Zero Tolerance

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ztthumbIt’s “the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15). I’m not sure of the full contextual meaning of that phrase, but in common usage it means that we need to give due attention to the smaller things in life if we will guard the larger. To use a different metaphor, by “zero tolerance” for doing wrong in smaller areas, we will avoid wrongdoing in larger areas. Let me illustrate and then apply.

The other day my family went to Jackson Dam for a picnic. Having parked my car, I was walking toward the park when I noticed a woman park in the very convenient disabled parking spot (the very spot where I was tempted to park!). As she very ably got out of the car with her small children, I spoke kindly to her and pointed out that that spot was reserved for people with disabilities. She seemed a bit chagrined and I thought that she was going to move her vehicle. I was wrong. A few minutes later, as her children were playing, I spoke again to her about this. She replied, “I’ll move my car if the spot is needed.” I responded that this was not right, that she should not park there. She ignored me. And I left it. But her response bothered me.

As my family proceeded to enjoy our picnic, we spoke about the matter and the larger implications that this has for our country. We concluded that it is this kind of “selective compliance” with regulations that sows the seeds for wider wilful disobedience in more serious areas. Whether this mother realised it or not, she was contributing to the increasing lawlessness in our country. Not paying attention to the “little foxes” is marring the larger vineyard of South Africa. We need to develop a healthy, because biblical, ethic of zero tolerance beginning in the “minor” spheres. And if we don’t, we should stop lamenting the lawlessness in the major spheres.

I would imagine that this young mother is disgusted by the corruption in our country. I am sure that she is alarmed by the lawlessness that surrounds us. If she is observant, she will be bothered by the flaunting of the law in almost every sphere of life in South Africa. No doubt she, like the rest of us, laments that things are not different. And yet at the same time she pulls her SUV over a clearly demarcated space for the disabled. Such a devil-may-care attitude towards legislative compliance in a smaller sphere inadvertently contributes to a to-hell-with-the-law in the larger spheres of life.

As a driver and runner, I notice this attitude every day on the roads. Rare is the corner where the stop sign is obeyed. Perhaps the majority of drivers are illiterate, but I doubt it. Rather, indifference is the culprit. Lawlessness is our default. And whether it be a speed limit or “you shall not steal,” too often our selective self-centeredness kicks in and we do as we please—all the while condemning those who select to be self-centredly lawless in another area.

We should be zero tolerant in all areas of lawbreaking. Otherwise we run the risk of what Paul labelled being “self-condemned” (Titus 3:10). In similar vein, Jesus spoke of the need for self-examination before engaging in eye surgery of another (Matthew 7:1–5). Though the parallels are not perfect, the point to be applied is that we should make sure we are compliant with God’s law before condemning the noncompliance of others who break God’s laws. If we park in a prohibited spot, then we end up with a log in our eye that disqualifies us from judging as wrong the actions of another. Let me illustrate this further.

If we wilfully ignore the speed limit, then we might want to think long and hard about criticising the government for ignoring the Constitution. If we refuse to honour God with our tithes, then we should stop being upset over corruption in the workplace and in the government. If we are not faithful to our marriage covenant, then we have no right to condemn the culture’s embracing of gay marriage. If we “shade the truth” (read, lie) in “small” areas, then be careful about condemning those guilty of perjury. If you steal office supplies from work, then be careful about getting too upset about the house break-ins in your neighbourhood.

The point is self-evident: It really is “the little foxes that spoil the vine.” Keep an eye out for them. Don’t allow them in the vineyard of your life. Chase disobedience away and rather cultivate compliance to God’s law, and therefore to man’s legitimate laws under God. If we approach life with zero tolerance for wrongdoing in our own lives, then we will be saltier and brighter in an otherwise decaying and darkened society.

Over the course of time, as we spread the gospel and make disciples who embrace a zero tolerance approach to life, God may be pleased to transform our nation. As we raise our children with a zero tolerance character, motivated by Jesus Christ, then perhaps zero tolerance will become our cultural norm—all to the glory of God and to the considerate welfare of those who need special parking.

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