Bible Study Tools / Character

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back

by Robert Berendt
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Some years ago, we lived next door to an RCMP officer. We had some conversations and he expressed his love for the police force, and at the same time he stated that he could hardly wait to retire from the force. When we asked why this two-sided picture was present, he replied that some years ago when he began on the force the manual of instructions was small. Each officer was expected to act in accordance with general guidelines that were clearly stated. He was given the right to make decisions as situations developed. Things had changed. Now the RCMP has manuals by the number and instructions upon instructions all leading to the destruction of the heart of this man. We were saddened by his comments. One day an addition came that was the straw that broke his love for his work – the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Can the same thing happen spiritually? Consider that Almighty God gave a set of wonderfully simple commands or instructions on how to live. It is pure genius and more that we see in action when we view the simple statement of God’s commandments to men given in Exodus 20. We know that Jesus magnified the commandments so that today they are to be written into the hearts of all God’s children, but there is a human tendency to want to add. Sometimes in our zeal to please God we want to know exactly what He expects. Some people are uncomfortable when decisions are left up to them. One example is the Sabbath Day. God states that He has made this day holy – it is really His Sabbath that He has given to us. He says "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." Beyond that there is very, very little that God adds. Jesus did clarify some obvious points such as the "ox in the ditch" the "doing of good deeds" and watering your donkey. (Luke 13:15,16 and Luke 14:5)

Jesus fought against those who added hundreds of "straws" to the Sabbath and chastised them for making the laws of God become a burden to God’s people through their many detailed additions. Jesus knew the straws would tear the heart out of God’s people and defeat the plan God has to create His character in us. They determined how far one could walk on the Sabbath, what weight was permissible to carry, what defines work, what defines breaking the Sabbath in a thousand different ways. All of this made the Sabbath burdensome. It is good to think back to the beauty and simplicity of God’s commandments. It is also good to realise that God intentionally did not draw detailed lines about those laws. This is not –I repeat, not – to in any way belittle the importance or meaning of the commandments of God or to water down the need for us to be obedient to God. Rather, we ought to use the minds God has given us and follow the example Jesus Christ set in gaining a proper balance in all we do. The charge of legalism (which hardly anyone really understands) is levelled when there is an insistence and great emphasis on the details people add. God gives commandments, not exceptions!

Paul also fought the battle against the adding of myriads of little man made details to God’s law. One section of scripture dealing with this is in Romans 14. In this chapter we see that God gives a strong warning about judging and condemning that which a brother does. (Romans 14:10) God places an emphasis on the conscience of the person (verses 5,14, 23). Here we see God allowing each person to grow in grace and knowledge. God wants His children to mature. Each one of us grows and matures in a different way. That process requires that each person arrive at personal decisions in his or her life as they walk with Christ. It is not allowed by God for a person who "knows better" to correct one who is "weak" or "in need of milk." We are not talking about sin here, but about the seemingly unstoppable desire so many have to correct another person. The intentions may be good as perhaps the intentions of the Jews were good in giving the many guidelines as to how to keep the Sabbath, but these many restrictions which vary so greatly from culture to culture and circumstance to circumstance are not pleasing to God. In verse, 22 God says to keep it to yourself!

Each person must "step to the music he hears" and as experience and study continues, that person will mature and continue to serve God in an ever better and greater way. God has given us brethren at all levels of spiritual maturity and various levels of education, cultural differences and emotional makeup. There is a great reason for this marvellous design. God even commands us not to flaunt our liberty. In verse 21 Paul writes that even though we have the right to eat meat and drink wine – yet, for the love of a brother we should forgo that freedom and not do anything that might cause a brother to stumble. It is clear that we are to think long and hard about correcting someone or criticising the way in which they serve God. Each of us ought to be able to quietly do what our conscience dictates without faulting others. As God influences our consciences with His Holy Spirit, we realise that tomorrow we may think differently.

There must never be any doubt that we love and fear the Almighty Creator and we would "resist unto blood" not to sin. However, in the application of God’s laws and in the need to develop His character, we also need to allow time for that character development to take place. We are not perfect and therefore cannot insist that others should be perfect. Even if we were perfect, we still cannot insist that other be as we are! A person must live according to his conscience and as he learns and grows closer to God, that conscience will be guided into new areas. That is the work of God. Our loving heavenly Father knows each heart and mind of those that He is working with. We humans cannot work in this area of the conversion process other than to provide information. God designed it this way for His expressly perfect reasons.

In order to develop the character God wants, we need to learn patience, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. We need to learn to hold people gently and show our lights in a loving and kind manner. God will only give eternal life to those who choose His way on their own free will. Each person must have the time and opportunity to grow in that direction. We can read in 1 Corinthians 13 the kind of character God is looking for. Love suffers long, is kind, does not envy, does not show off, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never fails.

When the day comes that you or I can say we are strong in these categories, we will also be able to deal with the children God is working with in a manner that pleases Him. Let us strive to please God. He has not drawn clear lines that always define black and white, He has purposely left much unsaid because circumstances differ and He is leaving room for the kind of growth that He designed. Let us not slip into the trap of adding the straw and setting burdens that are too heavy for people to bear. Jesus warns us about putting a stumbling block before the least of His chosen ones. Let us walk this walk together in joy, peace and brotherly love.

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