Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
NOTE: In response to well-expressed concerns by a loving reader and good friend (good friends are those who call us to account), portions of the original post have been redacted.
This command is given in the context of God — through Moses — instructing Israel not to even ask how the nations that lived in the Promised Land before them worshiped. He warns that those practices are not acceptable to Him and that what He is commanding is what He wants them to do. Israel did not pay attention and their worship would become polluted over and over again.
Something similar happened in the Christian realm when the Catholic church began expanding into new places. Local religious practices would often be added into the church calendar and their attendant rigamarole would come along for the ride. So Christmas, a day that should be celebrated, manages to occur in December — a time when scholars are pretty consistent about saying Jesus was not born — and brings along with it all the trappings of Saturnalia and Yule and various other pagan festivals that occurred in December at around that same time. Easter, while remaining where it belongs on the calendar, picked up all sorts of trappings of pagan festivals along the way to the point where a Christian parent is hard-pressed to explain to their child what eggs and rabbits and rabbits that lay chocolate eggs (what comes out the back of a rabbit may look like chocolate, but it definitely is not) have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Pentecost falls through the cracks of the non-denominational denomination rather often.
But this needs to go deeper than what the church as a collective does or does not do with regard to assimilating pagan practice into itself. This needs to come home to me, personally. Am I assimilating the practice of the unbelieving world around me into myself and my worship of God or am I being careful to do all that He commands me — no more and no less. Some years ago, I was involved in a relationship and things happened that I now understand were wrong. But hindsight is clearer than looking around in the hazy now. I was, at that time, not careful to do what God had commanded me. And I still carry within me the consequences of that. My mind is indelibly imprinted with the recollection of those things. And I struggle with keeping memory at bay some days. Had I been careful to do what God commands, then I would not have this portion of my memory haunting me. That was a case of “adding to” what God commands, I think. I added my own context and interpretation of God’s command and I allowed — even invited the culture of my time to weigh in on matters best left to God.
Lest I think that this warning applies only to the OT peeps, a similar warning is repeated at the tail end of Revelation. God wants to make very sure that I know His Word is complete. It does not need me adding to it. It is quite complete. It does not need me to subtract from it. There is no fluff in the Word of God. In those times when I have done either — add or subtract from the Word of God — I have done so to my detriment. James will echo this statement in another form when he writes that the one who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it sins. Most, if not all, believers agree that doing something that violates God’s Law is wrong, but we sometimes forget that not doing the good thing that God commands is just as sinful. I know I forget. I imagine I am not alone in that.
Father God, thank You for Your grace that covers those times when I have done, to my hurt, more than what You commanded or have neglected Your command. Please work in me the desire and the ability to not only know Your will but to do it.