Once upon a time, there was a mother who had to travel out of the country for some time. She had two children, a college-aged daughter and a son who was several years younger. She left each of her kids as well as her husband notes on what things she usually did that they each needed to do while she was gone. Among the tasks, the husband was to give the dog his nighttime food. The daughter, whose college classes ended before her brother's, was to make sure he did his homework as soon as he got home, cook the evening meal, for which she had detailed menus, and feed and water the dog in the morning.
The son was tasked with setting and clearing the table, washing all the dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor. In his note, the mother had also left her son some personal reminders and instructions. She reminded him that until their dad got home in the evening, his sister was in charge and that he needed to help her out with getting dinner ready if asked. She explained that he shouldn't be feeding the dog unless his dad or sister forgot because that would result in it overeating. She told him not to spend all his evenings playing video games and to not get into the food in the cabinet next to the stove, as that's where the food on the menu for the week was located. "Make sure you brush your teeth, comb your hair, and take your Adderall every morning," she reminded. "Be sure to spend extra time on your English. Get that grade up, and maybe we'll see about that iPod you wanted."
Each of the notes also expressed her love for them, reminding them that she would love them forever.
After the mother made it back home after her trip, the daughter and husband discarded their notes, but the son kept his, not wanting to throw away his mother's expression of love and pride in him.
A few months later, the family adopted another son, a couple years younger than their first son. The mother poured a lot of love and care into their adopted son, making sure he knew that he, too, would be loved forever.
The following year, a family emergency caused the mother to need to travel out of state. She didn't have time to write each of them notes, so she instead talked to them while she was packing, leaving the daughter once again in charge of the household in the afternoons before dad got home. "Be sure to do what your sister asks," she told the two boys. "I'm counting on you."
The kids and dad divided up the tasks between them-- cooking, cleaning, dishes, dog.
The day after their mother left, the older son pulled out the note his mother had left him the year before. While the situation was different and his tasks weren't quite the same, it served as a useful reminder. The younger son found the note and read it as well.
The next day, the dad found the younger son trying to take the older son's Adderall. "Mom said I should," he defended.
That afternoon, the sister noted that no one had fed the dog, which they had all agreed would be the younger son's job. "I'm not supposed to feed the dog. You and Dad are," he declared.
The following day, a note came home from the school saying he hadn't turned in his math homework. "I spent too much time on my English homework," he explained at dinner.
"But that isn't due till next Monday," the daughter pointed out.
"I need to get my English grade up."
"But you've got a B+ in it and a C- in math," the dad said, bewildered.
"Mom said. If I get my grade up, she might buy me an iPod," the younger son answered, then left the room.
That Friday, the older son had a friend stop by with a new video game. They played for quite some time while enjoying some crackers from the cabinet next to the stove. The younger son yelled at his older brother for disobeying their Mom by playing video games and getting into "that cabinet."
And so a week passed in confusion until someone discovered the younger son consulting the letter written the year before to the older son. The dad sat his son down and explained that the note was written to his older brother and was intended as advice and instructions only for him, and only for that particular time and situation.
"But it says it's to her son and that she'll love him forever. Mom is always saying she'll love me forever, and I'm her son, so the note is for me, too, and not just him. I'm just obeying what Mom wrote."
Once upon a time, inspired by God, prophets and rulers wrote down advice and instructions for the people of Israel in various situations. Once upon a time, Jesus gave advice and instructions to his disciples for their time and place. Once upon a time, various early Christian writers penned letters to specific congregations full of teachings, advice, and instructions for their situations.
Many of these writing have universal advice, good guidelines for our behaviour. But just because we Christians are God's adopted children, just because he loves us, does not give us ownership over the promises or rules he set up for his older chosen children. Just because we are followers of Christ doesn't mean the advice given to a group of Christ-followers will apply as well to us. Just like the younger, adopted son, we must be discerning of which rules and instructions are universal to all God's children and which were intended for specific people, at specific times, or in specific situations.