It occurred to me after I wrote Part 3 that there was still more to be said regarding Katie’s question. What I had addressed in Parts 1, 2, and 3 were all good, but there were things that I did not cover. This is Part 4.
I ended Part 3 with a reason why we should not reject the Law or the Torah, the list of do’s and don’t’s, and I also stated a couple of reasons why people so emphatically preach and teach that you should follow the rules. For some people, it is a problem with self righteousness— feeling that they know everything and commanding that others give them a sense of respect. Others will teach a strict law obedience to create a sense of unity, although they are creating clones or a sense of sameness. All of this is evidence of a control issue, and can be extremely destructive. Still, others will preach to their congregations that they ought to be law abiding citizens in a genuine effort to avoid sin. They will do what they can to keep God’s law and live a holy lifestyle. This in itself is not wrong or evil, but if it is pushed too far it can become a burden, something the Law was not intended to be.
At the end of it all, I encouraged Katie, and all you readers to move towards or pursue a love relationship with God, not a rule based one. For a love relationship is what God originally intended and designed you to flow and function in. But just because I said it doesn’t mean that people will instantly move towards that kind of relationship.
Why? Because love is scary.
I have been a part of four wedding parties in the last five years, three of my good friends and my eldest younger brother. As I stood up there with these men, as a simple groomsmen and as a best man, I observed something interesting: there was no uniformity between the ceremonies.
One couple was married by a mutual friend. One couple was married in a church that neither of them attended. One couple swapped sides, the groom standing on the left side of the alter though that was traditionally the bride’s side. One couple got married in the church that the groom pastored in. Each one was different, and in more ways than I have just mentioned. And that I believe is because the love that was celebrated on those special days was unique. It wasn’t the same love shared across those four weddings. Each couple had their own unique wedding celebration because their love relationship was unique to them, and them alone.
There is no uniformity in a love relationship, and this can scare people. For those that are looking for the familiar or the comfortable, a love relationship can be the most frightening thing there is, because they are never the same. Looking at those four marriages, I can say unequivocally that they are not the same at all. How one husband is loving his wife in one couple is radically different than the other three. And I’m sure they are sharing a love relationship with their spouses that is different than the one that I share with my wife. For some people that is too much to handle, so they never give themselves to a love relationship.
Love is often filled with the unknown or the unfamiliar. How love is shown and how it is expressed is different from one couple to another. And the same, I believe, is true for a love relationship with God. This isn’t wrong, just like couples loving one another in various ways is not wrong. Love moves and changes and works in the situations it finds itself in.
It is rather sad and unfortunate that some people willfully avoid a love relationship with God, just the same way that it is sad that there are people that actively avoid relationships with people. I do not mean they avoid marriage or serious dating relationships. They tend to avoid any kind of close friendship or companionship. Especially because this is what we were made for. We were destined and created for relationships.
In the Gospel of Matthew, a group of religious leaders wanted to know what Jesus thought the greatest or the most important commandment was. According to their thinking, obeying all the rules of the Torah was exactly what God wanted. With this question, they would discern what Jesus thought and whether or not He was teaching a false gospel.
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” “ – Matthew 22.35-40
Read that last portion of Scripture again.
“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
All the 613 commandments of the Torah, all the things that the prophets of old decreed that Israel do, everything comes back to this. Everything breaks down into one of these two commandments—two commandments that are about a relationship! How strange and reversed is that? While they were looking for one rule to follow, or a collection of commands that one could use to govern their lives, Jesus throws all of that out and says that love is what they need to be doing. Be in a relationship with God. Be in relationship with the people around you.
If you needed further proof or more reasons to believe that we should focus on a love relationship rather than trying to obey all the rules of the Old Testament, this is it.
What God desires, what Jesus declared as the most important thing for His followers to focus on was this, “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”
I don’t know how to stress this enough. The freedom and liberation this realization can have on the rule burdened heart is tremendous. To know that you do not have to keep working and doing and trying to achieve for God brings a lightness to the earth. When I finally learned this, when it actually took a hold of my heart, it was as if shackles had been broken. I felt myself spiritually breathe a sigh of relief.
And I am not alone in this thinking. Jesus understood how burdensome following rules could be, he knew the danger that lay within the Torah. In Matthew 11, he said this.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11.28-30
For those of you with a farming background, the idea of a yoke is not foreign. A yoke was and still is used to connect two oxen or horses so that they can work in unison. It often went around their necks and stayed there until the task was done. But that isn’t all that a yoke was. A yoke was also a teacher’s curriculum, if you will. What the teacher held most dear, what they tried to get people to believe and understand was called his yoke. For some teachers, they had a lot to teach. They believed that so many things were important, that they needed to be shared and lived out. But not Jesus.
Two commands, both based in a love relationship was all that Jesus’ yoke consisted of. Love God and love your neighbour was all that Jesus came teaching and proclaiming. Not obedience to the rules, the list of do’s and don’t’s, but a love relationship with our heavenly Father and our earthly neighbours.
Katie, I know that this was a long response to your email, but I wanted to be thorough and make sure that I explained this well.
Do you need to follow all the commandments in the Bible? No.
Can you follow some? If it is as a guide towards spiritual growth, absolutely.
What is most important, what all Christians need to get deep into their bones is the importance of this love relationship with God and investing into that.That is what is most important. That is more important than rules or a list of do’s or don’t’s. Because if you can love God fully and your neighbour deeply, you will find yourself adhering to the do’s and don’t’s out of that love.
Katie, go and love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself.
Grace and Peace be with you.