RELATIONSHIP OVER RULES
Not all who encountered Jesus, chose to follow him. We see this in particular with the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. I have a little bit of sympathy for these Pharisees. . . . just a little. I can understand how someone could get stuck in their faith-life and start grabbing at whatever they can find. Let me explain.
Religion, rules and eventually legalism all sprung from the Law. But when the Law was first presented to the Israelites it was in the context of relationship. His people had a tangible connection with a God who delivered and guided them. Sure, God was still holy and maybe even a little scary, but His presence was near and palpable. While he often used his representative Moses to communicate with the people, he also made his presence known. Remember when He blocked the sea, when He led them by a pillar of cloud or fire, when He sent manna, when he routed their opponents. Even more, his glory descended onto the tabernacle they built for Him and remained with them.
The Law continued to be a stabilizing and shaping force in the lives of the people of God. And God also communicated to his people through other leaders after Moses — judges, kings, priests and prophets. Seems like a good plan: a law created and written by God; a lifestyle created by the leaders God called; and a sprinkling of regular miraculous reminders of his protection and provision. The combination of these three things must have helped the people feel connected to an Almighty God. They knew by heart the laws that He provided, and they listened to his representatives, and they kept their eyes open to God’s works.
Even with all of this, however, the history of God’s people was rocky, and their hearts became divided.
And then there was silence. For 400 years before Jesus came on the scene, no corporate communication and no palpable presence. Can you imagine?
What happens to a people of God without any messages or miracles? Without any guiding voice, they relied on the only thing that they had — the written law– and unfortunately made that their god. They made right and wrong their foundation instead of standing on reverence, devotion and love.
It was said this way in last Sunday’s message: the people lost their way, when their allegiance was more to the Law, than the Law-Giver. And in this position, their hearts were no longer just divided . . . . they became distant and cold.
And this is why I feel a smidge of sympathy for them, because I can kind of understand how they ended up where they did. Their situation is a red flag, a warning for me. Because a Pharisaical bent, tendency and approach can still spring up and smother the faith of modern-day Christians. In fact, it may be one of the biggest pitfall for longtime Christians. Even though Jesus has called us into a New Covenant based on reconciled relationship and righteousness brought about by Christ’s work on the cross alone, we too can find ourselves on the edge of religious living.
When we don’t stay in close relationship with God, it can feel like a silence and void 400 years removed from the Person and Presence and Provision and Power of Jesus.
What do I mean by this? When we don’t seek his way, will and voice through prayer; when we don’t fully embrace and walk with the Spirit –His Spirit– that lives within us; when we begin to make the Bible into a position paper or a handbook rather than a living and active love letter; when we allow ourselves to become blind to any work that he is doing around us . . . . .we allow ourselves to fall into the same situation as those Pharisees. In essence, we choose rules over relationship. And being right and living right becomes our god. Drawing a line between right and wrong make us feel stable and secure, rather than finding our stability and security in being beloved and adopted Sons and Daughters.
If we are going to keep our fists wrapped tightly around the Law, then why did Jesus come to earth? Why did he die on the cross? Why did he deposit His Holy Spirit in us? Why did he teach us how to pray to Abba? Why did he preach the gospel? Why did he leave the New Testament for us?
Let’s fight the temptation to grab a hold of rules. In some ways it would be easier, but it’s ultimately not what God intended for us. Let’s grab hold of Him instead. I think that is all He’s ever wanted.
Dear Sherry, I had a hard time with Pastor Kyles “law/love” sermon of three weeks ago. It has been on my mind quite a lot. I wish I could have a conversation with him about it. In all my years reading and studying the Bible law and love are inseparable. My understanding of the commandments is that they are promises meant to lead to flourishing. It would have helped if he had defined what he meant by “law”. I am curious why he kept saying it was the most important sermon he would ever preach at LifePoint. Your devotional dovetails with his sermon. I agree with both of you that our humanity (our flesh) has a difficult time living in God’s Spirit. However, the words of Jesus (a few verses preceding the verse Kyles sermon hinged on–Matthew 5:20) in verse 17 challenges this notion that love is at the opposite end of law or that rules and relationship should be torn asunder–“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”… I am just saying the issue is not as simple as you both put it. When we read past verse 20 in the sermon on the mount, Jesus continues to explain what he means by “exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees”… he tells his disciples a more difficult ‘law’, he raises the bar… impossible without faith.
Denise — I’m so glad that you wrote a comment and I apologize that it has taken me so long to reply. Indeed, this is one of the most complicated issues to understand.Yes the commandments were meant to help the people flourish if obeyed, but ultimately it wasn’t God’s “better” answer and plan. God’s “better” was found in the person of Jesus (a truth sprinkled throughout the book of Hebrews). I think we must understand the law’s purpose and honor what it was intended for, but we must first and foremost understand the Words and Ways of Jesus. I think it’s a priority issue, not a one-or-the-other issue. I think spending time really meditating and praying on what Jesus meant when he said that he came to fulfill the law and prophets in Matthew 5:17 would be an excellent devotional– which I haven’t undertaken yet. But you are right. It is not simple. Therefore, we will continue to wrestle with it and try to understand how we are to live in Christ under the New Covenant, while understanding and honoring the Old Testament that reveals the character of God. And that is truly what we were trying to do is “work-it-out”. I know that this short reply does not address all your concerns. I love that you engage with God’s Word so deeply and would love to continue this conversation and have more in the future. I would also encourage you to reach out to Pastor Kile and get his take on this topic.