Rules and exceptions

I discovered something very significant a couple months ago as I was going about my normal routines of stocking and “zoning” the Sporting Goods department at Walmart. I discovered that within the responsibilities and expectations of my job there is great freedom to make decisions, even decisions that may seem to go against store “policy”.

These aren’t huge decisions or decisions that most people would notice. They are simple decisions relating to how items are stocked and arranged on shelves with nothing more than appearance at stake. I learned this one morning as I was stocking and my manager asked me to step back and look at what I had been doing.

She asked, “How do those shelves look?”

I replied, “Kind of empty. Why don’t we get more of these ordered?”

She responded with, “Why don’t you arrange them differently?”

“Because this is how it is supposed to be set.”

To that she replied, “Sometimes you have to think about what might be best for a given situation and do something different. Just because the label says 1 row of 8 is how you are supposed to do it, don’t you think 2 rows of 4 would look so much better?”

With that, my Walmart experienced changed. I had the authority and responsibility to not simply follow rules but to look for what was best in the bigger picture.

There is a danger with that though. What would happen if suddenly I decided to re-arrange the entire department? It would be a disaster to say the least! She wasn’t telling me to ignore the rules, not at all. What she was saying was that there are occasions when to keep with the vision of the store’s marketing, exceptions must be made.

The key to using this freedom properly is to not go searching for ways to change things or use that freedom as an excuse to do what I want. I need to first look to follow the assigned set-ups and only deviate if it is necessary.

This is a principle I see so many people claiming to be Christians struggling with. I have faced this time and time again recently in one primary area. First Peter 2:13 states, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority…”

Submit to your governing authorities. Period. As the text goes on it takes the principle all the way down to the local levels of government. As Christians, our baseline standard is to “submit”, that is, to willingly line up under their authority. Without qualification.

Instead, I hear many Christians loudly proclaiming, “We must obey God rather than man!” That is true, so very true. Our submission to human authority must never come before submission to God’s authority. If we are commanded to violate an obvious directive from God’s Word, we are obligated to stand firm and be willing to suffer the consequences.

The problem, as I see it though, is that too many of us spend too much time looking for the exception, looking for ways to stand up to authority and oppose it. I fear that too many of us use our Christian beliefs “as a covering for evil” (1st Peter 2:16), as an excuse to be rebellious. We must be wise enough to know what the exceptions are, without leaving what should be our default setting…submission.

As believers this needs to be true in our attitudes towards all who are in authority over us. In our families, our schools, our work environments, and in our society, submission to our Lord will be seen in our attitudes towards those He has allowed to be in authority over us.

May we always be ready for the exception but always looking first for how we can obey.

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