I’m not sure Jesus meant Christianity to have the rules it tends to have. If we look at the scope of the bible, the culture of the first chunk is wildly different than the culture of the first few books of the New Testament. Thrown in the middle of those two chunks is what is called ‘wisdom literature’ and the entire end of the New Testament is a stack of letters to churches trying to get it right. So perhaps the bulk of following Jesus is not refusing to drink, swear, have tattoos, have long hair, eat pig, or wear cotton-polyester blends, but wisely integrating heavenly goodness into our current culture for the well-being of the world.
After Jesus ascended back to heaven, his followers were left with the task of living out a perfect kingdom in an imperfect, dynamically changing world subject to political, social, religious, and economic pressures. Thus the letters. Do non-Jewish believers need to be circumcised? Can women speak at the front of a church? Should believers buy meat from the marketplace that was sacrificed to a pagan god? What exactly does it look like to live a life of godly integrity, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control in the current culture?
We still have those same questions in different forms now. How exactly does following Jesus fit into our culture? Is it even relevant in a highly educated world? Does Jesus fit in a world where we can build our own best life with the right work ethic? Can Christianity do anything but build walls and create division in a world rightly striving for social equality?
Yes. If the goodness of heaven and the love of Jesus can be relevant in the Old Testament war and conquer culture as well as the New Testament polytheistic, affluent Roman culture, it is relevant now.
And that is the beauty of love and peace and kindness and goodness and self-control and grace and justice and mercy. They are always applicable.
In a jail cell. In your living room. In an office. On a street. In ancient Mesopotamia. In Asia. In Africa. On every continent among every people group. The values of the culture of Jesus benefit everyone everywhere.
The culture of being a Jesus-follower floats above any other culture, not being separate, not being irrelevant, but wisely integrating among.
Following Jesus requires wisdom. It is not wisdom to say that to be a Christian you must look and act a certain way. Wisdom is knowing what is best in a certain situation. And as a Jesus-follower, we need to be aiming at what Jesus thought was the best. Sitting and visiting and sharing time. Eating with lots of people at lots of different tables. Walking the long way with friends and letting others join along the way. Seeing the people laying on the side of the road and validating them with conversation. Giving the poor, the gendered, and the diseased worth with eye contact, touch, time. Liberating people from do’s and don’ts. Unapologetically standing up for heavenly truth with integrity and grace. Allowing those in the shadows of society to breathe personal value by allowing them serve him as he reclined at their tables, rather than him stepping in to cook or clean or build them a house.
The bulk of Jesus’ message is that everyone, no matter what caste, gender or socio-economic status, has intrinsic, heaven-designated, irrevocable, untameable worth.
Any rule or boundary that gets in the way of this message, no matter how traditional, is counter-gospel. The wisdom of Jesus is knowing situationally on communal, local, cultural and national levels, who and what needs to be validated with the love of Jesus.
Jesus was reclining and feasting at a leper’s house (two things that were very against ‘the rules’) when a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of very expensive perfume. She broke the bottle open and poured it on Jesus’ head, a gesture of anointing. The people there rebuked her and questioned Jesus. What a waste. She just poured out a year’s wages. The perfume could have been sold to help the poor.
After all, Jesus was all about seeing and helping the poor. They had heard him tell rich people to sell all they had to give to the poor. They had heard him say blessed are the poor. They had seen him extol the poor for their sacrifice as they give money at the altar. Jesus spoke much about helping the poor. Surely this woman’s priorities were wrong.
But Jesus told them to leave her alone. In that moment, in that situation, the value of the jar didn’t matter as much as the value of the act. Jesus told them that they would always have the poor. That job would never end. They could help them anytime they wanted. But right here, right now, it was a beautiful waste to pour out that jar. They would not always have Jesus among them.
In that moment, Jesus broke their expectations of what he valued. Yes, Jesus still absolutely valued helping the poor. That commission will never go obsolete. But in that situation, protecting this woman who was acting from her heart in sacrifice to Jesus was more important. He protected her value.
Jesus broke his own rule. It was situational wisdom. It was breathing value into a person who was being attacked by the crowd.
Does Christianity have rules? I am more and more sure that it does not. Each person deserves to be seen. Each person deserves to be valued. What that looks like in each community and each culture will be different, regardless of what was said and done before.
What Christianity does have is a set of timeless values that benefit the whole of humanity through the whole of history. It is the goodness of heaven residing on earth. And any division created by the church community that limits that inclusive goodness is wrong.
Instead of declaring man-buns and gentile food as wrong, because those were cultural statements in the bible, realize that the inclusion and goodness of Jesus supersedes even what was spoken before to Christians in a different time and place.
Instead of focusing on how to conform our culture to ‘the rules’, focus instead on situational wisdom within the boundaries of Jesus’ love and grace. Instead of focusing on the do’s and don’ts, focus on the who. Who needs to be seen? Whose intrinsic worth needs to be validated? Who do you have with you for the least amount of time?
The stories of the Old and New Testaments are sandwiched with wisdom. Writings about the qualities of wisdom in one culture and writings about wisely living out the gospel in another.
Living for Jesus, now, today, cannot be removed from wisdom. If you remove wisdom from following Jesus, all you get is legalism. And legalism is death. But whoever finds wisdom finds life and receives favor from the Lord.