If you had three wishes to use for yourself on frivolous stuff, what would you wish for? What if you had three wishes for serious stuff? (And not things like world peace, curing world hunger, and salvation for all. Because of course, we would all choose these.)
But let’s take some time to explore various “gray areas” (or are they really more black-and-white?) and to consider what Scripture says about how to make decisions for how we live. Not everyone will come to the same conclusions about these, but talk about the ones that interest you and challenge each other to figure out your positions on them. (But do not let it turn into fights. Skip any topic that may lead to that, or that might stumble another believer. But it is my assumption that you are all mature Christians and can handle hearing different points of view on gray areas.)
What about Rahab in Joshua 2 when she hid Joshua’s spies and then lied to the king’s men who were looking for them, telling them that they already left the city? What about those who hid Jews from the Nazis? What if you are bringing Bibles into a country where they are banned, and the police ask you if you have any Bibles? Are lies ever okay? Under what circumstances? (Speaking of Nazis . . . Could murder ever be justified, such as if a believer had the chance to kill Hitler?)
“But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36. Really? Every careless word? What does it mean to “give an account”? Kinda makes me want to keep my mouth shut a lot more.)
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19. Was this only for the early church leaders or is it for us, too? If it’s for us, too, why doesn’t it always “work”? And if it doesn’t always work, why word it that way?)
“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32. What does this blasphemy look like?)
“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 11:27-30. Interesting. Very interesting.)
How about “submission” in Ephesians 5:22-33? What is it? What is it not? And how should we apply those verses?
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
The teacher had asked people to take parts in a play to be read aloud. None of us had read the piece ahead of time, but I raised my hand and was given a part. But as the play started, I looked ahead to my character’s lines . . . and I was horrified. I had been given a very sexual, immoral character. I felt a knot tighten up in my stomach. I would be saying these things in front of someone who I was trying to “live Christ” in front of. I was a leader in the youth group. People watched my life. How would this affect my witness? Sure, it might have been “just a play,” but I really saw it as an issue of integrity.
Now, I am no Mother Teresa, but (as an illustration, and forgive me for saying it) what if she once took the role of a vulgar, drug-using prostitute for a Hollywood movie? A gratuitous role with no redeeming value? Just cursing and drugs and sex? Would we think any less of her? Would our minds hold that image as we watched her serve God later? Would her integrity and witness shine as brightly if we had seen her playing out a morally-depraved character? All I could think about as I considered my character’s lines was how this young youth-group friend would hear my voice saying these immoral things, and yet later at youth group they would hear me speaking about Jesus and God with that same mouth.
It was a moral dilemma. But what could I do? The play had already started. My mind raced for an answer. And I finally settled on one. One that I really didn’t want to do.
But let me first ask, what would you have done?
Here’s what I did: As discreetly as possible, I crept up to the teacher and told her that I couldn’t do the part.
“What?” she asked me, incredulously.
“Um, I can’t read this part for . . . moral reasons. I don’t like what she’s saying,” I sheepishly whispered, as the play went on around us. And she stared at me with raised eyebrows that said, You’ve got to be kidding me? Now that’s one I’ve never heard before.
Well, as soon as my part came up, she had no choice but to read the lines for me. And I shrunk down as far as possible in my seat, as everyone looked at me like, What just happened here?
I never got a chance to explain to anyone why I did what I did, so who knows what they all thought of me. But at least I didn’t have to live with knowing that my fellow youth-grouper (or God Himself) heard me saying things that were totally contrary to my faith and walk with God. I don’t care if it was “just a play.” This was about choosing what would please God more, about honoring Him. Even if it was humiliating and uncomfortable.
How about you? Any scenarios you can think of or have experienced?
Some of these things may be more clear than others in the Word. And with some of them, it might not really make a difference what we decide about them. They might just be “gray areas” that don’t really affect us, just make us wonder. (And some people can actually get really passionate about the littler things, while failing to even think about the bigger ones.) But there are some gray issues that require us to make a decision. Because we will stand before God and give an account for how we lived and raised our kids.
And I bet that we can find godly Christians on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to most of these issues. But at some point, any gray area can slide into being unhealthy or clearly ungodly. And we should be aware of what point that is for us. We need to know when we are sliding into “sin” about a gray area.
And for many of these issues, each of us needs to be responsible to figure out our own positions before God. And then, once we do, we need to stand on those convictions before God and others. Because once God reveals what’s appropriate for us or not, we are accountable to Him for whether or not we obey.
(And when it comes to confusing Bible verses, we should do our best to learn what they really mean and how to apply them. Misunderstanding can lead to problems. Yet some of them might be “gray” on purpose. I don’t know. But there are some confusing verses that I have wrestled with for years . . . and I still don’t have an answer. Yet it’s interesting to explore them and wonder.)
Romans 14:1-23: (a few verses taken out for space)
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. . . . But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. . . . For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . .
Therefore let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. . . . It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Do we fail to do the good we should: ignoring needs that we see, turning a blind eye at injustice, failing to treat others kindly? This is sin!
And what, in our lives, are we doing that is a result of faithlessness? Do we hoard money, seek our own ways out of trials, seek to satisfy our desires outside of the boundaries God has given, fail to obey because we are afraid of what obedience will cost us? This is sin, too!
Do we confuse younger believers by flaunting freedoms that we have in Christ, when they feel convicted about the same issue? Do we act out of love and restrain ourselves despite our “freedoms” so that it doesn’t distress them? Do we even know where we stand on these issues? Are we fully convinced in our minds so that we can know that what we are doing comes from our faith? This is what we are going to consider today.