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Rules or principles?
- Jacob Ninan
Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone (Mt.18:21). Suppose Jesus had given him a number, that would have made things simple for us, wouldn't it? We would know when we still have to forgive or when we have forgiven enough! It is easy to understand rules (mostly!) and it is easy to know if we have kept them or not. We can even say that we feel mentally safe and relaxed when we know exactly what we are supposed to do or not. That would save us from having to decide each time whether we can do something or not.
On the contrary imagine what we have to do with 'loving' someone. Does anyone know what exactly it is to love? When we love someone does it mean that we agree with everything he does? Can we disagree with him? Can we have an opinion that tells us something bad about him? Should we like everything he does? Things seem so vague and abstract, don't they? But actually when we love someone we know it in our heart, don't we, even if we can't understand or explain rules about love. That is the difference between following rules and living according to virtues or by principles.
The Old Testament (or covenant) has given a set of rules - the Law. We shall do these and not do those. They are easy to understand and follow. But when it comes to the new covenant, we come to standards, principles and virtues. Most of the time we cannot know exactly what is to be done. Let us look at some examples.
In the Old Testament people were asked to give tithes to God. It was easy to understand, and to know if we have given. But when we come to the new covenant it only says to give cheerfully! (2Co.9:7). It also says our reaping will be in proportion to our giving (v.6). Now how do we know how much to give? Will we know if we have given enough? Can't we make ourselves to think we have given much when we haven't? Things can be quite confusing without rules, can't they?
How did Jesus live, according to rules or principles? Just think of what looked many times like the breaking of the Sabbath. But we know that He had come to fulfil the law, and so He wouldn't have broken the law in any way any time (Mt.5:17). In other words, He always kept the principle of the Sabbath while the Pharisees were looking at the rules.
Once at Cana He told Mary that His time had not come, but almost immediately afterwards went on to turn water into wine (Jn.2:4). On another occasion He told His brothers that He was not going to Jerusalem, but soon after that He set off for Jerusalem! (Jn.7:8). Of course He was not talking loosely, but He moved according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This tells us that if we want to live according to the new covenant, we need to be led by the Spirit rather than by rules (Ro.7:6;8:14). Walking according to rules is the old way, and was meant for spiritual children (Ga.3:24,25). The Spirit wants to lead us to a deeper knowledge of God's mind and a closer fellowship with Him.