What do you remember most about school? The friends, your favorite teacher, the science experiments, recess, gym class, art, music, lunchroom conversations, the field trips? We could go on a trip down memory lane here…but let me ask you this -- how well do you remember the rules?
All four of our kids absolutely love school. And when I asked them the other day about going to their schools for the first time, they couldn’t stop talking about how much fun they had! Usually at the start of each year, there’s some sort of big event like Meet the Teacher, or Back to School Blast where the administrators and teachers throw a party of sorts to get the kids excited about school.
There’s food or music, decorated classrooms where the students’ names are written in colorful print, and maybe a prize to take home like a new pencil or a notepad. But I have never heard of a school having a big night like that and introducing itself to students and parents by standing on stage and reading all the rules. Most schools probably don’t even assume students and parents have read the handbook in its entirety.
We’re comfortable with this approach and really, we think it would come across as weird for the rules to be on display in that kind of setting. Why then do we so often ignore the wisdom in this when we’re introducing someone to Jesus? So many times we start with the rules, overemphasizing their place in Christianity because we want to make sure people know what they’re getting into.
We want everyone to know what is expected of them, whether they’re a new believer or seasoned Christian. But what about taking a cue from these school teachers and focus on building and emphasizing the relationships instead of listing all the rules? What if we started with love? What if we told them how excited we were to meet them and had the privilege of talking to them about Jesus and His love for them?
Before school even started, my kids were met by adults who told them over and over again that they were happy to see them. They were asked their names and their favorite colors. The teachers told each of my kids how thrilled they were to have them in class that year. They tried to get to know each child a little better and then wished them a good night’s sleep before their first day.
And while the rules are important, at a time when students and parents can be anxious about beginning something new, too much talk about the rules can actually make people feel more nervous and distract them from other important aspects of school like learning and making friends.
When we’re talking about or sharing the Gospel though, sometimes we start with the rules because we think God introduced Himself to us by way of rules. Obviously, the Ten Commandments stand out to us as a major moment in history with God the Father and it seems things only got more complicated from there.
But really, God introduced Himself to us in the Garden of Eden, when He walked with Adam and Eve and they were unashamed and unafraid. Jesus, who was called “Good Teacher” in the Gospels (see Luke 18:18, Matthew 9:16, Mark 10:17), said of Himself though that He was a representation of God the Father in the flesh (John 14:9). He said, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”
As God on earth, Jesus lived a blameless life and had more right to be the manager of the rules than anyone else who has ever lived. But still He almost never started His conversations or began relationships with a formal reading of the rules. When He taught publicly, He focused on love. And when sinners (rule-breakers) came to Him privately, He showed compassion instead of enforcing punishment.
When the choice came up between emphasizing the rules or encouraging relationships, He chose relationships every time. He was and is in all ways equal with God and could have pulled that card out at anytime, but instead of pointing His finger at us in condemnation, He walked with us in humility.
Even with all of this, I have been guilty of believing (and many out there are teaching) that the point of being in a relationship with Jesus is to learn how to follow the rules better. That the rules are the foundational element of the relationship. That idea is completely backwards. Rules are good, but they are intended to serve relationships, not the other way around.
Jesus wrote the laws on our hearts when we entered into relationship with Him (Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15, Hebrews 10:16), so it’s not that the rules are unimportant or He views them as useless. But His coming to Earth to us wasn’t to make us better rule-followers. His heart for people is to create and grow genuine relationships with us built on love. Exactly like He showed us in the Garden. It’s how He introduced Himself to us in the first place.
Let’s let this truth resonate in our hearts when it comes to the only Good Teacher. He loves us and wants us to learn how to live the best possible life on this earth. But the best life doesn’t come because of our ability to follow the rules. The best life comes from living a lifestyle based on love, which just happens to represent the two most important rules in the entire book -- love God, and love everyone else.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” (Matthew 22:36-40).