The Importance of Flexibility
Have you considered how much easier life would be without options and the layers of decision they require? Think of a world where everyone wakes, showers, and dresses at their appointed time. The entire household progresses through their preparations in order, each person donning a simple uniform of the same color they wore the day before. Everyone takes their assigned path to their pre-authorized destination. There are no questions, no decisions, no opportunity for errors and the negative consequences that come with them. A nice plan, right?
When seen in this light, many of us recoil with images from Orwell’s 1984. But in other arenas, some of us insist that conformity is the preferred mark of righteousness. Consider how often the religious leaders of Jesus’ day insisted on His conformity:
- Healing on the Sabbath (Matt 12:9-11, Luke 13:10-16)
- Picking grains on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5)
- Visiting the homes of sinners, daring to eat with them (Matt 9:10-13)
- Eating without the ceremonial washing of hands (Mark 7:1-23)
Once they had rid themselves, or so they thought, of Jesus and His challenges, one of their own became a non-conformist. Saul of Tarsus was bold enough to say that his lifelong rituals, limitations, and credentials were worth no more than garbage to him. (Phil 3:4-9) In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul asks the believers whether they really expect to maintain their salvation by their efforts when it was faith in the finished work of Jesus that saved them.
Do we not do the same thing when we insist on certain rituals or limitations from one another? When we choose a model from a speaker or author and determine that those who are sincere about their faith will follow it? Righteous people wouldn’t sleep past sunrise or shop at ~that~ store. They wouldn’t go to an event where ~that~ is on the menu. Faithful people, the truly Godly ones, participate in every gathering of their local church — more if possible.
We want the ease of categorizing people and decisions into all-good and all-bad. But Jesus doesn’t grant us that simplicity, nor that authority. “What is that to thee, follow thou Me.” is the answer given to Peter’s “What about him?” (John 21:21-22) Paul also explores these ideas in Romans 14, summarized in v12: “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
We are to honor Jesus as our one and only God, working out in our relationship with Him what that looks like in practice. (Phil 2:9-13) Otherwise, we risk allowing a set of rituals and limitations to become our god. We are to refrain from bearing false witness about our neighbors, even to ourselves and to Jesus. Thus we cannot claim to know our neighbor’s relationship with Jesus based simply on taboo side practices such as length of hair or quantity of piercings.
Lay aside the rigid rules that make us brittle and prickly barriers to faith. Instead, embrace the winsome flexibility that recognizes we are all equally condemned sinners before God, and can become equally forgiven saints before the cross.