Is it Legalistic to be Ready?

I recently remembered a parable I first heard from C. Mervyn Maxwell. As I recall, the story involves two fictional characters called Gary and Orville.

Gary was tall, athletic — a 4.0 GPA pre-med student. He had lots of friends who admired his attention to detail. Everything Gary had was maintained in perfect condition — car washed and waxed; assignments done well and on time; never tardy to class. In fact, everything he did was organized and well done.

On his wedding day, Gary got ready in his customary style. Nothing but the best was good enough for the most wonderful girl on earth. He rented tuxedos — even re-pressed the left pant leg in front to correct a double crease two inches from the top. He bought new shoes, and then polished the soles so they would look good to the audience when he knelt for the wedding prayer.

Gary arrived at church 45 minutes early. When his bride caught a glimpse of him talking to the pastor, she smiled. What a lucky girl I am, she thought, to have a guy who lets everyone know how proud he is to marry me!

But then there was Orville.

Orville had his ups and downs. He, too, won the heart of a beautiful girl. "She's too good for him," many people said. But Orville was not altogether a bad person. He was sometimes very lovable. And there was no doubt he needed a dependable woman if he was to get anywhere in life.

On Orville's wedding day, the church was decorated more beautifully than anyone could remember. The bride was a vision. The entire wedding party was excited and waiting in joyful anticipation — everyone, except Orville.

By the time Orville burst onto the scene, the mood had changed, and the eyes of his bride were as red as her roses. He was an hour and fifteen minutes late! Worse, he was wearing a faded sports outfit that didn't match. Part of his last meal was attached to his shirt, and his unpolished shoes were ripped open at the seams.

Orville sidled up to his sweetheart, kissed her cheek, and explained: "Sorry to keep you waiting, honey, but you know how I am. I always have to see how the Mariners come out. They won, too," he added. "Three runs in the bottom of the ninth!

"When it was over," he continued, "I suddenly realized how late it was, and so I came just as I was. Shall we let the preacher know we're ready to go?"

Now, I don't mean to imply that detail-driven perfectionists make ideal husbands — this is only a parable. But these contrasting characters create some interesting questions. Was Gary a "legalist" because he made a point of getting ready on time? Was Orville the "real Christian" because he trusted his relationship to make up for his carelessness? Does this parable shed any light on familiar words from Ellen White who encouraged us to "jealously guard the edges of the Sabbath." She suggested we should lay secular work aside and pull our families together "to read God's word, to sing and pray." Ellen White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 6, p. 356.

Being ready for the Sabbath, or almost any good thing, can become a kind of legalism. But it seems to me that legalism is not so much what you do as why you do it. And if our motives are joy and love and gratitude, then punctual readiness for the Sabbath isn't legalism, but rather loving anticipation of a longed-for appointment with a very special Friend.

"It seems to me that legalism is not so much what you do as why you do it."

August 01, 2009 / Editorial

Max Torkelsen II