“If you give them an inch, they will take a mile.” This was the answer I was given when I asked for the scriptural reason for forbidding a particular activity in the church we were attending. In other words, this church leader had no scriptural reason for this man made rule, it was based purely on a fear that it might lead the congregation into “dangerous” territory. I was indignant at first, but then realized that I have often done the same thing with my children. Like when we climbed onto the roof of our 2 1/2 story house just to see what we could see. My young rambunctious daughters were not allowed to go within 3 feet of the edge of the roof, for reasons obvious to any parent. They felt understandably confined and limited standing in the middle of the roof, but as the one responsible for their well being, I felt much more secure. As the saying goes, “better safe than sorry.”
Like our own church elder, the Jewish leaders also practiced a spiritual version of this caution. They took a genuine, God spoken command, and then made laws that would serve as a fence to keep the people from coming anywhere near the edge of breaking that law. We call these fence laws, and the Jews of Jesus’ day had loads of them. There were so many in fact, that they were doing more harm than good, so intent on the letter of the Law that they neglected the Spirit of the Law. Jesus was frequently in trouble with the religious leaders of the day for breaking one or another of these fence laws, but we do not see Him breaking the commands that had been set in place by His Father. When Jesus criticized the burdensome laws enforced in God’s name, He was not rejecting God’s Law, but man’s law. These laws were probably originally set in place with the good intention of keeping the Jewish people “safe”, but they had since been elevated to a position of equality with God’s Law. When Jesus “broke the law” it is important for us to recognize just what laws He was breaking. To walk as Jesus did means to have the same respect and obedience for God’s Words as Jesus did, words that have now been written on our hearts as well.
So what is our attitude to be toward laws of man designed to keep us safe from dangerous temptation? What are we to do with all of those commands that God gave in the Old Testament, but seem so foreign to our lives today? Where have the Jewish people gotten it right, and where have they strayed? How can we adopt their reverence for pleasing God without erring by tying burdens on the backs of others? In what ways might we do that ourselves? How are we to walk obediently in the footsteps of our rabbi Jesus?
For the rest of this study:
Down Victory Road
"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 15:57