On the chalkboard for my Sunday school class I drew a small square inside a large circle. "The circle represents life and the box stands for the laws of God. Where are you?" I placed an X inside the box and I placed another outside the box. "Which best represents you and your understanding of the laws of God?"
From there I went on to explain that committed Christians tend to take one of two positions: inside or outside the box. Those inside the box are keenly aware of God's laws and carefully obey them. Their lives revolve around staying away from the four walls of the box. Their freedom, although limited, is that they can do what they want, but within the confines of the walls.
Some in the class used the box to define their lives. The laws, rules, regulations, injunctions, commands, and statutes of God were about as far as they would travel.
"It's almost like I'd have to ask God about doing anything for fear it would be wrong," someone commented.
Those who saw themselves outside the box were the ones who said, "Life is free and unrestricted. We can do anything we want, except those things in that tiny little box over there."
One member of the class said, "I've always thought the Ten Commandments were there to free us, not restrict us. To me, they say, ‘You can do anything you want, except for these ten things.'"
In contrast to this positive view, my mother was one of those people who held a negative view: The world was getting worse, everything in the world was sinful, and the only hope was to regard everything around us as evil. She regularly quoted 1 John 2:15-17 (NIV):
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
A legalistic Christian, Mom had a long list of don'ts. While still a teenager, and tired of hearing her negatives, I asked, "I know all the things you don't do and can't do, but what do you do that's fun or enjoyable?"
"I go to church. I read my Bible. I talk to my friends."
"Some fun," I said. Her negative attitude is part of the reason I had no interest in the Christian faith when I was young.
Then, about twenty years ago, I had a new insight from reading the book of Psalms. Many of the psalms praise God for creation of the mountains, skies, sea, and land. The poets extol God for giving us hills and valleys, and fertile land. How could that be all bad?
Gradually, I began to think of life differently. According to the Old Testament poets, God created a beautiful and bountiful world for us to embrace and care for. I could enjoy the fruits of divine creation without feeling guilty or negative. Or, to use my earlier image, I could stay outside the box.
I love the world God has given me to live in. And when I think of those oft-quoted verses from 1 John, it seems to me the context defines the writer's intentions. He wasn't talking about life in general, but the worldly system of his day, the attitudes that opposed God. On the positive side, John was talking about loving one another and keeping God's commandments.
God is the Lawgiver and has prescribed behavior for us to live harmoniously and happily. This Lawgiver is compassionate and understanding. Psalms 103:13-15 (CEV) gives me this picture:
Just as parents are kind to their children, the LORD is kind to all who worship him, because he knows we are made of dust. We humans are like grass or wild flowers that quickly bloom. But a scorching wind blows, and they quickly wither to be forever forgotten.
That's the kind of God I see as the Lawgiver, not someone out there to "get us" or to run us in when we break a rule. God's laws guide us—gently, whenever possible. It seems to me that God has tried to make it easy for us to understand the right way to live, but we keep making it hard on ourselves by adding to the laws.
For instance, once Jesus confronted the top Jewish leaders of His day over the matter of the Sabbath law, which said they could not work on that day. The hungry disciples had plucked grain and eaten it. Jesus says, "People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people…" (Mk 2:27, CEV).
That's the Lawgiver saying, "Live in this world and enjoy it. Praise me as the one who frees you to live the abundant life." The divine laws set us free to embrace love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. See Galatians 5:23, where the apostle Paul adds, "against such there is no law" (NKJV).
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. --Psalms 119:14
Eternal Giver of Laws,
your divine laws are for us,
for our health and safety,
for growth and well-being.
Teach us to see them as examples of your loving kindness
rather than restrictions on life. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.