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Loving Rules (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with rules. When we break them and face the consequences, we hate them. It's often easier to blame a "silly rule" than to admit our own guilt when we fall short of what is required of us.

At the same time there is often a more subtle love of rules. Rules and standards give us something to measure our behaviour by. When we tick all the boxes, we feel good about ourselves and our performance. This then easily spills over into feelings of pride in ourselves and condemnation toward others who haven't kept the rules or achieved the same standards as us.

Paul wrote the above verses in the context of describing those who were false teachers. These particular teachers believed that human desires such a desire for food and a desire for sexual intimacy and fulfilment were inherently evil.

The Old Testament law had taught that certain foods were unclean. Paul taught that, through Christ, no food was inherently "unclean" any longer, but these false teachers rejected this and demanded that everyone, Jew and non-Jew still needed to keep these dietary laws. More than this, they taught that because food was "physical", not "spiritual" it was inherently evil and therefore those who fasted often, were superior to those who didn't.

Similarly, these same teachers believed that sexual desire was also evil because of its physical nature and therefore taught it was more "spiritual" to remain unmarried and not fulfil these desires.
Paul makes it clear in this letter to Timothy, that these teachers were wrong. These human desires were created by God and the object of these desires (food and sex within marriage) were "good" in His eyes, as spoken in Genesis 1.

How does all this relate to us as leaders?

There exists within us all a desire to turn our Christian faith into a series of rules. We keep as many rules as possible to feel "good enough" as leaders and then we project these same rules onto young people demanding that they keep them and warning them that if they don't, God will be angry with them.

The false beliefs we are in most danger of believing and projecting onto others are those that are almost true or partly true.

There is no doubt that there are certain "rules" to be obeyed in following Jesus but it's important that we are clear about two things when we refer to them.

Firstly, the purpose of these rules is to teach us how to live well according to the wisdom God has revealed to us. Rules are not meant to be used as a guide to make ourselves feel more acceptable to God, and to condemn those who don't keep the rules as fully as us.

Secondly, when we focus on rules, we ignore the concept of grace. Grace says that God accepts me and loves me even when I break the rules. Keeping rules pleases Him but it doesn't earn His love and favour. If it did, then my salvation would be by my own works and not by the death and resurrection of Christ.

When you're teaching young people Biblical "rules" be sure to make this distinction clear and always speak of grace so that they have the correct context for understanding why rules are important.

As they grasp the concept of grace they'll soon understand that rules are not a means to prove to people that we are more acceptable to God than them. Obeying God is something we do out of deep gratitude to God and what He has done for us in the person of Jesus.

We obey "rules", not out of fear and guilt or a desire to appear better than others, but with a deep sense of prayerful thankfulness.

Reflection

What's your underlying perspective about "rules" in the Christian life? Do you try to keep the rules because you want evidence that you are holy, or in some way better than others? Or do you long to obey God because you love Him so much?

When you tell young people about rules they should keep, do you do so in the context of explaining God's grace to them? Are we giving them the impression that our faith is all about rules, or all about Jesus?