The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband—for her he may make himself unclean. He must not make himself unclean for people related to him by marriage, and so defile himself.
- Leviticus 21:1-4
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
- 2 Chronicles 30:18-20
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
Woe to those who go to great depths
to hide their plans from the Lord,
who do their work in darkness and think,
“Who sees us? Who will know?”
You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?
- Isaiah 29:13-16
“One mustn’t make the Christian life into a punctilious system of law…Nothing gives one a more spuriously good conscience that keeping rules, even if there has been a total absence of all real charity and faith.”
- C. S. Lewis, Letter to an American Lady
In the Scriptures above, we see rules from three different directions.
The Levitical Law had to be followed. The people during the millennial reign of Jesus will be subject to those rules, since it says sacrifices will be made by other nations visiting Jerusalem.
The second Scripture talks about how the people who came to the Temple to worship the Passover from the northern tribes were not ceremonially clean, but Hezekiah prayed, and God answered his prayer. So, even in the Old Testament, God was showing mercy in some cases when the Law was not followed to the letter.
Then in the Isaiah prophecy, the concept of rules made by humans is introduced.
I grew up in a legalistic home. My father was brought up in a Baptist farmhouse. His father had tons of rules. We were not allowed to play cards or use games that had dice. That was one step away from gambling, and gambling was a sin, thus playing “Go Fish” was a sin. My mother’s father had been very strict and she tended to like boundaries. When she established the household, there were layers of boundaries, like an onion. You peeled past one and there was another. By the time you got past two or three layers, your eyes were burning so bad, you couldn’t find the next layer. Add my Dad’s leniency compared to his father (not much, but he tried), and the layers of the onion were left undisturbed.
And for the most part, my parent’s rules were manmade rules. If you were into rule following, you had found your nirvana. But I always wanted something different.
But when I became a parent, I fell into the same trap my parents had helped create. As a result, both our boys followed in my wife’s and my footsteps. One son is great at following rules, mostly the rules that he makes up, but there is no charity or faith. The other son is selective in his rules, a tyrant in the kitchen, but otherwise, he is all charity and faith. The house may be a mess, but there is love there. Not that there is not a glimmer of something like love in the other house.
The age-old question is whether, with the chance to do so, if we went back in time, would we do anything differently? But maybe understanding how we got there, COULD we do it differently?
I have heard, and maybe I have written it, that God does not want blind rule following, He wants a relationship, but is that really true? The more we learn about God, the more we want to be like God. In love, we pick up a few rules here or there. Maybe not the ceremonially clean rules when giving burnt offerings, since Jesus paid that price, but a few of those rules that shows our neighbors that we care. We are not following these rules to impress God. We are getting to be more like Jesus and we simply prefer to live more like Jesus. And part of that is the charity.
It is one thing to see a homeless person and think how sad that is. It is quite another to roll down the window and hand him a few dollars. It is something entirely different to pick him up and take him to dinner and have a conversation, one living soul to another living soul. And don’t worry, I am not to that last one, but I have met those who did that – feeding, witnessing to them, taking them by a store for new shoes and a clean shirt. Like the advertisement says, the biggest request at homeless shelters is for fresh socks. Know the audience and give them what they think they need, but introduce them to the One who can meet their needs.
I say that not as adding one additional rule to the many. I say that as an example of what Jesus taught, to love one another, love your neighbor as yourself, and even love your enemies.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
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