The Importance of Rules in Relationships



In my previous blog post I began with the premise that in all relationships, actually in all of life, there needs to be rules. Let’s look at a few examples:


Many parents say they love their kids unconditionally. What they are trying to say, of course, is that even when the child screws up or does something he shouldn’t do, as Mom and Dad, they still hold the same value, emotion, feeling and affection toward their offspring as they did prior to and apart from the child’s said transgression. They don’t stop loving little Johnny because he failed algebra or cease to love Susie the teenager because she stayed out ninety minutes past curfew on a school night. But make no mistake, as the parental units in a family, they must set conditions in order for the relationship with their son or daughter to thrive. There are stipulations, standards and rules coupled with consequences by which the fruit of their loins must abide. We don’t refuse to love our children when they don’t meet our standards, but the standards are important. We love our children DESPITE the way they act at times. But if you have no conditions, if you say you love your children and let them do anything they want, the Bible says that in such a case, it is as though you actually hate your children.

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Remove conditions and you remove love.



We all know this important rule: If you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid.

Actually, it is even worse than that. Just showing up for work in and of itself is not enough to keep your job. You have to actually DO your job AND do it in such a way that your productivity meets or exceeds what is required AND in a way that promotes workplace harmony AND in such a way that reflects respect to your superiors.

Now imagine a job where you are paid no matter what you do. What would happen then? Remove the conditions of employment and nobody would go to work. And if they did bother to show up, they certainly wouldn’t be turning in their best performance on the job.



Can you imagine any sport, whether for simple fun, or at an amateur or professional level, where there are no rules? One could argue that it is the rules themselves that make it possible for any sporting event to exist.

Picture a game where the soccer player picks up the ball with his hands, passes it to another player downfield, who then dribbles the ball toward the goal and then uses a bat to score a home run. Crazy, right? Without rules, and the strict enforcement of those rules, the sport becomes meaningless non-sense.

Remember the big “deflate-gate” controversy of the 2014 NFL season where it was discovered that some of the balls used by the New England Patriots were below the air pressure dictated by the rules? The deviance was incredibly small. Yet the uproar was massive. Why? Because you cannot break the rules! No matter how tiny or seemingly insignificant, without rules the integrity of the game is called into question. Without rules the game is impossible.


Think the traffic is bad where you live? Just imagine what would happen if the rules were removed and people could drive on any side of the road they wish, with no restrictions on speed. Imagine that stop and go lights did not exist or you could park in the middle of the road if you so desired. It would result in total and utter anarchy and getting from point A to point B would be almost impossible.

When Debbie and I were in Rome, Italy, many years ago, we often went careening through the incredibly complex maze of city streets with a dear pastor friend in his Volkswagon. People in Rome drive in five columns on streets designated for three lanes. They drive on sidewalks. They run red lights ALL THE TIME! So did our pastor friend. I asked him about it, “Pastor Luciano, why don’t you stop at the red lights?” He just shook his head and made a "what-are-you-gonna-do” gesture with his hand and said, “Brother Mark, those traffic lights are put there to defy the people.” He was dead serious! So, of course, are the number of traffic fatalities in Rome every year.


Now here’s a popular one. Why should we have to pay taxes at all? Why not make it totally voluntary? Just leave it up to how much “love” you feel for your city, state, and nation. “Let me determine the level of need, and I’ll contribute to that.”

Of course we all know what would happen if the tax rules were eliminated: No one would pay their taxes. Consequently, we have very strict rules about that. (And trust me, these are some rules you don’t want to mess with. Revenue collectors can have all the warmth and compassion of a rattlesnake. Best not to tick them off…)

Even Life Itself

Did you know there are rules that must be observed for life itself to exist? Too cold or too hot and guess what? No more life. If you don’t receive the proper amount of fluids or nutrients you die. And it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. You just die, whether you like it or not. Eat too much, never exercise, smoke, drink and stay up all night long and guess what? You die early.

Gravity is a rule. It is irreversible. Break the gravity rule and you fall down and break something … or die. Defy gravity carrying your wife’s expensive china; you spend the night in a motel.

Everything that exists is subject to rules.

“It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth.” (Psalms 74:17)

Why would we think that when it comes to marriage, things would be different? As I have already stated, if we insist on a marriage where there are no conditions and people can do whatever they please, come home at night whenever they please, have boyfriends or girlfriends on the side, freely commit adultery, spend all the family money in casinos, etc., well, the marriage cannot survive.

What About Unconditional Love?

“But pastor, what about unconditional love? After all, isn’t the Christian standard of love all about unconditional love?”

Turn on the local Christian television channel and listen to the preacher proclaim, “God loves you just the way you are!” You've heard it how many times? It is now a regular part of the public discussion on spirituality and man's relationship to God. And since that is how God loves us, isn’t it incumbent upon us to love each other the same way? Aren’t we supposed to love “unconditionally?”

Despite what you may have heard, the idea of “unconditional love” is not actually Biblically accurate. In fact, the phrase “unconditional love” is not even found in the Bible, quite shocking, considering the phrase is used so often by ministers and Christian authors today.


Check out my next blog post to see what the Bible says about rules and conditions.

*From my book “The Battle Over Rules” available at: