Much of the world thinks of the Bible as a giant rule book: “Do this, don’t do that, or God will sling lightning bolts at you.” In reality, the Bible is a huge love story: God doing everything He can to recover His lost people. While God does give His rules, those are not arbitrary or vindictive. They are directions to guide us into how to live our best possible life.
The Lie: God’s Rules Hurt
The very first lie that Satan told Adam and Eve was that God’s rule — only one rule! — was against their best interest.
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” … The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:4-5
Adam and Even fell for it, and the world has gone downhill ever since.
That lie still permeates our society today. The tragedy is that the world has swallowed it so completely. People rebel against God’s rules, thinking that they can find a better way on their own. They believe that no one is on their side, that they have to “look out for number one” because no one else is going to. So, they often react to life with a kind of preemptive self-defense, putting up barriers and assuming they need to be aggressive first, before the other guy is. That is a sad, harsh way to live. They don’t realize that God is already looking out for their best interests, so they can relax that defensive posture.
The Truth: God Rules Help
God’s laws given to the Moses and the Israelite people during the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land were detailed and quite complex. Even today, Jews list 613 specific rules that they have identified. Over the years, Christianity has also come to be associated with any number of rules: “Don’t dance, drink, smoke or chew…or go out with those who do.” It seems as if anything fun is against the rules.
That is untrue, however. Any “fun” that has a long-term cost is not going to seem nearly as pleasurable the next day. There are no rules against the fun of enjoying God’s world and the people He’s given to be in our lives. Nature, sports, art, play, laughter and fellowship…no problem at all.
So how do we decide where to draw the line, what is or is not within God’s boundaries? Jesus gave the answer, summarized to three simple all-encompassing rules:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 7:12
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Rule #1: Love God
The top #1 rule is simply to love God. When I spend my life basking in His love for me, and reflecting it back to Him, my attitude toward everything else will be affected. I will enjoy acting to please Him, because it is always fun to make someone you love happy.
Rule #2: Love Others
If I’m loving God and living to please Him, it will overflow into loving others simply because He does. When Jesus’ questioner tried to get wriggle room by asking exactly who counted as his “neighbor”, Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. The one loving others as God wanted was not either of the religious leaders. Instead, it was an outcast, a Samaritan disrespected by the Jews, who did the right thing for its own sake without expecting any reward (Luke 10:30-37).
Rule #3: Treat Others the Way You Want to be Treated
If I love God, and those He loves, I will treat them well. An easy definition of treating “well” is to give the treatment that I would like to receive. If I appreciate someone who smiles and wishes me a good day, that’s what I should do to people I meet. If I’m grateful when someone is patient if I make a mistake, then I should be patient with others. If I’m glad when someone helps me with a burden, then I should provide help whenever I can. And if I find constructive criticism to be helpful, then I can (gently) point out if someone has issues that they are not noticing.
Wouldn’t That Be Nice?
How would our world be different if everyone lived by these three simple rules? There would be no crime. There wouldn’t even be rudeness! There would be no broken families, no abandoned children. No one would be in need. Those who are able would be happy to work productively and earn the food, clothing and shelter their families need. Those who are truly not able to work would be supported by those around them — who would cheerfully share their resources — and would be built up until they became able to support themselves.
Following These Rules in a Broken World
But what if others don’t follow the same rules? If I’m the only one living this way, won’t it make me into a door mat that gets stomped on by everyone else? Not in God’s economy.
Don’t Fight Unless God is Leading
It true that living God’s way means letting myself be vulnerable. There are those who are willing to take advantage of someone who won’t immediately fight back. The key word here is “won’t”. It’s not that God’s people can’t fight to hold their own. It’s that they choose to relax and trust God to work things out in His own way and time.
Christians have the option of defending themselves or taking a strong stand, if warranted. But they also can be patient and wait until God says that the time has come for such action. When drawing a line in the sand will advance God’s kingdom, making the case for Him instead of just for myself, then God will lead the way. In that case, even “fighting back” is part of these three rules: It shows love for God and for others, and can be done while treating an opponent with the kind of respect that I would like to receive.
We’re Not Alone
Even if it feels like I am the only one trying to follow God, that is not really the case. God always preserves a remnant of society for Himself. It may be only one family, as in Noah’s day. There may be just a few at a time, hidden and whispering their prayers, as in countries today where Christians are persecuted. When Elijah whined to God that he was the only one left, and the evil queen Jezebel had sworn to kill him, God answered that He had plans to punish the evil-doers and that there were still 7000 in the land who had not worshipped Jezebel’s idols 1. God never leaves us on our own. He is always with us.
While not guaranteed, it often happens that a God-based approach will improve a situation that would otherwise be unhappy or antagonistic. When someone seems grouchy — maybe a less-than-ideal store clerk, for instance — a smile and a kind word that shows God’s love may result in a new friend. 😀 (Sadly, the opposite is also true: Reacting to a negative attitude with more negativity usually just starts a downward spiral.)
Even When It’s Hard, It’s Still Better
Given the choice between following God’s rules of love at the risk of being hurt vs. joining the world’s version of a no-rules, strike-first lifestyle, which will result in a better life? When looking back on a life of risky “fun”, with no rules other than “don’t let anyone get the best of me”, will that be a happy memory? What about looking back at a life of sharing love, even if it includes some seeming failures?
I think I’ll place my bet on God’s rules. The odds are better!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- See the story in 1 Kings 19:1-18.