Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 4:1-16, Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, Colossians 2:16-23
Flossing is the elephant in the room when it comes to dental hygiene. It’s right there, we all know we should be attending to it, but few of us are hitting the bullseye.
When I first draw out the fresh clean length of floss, all’s fair. As the glistening rope is shimmied between rows of teeth, its usefulness preserves its privilege to be allowed access to my mouth. But the second the act of flossing is over, the string of floss immediately shifts from valued instrument to absolute and unequivocal garbage. Once I’ve finished flossing and set the floss down for even a second, there is no circumstance that could persuade me to take that floss up again and begin the process afresh. Something in my brain tells me that once the floss has left my hands, it’s no longer something useful—now it’s appalling and gross.
Arbitrary rules like this usually stem from an important kernel of truth, ranging from harmless to helpful, and even downright quirky. Some people won’t let one food touch another. Others mandate that the proper orientation of toilet paper is out instead of in. But we stray into dangerous territory when we position our cute, quirky opinions as moral law. Paul is writing to Timothy about this precise problem.
Folks at the church in Ephesus had gotten carried away with their opinions, and instead of sticking to the simple truth of Scripture, they added their own rules and declared these as essentials of the Christian faith. Rather than commending them for adding more strictness to the law, Paul condemns these extra rules, reminding them that creation is good. These additions are actually a departure from the faith. Legalism is a natural bent of the human heart. We adore making up our own rules and setting up our opinions as law. Our inclination toward rulemaking is as strong in matters of faith as it is in dental hygiene. But we are not called to simply follow rules; we are called to pursue the living Christ.
Paul encourages us to train ourselves in godliness. God gave us the law to train our sinful hearts. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he calls the law our tutor: “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). We need training wheels to point our hearts in the right direction. We need guidance to orient our lives in the ways of grace. God laid out tracks for us to follow, and as we learn to wobble in His ways, we start to think like Him—start to act more like Him. We find we are no longer focused on the rules, but running after the Father with all our might.
The leaders of Ephesus were getting it all backwards; they were focused on things with limited benefit. But Christ invites us to Himself, for He is beneficial in every way (1 Timothy 4:8). They couldn’t see the forest for trees—or anything important because they were fighting over whether or not they should eat ham. We can’t lead others to Christ when we aren’t seeking Him ourselves.
Look to Christ. Run to Him. “For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God” (v. 10).