Normally, he liked boundaries. Boundaries were the safety net. Boundaries kept people on the right path. But right now, he felt like rules were made to be broken... – Heather Burch, Halflings
We had lived in our neighborhood for two months when drama ignited outside. Almost a dozen kids – between ages 6 and 16 – were playing street hockey. I could hear the coarse language flying faster than the puck, but I didn’t think it was bad enough to ask my kids to come indoors. Then, Whap! I heard the front door slam.
“They won’t listen to me!”
“Who won’t listen to what?” I asked.
“The kids outside. I told them we aren’t allowed to say those words, but they just say them louder. They said this is a free country and they don’t have to follow your rules!”
“They’re right,” I told him. “Our rules are for our family.” “But I don’t like it when they say that stuff.”
“Yeah, me either. But do you like playing street hockey with them?” He nodded. “Then relationship trumps vocabulary,” I told him.
Every group of people has rules that those in the group are expected to abide by. I call them “tribal rules.” My child knew our family had certain guidelines and standards of behavior – these are our tribal rules. What my boy didn’t realize is that he can’t enforce our rules on people outside our tribe – that isolates everybody from everybody. Our rules aren’t intended to keep others out but to keep our tribe aligned.
The early church debated over tribal rules during their time of expansion. Persecution had intensified and early Christ-followers fled Jerusalem. They settled in new towns where Gentiles – outsiders – were being exposed to the Gospel. These outsiders didn’t share the Jewish roots of the first believers, and cultural clashes arose concerning food laws and circumcision. Some thought Jewish tribal rules applied to all:
“Unless you are circumcised... you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
Think about it! This was a big deal. The core message of grace was at stake. I love the way Jesus’ brother, James, chimed in:
“It is my judgment... that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)
And neither should we. Listen, coming to faith in Jesus is hard enough for some people. Why would we make it more difficult for them by rejecting them because they don’t adhere to our tribal rules about language or dress or music or money or food or drink etc.? Isn’t it time that we drop the role of enforcer and become champions of grace outside our tribe?
Relationship trumps rules. We commit to walking hand in hand with others toward Christ. With both hands full, I am incapable of digging the potholes or building the obstacles set in place by tribal rules.
God has shown you grace. How does His Spirit want to flow through you as a conduit of that amazing grace today?
Lord, as I dive into these tribal rules, show me which ones I expect others to live by. Show me which rules I’ve slung around the neck of a fellow human, a weight that keeps us from dancing together. Amen.