“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1-2
The “gray areas” of Christian faith and practice are always the ones that get us in trouble. Beliefs and actions that are neither good nor bad in and of themselves tend to be the very things that polarize us and cause ungodly strife and division.
Paul sees the Corinthians church dividing over, among many things, the practice of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. The apostle goes out of his way to tell the Christians there that 1) what is good for one believer may not be good for another, 2) true discernment in these matters takes love, not knowledge, and 3) disciples of Jesus have no right to demand their own way.
Whew! That’s tough.
See, the easy thing to do is to just make a whole bunch of rules that legislate exactly what Christians can and cannot do. An even easier solution is to just allow everything, tolerate everything, in the name of Christian grace. The more difficult thing is to advocate and practice that crucial balance between total permissiveness and complete legalism.
Unfortunately, I get the feeling that we’ve been guilty of prohibiting the “gray area” practices that are amoral — neither good nor bad, such as eating meat sacrificed to idols — and allowing or ignoring practices in our churches that are clearly immoral — evil, un-Christ-like. We’ve wound up tolerating immoral behavior and outlawing things that really don’t matter at all.
We’ve gotten it so messed up, maybe, because it’s so much easier to just make a bunch of rules and judge people and praise people and condemn people—even our own brothers and sisters—according to our own pleasures and comfort zones. We tolerate adultery in our churches but we hold meetings and produce positions on clapping hands during “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” We look the other way on drunkenness and shady business dealings but condemn Christians who worship God with guitars. We laugh at and forward racial emails and jokes that make fun of or attack people based on nationality or income or geography but we worry to death over a Christian drinking wine with his lasagna or enjoying an evening of dancing.
“Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” ~1 Corinthians 8:8
There’s no spiritual advantage in allowing these “gray areas” or in prohibiting them. None. So, Paul says, concern for your Christian brother or sister is what takes priority. That’s what it really means to follow Christ. That’s really what “love builds up” means.
(Concern for offending your Christian brother or sister by your actions is NOT what Paul’s talking about here. He says don’t cause your brother to “stumble,” not “grumble.”
Maybe we’ll talk about that tomorrow.)
The “Caps for Tags” deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday March 16. Those empty tomb decals are showing up all over Northeast Tarrant County and flooding my inbox. We’re judging them in three categories: visibility (seen by lots of people), originality (I never thought of putting a sticker “there”), and hospitality (a picture of the decal and the people who gave you permission to stick it). As always, click on the picture to get the full size.
Keep ’em coming!