Rules and Christianity: Don’t Do That
I live in a beautiful home in an immaculate neighborhood. We’ve truly been blessed to have the home we do; however, our neighborhood has a fairly restrictive homeowners association (HOA). Everywhere you turn you see signs posted touting rule after rule, telling us what we can’t do as well as what we must do. Yet, it seems with each passing year another problem arises and the HOA simply adds a new sign with a few more don’ts. Everywhere I turn it seems like another restriction has been placed on what we are able to do. No fishing, no swimming, no running, no skateboarding, no parking and the list goes on and on. Most of these rules have good intentions (some I think are ludicrous), but most of them are there to keep our community safe, secure, and attractive.
However, these rules have become almost overwhelming. In fact, there are so many don’ts now that at times I’m confused about what exactly we can do, to the point that it now seems nearly impossible to keep all the rules. My neighbor is a sheriff and his cruiser was towed out of his driveway in the middle of the night (because “commercial” vehicles are not allowed). My wife rode with a friend to a dinner party and when she returned, she realized she didn’t have her driver’s license. She was not allowed to enter the neighborhood until I was able to find a neighbor to watch our kids, so that I could take her picture ID to the guard gate. We have friends who cringe when we invite them to come over because they dread waiting in line to get through the security gate. Another amenity we enjoy in our neighborhood is a gorgeous resort-style community pool. The don’ts say that we can only have up to four guests per family. One of our closest family friends is fostering two children and has two children of their own. Because they are fostering these children, they are no longer allowed to enjoy the blessing of our pool as a family. The rules that are intended to help us live safely and freely have begun to imprison us.
Similar to the HOA in my neighborhood, religion can easily become a culture of don’ts. Don’t smoke, don’t dance, don’t dress like that, don’t have sex, don’t pierce that, don’t drink that, don’t eat that, don’t listen to that, don’t watch that and the list goes on and on. Don’t misunderstand me here, many of these don’ts are vitally important and our families, communities, and our society would be safer if we kept them. However, I can get lost in the don’ts at times and miss the most important do’s.
Rules and Christianity
Two thousand years ago, Jesus lived in a religious culture of don’ts. The Ten Commandments had become hundreds upon hundreds of commandments. It became literally impossible to keep track of all the don’ts. He was approached by the religious experts of the time and asked an impossible question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Of all these rules which one do we really need to make sure we keep? Jesus response is brilliantly succinct. Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus turns the list of hundreds and hundreds of don’ts into three simple do’s. Love God, love your neighbors, and love yourself; do this and all the other laws will fall into place. We all miss the mark; we all will mess up and break some of the don’ts. My challenge today is for each of us to stop being overwhelmed by the don’ts and keep it simple and focus on these three do’s. How well are you doing at loving God? Loving your neighbor? Loving yourself? I’m going to spend a little more time focusing on these three do’s and trust Jesus. He says if I keep these three, the rest of the don’ts will fall into place.
-Pastor Phil Dvorak, MS, LMHC
Philip Dvorak is the Director of the Road to Freedom Christian treatment program and the Director of Spiritual Care at The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches. He is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, husband, and father of four.