Madeline and Melvin were in love. No question about it. At every opportunity they would steal glances at each other and talk with nudges and grins. Everybody knew.1
They would soon be married.
Then Melvin dropped a bombshell. Both Madeline and Melvin had been married before, and Melvin wasn’t ready to risk a repeat performance of what he’d gone through.
“I love you, Madeline,” he said. “I love you from the bottom of my heart.” He shuffled his feet and leaned against her. “But I don’t want us to be tied down and restricted in a traditional marriage. I want to propose an open marriage for us.”
Madeline pushed him back. “What?” she said. “What is an ‘open marriage?’”
“Well,” Melvin explained, “it’s freedom from vows and promises and rules for keeping a marriage together. In an open marriage each person is free to form other relationships—“
“—Oh, no you don’t, Mister.” Madeline sputtered. “If you don’t love me and me alone, we’re finished. No ‘open’ stuff for me. It’s either marriage or nothing. Get it?”
He got it. And went on seeking someone who would be willing to be totally open in marriage. And Madeline sought someone who would be totally in love with her.
[Thought Questions for The Two Covenants November 30, 2011]
1. Open theology. Do we ever wish that we could make the rules of life? Just as some people resent the rules that make a marriage work, do we sometimes lean towards the concept that salvation is an open relationship with God? That we (God, you and I) make up the rules as we go along? That it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we recognize that Jesus is involved in our salvation? What are the consequences of thinking like that? Why did God, who values our freedom more than anything else, place constraints on our behavior with ceremonial and moral laws?
2. The law that was “bad.” Assuming that the old covenant “represents those who, like Cain, mistakenly rely on their own obedience,” (lesson guide) was it a bad law? Was it wrong for our spiritual forefathers to rely on the old covenant with its many requirements? Who wrote the old covenant and spelled out its requirements?
3. The Abrahamic covenant. Is a covenant more like a law or more like a promise? Some Christians feel sorry for us Adventists because it seems we aren’t able to admit that the Old Covenant is in the Old Testament and the New Covenant is in the New Testament. If only… Instead of apologizing, what should our response be when confronted with this type of reasoning? How did Abraham regard the covenant by God to bless him and make a great nation of him?
4. The law and the covenant. Do the Ten Commandments fit in with the structure and purpose of the Old Covenant? Why or why not? Would you say that the old covenant is legalism and the new covenant is grace? If so, then why did God promote a set of beliefs that were contrary to His eternal commitment to the law of love? Remember reading about when the Jewish people said they would do everything God commanded them to do? Did they? Why not?
5. Paul and Hagar. Why was Paul upset about a mistake Abraham made thousands of years earlier? What was wrong about Abraham’s consenting to allow his servant to bear him a child? In what respects would you say that Ishmael got off to a bad start? Are the consequences of this mistake by Abraham still present today? How? True or False: Christians are saved by grace, but the Jewish people were saved by obedience to the law. Is there grace in the Old Testament? How much?
6. Obey and prosper. Did the covenant between God and Abraham have anything in common with the covenant many years later between God and the Israelites at Sinai? Given that Abraham lied and acted deceitfully more than once, why should we honor and respect his memory and try to follow his example? Have you ever had great admiration for a person in some respects but not in others? What is the key requirement Abraham fulfilled to be worthy of God’s support and ours?
7. Legalism is a curse, or is it? Do you think it’s a good idea to point out the weaknesses of legalism? What about discussing the failings of particular legalistic people you know? Should we ferret out every opportunity to oppose legalism in all its manifestations? If not, are we unwittingly supporting that which we oppose? How should we regard a fellow Christian who honestly believes that he must respect and obey the law of God as the primary requirement for salvation?
8. The newest century. Now we’re well into the twenty-first century. Do you think that current hostility between certain cultures originated in conflicts between Ishmael’s descendents and Isaac’s? When we see indications of religious-based wars and persecution, does our faith falter? How can you and I stay firm on Biblical principles without giving way to cultural and racial prejudices? Why do you think these prejudices are so deeply ingrained in us and have such an enduring presence among us? Can God rescue us from them? If so, how?