We tend to think of prohibitions as exceptions to love.
The easiest way to see this is through our parenting. Think about it like this – you have a child that, for whatever reason, has an affinity for the street. No matter how many times you’ve told him not to run out into the street after the dog, or the ball, or the squirrel for crying out loud, he doesn’t listen. Something catches his attention and off he goes. And time after time, you go and grab him and then sternly tell him not to go out into the street because it’s dangerous to do so at his age. You are, in other words, giving the child a prohibition. It’s a prohibition that probably makes your kids upset because, after all, he loves to run out into the street. And maybe that prohibition sounds something like this:
“Buddy, I love you, but you can’t keep running out into the road!”
Of course, you love your son. And the prohibition is not an exception to your love; it’s an outflowing of that love. You are telling him not to run into the street BECAUSE you love him. But there’s the problem – that’s what we mean, but it’s not what we say. Instead, we use the word “but”:
- I love you, but you simply must eat your vegetables.
- I love you, but you have to clean up your room.
- I love you, but you can’t continue to hit your sister.
The word “but” indicates some kind of exception. Time and time again. And perhaps if that’s the way we say it, then there’s actually a little bit of revelation of our own hearts in that. Perhaps we think, down in the dark places of our own hearts, that any prohibition is an exception to love rather than an outflow of it. Which brings us, of course, to our relationship with God.
Because in our relationship with God, we find lots of prohibitions.
God doesn’t say that. His prohibitions are not exceptions, but evidences, of His love.
Case in point is the rich, young ruler.
In the book of Matthew, this man is called young. Luke makes clear that he was a ruler of some kind. And both point to the fact that he had great wealth. That’s why we call him “The Rich, Young Ruler.” The Bible tells us that crowds were following Jesus wherever He went in those days, and there must have been a sharp contrast between this guy and the crowd pressing in on Him. They were dirty; he was clean. They were poor; he was rich. They were shabby; he was finely dressed. He had a simple and straightforward question for Jesus: “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responded that he should keep the law. The man claimed that he was already doing that. Wasn’t there something more? And that’s when Jesus came with the zinger—“Sell it all. Become poor. Then you can follow Me.” The Bible says that the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
Here’s the prohibition from Jesus, if you look at it in that way: “Don’t keep your money if you want to follow me.” We might be tempted to look at this prohibition as an exception to the love of God. As if Jesus said to the young man, “I love you, but if you want to follow me, then sell everything you have and come on.” But the Bible is explicit in helping us understand this is not the case.
With Jesus, prohibitions are not exceptions to love; they flow from it:
Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
In other words, Jesus loved this man enough to tell Him to sell everything He had. And we would do well to remember it. Because today, and every day, we will come up against the prohibitions of Jesus. And the temptation will be for us to regard Him as ungenerous. As uncaring. As persnickety. Anything but loving. But here is where we come back not to what we think in the moment, but what we know to be true.
We know it to be true that Jesus loves us. And whatever prohibitions we come up against flow from that love.