Shortly after Moses came down from the mountain with the Law, the people of God began to try to understand what it meant, how it applied to their lives, and how to obey it. They were very serious about obeying God’s word. So serious, in fact, that to protect themselves from disobeying, they set up “hedges” around the laws. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain became don’t even speak His name. Don’t boil a calf in it’s mother’s milk became don’t eat dairy and meat at the same meal.
Those who built the hedges were really good, godly people. They acted out of love and respect for God and for their fellow believers. They wanted to be obedient. But what they did was create an onerous, impossible system of rules and regulations that no one could hope to keep. The hedges or add-ons became equal to the laws that God had given. The people were hurt two-fold by these extra rules.
On the one hand there were so many rules that they hung around the people’s neck like a milestone. On the other hand, the Pharisees added a whole layer of self-righteousness in their mistaken belief that they were so much better than everyone else because they kept these laws (or so they believed). They missed the point of the law, which was to drive them to God in recognition of their need for a Savior.
So what does this have to do with us today? Quite a lot actually.
As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” There is always a tendency to “hedge” God’s law. There is always a trend towards self-righteousness. We want rules that are easy to follow, check lists with bite-sized pieces of law that we can obey and feel good about ourselves and how we match up to others. Not sure what I mean, well, think about these topics.
-How we worship God. A very important topic, and one many disagree on. What style of music is right? Contemporary? Traditional hymns? Psalter only?
-“Godly dating” Only group dates? Only courtship? Girls can’t ask guys out? No kissing before the wedding?
-Disciplining our children. Spanking? Time-outs? Consequences?
-Schooling our children. Private school? Public school? Home school?
-Drinking, dancing, smoking?
And those are just a very, very few issues. Everyone has opinions about all of these issues. Who’s right? Well, I don’t know. That’s why I read my Bible, pray, listen to good advice, and talk to my pastor. Then I make my decisions, but that’s all they are.
The problem comes when we take good advice and elevate it to the level of Scripture. I’m not arguing for moral relativism. There are absolute rights and wrongs in life. But there are also lots of grey areas where I believe God has called on us to use our best judgment, and not judge others who decide differently.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.