As I recalled a discussion I had with a cousin of mine from one of my African villages about a particular dress code at church, I realized just how significant a difference there is between the mentalities in churches based in village areas vs. urban areas.
It became evident to me that, as a people, we sometimes create laws for ourselves which are primarily cultural in origin, based on our individual preferences rather than biblical mandates. Unfortunately, these “laws” are sometimes adopted as Biblical truth.
Another thought came to my mind: “But what can be so wrong with that?” If it provides a better worship environment for the church and its congregation, surely God cannot possibly frown upon it, even if He did not explicitly mention it in His word.
It was then that God’s still small voice whispered to me: “Why then did God see it necessary to emphasize to us to neither add nor subtract anything from the Bible?” (Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32, and Revelation 22:18).
These verses impressed me with the fact that God didn’t make a mistake by including the above verses in the Bible; He knew that His word was perfect and complete as it was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).
He brought to my attention the fact that in editing the Scriptures to suit our wisdom and understanding, we expose ourselves to the danger of that cunning tempter, the devil, who is always seeking for someone to devour. I was then led to read about the conversation in Eden which occurred between Eve and the serpent.
So where is the danger?
In the Garden of Eden, God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He even warned them of the consequences, should they choose to disobey (Genesis 2:16-17). We later find Eve participating in a conversation with the serpent, adding to God’s clear commandment by telling the serpent that God had told her that they should not even touch the fruit (Genesis 3:3).
When she said that, she exposed her weak point—her desire to touch the fruit—to the enemy.
Eve was dealing with a very wise creature which was more subtle than any beast of the field (Genesis 3:1), and who, because of Eve’s speech, managed to identify her desire to touch the fruit. The Bible shows no indication of the devil’s ability to read or hear our thoughts.
The Matthew Henry Commentary states that, even though at the fall the devil lost his sanctity, he still retained the sagacity of an angel. This means that his intuition was very strong, giving him the ability to read, from our actions and our words, what our minds are probably thinking.
Thoughts are powerful; they are the fuel behind our actions. Hence the Bible warns us always to guard our thoughts, as they become our words, which later become our actions (Proverbs 4:23-27).
When Eve added to God’s commands, she gave the enemy a weapon to pursue and trap her, as we can see by how the situation turned out (Genesis 3:4-5).
In the book Patriarch and Prophets, Ellen White says: “The serpent plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree and placed it in the hands of the half-reluctant Eve. Then he reminded her of her own words, that God had forbidden them to touch it, lest they die. She would receive no more harm from eating the fruit, he declared, than from touching it. Perceiving no evil results from what she had done, Eve grew bolder” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 56, emphasis added).
In the statement above, we can clearly see that the serpent entangled Eve with her very own words—words which were never said by God, which she simply decided to add out of her own curiosity. The devil knew this and used it to his advantage.
This is the same trap that our Heavenly Father wants us to avoid. It’s why He warned us never to add or delete from His Word. He knew that anything that we choose to add or subtract would derail us from His original plan for our salvation. Our additions and subtractions would set traps for us which would have the undesirable effect of leading us to focus on our created rules and regulations, rather than His actual commandments.
As I reflected back on the conversation I had with my cousin—it was about a particular dress code which had been turned into a “Bible truth,” when in reality it was simply a personal preference—I found that these same types of rules are the very ones which lead us to judge one another.
These man-made commandments become so burdensome in so many ways that the people who manage to obey them end up becoming legalists, as well as judgmental of those who do not hold themselves to the same strict standards. This legalistic mindset is brought about by a kind of jealousy in the individual that realizes they have, in fact, spent large amounts of energy keeping a “law” that others seem to freely disregard without meeting dire consequences.
At the same time, those who fail to obey these “laws” often end up feeling guilty, sometimes even to the point where they feel that God cannot help them.
At the end of the day, it becomes an endless cycle where no one recognizes that God is love, and that He never intended to burden us. His actual laws are laws of love, and they are not burdensome. Keeping them (with love, through the help of the Holy Spirit) liberates us to life in its abundance, whereas man-made laws lead us to spiritual death.
Through their traps (man-made laws), we end up too self-centered to perform our mission (see Matthew 28:19-20) of reaching out to the world and proclaiming the gospel. Sometimes even when the Spirit of God has led His children to join us to learn about our beliefs, our legalistic, pharisaical approach ends up driving them out, as it gives them no room to first grow in the knowledge of the love of God.
The devil loves it when we add or subtract to the Word, as it gives him powerful ammunition against us, just like he did with Eve.
It is important to recognize that the Word of God is Holy, complete and inspired. Any addition or subtraction to it sets us up to be trapped by Satan, even when it sounds correct and convincing.
It would be advantageous, therefore, for each of us to ask ourselves:
- What man-made laws, in addition to or subtraction from the law of God, are governing our lives and thus inhibiting our growth, or leading us to judge others?
- How have these man-made laws impacted our lives, or the lives of those around us?