“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. (NLT)
Some years ago it was fashionable in some church circles to downplay written rules and simply follow the dictates of “love”. The problem with that was the definition of “love”. Did not love itself have to be safeguarded against our own misunderstandings of it?
That sort of teaching was, in turn, a reaction against the legalism of other Christians who were very rule based. Legitimate laws became legalism. Legalism happens when the rules themselves become the end rather than relationships. The rules are meant to enhance and enrich relationships we have with God and others, not be mere ends in themselves.
And legalism happens when we confuse our various rules and traditions with the clear teaching of Scripture. Which is very much what many Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ time. The way we choose to do things becomes the way everyone has to do things. The rules have become indicators of religious superiority.
So it is not good to go to extremes. We neither make the rules ends in themselves, or do away with the rules altogether. Jesus reminds us we can still stick to the rules but do so in such a way as not to obscure the justice and love of God. Rules matter, but have to be put in their proper place. And that proper place is where they help us keep the greatest rule of all, which is to love God and others.