how to embrace wisdom instead of rules: Romans 15

(Romans 15)  We all need wisdom.  We want to know how to choose our path.  The best piece of advice I ever received was: “Don’t be ruled by the SHOULD’s in your life.”  Here’s my own take on that advice: AVOID RULES.

I know.  I know.  This is a Christian blog, right?  So how come I’m saying what sounds like carpe diem.  Stay tuned.

The thing is that in the Hebrew Scriptures, wisdom is a person.  King Solomon wrote 4,000 years ago that wisdom is standing at the crossroads of our lives and crying out to us.  Proverbs 8:1-11.  Solomon said that right there where we have to make the most important decisions in our lives, there in the place “where the paths meet,” wisdom takes her stand.  So why are we so worried?  Wisdom is telling us which way to go.  She’s calling in a loud voice.  Wisdom isn’t a list of rules but a person who wants to be in a relationship with us.  So the solution to our every choice is not to run through a to do list of musts and shoulds and thou shalts, but instead to embrace wisdom.

How do we do that?  It’s so simple.  It’s like algebra.  Remember?  We are given an equation to solve for x and y, and to figure out what the unknown variables are we plug in information about them from another source.  So to figure out how we listen to the person called Wisdom in Proverbs, we flip over to the New Testament.  There Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “is the wisdom of God”.  1 Corinthians 1:24.  Jesus IS wisdom.   So putting those concepts together, if we want to find wisdom, we just have to embrace Jesus.

We shouldn’t be surprised, Jesus also said he was the way, the life and the truth.  Truth is a person.  The way is a person.  And life is a person.  Embracing Jesus brings life.  Harping on rules is a fast path to a miserable life.

How do we embrace Jesus?  Again, the answer is easy.  Jesus has already embraced us.  He’s done the hard part so we don’t have to.  He loved us before we even loved Him back.  So doing a little God math, if we want  wisdom, we embrace God’s love for us.  We accept that none of us is wise enough to make right choices all the time.  We admit we need mercy not justice.  We realize we are so far from perfect that God came down to die for us.  We ask for help.  And we collapse into His arms and say thank you.

So how does collapsing into the arms of wisdom make us wise?  The first thing to realize is that we are all losing our moral compasses all day long.  We stand at the crossroads from the moment we wake up.  Right away, we start to have choices.  Will we look forward to our day?  Will we anticipate great and wonderful things?  Will we expect goodness?  Will we have hope?

All that happens before our feet hit the ground.  Then come choices that relate to other people.  How will we treat them?  How will we react to the way they treat us?  These choices come at us faster than arrows in a 3D movie.  We duck.  We bend.  We weave.  We go into denial.  We avoid.  But the choices come all the same.

We think we need rules to navigate through these choices, but rules only take us so far.   For instance, we could make a hard and fast rule for ourselves: ALWAYS RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY.  That sounds good. But what if our child locks herself inside a friend’s bathroom and starts to scream bloody murder?  No brainer.  We would kick down the door and rescue the child.  We wouldn’t think twice about that door.  The rule ALWAYS SAVE A LIFE trumps the rule ALWAYS RESPECT PROPERTY RIGHTS.  Of course.  But why?  How do we decide which rule is more important?  Where do we GET our moral compasses?  How do we always choose best among all those prickly “always” and thorny “nevers”?

For instance, Jesus praised some men who tore down a roof.  Luke 5:17-26.  Didn’t Jesus respect property?  Didn’t he care about that poor roof?  Scripture says Jesus praised the men for having “confidence” in Him and his ability to heal their paralyzed friend: the men had lowered their sick friend through the tiles in the roof so Jesus could heal him.  And He did – of his paralysis and his sins.

So if our God is happy when we start to tear down roofs, but only when we do it at the right time, or for the right reason, then we need more than rules to navigate our way through life.  We need to love the one who is always honest, always right, and always leads us to the miraculous combination of love and mercy.

Because we humans aren’t so good at finding the right combination of truth and grace.  If we’re all rules all the time, we’re dried up sticks who bore even ourselves. If we’re anything goes, no problem, dude, we become as floppy as overcooked pasta.

To embrace Christ allows us to hear His voice.  That’s why loving Jesus back gives us the wisdom we wanted.  Wisdom is a gift.  And here’s the thing about rules.  Rules will NEVER give us life.  They are heavy.  They are a burden too onerous for us to bear.  They rob us of joy.

God wants us to choose life, not rules.  He says come and hang with me, and we will walk through this journey of life together.  That’s the kind of thinking that allows Paul to point out that some people can be “stronger” than other people, and yet be inconsiderate.  Romans 15:1.  Oh, right.  Sometimes we get “strong” in a certain areas, including even faith, and we become “weak” in sensitivity.  Jesus reminds us to look back in kindness.  Or we can get impatient at how much time it takes to “live in harmony” with others, and forget that the end game is not getting others do do what WE want, no matter how “harmonious” that sounds, but it’s giving praise and glory to God “in one voice.”  It means our voices will rise together with such beauty that even the trees and mountains join in.  Those are the kind of things rules will never teach us.

As Paul says, sometimes all we need is a “reminder.”  Romans 15:15.  But we need these reminders all day long.  Because love is subtle.  It’s nuanced.  Most of all, the kind of love God calls us to is not our natural way.  Let’s go back to that choice that confronts us the moment we wake up.  Will we live each day in hope?  Hope is powerful.  Romans 15:13.  Without hope, we wouldn’t even get out of bed.  Some of us hope in work.  We hope in ourselves.  Or we might hope some unknown person will spot us in a crowd and say, “hey, you’re what I’ve been looking for!”  Those hopes are fine.  They’re okay.  They work up to a point.  But none of them works the best.  That’s because the best hope of all comes not from ourselves, or other people, or being “good,” or doing the “best” we can, but from the glorious love of God. That’s why Paul writes to the citizens of Rome: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 15:13.

There’s a lovely solution to our every choice, and it has nothing to do with ordering ourselves around all day and saying, “I SHOULD do this and I SHOULD do that.”  It’s to just hang with Jesus.  When we start to love Jesus, and realize how much He loves us, we relax.  We are so filled with love we start doing the things we wanted to do all along, but couldn’t no matter how hard we tried.

Embracing Jesus is where life begins.  Our thirsts are quenched.  Our wounds become healed.  The roof of heaven opens.  We hear the trees sing.  The mountains sway.  The mountain goats leap.  The stars shout GLORY.  There’s no time for emptiness, despair or hate because we are embracing love.  Life becomes a thing of joy where we don’t have time to wonder if anyone else is obeying the rules, because we’ve left all the rules behind.  We’re too busy loving back the one who created truth in the first place.

posted by Caroline Coleman in a chapter a day, on how do i find wisdom.