 72 years on the planet if we don’t know the answer to that question.
One of the things that amazes me about this is who asked the question—a scribe! In Jesus’ day, the scribes were the big shots. These were the theologians. The scribes were men of the text. They studied it. They copied it. They memorized it. They agonized long and hard over its meaning. These men were the interpreters. They told everyone else what the text meant. The problem is this: Pride. When everyone’s looking to one man or one group of people—the Masters of Theology—to tell them what God has said, there’s danger. Danger for them and danger for those who are looking to them. We’ve got to be careful to study the Scriptures for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong: It’s good to listen to those who have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures. It’s good to read their books and consider what they have to say. I think it’s good for you to listen to what I have to say—if I didn’t think so, I’d be doing something else. But you should never get lazy—only listening to my sermons or only listening to your favorite radio teacher or only reading the best-selling books from the Christian bookstore—without studying the Scriptures. Without looking to see if what is said from the pulpit or on the radio or on the printed page is true.
Remember what Luke told us about the Bereans in Acts 17:11? “Now these (Christians in Berea) were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” “These things” were the things being taught by the Apostle Paul! That’s the way it ought to be.
But, according to Matthew 22 this scribe was prideful. Everyone looked to him for the answers. He was the great interpreter of the text—the Bible Answer Man. He was testing Jesus. Jesus had answered all the other simpletons before him, but Jesus hadn’t dealt with him yet. So he steps out of the crowd with his nose in the air and a smug little grin.
But despite his pride, this scribe’s question is great! You’ve got to hand it to him—he asked a great question. Think about it: You’ve got 613 commandments in the Old Testament. That’s too much to keep track of. Boil it down for me. What’s the heart and soul of all this? What does God most want from me? That’s not only a great question—it’s one of the greatest. It’s the question every man, woman and child needs to ask.
Of course, Jesus answered the question in the next few verses, but my question for you right now is: Are you asking the right question? Are you asking what God most wants or are you asking how you can get what you want? Are you asking how you can get rich? How you can get your dream home or dream car? How you can get your dream girl or dream guy? How you can get…? Are you more concerned with what you want or with what God wants? If you’re not asking the right questions, you’re going to mess things up. It’s like a runner who doesn’t ask “Where’s the finish line?” Like the dentist who doesn’t ask, “Which tooth hurts?” The archer who doesn’t ask, “Which target?”
The upside is this: If you ask the right question, you get the right answer. You cross the finish line. You pull the right tooth. You hit the target. Ask the right question.