Gray Areas

I’m pretty sure I first saw this in the book “Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges.

In the article Rules for Christian Living I basically say that we can do anything, but we need to make wise choices.
Usually the Bible is fairly clear about what those choices should be.
But sometimes the Bible seems silent on the particular decision we are facing.
What do we do then?

Is it OK to watch soap operas on TV?
Is it wise to drink wine?
Should Christians smoke?
How far can you go when you’re dating?

There are 4 little things in 1 Corinthians that can help us make these decisions.

Is it beneficial?
(1 Corinthians 10:23) “Everything is permissible -- but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible -- but not everything is constructive.”
Paul says we are given a lot of freedom to do anything. Everything is permissible is a bold statement.
But we need to be wise and ask ourselves whether it is actually going to build us (or others) up or not. It might not be harmful, but is it beneficial?
If not we need to seriously consider not doing it. And we should examine our motives for why we even want to.
For example watching “South Park” is permissible, but is it beneficial?
You have to decide for yourself. What is beneficial for you might not be beneficial for me.
Golf might be beneficial for you, but if I am easily frustrated and prone to anger, it might be a very bad choice for me.
If golf is going to lead to me swearing and throwing my clubs in anger every time I play, then it’s not beneficial to me. I shouldn’t do it.

Will it master me?
(1 Corinthians 6:12) “Everything is permissible for me -- but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me -- but I will not be mastered by anything.”
So you decide that the thing you want to do is beneficial, or at least not harmful. But is it addictive? Does it end up controlling your choices?
Drugs and smoking are obvious examples, but what about coffee, cola, soap operas or talk shows.
I have friends who cannot go out on certain nights of the week because they have to stay home and watch their favorite TV show.
Be honest, that’s addiction.
If you find yourself rearranging your life around an activity, or consumption of any product, then take time out to ask yourself the question. Has it mastered me?
If you really want to find out – go without it for a week and see how you cope.

Will it make someone else stumble?
(1 Corinthians 8:9) “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
There are some areas that Christians seem to be unable to agree on.
In Paul’s day it was whether or not it was OK to eat meat that might have been sacrificed to an idol before it was sold to you.
There is still disagreement on whether or not Christians can drink alcohol.

Paul isn’t saying that you shouldn’t do anything that some other Christian doesn’t like.
He’s saying don’t do it in a way which will make others stumble.
In Romans 14 Paul says that if you act against what you believe, then for you it is sin.
By stumble here, Paul means to act against something that you believe by faith.
For example, if I know that a particular Christian doesn’t believe that we are allowed to drink alcohol, but I think it’s OK in moderation.
Then when I am around them I will be very careful about what I drink. Not because they might get upset, but because they might drink some too, even though they believe it is wrong.
They will be acting against what they believe and it will be sin for them. And I don’t want to be the catalyst for that.
But when I am at home, I have perfect liberty to drink wine with my meal.

Sometimes this doesn’t seem fair. I know I am not doing anything wrong, but I have to give up something (usually something I enjoy) because of their wrong beliefs.
But we love them right? In the big scheme of things, these are small issues. Does it really matter if I can’t drink for one night?
(If it does maybe I need to consider if something has mastered me).

I would add though that this verse is one of the most misused and abused verses I have seen.
It seems to be thrown around as a guilt trip to stop other Christians using their freedom in a way that you don’t like.
“You’re making me stumble, so you have to stop.”
First, it’s almost certainly not true that they are making you stumble. The people saying this are very rarely about to start doing the activity against their own belief. So they are not stumbling at all.
Secondly, this verse is written to the people doing the activity, suggesting that if they see that they are making others stumble, they should consider not doing it.
Get it? This is a verse for you about your activities. And for me about my activities. Its not a verse for you about my activities.

Will it glorify God?
(1 Corinthians 10:31) “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
I put this last, but this is the most important question to ask ourselves about everything we do.
If the answer is no then we probably shouldn’t do it.
Certainly if the answer is that it will dishonor God, then we definitely shouldn’t do it.
There are so many things that we can do for God that we don’t need to waste time doing things which work against him.

If you’re not sure about some of your activities, ask yourself these four questions and see how comfortable you are with the answers you get.
Even if you’re sure. Ask anyway.

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