I’ll have to admit that when I first hear the word “rules” I have a somewhat adverse reaction. Yes, I appreciate walking through the halls of an elementary school and seeing their poster of the school rules. It gives me confidence that someone is in charge and there are expectations of the students. And yes, I certainly want our teen drivers, and anyone else for that matter, to follow the rules of the road. And no doubt society functions best when its members follow the rules to hopefully guarantee that everything is done with order and civility. But I admit that “rules” in the context of God’s kingdom evokes thoughts of limits and restrictions, and leaves me wondering what happened to grace and freedom and those others words that sound better than “rules.”
A few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 119 and the psalmist’s use of the word “rules” in the ESV jumped out at me. Three times in the first 20 verses the psalmist mentions God’s rules. Listen to his attitude:
I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. (v.7)
With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. (v.13)
My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (v. 20)
Verse 20 put me over the top. The writer is consumed with longing for God’s rules at all times. Really? It would seem that my attitude toward God’s rules needed an overhaul. “Rules” can also be translated “just decrees.” Don Carson in “For the Love of God” defines God’s decrees as “the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge.” These rules of God are not just an arbitrary list to follow because God decided we should, but these are rules to be followed because our gracious God has given them to us because they are His wise choice for us – for our good and for His glory.
Seventeen times the word “rules” is used in Psalm 119. When you have a minute, take a look at this psalm and instead of feeling limited and constrained by God’s rules, take comfort that God’s rules are for our good – to help us and comfort us – to make us into the women God has planned for us to be.
The last use of “rules” is in the next to last verse, verse 175:
Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.
I’m beginning to understand. God’s rules truly are rules to live by!