I was at church listening to a sermon this past weekend, and the pastor was talking about alcohol, and why it was wrong to get drunk. I wasn’t connecting with the talk, even though I agreed with a lot of points the pastor was making (e.g., the dangers of drunk driving, etc.).
I was reflecting on why I didn’t like the sermon, and I realized I don’t really connect with a faith perspective that is focused on rules. Do this. Don’t do that. It just doesn’t work for me anymore.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites had a lot of rules. There were the big ones (i.e., the Ten Commandments), but the rules didn’t stop there. In all, there were 613 laws in the Old Testament that covered everything from what you could eat, to what you should wear, to when you could have sex. There were also a bunch of laws that talked about what would happen to you if you broke a law. It was extremely thorough.
Unfortunately, the laws didn’t really work to bring about consistent good behavior. If you read the Old Testament, you see a group of people fluctuating back and forth between following God and doing their own thing. You might have a couple of generations where the Israelites were on track, but inevitably the wheels would fall off sooner or later (usually sooner).
In his teachings, Jesus tried to change the way that we think about the law. He boiled down the law to two main things: (1) love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-40). He grew frustrated with the religious leaders who looked good on the outside (i.e., they followed all the rules) but neglected the deeper purposes of the law such as justice and mercy (Mt. 23: 13-38).
Building on these teachings of Jesus, Paul reinterpreted the purpose of the law in his writings. For example, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul argues that the rules don’t save us (i.e., following the rules doesn’t make us right with God); instead, the rules show us that we aren’t perfect and need help—it’s actually impossible to follow all the rules (Rom 7:7-25).
Instead of focusing on the rules, my preference now is to focus on the underlying principle of love. For example, what does drinking look like in the context of love for God and others? For me, it means being safe, drinking in moderation, and checking to make sure my drinking isn’t negatively affecting my health or my relationships. It also means giving myself grace if I’m not perfect with my drinking habits.
I try to use the same lens of love for other kinds of decisions. For example, what does a response to the refugee crisis look like in the context of love? How should I treat those who I disagree with? What should I do with my money? Etc.
Discussion: Do you orient your life based on the rules, or based on love? Which way of thinking has led to better decisions in your life?