The only time God gives us restrictions or prohibitions is for our joy. He never says “no” to us unless “no” will make us ultimately happier.
Back in Eden, before the horrible fall, the only prohibition God placed on Adam was this:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17)
Adam, you have complete freedom to eat of every single tree in the entire garden except for the one tree that will kill your joy.
A Liberating Prohibition
This prohibition was a profound expression of God’s love for Adam in warning him against terrible harm. It was also an opportunity for Adam to express his love for God through trusting and obeying him. It was a liberating prohibition. As long as Adam believed it was an expression of God’s love, it would guard Adam from becoming a slave of sin (John 8:34) and of the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). It was an expansive restriction, keeping all the best options for Adam’s enjoyment available to him, as he refrained from the one tree.
But he didn’t. Adam and Eve believed the seductive lie and ate from the one restricted tree. They transgressed the one gracious law and did not heed the one loving “no.” They (and all of us in them) lost the garden, the incomparable freedom of sinlessness, our earthly lives, and worst of all, communion with our heavenly Father.
Expression of Love
But thank God that is not the end of the story. The last Adam has come, and he has obeyed the Father perfectly and paid the full debt of sin so that he, and all who believe, will recover creation, sinless freedom, eternal life, and best of all, unhindered communion with the triune God. All who trust and obey Jesus will gain more than Adam lost in Eden.
All of God’s prohibitions are love. Every “you shall not” of God’s law is an expression of God’s love.
What a beautiful model God is for all us who must say “no” and “do not” to people for whom God has given us some level of responsibility. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, pastors, elders, deacons, CEO’s, managers, supervisors, teachers, small group leaders, presidents, legislators, law enforcement officers, whatever position of authority we hold or will hold, we are given the sober responsibility of saying “no” for only one reason: to guard the ultimate good, to protect and increase the ultimate joy of those we serve.
Yes, our authority to say “no” is given to us only to serve them, not to lord authority over them (Matthew 20:25–28). We must only prohibit in order to protect their true liberty; we must only restrict in order to expand their most joy-producing options.
It may be that we should review our prohibitions. Are all our “no’s,” “do not’s,” and “you can’t’s” truly expressions of love, or are we imposing some of them out of selfishness, fear, or a sinful desire to win someone else’s approval or desire for revenge?
Let us only prohibit because we love those we serve. Let us only say “no” for their joy.