Addicted to Rules
Luke 11:42 Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.
Admittedly, I see addiction everywhere. Because of my own experience with addiction and my need to understand my flesh nature, I have come to see defect in everyone. In my defense, it is just a fact that we all struggle with some destructive behavior that, at times, controls us. This is simply how I define addiction. We all struggle with something.
Some defects are just more obviously destructive than others. If we do not know of any such struggle, then our condition is perhaps worse off than we think.
The one who has no obvious defect is often just blind to his defect. If a man knows no struggle with drugs, anger, anxiety, greed, pride, lust, self-image or need for affirmation, then he will likely find defect in his near perfection. If he follows the rules his entire life, he comes to know and love the rules. Following the rules brings pride in following them so well. Rule following thus, becomes an obsession. An addiction. Rules are elevated above even God.
This is the condition that Jesus described in today’s passage. The Pharisees were notorious for enforcing their preferred rules. They gave a specific percentage of their money, they washed their hands at the right time and they did not work on Sunday. However, they were prideful, condescending, hypocritical and judgmental. They would rather see people starve than allow them to pick grain on the Sabbath. Worshipping the rules above God, they completely missed God and his love.
We call this legalism and we despise it. We cheer when we read of how Jesus chastised the Pharisees. Yes, no rules! Those of us who have been rule-breakers are tempted to think that Jesus was giving us the green light to do whatever we want. This, of course, is not at all what He was saying. Jesus was not encouraging us to indulge in our destructive defects. He was just pointing out that rule-worship itself can be an addiction.
Though we despise this rule-addiction in others, we almost all do it with defects with which we do not struggle. We look down on the one whose sin we do not understand. We may struggle with defect A, but if we condescend to those with defect B, we feel better about our own failure. This is rule-addiction: I keep these rules, so I am better than you.
The underlying defect of rule-worship is the same as every other defect. It is a focus on self instead of God. It is as destructive as any other addiction, it just masquerades as holiness. The only way to recover from it is to daily do whatever it takes to deny promotion of self and to turn to God.
The Seeds of the Spirit is a daily blog based on a walk through the New Testament. Written from the perspective of my own addiction, it explores the common defects of our flesh nature and the solution, our spirit life. If you find it helpful, sign up for the blog as a daily email, tell your friends and like/share it on Facebook.