If you are actually going to make a difference for good and obey God (the rules you are supposed to obey), then you have to know which rules not to follow.
In other words, you have to have a well-thought-out philosophy of rule-breaking.
This is not about breaking legitimate rules, being a pest, or being rebellious. The example here is Jesus, who broke man-made rules that hurt people, in order to bring true help to people.
If you are actually going to make a difference in the world, you need to be willing to break those sorts of rules. There are no exceptions, and this is why many people in Jesus’ day didn’t like him.
The greatest irony is that if you don’t break the rules that hurt people when called upon, you aren’t actually a “rule follower” at all. For in thinking you are keeping the “rules,” you are actually breaking the greatest rule of all — the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Again, I’m not advocating disrespect or disregard for legitimate authority. Once again, Jesus is the example here who, for example, healed people on the Sabbath even though it was against the rules of the Pharisees. Jesus recognized — and was teaching us — that the letter of the law is never to overcome the spirit of the law.
If you break a rule to stand out, or make yourself look good, that is the wrong reason. If you break an ethical rule, that is also wrong. I’m talking here about manmade rules that seem “reasonable” but in actuality keep people down and cause harm. There is a time and place to break such rules, just as Jesus did. The ethical thing to do with such rules is to break them when necessary for the good of others.
So this is not about reducing ethics; not in the slightest. It is about elevating ethics by refusing to allow bad rules to get in the way of doing the right thing.
Sometimes, authority is used (even inadvertently) to institutionalize the doing of harm. When this happens, don’t let the fact that something is a “rule” distract you from that. Do the right thing.
Mark Batterson has an excellent article on this over at Catalyst which I have now adopted as an excellent summary of my own “philosophy of rule-breaking.” It is worth checking out.
One clarification: Let me add one clarification, which I think is important. What if you work in an organization that has really bad policies. Am I saying you should break those policies? The answer is no (unless they are unethical). But I am saying this: you need to work for their change. That means talking to your boss, or whoever, and making an intelligent case for change. Don’t just let the policies be. Seek to change them.
Bad policies need to be obliterated. And that starts with speaking up (in a winsome, respectful way) instead of robotically accepting their existence.
In addition to this, though, more people need to recognize that in most cases, their company is not intending them to follow the letter of the law when it clearly results in bad things for the customer. In other words, most of the time companies expect their employees to exercise judgment. Learn what your company expects of you there, rather than assuming they don’t want you to exercise any judgment at all. Then, use your judgment.