Do you ever find yourself following the letter of the law, but missing the spirit of the law, placing rules over relationships? Consistently placing man-made precepts over people is legalism, and Paul warned the Church at Philippi to beware of legalistic accomplishments.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:1-6).
Legalism believes that keeping the law will lead to salvation. It places confidence in our ability to save ourselves, which is religion. As a Hebrew Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin, named after Israel’s first king, Paul communicated that he had every right to boast about being faultless in his legalistic righteousness. When we operate in this fashion, we make rules greater than relationships. Jesus described this as straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). We follow the letter of the law only to miss the spirit of the law.
Do you ever strain out the gnat to swallow a camel? Keep a daily score card of the times you place rules over relationships. It might occur when you exit the parking lot of a concert or sporting event, preventing cars from exiting in front of you. It might happen in the express checkout line at the grocery, and you notice that the person in front of you has more than 12 items in her cart. It might unfold when you win an argument with your spouse or when your child’s playing time on his sports team doesn’t meet your standard of fairness. Placing rules over relationships strains out gnats and swallows camels.