Thrive: Intentions vs. Legalism – Kristy Bay


“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’ He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
—Matthew 12:1-14

Student ministry is my passion because I love watching students grow emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. But student ministry is not for the faint of heart. One of the most important things I have learned about meeting a new group of students is how to sort them into three categories: the literalists, the intentionalists, and the politicians. If you can quickly ascertain who falls in which category, you can head off some crises.

The literalists take everything you say as Truth. These students may also have some difficulty with sarcasm. If they ask if there will be showers at camp, and you sarcastically answer, “No we’re going to be gone for the whole week without showering.” Be prepared to get a phone call from an upset parent who believes their child’s hygiene will be compromised at camp.

The politicians are clever and sneaky. They will find every single loophole in your words, and take advantage of it. They will creatively cheat when playing a group game, because you did not specify X action was against the rules. Find these students quickly because just like real-life politicians, their charisma will convince other students to go right along with them.

Finally, the intentionalists are students worth their weight in gold. They are capable of reading and interpreting your INTENT. They understand that when you say, “We are leaving the slopes at 8:30,” that this means they must be finished with their last ski runs and packed up by 8:25. I LOVE THESE STUDENTS. They understand the intention behind words.

Jesus struggles with these three groups as well. In Matthew 14, the literalists and politicians (the Pharisees) work hard at trapping Jesus in breaking the law. But time and time again, Jesus shows everyone the intention behind the laws. Not working on the Sabbath was intended to free someone to worship and spend time with God, not to make them obsess over whether or not getting something to eat was too “work-like.” The Pharisees were so upset at Jesus’ answer, they decide that his healing someone on the Sabbath . . . well, that was work. Once again, Jesus’ rebuttal points to something greater than a legal code—a Kingdom in which none suffered, but instead were healed.

Into which group do we fall? Are we the literalists, who use the words of scripture as strict codes to be literally followed no matter the cost? Are we the politicians, who bend scripture to fit our agenda? Or are we the intentionalists, who use Christ as our filter and work to make his intention our reality?

Kristy_Bay_smKristy Bay and her husband Zachary Bay recently relocated to Middlesboro, Kentucky, where Zach is the pastor of First Baptist Church. Kristy received her Master of Divinity degree from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. Her master’s thesis, titled When Narratives Collide, addresses meta-narratives and youth ministry. Kristy loves all things related to student ministry and most recently served as the associate pastor for youth and education at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. She also served on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia’s coordinating council, has written for and led student ministry events such as March Mission Madness and Disciple Now, and has lead worship and done supply preaching in numerous churches. Her sermon, “The Road Map” was published in This is What a Preacher Looks Like, and she has written for Smyth & Helwys’s Reflections devotional guide and other NextSunday Resources projects. She loves music and French (and has a bachelor degree in both), and she loves reading, drinking coffee, and laughing.

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