Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I occasionally have had it said of me that I color outside the lines and I’ve even said it of myself a few times. But that’s really not true. When I was a little boy I always colored inside the lines! In fact, I became quite upset when some other kid did that in my coloring book – or used the wrong color! Of course, that was many years ago. Maybe I’ve changed.

I got to wondering the other day if Jesus ever colored outside the lines when He was a little boy. I don’t suppose He did. They didn’t even have crayons in those days. But He sure seemed to do so when He was older and He apparently encouraged His disciples to! Though it depended on who was drawing the lines.

Jesus ministered under what we know as the Old Covenant – the Law that God gave Moses to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. I included the 10 commandments and many more – 613 by one count. I believe that He never violated even one command. He said, “Don’t suppose I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I haven’t come to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17). He could even say, “Which one of you can convict me of sin?” (John 8:46).

So we could say that Jesus “colored inside the lines” when they were lines drawn by God.

But there were others who drew lines in Jesus’ day: the strict religious party of the Pharisees and the scribes or teachers of the Law. In their devotion to, and enthusiasm for God’s Law, they “built a hedge” or fence around the Law. They had rules to keep them from violating God’s rules. Or so they thought! And the lines that they drew became more important to them than God’s rules. These were the lines that Jesus and His disciples colored outside of.

These people could not understand why Jesus ignored their rules. To them this was the same as breaking God’s rules. And Jesus clashed with them on this issue.

“And when the scribes and the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they were saying to His disciples, ‘Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

“And John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and they come and say to Him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?’” (Mark 2:18)

“And He happened to be passing through the standing grain on the Sabbath and His disciples began to make their way, picking (and eating) the heads. And the Pharisees were saying to Him, ‘Why are they doing on the Sabbath what isn’t lawful?’” (Mark 2:23, 24)

Over and over Jesus clashed with these people, and most times it seemed to be over their rules. He usually had an answer, some teaching in reply to their judgmental questions. In one episode found in Mark 7:1-23, we find Him turning the tables and accusing them.

“And the Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem and gathered together to Him (This looks like an official fact-finding commission.), and saw some of His disciples eating their bread with defiled – that is unwashed – hands” (verses 1, 2).

“And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?’” (verse 5)

Jesus tears into them, first quoting Isaiah the prophet, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as their teaching, commands of men!” (verses 6, 7; Isaiah 29:13)

“Forsaking (aphentes) God’s command, you hold the tradition of men! (verse 8)

“Nicely you cancel (atheteite) God’s command in order to establish your own tradition!” (verse 9)

He then goes on to show how their practice of Corban, or pledge violates the fifth command by allowing a person to pledge his wealth to God and thus be able to neglect the care of his aged parents (verses 10-12).

“…nullifying (akurountes) the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down!” (verse 13)

Apparently Jesus did not see their rules as harmless, or as matters of indifference. By their holding these rules and enforcing them on others they were violating God’s laws. The three words He used, “forsaking,” “canceling” and “nullifying” were very strong.

So when Jesus colored outside the scribes’ and Pharisees’ lines, He did it because coloring inside their lines would mean coloring outside of God’s!

When, then, should we color outside the lines that others draws? I want to be careful here not to draw up a new set of lines of my own, but here are a few thoughts:
• There are many areas of life where God has given us freedom to not conform. We are not restricted in these except by personal preferences (See: THE WILL OF GOD, PART 2).
• When we can see that a rule held by some believers is in violation of God’s law, we may need to not simply ignore that rule, but deliberately demonstrate our convictions concerning that rule.
• There are times when we need to protect the freedom of others by showing them why we don’t keep a certain man-made rule.
• All our actions must be done in love. We must recognize that those who maintain rules are not necessarily “Pharisees” but may be what Paul refers to as “weak.”
• Our actions must not be done in a spirit of rebellion or to draw attention to ourselves.


Bill Ball

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