The Problem With Fences

A few weeks ago our boys were helping their grandpa on the farm. Their assignment for the day was to take down a fence.

Fences can be very useful things. They help keep important things in. Things like dogs and chickens and cows, and sometimes even our kids. And sometimes they help keep other things out. Things that are bad or cause damage or pollute or stir up trouble.

There’s no doubt fences can really be good things. The problem is, we often give way more attention to the fences than we need to. Let me share an example.  

One day Jesus was walking through the grain fields and his disciples were breaking the heads off the grain. It was the Sabbath and doing something like that was against the rules, while at least the interpretation of the rules by some of the rule-keepers of the day (Mark 2).

It was a common perspective. Sometime later the rabbis would talk about “putting a fence around the Sabbath.” What they meant by that was that in order to guard against the dangers of breaking the Sabbath they felt it was necessary to add more stringent rules to ensure that someone didn’t break the Sabbath. In effect, they “put a fence around the Sabbath” making sure its value wasn’t lost. The problem arose when the focus became about the “fence” and not about the Sabbath itself.

That was Jesus’ concern when confronted about the Sabbath in Mark 2. In response to the religious “fence-keepers” he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NLT).

What was Jesus saying? He was reminding those who were accusing the disciples that the real issue is not the fence they’ve put up around the Sabbath but what was on the inside of the fence that really mattered.

The Sabbath then was meant to focus us on God himself. It was there so that we would find rest and new life in Him. It was established so that the worshipper would continue to bring themselves back to the place where their lives were centered.

This wasn’t just the purpose of the Sabbath it was the focus of the law.

The focus of the law, or we might even say, the teachings of God have never been about the fence, or about what’s on the other side of the fence—it’s always been about the One who is at the center.

The danger then is that we can spend too much time focusing on the fence and not what’s on the inside of the fence. The very thing that gives life.

Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill, or accomplish their purpose (Matthew 5:17).

With the arrival of Jesus the centering and life giving reality of the law is fulfilled as we find ourselves dwelling in Him.

It’s in Jesus that we find abundance and life (John 10:10).

The application then of all this is to be careful about the fences that we put up. Fences can be good. They can give us clarity and focus to what’s important. But they can also become a focus in and of themselves.

And the danger of that becomes that we take our attention off the One who is the center of all life and abundance.

The challenge then might be found in a few questions.

What’s my focus these days? Keeping the rules? Staying disciplined? Or abiding in the One who loves me and desires that I simply rest in Him?

Where’s my heart today? Is it anxious? Full of guilt and shame over trying and failing and not measuring up? Why not simply be present to God today? Stop striving and trying to be good enough, just be fully present to Him.

 - Ric