Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Principles and Rules

Rules can be easy to follow. Principles can be difficult to apply. About the New Testament I've asked myself, "Is it a collection of rules or a collection of literature that contains principles?" By and large, it seems that the latter is true. Consider the literature types in the New Testament. There are four biographies of Jesus, one book of the history of the early community of believers, a collection of letters (some addressed to collective groups of Christians and others addressed to individuals), and a book of prophecy. None of those are technical how-to books or legal documents. Given the type of literature God inspired and preserved for us, it seems more reasonable to conclude that He gave us principles to show us what is good rather than a set of arbitrary rules.

Sometimes, situations arise where the right thing to do is not crystal clear. Sometimes there are rules that come into conflict for a variety of reasons, whether it be timing, an emergency, historical and cultural context, or some other chance occurrence. Jesus deals with a situation like this with the Old Testament law in John 7, especially verses 16-24. The Law of Moses commanded circumcision on the 8th day for male children. The Law of Moses also commanded rest on the Sabbath. So, what do we do with a male child who turns 8 days old on the Sabbath? It's not crystal clear. Jewish rabbis and Jewish tradition held that you were to circumcise a child on the Sabbath if he were 8 days old that day. Jesus seems to approve of this interpretation. (Maybe not, it's hard for me to tell from John 7. He doesn't seem to condemn this interpretation, at least.) In showing that His healing on the Sabbath did not violate the law, He points to this accepted interpretation of the law of Moses. Then, He says to the Jews in verse 24, "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment."

It seems that Jesus is saying here, "Don't judge so quickly. Dig a little deeper. Consider the overall teaching of God's word and the whole situation and then decide what is right." In healing, Jesus was showing mercy and love, great principles that outweigh the command to rest on the Sabbath. (See also Matthew 12:1-14.) The Jews' judgment of Him wasn't based on righteousness and the principles of God's word. It was rooted in their desire to condemn and kill Jesus (John 7:1, 19).

What's our lesson from this? I've used, and heard others use, John 7:24 as a justification for condemning people who disagree with me. However, it seems that is the opposite of what Jesus was actually saying. Jesus isn't giving the Pharisees license to condemn others. Rather, He is teaching them to refrain from condemning others and to be innocent and holy in their discernment. The Pharisees' problem was their desire to condemn and kill Jesus. That's why they judged Him. They were looking for any misstep. Any excuse would do. When I used John 7:24 to justify condemning others, I didn't realize that Jesus was actually correcting the Pharisees for their desire to condemn Him.

You see, the problem here was the Pharisees' desire to condemn. They were not acting from love, the greatest principle in the law. While they likely believed they were doing God's work, they hated Jesus. In their zeal to condemn those who disagreed with their rules, they incorrectly condemned Jesus under the guise of protecting and upholding rules, rules that they believed were from God. However, in their protecting of these rules, they had neglected the principles of God's word.

A passage that comes to mind here is Galatians 5:22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Remember, it is never wrong to love, to seek peace, to be patient, etc. There is no law that can stand against these great principles in God's word. In this same chapter, verse 14, Paul says that the entire law is fulfilled in love. Love selflessly and you will not break any of God's rules. Seek to condemn, as the Pharisees did, and you are likely to misapply God's word.

I pray that I can do everything from love, more like Him.

1 comment:

  1. Did not know you were writing like this..will be reading your other blogs.