Principles and Good Rules2020 Nov 13
Rules and principles are related by pragmatism. Rules come from application of principles to a context, and then rules can be re-used efficiently. note However, this order of precedence must not be forgotten. This is particularly important for spiritual living because Jesus commanded us to live by a value principle of love.
I have seen this called slow and fast thinking based on a noteworthy book that was similarly titled.
The usual way that young humans are taught to govern themselves is a progression from rules to reasoning. We teach the immature by starting with the concrete and then advancing to the abstract.
Biblical law is related to this teaching progression. Therefore, being governed by law (like for instance the laws in the Old Testament) is for those who not have yet matured.
Jesus' expectatation us however, is to be like him in love and to become mature enought to self-govern by love. note
See Gal 3-4. Also see The Commands of Jesus
Note that rules themselves are not a problem. Rules are useful as an efficient way of making decisions. Think of them as trained instincts. note When a good rule fits the context, we apply it for a quick result. This is excellent use of our time and mental energies.
A trained instinct in this context is very similar to a conscience, which also is a product of training.
However, a rule might not fit a context, or applying it might go against the principle out of which the rule was first derived. Then we must immediately put a pause on the ill-fitting instinct. We must always be aware of if a rule is appropriate and we must not blindly apply our personal rules for living. note Blindly following a rule as law or being uninterested in where the rule came from is another indication of immaturity. When just following a rule is wrong, we must do something different.
This means we need to know the principles on which all our rules are based. We should question rules based unknown principles and especially those based on bad principles.
Our first principle as Christians is to love each other like Jesus loved us. If we live by thoughtful rules that model Christ-like love, we can live efficiently. However, if we notice or are shown a context where our personal rule results in un-love to others, we must stop. Then we must do the work to think through what sacrificial love for the benefit of others would do, and we must train ourselves for new instincts. This thinking is sometimes expensive hard work, but Jesus specifically expects this of us.
God does not expect that we avoid using rules of thumb for living. Good rules for living that get refined through personal thinking is simply proper pragmatism. Training our instincts for love enables us as limited humans to live well. And as we go, we will develop new rules for new contexts, always by application of the first principle of love.
We can seek the help of others to figure this out. This is the process of discipling, and the asking is good and shows that we are growing. The goal Jesus has for us is that we will grow to understand for ourselves how to apply this kind of sacrificial love toward others. When we live it and and can help others learn to live love, then we are becoming spiritually mature. note If we don’t understand this love or don’t apply it in some area of life, that is a place where we are not spiritually mature. Jesus expects us to think and live by love.
Spiritual maturity is a continuum of growth in love:
- Considers self always the most important.
- Follows generally accepted rules for considerate treatment of others.
- Knows that sacrificial love for the benefit of others is the primary first principle and accepts help for learning to conform life and personal rules to the principle.
- Personal rules and presonal practice consistently conform to the principle of love. Helps others grow to be the same.
Jesus came to show us sacrificial love for the benefit of others by his life. He commands us to love others this way. When we can apply this love quickly or thoughtfully to determine for ourselves how we should live, then we are entering into mature Christian living.