Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Changing the Rules of the Game

Suggested Reading: Matthew 15:1-20

I know it is shocking, but when they were younger my children would occasionally get into fights. One of the things they sometimes fought about was the rules of whichever game that they happened to be playing. They would be playing along, having fun, until one of them decided that the rules didn't work as they were and they would attempt to change the rules of the game right then and there. Most of the time, the rule change was intended to give the one making the change an advantage over the other one which, in turn, started a fight. "That's not how you play the game!" the other one would yell or cry, and the fight pretty much fueled itself from there.

In the New Testament, Jesus accused the Pharisees of trying to pull the same kind of rule change with the way God wants us to live. Jesus pointed out how they violated God's command to honor one's parents by devoting to the temple the money they would have used to care for their parents in their old age. That gift to the temple, in their minds, freed them from the obligation to care for their parents. Then, speaking for God the Father, Jesus quoted the book of Isaiah and said, "These people honor Me with their lips but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men" (Matthew 15:8-9, HCSB).

Many times, we do the very same things the Pharisees did and we make up our own rules that we think nullify God's commands. Jesus gave us the example of the Good Samaritan who stopped for a man on the side of the road but we tell ourselves that we don't have to care for that person because it is more important to be "wise" and not put ourselves in dangerous positions. Jesus prayed for and encouraged unity among his followers but we decide that we can only be united with other believers if they hold exactly the same doctrinal beliefs that we do. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul insisted that we not demand our own rights when doing so might cause other believers to falter in their faith  but we declare that anyone who is offended by our innocent actions is simply dumb and not our concern. 

Every day, as believers and as local churches, we "change the rules" for our own advantage, so that we don't have to work as hard or so that we can have the things we want, coming up with our own little traditions that give us the right to ignore God's commands.  If we were honest with ourselves, we normally know exactly when we do this because the Spirit pricks our consciences and we do our best to pretend that nothing is wrong. Sometimes, we even pray for God to send someone else to do what we know we should be doing.  But there are two problems with making up our own rules like that: 1) many of the lost people we are trying to reach know how we are supposed to live and our contradictory behavior communicates that God isn't real to us so God doesn't need to be real to them; and 2) when we ignore God's commands and follow our own rules, we end up hurting ourselves, just like cheating in a game often helps you in the short-term but then messes you up in the next round.

What are the rules you have come up with to relieve yourself of following God's commands? When you feel the Spirit prick your conscience, what rules do you spout to yourself so you have an excuse to ignore God's voice? There is a lost and dying world that needs to see us living life as God commanded, not to mention that we end up hurting ourselves when we ignore God's commands. Let's not come up with our own rules so that we get exactly what we want. Let's not be those people who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. 

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