Rules That Kill
It is true that Christianity often misrepresents the heart of God. That can be said of many other religious groups as well, but I will comment on Christianity and its misuse of the commandments of God.
It takes spiritual maturity to understand the heart of God which is behind a commandment of God. When considering the commandments of God, we must try to understand God’s intentions, not just His words. Why does God issue forth commandments for men to live by? What are His motives? Is God capricious in His decisions about how man should live, or is there a Loving Heart behind those Well Known Words. Are we to simply obey the commandments of God, and not be interested in God’s intentions?
In Matthew 12, we see Jesus confronted and spiritually attacked by the Pharisees, who were the religious legalists of the day. They were the so-called experts in what God had said, but they had lost all understanding in why God had said what he said. They had taken the laws of God, and expounded upon them. They had taken the simplicity of God’s Laws, which were intended for man’s good, and had written commentaries on them. They had created ridiculous scenarios about what God did and didn’t mean.
Matthew 12:1-8 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” 3But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
When Jesus spoke of “mercy instead of sacrifice”, He meant this: Human life is more important than blind allegiance to the misapplication of a commandment of God.
The commandments were given to protect men, and to draw them close to God, that they might see His glory, and know His holiness. They were not given to punish men, and withhold blessings from them.
In the Old Testament economy, one could bring his sacrifice to God, but be unmerciful to his brother. Was that what God wanted? Would it have been right to withhold assistance to someone in need so that the worshiper could bring a sacrifice to God? Should people go hungry because of a misapplication of God’s law regarding work on the Sabbath? Should a man go on being crippled, when Jesus could heal him on the Sabbath? Should a man leave a sheep struggling and dying in a ditch, in order to “please God”, and not “work” on the sabbath?
Jesus exposed the poor logic and the hard hearts that these legalists had. They exalted man made religion over the needs of humanity. Jesus reminded them about when David had violated the Law of God to save life, instead of obeying the law and allowing life to be destroyed. We must understand the heart of God and His motivations in giving us His Laws.
May we not be guilty of the same sin as those legalists. May we understand both the holiness of God’s laws, and the value of every human life.
Good thoughts, Bill. Without love for God, the pursuit of holiness becomes legalism. Without love for God, the commandment which is meant to liberate becomes the means of oppression. Without love for God, obedience becomes performance. Without love for God, Christianity becomes religion.
I just had a conversation a few weeks ago with a brother who is convinced that adherence to the law is still extremely important. While I agree that God is honored in obedience, the route that this brother was encouraging was, I believe, impossible. Furthermore, it is interesting how that when people go that path they become pick and chose which laws are the most important. I’m so thankful for the law written upon our hearts in the New Covenant and the glorious way that God directs by the spirit to will and to do God’s good pleasure.