In the first two articles in this series (which can be accessed here and here), I made the point that when it comes to daily decisions and moral choices, we cannot condemn what the Bible does not condemn.
Based on a few comments that I received from good brethren, some may have gotten the impression that I was making a case for moral anarchy - everyone can do what they want to do and no one can condemn anyone's behavior. And even if you disagree, you're a judgmental Pharisee if you say anything.
Is that the necessary conclusion from such studies on liberty?
I don't believe so.
In this final article, I'd like to make three points that ought to govern our moral behavior when in the realm of liberty.
We Must Acquire Wisdom
In many ways, the book of Proverbs epitomizes the main point of this series of articles. Even though Solomon, in this book, does condemn certain activities and behaviors (e.g. 6:16-19), the theme of this book is WISDOM.
"To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion - a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (1:1-7)
What is wisdom? Applied knowledge, right? Well...yes...but it's much deeper than that. You see, obedience is applied knowledge, too, but there is much more to wisdom than just obedience. Wisdom is not just the willingness to obey the specific teachings of Scripture (i.e. don't commit adultery), it's the ability to apply the principles of Scripture to those gray areas.
As an example, the command to avoid lust in Matthew 5:28 will keep me from ever justifying pornography. It will also keep me from movies that include nudity, sex-scenes, suggestive material and even rampant immodesty. As a father, it causes me to teach my daughters the importance of modesty so that they are not a stumbling-block to boys in the future, and to teach my son the importance of guarding his heart. Because of the dangers of lust (and knowing my own weaknesses in this area), I try to avoid public beaches and swimming pools where there are bikini-clad women all over the place.
Is it sinful for a Christian to go to a public beach? Is another Christian family sinning when they have different views on modesty? This is where I think the previous two articles come into play.
In the New Testament, Paul instructs us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15). He adds in Romans 13:14 that we're to "make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."
Not everything is black and white. There are gray areas. This is where wisdom comes in.
And while we cannot condemn folks for making choices that we believe to be unwise, we all do have an obligation to (1) encourage wise behavior, and (2) respond positively to godly counsel. Remember, Solomon said that "fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Prov. 1:7). Don't be that person.
We Must Love One Another
Americans often have a sense of entitlement. We have rights and we feel entitled to those rights. If someone tries to infringe on our rights, we freak out. I once knew a brother-in-Christ who, in response to the government's ban on incandescent light bulbs, said he'd shoot anyone who came onto his property to take his incandescent bulbs.
Even though we have incredible liberty in Christ, Paul instructs us in Galatians 5:13-14...
"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
It has been said that "with great power comes great responsibility." This is especially true when it comes to Christian liberty. We cannot have the attitude that because we have certain rights and liberties, we can and will do what we want to do, no matter what the consequences might be.
Isn't this the main point in 1 Corinthians 8? "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" (vs. 1). In regards to the eating of meat offered to idols - a clear Christian liberty - Paul concludes in verses 12-13:
"But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if good makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."We have to give thought to how our actions will influence others!
It it worth it for me to exercise my liberty in an area if it's going to hurt my influence? Is it worth it if it causes a weaker Christian to stumble?
I have always taken a very strong stance against drinking, and still do. I have talked to brethren over the years, however, who believe that it is okay to have an occasional drink. My response has always been the same: even if you think it's okay to have a drink, is it really wise given the number of brethren who have struggled with drinking and even alcoholism in the past, or who might not have the same level of self-control that you claim to have?
Do you see the point?
There are a lot of things that we can do but shouldn't! And even when we have disagreements about what does and doesn't constitute liberty, our love for one another ought to keep us from pushing our rights to the point of division (see 1 Cor. 6:7).
Jesus is Calling Us To a High Standard!
I do believe with all my heart that we need to do a better job of understanding and respecting the realm of Christian liberty. But it's of equal concern to me that some brethren see liberty as an excuse to remain weak and worldly.
It's true that we all start out as "babes in Christ." We're weak and feeble and brethren may have to bear with our lack of knowledge (Rom. 15:1). But just as babies grow into children, and children grow into young adults, and so on...so also should all Christians undergo spiritual development.
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food...But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:12, 14).
If and when seasoned Christians are consistently justifying unwise and worldly behavior, there is a problem. The more that we grow in Christ, the more holy and righteous our lives should appear. This is NOT because we lose sight of our liberty or become more prudish, but because we develop a deeper understanding of God and His will that inspires wisdom within our hearts.
If we are all seeking God's wisdom, a deeper love for one another, and spiritual excellence, I truly believe that we will find ourselves making wiser decisions in our upward walk with Christ. The result won't be moral anarchy or a surge in worldliness, but a deeper respect (from the heart) for God's word that will increase our morality and godliness.
So can we encourage wisdom by openly discouraging certain behaviors and situations? Absolutely! In fact, this is something that we must do. But we have to be careful not to erect barriers that God hasn't Himself erected. I know it's a scary thought, but there does come a point where we have to give brethren room to grow in wisdom.
Perhaps this is where "longsuffering" comes in.