Summary: The Old Testament is not a book of rules, but a guide to WHO God is, WHAT righteousness is, and HOW to bring righteousness into our lives. Jesus fulfills the law, but affirms its continuing relevance.
Getting Life Right: NO RULES. JUST RIGHT. Matthew 5:17-20
Some years ago, Outback Steakhouse had an advertising slogan: “No Rules. Just Right.” The slogan conveyed a relaxed attitude, symbolized by the lack of a set closing time posted on the door, and leaving no customer request unfulfilled.
NO RULES. JUST RIGHT. That is how many people would like their religion: Just do whatever seems right, or whatever your friends or society thinks is right. Be tolerant, and let people choose from a menu of beliefs that suit them. Life free from restraint, and follow your heart.
Would Jesus agree? Jesus was not big on rules! He refused to keep many of the Sabbath rules of his day: He healed on the Sabbath, and allowed his disciples to pick grain and eat it. He was casual about cleanliness rules: He didn’t wash ceremonially before eating, he touched lepers, and he did not condemn a woman who had a bleeding disorder and touched him. All of those things would be “unclean” according to Old Testament law.
Jesus did not seem anxious to condemn people who had broken the rules. He ate with people known as “sinners,” and even forgave sins.
Jesus definitely did NOT believe that RULES MAKE RIGHT.
Matthew 5:20 “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The “teachers of the law” were experts in rules. They had 613 main rules, with multiple examples of each one. The Pharisees were the most pious and committed people you could find anywhere. They were like believers today who are always in church, tithe, and memorize Scripture. They would be the kind of people who listen only to Christian radio and avoid R-rated movies. If anybody lived by the rules, they did!
Yet according to Jesus, living by the rules, even God’s rules, does not make people righteous. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
If RULES are not answer, is NO RULES A BETTER ANSWER?
The Outback slogan sounds great, until we get into the details.
WHO determines what is Right? The customer might want a 12 ounce steak at a 6 ounce price, or even decide not to pay at all. The cook might decide that serving food in an hour or so is just fine. The server might decide that a 35% tip is just right. The company might decide that overcharging customers or paying employees less than minimum wage is the right thing to do.
WHAT is Right? Maybe one person wants the sound turned up on the TV, and another wants a quiet, dim atmosphere. If a steak drops on floor, can the server implement the “3 second rule” and put it back on the plate. Should a baked potato come with butter and sour cream, or should it be covered with Tabasco sauce?
HOW can people get things Right? Should the menu be clear? Should there be policies, training, procedures, and written reminders? But what if the server was out late last night, the customer is impossible to satisfy, and the cook forgets to wash his hands?
To be RIGHT, there has to be a WHO, WHAT and HOW. WHO makes the rules, WHAT is the standard, and HOW can people get life right?
Where do people find the WHO, WHAT and HOW of righteousness? Jesus has a surprising answer: in the Scriptures—the Old Testament scriptures, known as the Law and the Prophets.
That is surprising because most people think the OT law is all about rules, and the prophets reinforce the rules of good behavior. Jesus didn’t see the OT that way. For him, the OT pointed the way to righteousness—a life that is right with God, self, and others.
Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
WE READ THE BIBLE (OT AND NT) FOR THE WHO, WHAT AND HOW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
WHO is God?
Our view of God is the foundation of what we consider to be right.
***A gay man was researching churches, to find one that would affirm his behaviors. He said, "My God isn't simply the God I believe in, but the God I WANT to believe in and NEED to believe in." At about the same time, a Wichita church group was traveling the country to picket funerals, blaming tragedies on gay people. In their view, God was a wrathful despot who hated the same people they did. Our view of God impacts our behavior.**