I am the proud father of an 18-month old ball of energy, drool, and curiosity named Parker. Parker is at the stage where he is beginning to explore his surroundings and, in his own way, ask questions about them. He is also at the stage where whenever he decides he wants to do something, he throws his entire 30 pounds into it. He is a force to be reckoned with, and woe to the person who decides to get in his way when his mind is made up.
This independent spirit, unfortunately, leads to troubling and sometimes dangerous situations. For instance, he loves to point at and even touch wall outlets and items plugged into them, even being so bold as to say something like, “Dats a no-no” while touching them. He understands he is not allowed to do it, but does it anyway, of course not understanding the power that wall socket holds to deliver quite a shock! So we tell him “no,” and spank him if he persists, but still he rebels day in and day out.
Welcome to Parenting Life. All of us who have kids, especially young kids, can relate. They know what they are supposed to do, because Mommy and Daddy said “Do this,” or “No-no,” but they can’t possibly understand why. Can you imagine me trying to sit my eighteen-month-old son down for a lecture on electrical outlets, how they function, electrical engineering, and kinetic energy? That would go over about as well as trying to get him to sit down for an entire episode of Looney Tunes, or to stay in his highchair during an actual entire meal, usually goes.
Of course, he wouldn’t understand the why; he is only a child. He has not matured enough to be able to fully grasp the risks involved in playing with electrical outlets. But as parents, we have a concern (that he will be harmed), as well as a desire (that he live long enough to make it to school and learn about kinetic energy for himself), so we set and enforce a boundary – “No no!”
The Bible is full of boundaries. God gives us many clear-cut boundaries in His Word about things we are not to do as Christians. We are to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage, we are not to steal, or murder, or lie, or take the Lord’s name in vain, just to name a few. God sets these boundaries because He has a concern (that our lives and the lives of others not be hurt) and a desire (that we please and glorify Him).
However, there are also many things that the Bible does not specifically address. Your favorite TV show is probably not mentioned by name in Scripture, nor is your favorite genre of music. The address of your favorite date-night restaurant isn’t listed in the Holy Scriptures, and neither is the full name of your favorite actor/actress. How do we know what activities are right and what activities are not?
Well, there are some things that, while not specifically addressed in Scripture, can be addressed using Scriptural principles. For instance, using recreational drugs or smoking may not be specifically addressed, but keeping your body pure as a temple of the Holy Ghost is. The specific medium of pornographic websites may not be mentioned, but looking upon a woman to lust after her is.
But it gets better — as believers, the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, and as we study and read the Word, He guides us into “all truth,” so that we may understand what is right and what is wrong. Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that if we walk in the Spirit, that is, live a life yielded to His leading, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and we are not under the law. In other words, if you “obey every impulse of the Holy Spirit” (as one of my Bible college professors worded it), you will not do anything contrary to God’s law, because God in the person of the Holy Spirit cannot contradict His own law!
But all of that is introductory to what I really want to get across today. I’m talking about the subject of spiritual maturity and the kind of lifestyle it brings about. The fact is, most Christians have no problem with anything I’ve discussed up to now. We fail and sin on a daily basis, sure, but we understand that these things are wrong. We understand the evils of lying, stealing, killing, and pornography. Those boundaries that are set, either directly or indirectly, through the Word of God, are usually not an issue.
However, in I Corinthians, chapters 8 and 10, Paul addresses another set of activities: those activities which God has not placed boundaries upon, either through His Word, its principles, or through His Spirit. In other words, those activities that, as being free in Christ, we have liberty to partake in and not be sinning per se. I am not going to get into too many specifics, but these could perhaps include a favorite TV show, movie, book, style of music, entertainment/activity choice, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, these areas of personal standard choices can lead to disunity and contempt among brethren. If you want to hear some heated debate, just get around a group of three or more Christians and start talking about entertainment choices and personal standards, and watch the sparks fly! This is what was taking place in the Corinthian church. Certain believers were very weak in Christ and were very concerned about eating meat offered unto idols. They thought that somehow the meat was a wicked thing in and of itself because it had been offered to idols. Other Christians realized that offering something to idols did diddly-squat to it — those false gods are either long dead or completely non-existent entities. How can they bestow any significance whatsoever, either good or bad, upon someone’s meal? They recognized the liberty that they had in Christ — but they were flaunting it. They were looking down on the weak brethren as not being smart enough to realize they had liberty, and some of the weak brethren were giving in and eating the meat, and in so doing, committing what they believed was a sin, because the other brethren were doing it.
Paul wrote to straighten that problem out. He addressed it in chapter 8 by telling these believers who have liberty not to use that liberty to cause problems with a brother. Here’s the thing — if someone can not do something in full faith that it’s right, the Bible says they’re sinning in doing it, even if the act itself is not condemned by God! That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” to the Romans when addressing the same subject in Romans 14:23. If you can’t do it in full faith, it’s a sin!
So therefore, if you do something around another believer that you feel spiritual liberty to do, but they think it might be wrong, but they do it anyway because you’re doing it — even though you may not have been sinning by doing the act, you have caused them to sin by doing something their conscience told them was wrong! Can you see how this is a serious matter? Someone can unknowingly be pressuring a fellow believer to sin! That’s why Paul said to pay attention and not be a stumblingblock to others, and to consider those weaker in the faith — in other words, before doing something, don’t just think, “Is it ok for me to do?” but think also, “Is it something that might cause a conflicted conscience in another brother watching me?” In other, other words, get your mind off just yourself and onto those around you!
Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” in I Cor. 10:23. He was saying that even though there’s no piece of meat that in and of itself is evil and of the devil, partaking of it just might not edify, or build up, another brother. Therefore, Paul said he would eat no flesh as long as the world stands if it makes another brother sin. (I Cor. 8:13)
The phrase “all things edify not” also raises another valid point — not only should you consider whether or not that activity, TV show, movie, or choice would edify or harm other brothers, but also consider your own life. Can you honestly say you are drawn closer to God by that movie or show? I’m not saying we can’t ever enjoy good entertainment, but there may be times when something that may not be inherently wrong has started to put distance between you and God. In other words, is it hindering the growth or edification of myself or others? If the answer to that question is yes, according to the words of Paul, steer away from it.
If it’s something you feel liberty to do, but it bothers another Christian brother, then stay away from it when you’re in their view. You may need to turn off certain TV programs when you have another Christian brother over, or not go certain places with them. Also, don’t forget that in our hyper-connected world of social media, you’re more under scrutiny than you thought — posting or tweeting pictures of you doing those things that may hinder another could be a stumblingblock as well.
Now, let’s bring this full circle, because I started off talking about maturity, and I intend to conclude with that point. Here’s where it all comes together: Those who are immature focus on the boundaries — what they are allowed and not allowed to do, what the rules say and what they don’t say. Those who are mature understand the concern and desire behind the boundaries and rules, and instead focus on what best accomplishes the big picture. To sum up, the immature person focuses on what is allowed, while the mature person focuses on what is best, both for himself and others.
When a Christian says, “Show me in the Bible where it says I can’t do that,” that reveals something about their maturity in Christ. When a Christian says, “No, I’m not allowed to do that,” instead of, “No, that isn’t pleasing to God,” it reveals something about their maturity. It reveals a person focused on the rules instead of the relationship, the boundaries instead of the best course of action.
Imagine me as a twenty-five-year-old young man walking around my house playing with all the electrical outlets, running around with scissors for fun, and doing all the other dangerous things my son would love to do if I allowed him. Imagine someone coming up to me and questioning my actions, and implying that they were not good, and imagine me replying, “Well, there’s no rule that says I can’t run through my house with scissors!”
That’s ludicrous — of course there’s no law that says a twenty-five-year-old man can’t run around his house with scissors. My dad’s not going to drive hundreds of miles to my family’s house and spank me for “breaking a rule.” I have liberty — but by the age of twenty-five, I should have enough maturity to realize that running with sharp objects is dangerous, and be able to choose not to do so without having to be told. In other words, instead of asking, “Am I allowed?”, I would ask, “Is it best?”, and the answer would be — of course not!
I say all of that to say this — Christians, let’s have some spiritual maturity. Next time you’re confronted about an action you’re doing, stop thinking about what you want, and start thinking about how it’s affecting others. Next time you’re trying to decide on a course of action, don’t just think, “Is it allowed?” but “Is it best for me and for those around me?” I believe that if you have the Holy Spirit of God inside you and you truly seek to know the answer to that question, He will use God’s Word to guide you into the right course of action every time. Let’s be mature Christians, not “Dats a no-no!” Christians.
Kevin Higginbotham is the Music Assistant at Southwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, OK.