The Rule of Lawlessness


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, 2 Samuel 2:1-11, Acts 15:36-16:5, Mark 6:14-29

Today’s passage from Acts introduces Timothy, a young disciple who had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Paul wanted to take on Timothy as a protégé, but he knew the observant Jews he wanted to reach would never listen to a Jew who followed Greek customs, so he had Timothy circumcised. This may seem contradictory to the stance he’d taken only a little while before, when the leaders of the church decided Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to follow Christ.

Were there rules or weren’t there?

For an evangelist who preached that we are saved by grace and not deeds, Paul had an awful lot to say about how we should behave. What is the proper role of rules in Christian life? Rather than try to create rules about rules (which sounds like a sure way to induce Inception-level brain cramping), let’s consider some context.

Foregoing circumcision for the gentiles was a matter of inclusivity for fellow believers – of not using the same law Israel had failed to uphold as an excuse to exclude. With Timothy, Paul wanted to do whatever was necessary to reach the as-yet-unconvinced Jews. Timothy’s credentials as a believer were already firmly established. He and Paul were motivated not for his salvation, but for the salvation of others.

Perhaps that’s a good guideline for what rules matter. We can’t function as a community – secular or religious – without some commonly understood boundaries. In secular society the rules are mainly about personal rights and property. In Christian community, the rules – which we are each meant to enforce on ourselves, not others – are about embodying love for God and neighbor.  We are to embrace service and reject exploitation. The rules Jesus laid out for us were rarely (never?) quantifiable like a business transaction or a tax, but rather qualitatively transformed how we think about God and each other.

We don’t behave in specific ways to earn love; we behave in ways that express our eternal gratitude for God’s unearned love. The burden is light because it has not been forced upon us, but chosen by us.

Additional Reading:
For more thoughts on today’s passage from Acts, see Entrance Exams and It’s complementary, my dear Christian.
Read a reflection on today’s scripture from Mark in The Staircase.

Comfort: We are freed from the law and bound by love.

Challenge: No rule today. Create a challenge for yourself – one that you believe will express gratitude to God.

Prayer: Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. (Psalm 85:8)

Discussion: What kinds of rules are important to you? What kinds are not? Why?

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