When Epaphroditus visited the imprisoned Apostle Paul, he had an opportunity to share with his friend, who was also the congregation’s founder, that false teaching had seeped into the doctrine of the church at Philippi. Though they had been schooled in freedom and grace, they were allowing legalism in things like dietary restrictions and mandatory circumcision to penetrate their ranks. Such unfortunate news compelled Paul to address these practices in a letter, and thus we have the book of Philippians. In this famous epistle, the apostle gives guidance to the church about legalism, which is something he could speak on with great authority. Before meeting Jesus, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews — a zealous Pharisee whose keen mind knew the Scriptures backwards and forward, and whose passionate heart was determined to obey the whole letter of the law — and go after those who didn’t. A student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, Saul (who later became Paul), was certain that obeying the tenets of Judaism was the key to a flourishing relationship with God. Unfortunately, in his efforts to love the Lord in the only way he knew how, he caused people harm — even going so far as to condone the murder of Stephen, a follower of Christ who didn’t ascribe to his point of view. Though his intentions were good, his severity was a source of pain to many, and it proved just how destructive religiosity can be… apart from Jesus.
My friend, in this increasingly hostile and divided society, put off the temptation to live from a place of legalism. Though it’s a natural response to the world when you feel out of control, pounding your fists because people don’t act the way you think they should will only cause you harm. Yes, it’s frustrating when others don’t share your point of view, but reacting in anger fans the flames of dissension and tempts you to do things you will regret. In the spirit of Jesus, make grace the banner over your life, and lift your concerns up to Him instead of taking them out on those around you. Be zealous in prayer, receive the Holy Spirit’s mercy in your heart, and become a peacemaker who finds common ground whenever you confront those with whom you don’t agree.