Author: David Wilber
Why on earth does God care about whether or not we rest on the Sabbath or eat unclean animals? Is it that big of a deal? What do these things really have to do with being a Christian?
I’m blessed to have many intelligent and God-fearing Christian friends who often encourage and challenge me in my walk with the Messiah. As Christians, we share many beliefs in common—including the divine authority of Scripture. However, I have several disagreements with some of my friends on the interpretation and application of Scripture—namely, the relevance of certain parts of Torah. 1 John 2:6 says to walk as Yeshua (Jesus) walked; therefore, I believe we should follow Torah like the Messiah and all the original Christians did.
When I am challenged on these beliefs, I’m usually confronted with the same questions over and over. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind at all. There are a lot of good questions that deserve a biblical response. (And I enjoy repeating myself.) But after showing how the New Testament teaches us to keep the Sabbath, Feasts, and dietary instructions, I find that the focus of the conversation often drifts away from what the Bible says and moves toward our opinions regarding the usefulness of such commandments.
Is the Torah really that big of a deal?
One might ask, “What does eating pork or shrimp have to do with living a moral life for God? Aren’t there more important things to worry about, like taking care of the poor?” It’s true that some things are more important than others—the weightier matters of the Torah, as Yeshua puts it. We should do all we can to care for the poor. And no doubt about it, many of us don’t do enough. But let’s think this through for a second. You could say the same thing about any commandment you don’t want to keep. For instance, “Why would God care about adultery when there are children dying of hunger?” So of course we should care for the poor, but that doesn’t devalue God’s other commandments. Consider what Yeshua said:
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)
When I first got married, I was often surprised to discover all the “little things” that meant a great deal to my wife. To me, it wasn't that big of a deal to let the kitchen trashcan overflow. “I’ll take out the trash eventually,” I would say to myself. In my days as a lazy bachelor, I could neglect to take out the trash for weeks and not even notice. My wife, on the other hand, did not appreciate having to stop in the middle of cooking dinner to remove a dirty trash bag just so she can make room! Therefore, out of love for my bride, I had to make a conscious effort to take out the trash. It’s something that’s important to her, and I want to honor her.
Now, is remembering to take out the trash as important as not committing adultery? Obviously not, but I’m learning more and more in my marriage that being faithful includes not only the big commitments, but also the little ones. We should want to value our spouse. That means taking seriously the things that matter to them—no matter how small. What if I continued not to care about the trash because I didn’t think it was that big of a deal? How would my wife feel? Would I be showing her the love and respect due to her as my bride?
In the same way, there are several things that are important to God. He even wrote them down when He delivered the Israelites from Egypt. And everyone who desired to follow God (including Gentiles) had to agree to honor Him in the way He desires to be honored. God doesn’t change. If ignoring His commandments was offensive to Him in the past, it is offensive to Him today. Yeshua said that not one jot or tittle will pass from the Torah until heaven and earth pass away and all is accomplished. (Note: that hasn’t happened yet.) The Feast of Sukkot, for example, is so important to God that He will mandate that all the nations celebrate it after Yeshua’s Second Coming (Zechariah 14:16-19). So yes, this is a big deal to God.
What is the point?
Aside from honoring God, there are a lot of practical benefits to keeping Torah. For instance, God knows that we all need a day of rest. It’s a no-brainer. We weren’t created to work constantly without a break. The Sabbath blesses us with physical rest. It takes us back to creation (Exodus 20:11) and revives our hope for the Messianic Kingdom to come. It reminds us of our deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15), which of course is a prophetic picture of our salvation in Yeshua who rescued us from the slavery of sin. Therefore, resting on the Sabbath is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel by our simple obedience. Lastly, the Sabbath, along with all of God’s festivals, emphasizes the value of community (Leviticus 23).
With regard to the dietary instructions, the practical benefits are obvious. It’s simply not a good idea to eat a poisonous tree frog. There are scientific studies revealing health risks associated with eating pork and shellfish too. But God’s dietary instructions have more to do with holiness than healthiness. In Leviticus 11:44—right smack dab in the middle of the dietary instructions—God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” This standard of holiness is later reiterated to Christians by the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:16).
Indeed, following God’s commandments—including His instructions on what not to eat—is an expression of loving Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This obedience is born out of a desire to be holy and set apart as His bride. Even if these commands have no practical benefit to them at all—if they’re purely symbolic of living a life of holiness—so what? Christians believe in doing a lot of things for purely symbolic reasons. For instance, baptism has no practical benefit, but all Christians believe we should do it. Why? Because God said so.
At the end of the day, God expresses His will to us through His Word. Do we truly believe that? Because to say, “This commandment is irrelevant,” is to say, “God’s will for my life in this area isn’t important to me.” God is the one who makes the rules, not us. And if we desire to follow Him, that includes following His rules. Christian theologian R.C. Sproul puts it best: “When there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it’s with me.”
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