Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)
Relate: I went to a Bible college my freshmen year that had rules upon rules. We weren’t allowed to play cards because of the occultic symbolism they contained. We were, however allowed to play Uno. The four colors equaled the four suits. Skip, reverse, and draw two were the jack, queen, and king. Many a game of hearts, spades, and rummy were played in this way. The men were allowed to have a mustache but not a beard of goatee. This would have been bad enough if multiple professors did not have beards or goatees. They were flaunting their follicles in our faces. We had a uniform that was about as ugly and uncomfortable as you could make it. Grey pants, white shirt, blue coat, red tie… “Welcome to American Airlines, I’d be glad to help you find your seat today.” I scrunched my blue coat up and crammed it between the mattresses of my bed for the duration of winter break. When I came back I pulled it out and it was stiff as a board without a wrinkle on the thing. Disappointment reigned supreme.
The Israelites didn’t do very well about adding rules to God’s law’s either. Nowhere in scripture does it mention the avoidance of creative activities because they are work, but the Mishnah has a whole list of those. For orthodox Jews today that means you cannot tie your shoes (you created a knot). On the Sabbath Jesus told a paralytic man to rise and carry his mat. That was work, but was it really? Would it not have been a joy for that man to show the world, I was lame but now I am healed?
React: The rules in the Mishnah as well as the rules at that Bible College were born out of good motives. They wanted to avoid the very appearance of evil. They wanted to make sure they were being obedient to God. But as the rules are added to the rules, with more rules thrown on top, one quickly loses focus. We forget about being obedient to God in our effort to keep our rules. For an Orthodox Jew today, as in Jesus’ time, keeping the Sabbath is a lot of work. I mean, seriously, keeping tissues in the bathroom so that you don’t “work” by tearing the toilet paper? I can’t play Scrabble?
Before I get too hard on the rules of others, though, I need to check myself. What are some rules I’ve built up in my own life that have lost their basis in holiness unto God? Do I have my own list of do’s and don’ts that might be turning off those around me to the great God I serve? Have I become so focused on “living like a Christian” that I’ve taken my eyes off of Christ?
God, help me to keep You as the reason for everything I do. Let my actions, and my words, and my lifestyle be an expression of my love for You. Help me to always remember that You are not impressed by my obedience to any rigid set of rules or discipline. What impresses You is a heart of surrender. I surrender my heart to You again. Reign in my life.