Rules – Rationalizations – Relationships

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

Any organized society requires some rules to live by. It is necessary to have established rules. We have rules about how to drive, our conduct in public, our relationships with people in authority and peer groups, and every aspect of life.

Sports have rules. There are certain things a player can and can’t do in an athletic contest. The rules are designed to help give integrity to the game. If we don’t think a rule is good, does that mean we don’t have to obey it?

Phil Taylor in Sports Illustrated, points out that Texans running back Arian Foster admits that he did receive money under-the-table in college. He felt that the rule was wrong, so he decided not to abide by it. Foster said, “There’s nothing wrong with college athletes receiving money and you are not going to convince me that there is.”

Taylor suggests that there are some reasons that athletes do break the rules (receiving money, drug use, autograph signings for a fee, etc.). The rationalizations given are: 1) It is not really cheating because the system is corrupt. 2) It is not really cheating because the rules are hypocritical. 3) It is not really cheating because everyone is doing it.

Taylor makes a strong point that we need to quit breaking the rules and either change the rules or abide by them. Competitive sports cannot continue with integrity as long as rules are violated.

We are facing that in the church now. The United Methodist Discipline has some rules about ministerial conduct. There are some people, even Bishops, who think those rules are not appropriate, so they are breaking the rules. The United Methodist rules have been decided by the duly elected delegates and have always been accepted as the code of conduct by which a community functions together. Until a rule is changed – obey it.

Is it okay to break the rule if I don’t think it is a good rule? Can I drive 90 miles an hour because I am in a hurry? Can I lift something from a shop because I need it and don’t have the money to pay for it? Can I take a drug enhancement so I can compete better in sports? Can I cheat on a test in school because I need the grade in order to advance my education?

What has happened to obedience? It is easy to substitute obedience with rationalization. The problem is that rationalization always benefits my point of view. It is extremely dangerous when individuals start setting their own rules.

If the rule is wrong, let’s change it. The best argument for being able to change a rule is that we are willing to obey the rule until it is changed!

Jesus had a couple of rules. He said that we ought to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and then love our neighbors as ourselves. These rules are not up for debate – they are there for guiding us to the best life possible. They are to be obeyed.

Taylor says that, “We have built up such a tolerance for cheating in sports that simple rule breaking doesn’t get much more than a yawn out of us.” I would quickly say that God has a different point of view about breaking His rules. He doesn’t yawn!

Rules are intended to build relationships. When all the players in the game abide by the same rules, the game can be played with integrity. The same is true of life.

The best rule to follow is – follow the rule!

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