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Aren't Rules a Good Thing?

It depends on what the rules teach.

Luke 11:45-54 (ESV)

One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Now Jesus turns His attention to the lawyers. This makes sense; the lawyers are the ones who actually invented all those hard to bear rules. So, what exactly is wrong with those rules?

They make it so you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The rules that God set out in the books of the law were designed to point to God while protecting people from dangers they don’t understand, but the lawyers added counter-productive layers to that. Some of their rules almost seem to be designed to annoy people.

What is the greatest commandment? Love God. What do all those rules do to that? They interfere with it.

Imagine that you have a King who everyone loves and everyone is supposed to love. But then this King invents a bunch of burdensome rules, many of which seem purposeless. Would that work for you?

Notice that when Jesus says, “If you love me, obey my commands.” the commands He’s referring to aren’t anything like the lawyers’ rules. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Pray in private. Love your neighbor.

How refreshing.

Obviously, some rules are good; society can’t function without laws (and people to enforce those laws). Yet rules can lead to legalism, which is Christianity gone off the rails. How do we draw the line?

The key isn’t the rules per se, but how they are used. Rules are supposed to be a means to an end – in Christianity that means honoring and obeying God. The rules are guidelines to those ends.

If the rules are obeyed (or enforced!) as if they are what’s important, then the true goal is lost. The focus shifts from God to the rules (which are treated like laws).

This destroys worship.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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