“Rules were made to be broken.”
While this old adage is said a lot, it’s definitely not true!
It seems to me that in most cases rules are meant to protect us in one form or another. And sometimes they are made to ensure that we follow best practices.
But almost without a single doubt, rules were not made to be broken.
However, are there times when they should be broken? Are there cases in which the rule, which was intended to protect or direct toward best practices, isn’t the best option?
Well, in John 5 we see Jesus choosing something above following a rule.
Rules and Jesus
First things first, Jesus wasn’t against all rules. In fact, when Jesus was asked what the best ones were, he didn’t say “There are no rules, just love people.” Nope. Instead he said, “Here is the best rule: Love God, and the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.36-40). Then after he had died and been raised again, Jesus gave his followers a rule. He told them that as they were going about that they must make disciples (I phrased this sentence this way so that the fact that the command in Greek is not “go” but “make disciples”) (Matthew 28.19-20).
So Jesus didn’t dislike rules. But he clearly understood that too many rules muddied things up. If there are a thousand things we are supposed to be doing or not doing, then we may spend all of our time thinking about those “dos and don’ts” instead of living the lives that God set out for us. And Jesus consistently encountered people who did this — the Pharisees.
Rules and the Pharisees
The Pharisees were not all bad guys, despite how we tend to think of them. There’s Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. And Gamiliel seems like a good guy too. And Paul, who was a Pharisee, would eventually come around too.
But even the “bad” Pharisees weren’t setting out to be bad. They were focused on performing the works of the law in order to worship God well. They weren’t trying to be bad guys and they weren’t hoping to be exclusive and dogmatic. Instead they were doing the best they could with the tradition in which they lived.
So in John 5 when Jesus encounters some uber-rule-loving Pharisees (called “Jewish leaders there), it’s easy to paint them in the worst possible light. But that’s not fair. Their insistence on not working on the Sabbath has biblical and cultural roots. They weren’t pulling this rule out of thin air to attack Jesus.
However, they’re focus was wrong.
Rules Can Distract Our Focus
In the first part of John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been suffering for decades. It just so happens that this healing happened on the Sabbath (John 5.9b). When some of the Jewish leaders saw that this man was healed and was carrying his mat (which is considered work), they pounced! Their rule-breaker lights went off and they went into action.
They first told this man that he shouldn’t be carrying his mat on the Sabbath. The man says that the person who healed him told him to do so. The Jewish leaders insisted on knowing who the healer was but the healed man didn’t know. (He would eventually find out and tell the Jewish leaders, who then got super angry at Jesus!)
But here’s the point: The Jewish leaders’ focus on the rules didn’t allow them to see what was right in front of their faces. They totally missed the fact that this man was healed! Their focus was so narrowly aimed at the Sabbath rules, that they entirely missed an opportunity to praise God that he had healed this man!
This makes me wonder about what sorts of rules prevent us from seeing God do his thing in our day. What are we focused on so much so that we miss out on what Jesus is doing through his Spirit? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
But here’s the big idea from this post: Jesus put the man who needed healing above rules — in fact, Jesus almost always put people before rules. Therefore, as we seek to follow Jesus in the real world, we too should put people and their well-being above rules, especially those rules that are not the focus of Jesus himself.
What do you think? Are people always greater than rules? What rules do we tend to focus on more than people? And is doing it the way Jesus did it even possible or practical for us today? Let me know in the comments below!