Making Biblical Decisions: Handling Differences with Biblical Love, Part 3 – February 23, 2024

Suppose two believers can come to polar opposite conclusions on issues of conscience, and both are right. How can they interact with one another in unity? Many of these gray areas carry heavy emotional baggage that can result in explosive conflict. How can two walk together unless they agree? Paul reveals in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 that the answer lies in our priorities. We must value our fellow believer’s conscience more than our opinion. To help us understand the reasoning behind this statement, Paul presents the argument through three principles that build on the previous principle.

First, Paul informs Christians of the stumbling block principle. In Romans 14:13 and 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul encourages Christians to determine not to place a stumbling block in the way of their fellow believer. The picture is of an impediment placed before a person on a path they seek to walk, which causes a challenge to move forward or to turn back. In Romans 14:13, Paul also adds the word “hindrance.” This word refers to the stick in a trap that would fall when the animal touched it, resulting in the animal’s ensnarement. When we insist that others agree with us on the issues of conscience instead of considering their conscience, we risk trapping them in sin.

The principle then informs us that we ought to be careful that our actions do not cause our fellow believers to sin. We should seek to help our fellow believer grow in their Christian walk instead of presenting a challenge to their Christian walk. When we knowingly flaunt engagement in an action that other believers consider sin, we hinder their walk with God. Flaunting this “freedom” contrasts with the sign of discipleship: love for one another (John 13:35).

The principle that flaunting freedom results in our fellow believer’s sin builds on the previous principle. As Paul pictures the results of a believer flaunting their disagreements with one another, he identifies two bitter results. The believers begin to engage in judgment against one another. Because each believer is convinced that they stand in truth, they naturally assume their fellow believer stands in error. In arrogance, they begin to judge the state of the other believer’s Christian walk and look at them with pity and disdain. They fail to recognize the possibility that both believers stand in faithful communion with God. So Paul reminds the church that God alone stands as our Judge. He holds our eternal fate in His hands. So then let us be fully persuaded in our own minds of our beliefs and leave other’s conclusions to God.

Unfortunately, Paul also foresees a second result. As those believers who might be viewed as more mature and faithful flaunt their freedom, those more immature (perhaps newer) believers may begin to question their judgment. Although their conscience plagues them when they participate in the action, they conclude they must join to be faithful Christians. Yet, Paul reveals that the act of violating our conscience is sin. This is the meaning of Romans 14:23. When we violate our conscience and do something we feel is wrong, we sin. Paul goes so far as to say that the stronger Christian destroys the weaker Christian through uncaring actions, leading the weaker Christian to sin by violating their conscience (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11).

The final principle is the principle of sin leading to sin. Two believers sin when one believer leads another to violate their conscience. The second believer sins by violating their conscience. However, the first believer does not stand innocent. Although he rightly concludes that he may participate in the given action without sin, the first believer wrongly concludes that he can lead the other believer to violate their conscience without sin. Paul informs us that causing others to sin is sin (1 Cor 8:12). We might conclude that we are not responsible for other Christian’s weak conscience. However, the principle of love argues otherwise. Our actions fail to value our fellow believers in the same way Christ values them. Christ died to redeem, justify, sanctify, and glorify that believer. When we selfishly ignore or arrogantly oppress our fellow believer’s conscience, we reveal a love for self over love for Christ. And, in so doing, we sin against Christ.

Making Biblical Decisions: Handling Differences with Biblical Love, Part 2 – February 16, 2024

The conflict over gray issues in the ancient church centered in two primary areas: eating meat offered to idols and the celebration of feast days and the sabbath. We find both of these issues addressed in Paul’s Epistle to Rome and Paul’s First Epistle to Corinth as both churches found themselves surrounded by pagan Roman culture. From the modern standpoint, each of the issues may appear frivolous, yet these issues threatened to break apart the newly established churches. For each issue was deeply ingrained in the culture surrounding the church. When we understand the way these threats presented themselves in the ancient church, we can then begin to draw straight lines into issues we face today.

The Roman society was extremely and openly pagan. As Rome conquered the surrounding countries, they would adopt some of those countries’ gods and add them to their own pantheon of gods. Another significant aspect of the Roman religious system consisted of ancestor worship. Each family looked to great members of their family who had died for help in their present life. They believed these ancestors could assist them from beyond the grave.

The central part of Roman worship was a sacrificial system. The members of society would bring the best of their animals to sacrifice to the various gods. After the sacrificial ritual, the city would often celebrate a feast in the temple serving the very meat they just sacrificed. The Romans viewed these feasts as necessary for a healthy society. They viewed any who did not participate in the feasts with suspicion and considered those individuals unpatriotic. Because the entire city gathered at these feasts, they also served as a prime opportunity to conduct business.

When the feasts ended, the pagan temple leaders would then sell any leftover meat. It was the best meat available, and it was the cheapest meat available. However, the ancient church faced an important and divisive question, “If you purchased this meat, would you be supporting idolatry?” In addition, for the newly saved Jewish population, often the meat consisted of those animals declared unclean in the Mosaic Law. Already struggling with the place of the Mosaic Law upon the church, the temple meat provided another area of battle in this issue. As the church faced these questions, they divided into two camps.

One group consisted of those who had no problem eating the meat offered to the idols. While few believed they could participate in the temple feast, a significant group did not struggle purchasing the meat from the temple meat market. They rightly pointed to Christ’s teaching in Mark 7.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Mark 7:14-19)

The food restrictions were for a time for Israel under the Mosaic covenant to demonstrate that they were different, that they had a major sin problem. But the death of Christ freed us from the Law. So, Christ declared all things clean. This is why you can enjoy a wonderful ham today without violating Scripture.

This group also recognized that the meat was only meat. It was neither inherently good or sinful. The fact that the meat had been sacrificed to a pagan god did not change the meat itself. As a result, they believed that they could eat this meat without condoning the pagan sacrificial system. They would argue that the meat was good meat and it was cheap meat. To purchase this good meat at a discounted price was a practice of good stewardship of the funds entrusted to them by God. In addressing this issue with the Church at Corinth, Paul acknowledges this viewpoint.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, 8)

However, another group had a serious problem with Christians eating the meat sacrificed to idols. As some newly converted Jews still viewed the Mosaic Law as binding on the believer, they saw this meat as a violation (Leviticus 11:4-8). They had not yet realized their freedom in Christ from the Mosaic Law to eat this meat. Another section of this group, newly saved out of the pagan idolatry, firmly believed that they would support and participate in the idolatrous practices if they ate the meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:7). The temple leaders used the meat in their pagan sacrificial systems and served it in the pagan feasts. The money used to purchase the meat in the market would go into the pagan temple coffers. This group could not understand how it was possible to purchase and eat meat from the pagan temple without it being considered as participation in idolatry.

In addition to the meat issue, another issue arose which was also closely related to both the Mosaic Law and the idolatrous practices of the day. This issue surrounded the concept of feast days and the Sabbath. For the Jews, the Sabbath was a central part of their upbringing. For the Gentiles, the feast days were central to the society in which they lived. As Rome conquered the world, they would institute celebratory holidays for the citizens to honor. The celebrations centered on the sacrifices to the gods. As we mentioned before, these sacrifices would then be served in a feast in the temple. The Romans viewed these special days as dedications of celebrations to the gods who assisted them in conquering the world. Every good Roman citizen participated. If the citizens did not celebrate the day, they were viewed with suspicion.

Again, the church divided into two groups. The first group consisted of Jews who believed that the church must still honor the Sabath (Exodus 20:8). Further, there was a strong debate surrounding the feast days. In order to be a good member of society and maintain relationships, this group argued that the Christian should celebrate the holidays. They maintained that one could celebrate Rome’s accomplishments without celebrating Rome’s gods. They believed that they should participate in the celebration, perhaps out of a concern for an opportunity to share the gospel or for their own ability to conduct their business.

The second group recognized Christ’s teaching in Mark 2:27-28 that the Sabath was made for man and not man for the Sabath. Their conscience allowed them to honor Sabath rest without the restrictions of the Mosaic Law. Another section of this group believed that if believers participated in the pagan feast days, they were participating in the pagan feasts. Any argument otherwise was simply viewed as pragmatic compromise.

These controversies created a significant impact in the church as the issues of meat and feast days created a significant impact in the ancient church. As the church in that day, and we in this day, look at the conflicts, the natural question arises, “Who was right?” This is an important question. To participate in idolatry is to deny God. Yet, Scripture also indicates that the Christian ought to practice good stewardship, engage with the world around them, and are free from the Mosaic Law. Paul composed Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to answer this question. The clearest answer appears in Romans 14:5-6:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

In other words, the answer is that both were right. It is possible for two believers to have polar opposite opinions in these gray areas and both be right.

Next week we will look at how we should respond to other believers who come to different correct conclusions than we do.

Making Biblical Decisions: Handling Differences with Biblical Love – February 2, 2024

On many things, Scripture is clear on the Christian’s position to stand side by side with God. The Christian need not wonder about God’s view of adultery, theft, or murder. Yet, throughout life, every Christian faces decisions that fall into unclear categories. In these issues, Scripture neither affirms nor condemns these situations.

Unfortunately, Scripture’s lack of clarity has not stopped well-meaning believers from taking up arms on both sides of these issues. Throughout the years, Christians debated whether smoking or alcohol consumption should be classified as a sin. In some Christian circles, the debate surrounds the morality of women wearing pants or other “revealing” clothing. As children’s sports encroach into Sunday, Christians debate whether Christian families should participate. I can recall conversations surrounding specific genres of music, going to the movie theatre, and even what particular version of the Bible individuals chose to read. Scripture does not present black and white “thou shalt not” solutions to these issues. Instead, these issues reside in the gray.

As Christians face these issues, they often find themselves ill-equipped to make biblical decisions. As a result, they then move to emotion and reason. Unfortunately, unwilling to acknowledge that they have no biblical basis for their choices, they resort to proof-texting their decisions and inevitably rip Scripture out of its context and begin to say things that God never said. Armed with proof texts and high emotion, they start to battle and cast judgment and disdain on all who disagree. 

Yet, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word, so we need not resort to proof-texting and emotion for our decisions. Instead, we must faithfully seek the principles of God’s Word to respond with godly intention instead of emotional reaction in these moments. Our goal in biblical decision-making is to live intentionally instead of reacting. In short, we must learn how to handle differences with biblical love.

The challenge to address gray issues is not a modern challenge. From its founding, the Church faced contention and disagreement over these issues. As we read the New Testament, we discover that these gray issues threatened to split at least two churches: the Church in Rome and the Church in Corinth. In both cases, culture forced Christians to make decisions regarding these gray issues. In both cases, Christians found fellow believers on both sides of the issue. And in both cases, all of them thought they were right, and others were sinning. I would encourage you to pause and read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Over the next few weeks, we will work through these chapters to help us address gray issues with grace and humility. We will discover that we can disagree on some issues and still enjoy glorious unity. And we will discover that, in some cases, two Christians can come to two opposite conclusions, and both be right before God. Yet, unity is predicated on humility and love. So, in the next few weeks, I would encourage you to honestly examine your heart and repent of any pride that manifests itself through this conversation. Through this, may God grow our church in gracious biblical unity.

Making Biblical Decisions: Working to Grow and Help Others Grow in Christ, Part 5 – January 26, 2024

The final principle that helps us determine what edifies is that we must be concerned about the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 10:33 reveals that decisions that edify prioritize the Gospel so that others might be saved. While we will address this in greater detail in the future, I will make a few essential points now. First, edification cannot happen apart from the Gospel. The solution to a lack of satisfaction, pleasure, or sin is always the Gospel. Only the Gospel can change lives. Only the Gospel results in the fruit of the Spirit. Second, the power for edification cannot happen apart from the Gospel. Too many Christians live as though the power for life comes from politics, pleasure, finances, or relationships. However, Romans 1:16 reveals that God’s power comes only through the Gospel. As a result, third, the Christian must prioritize the Gospel. We must make decisions that proclaim the Gospel. This means that we must live distinctly from those around us. We work differently, demonstrating that our walk with God matters. We enter the political discussion differently, proclaiming that the Eternal Kingdom will bring peace. We engage in recreation and Sabbath rest in a way that declares that it is not the purpose of life but points to the eternal rest and joy found in Christ.

As we seek to make Biblical decisions, we must consider more than the sinfulness of the decision. While we may be free to make a decision as far as right and wrong are concerned, we are not free to make the decision as we consider what is best. While all things might be lawful, not all things are best. Do not sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay. The wise Christian seeking to make Biblical decisions will consider the pull and allure of the decision. If the result of the decision will grant control to anything other than God, the wise Christian will refrain. The wise Christian will also consider the decision’s impact on their own and others’ walk with God. We do not live for this world but for the Eternal Kingdom. So, we make decisions that will spur growth in our walk with Christ with eternity in mind. Considering these realities, we understand that just because we can do something does not mean we should do something.

Finally, as we consider this decision-making principle, we must recognize that godly individuals will apply the principle differently. Due to its control over me, I refrained from Mountain Dew for years. This, however, should not serve as a statement that every believer’s participation in that particular beverage is a sin. It is the height of arrogance to condemn something God has not. Further, I may consider something edifying, which another may not. These principles are not to be used as clubs of judgment against others but mirrors of examination for ourselves. As we seek to make Biblical decisions, let us ask, “Is this best?” To that end, we ask, “Will this control me?” If it will, do not do it. Further, we ask, “Will this help myself and others grow in our walk with Christ?” If the answer is no, then do not do it. Let us seek to consider excellence as we strive to make Biblical decisions.

Making Biblical Decisions: Working to Grow and Help Others Grow in Christ, Part 4 – January 19, 2024

As we consider what it means to make decisions that promote our growth and other’s growth in Christ, we turn now to the Words of Christ in Mark 8. When we concern ourselves with growth in Christ it means we must take up our cross to follow Christ. Christ pictured complete abandonment to ourselves and this world for Him through this statement. We have romanticized the cross today. We use crosses as decorations. We put it on jewelry. And some even tattoo it on their body. We have made the cross safe and suitable. But there is nothing safe about the cross. This call to take up our cross refers to the Roman practice of parading condemned criminals through the city. At the same time, they carried the heavy horizontal beam of the cross to the place of their execution. When they arrived, their arms were outstretched and attached with nails or ropes to that beam. The beam was then hoisted up on a post so that the criminal could be exposed to the crowd until he died.

In the same way, Jesus is calling his followers to die to themselves and to accept the shame that comes with following Christ. He calls his followers to give up this world and take their place alongside Jesus on the cross. Biblical decision-making calls for the believer to recognize that while all things may be lawful, not everything edifies. We must sacrifice ourselves, our dreams, and our desires so that others may grow in Christ.

There is perhaps no better place to observe this principle pictured than in the marriage relationship. In Ephesians 5, Paul reveals that the marriage relationship is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. As such, both the husband and wife hold responsibilities to seek the other’s growth in Christ over their dreams and desires. Each reveals through their decisions and actions that their priority is to see the other flourish in their relationship with Christ.

First, God calls the wife to submit to her husband. This action is voluntary; the wife places herself under her husband’s authority. She does not become his slave without a voice. Instead, she accepts her place as his teammate, yielding the final decision making to him. She seeks to hold him in respect and treat him with kindness. She aims to lay aside her dreams and ambitions for her family’s good and her husband’s growth in Christ. As she makes decisions, she does not only ask if it is sinful, but she also asks if it is the best thing for her husband so that he might rightly reflect Christ.

Second, the husband reflects Christ in how he leads his wife. Thus, he leads in the same way that Christ does. He sacrifices for his wife like Christ sacrificed His life for us. Rather than demand his way, the husband surrenders his life for his wife’s good. Rather than prioritize his ambitions, he sacrifices them for his wife’s dreams. He is willing to give up his life entirely for his wife. He seeks to present his wife to Christ, pure and holy. When he makes decisions, Biblical decision-making requires that he asks how this decision will spur his wife to grow in Christ.

In this way, the biblical marriage pictures Biblical decision-making for us. We do not make decisions with selfish ambitions or personal gratification in mind. Instead, we make decisions that seek to encourage our walk and other’s walk with Christ. While all things may be lawful in that we are redeemed through Christ’s blood, we are not free to make these decisions because they hinder growth in Christ.

As Paul continues to examine the second principle of edification (that we must encourage spiritual growth) in 1 Corinthians 10, he also addresses how our decisions stifle growth through offense in verse 32. As we seek to make Biblical decisions, we must be careful not to give offense to anyone, including unbelievers. Christians seem to have a reputation in the world as mean and angry people. Perhaps this is due to the sinful ways we make and proclaim our decisions. For many Christians, we hold our political positions as an idol. We portray a belief that the solution to the world’s problems is not the Gospel. Instead, we show a belief that the government functioning according to our political persuasions is the solution. We grant all who lead our political persuasion sainthood. And we vilify all who oppose our positions. While some Christians might dismiss this conclusion as a caricature and overgeneralization, quickly perusing their social media accounts should rid them of this self-deceit. As they decide how to respond in the public square to political debate, the idea of the Gospel and seeing others grow in Christ fades to the background.

Unfortunately, many Christians seem to seek to provoke sinful responses in others, like anger and wrath, in the way they interact. Indeed, God calls Christians to proclaim the truth. However, God calls us to proclaim the truth in love. Our goal is not simply to do right but to encourage others to grow in Christ. As a result, as we make decisions, we seek to avoid unnecessary offense so that others may grow in their walk with Christ.

Making Biblical Decisions: Working to Grow and Help Others Grow in Christ, Part 3 – January 5, 2024

The writer of Hebrews challenges us to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. As we make decisions in life, we ought to consider how these decisions impact our fellow believers in our church to love one another better and to serve one another well. As we consider the call to make decisions that cause us and others to grow in their walk with Christ (to stir up love and good works), we must consider three crucial elements of this call.

First, we cannot accomplish these Biblical decisions apart from the local church. In verse 25, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that the first primary decision we make as believers is to join the assembly of God’s people. God expects believers to attach themselves to the local church. It is not a coincidence that the writer of Hebrews follows the challenge to love and good works with the command not to forsake assembling with the local church. We cannot consider how our actions will edify if we are not actively involved in the local church. Sadly, many Christians are under the false impression that their commitment to the local church is optional. In our idolatry, we view other decisions as more important than the local church. We allow family, sports, activities, and feelings to determine our attendance at the worship service. As long as our calendars are free, we will attend. However, if something comes up, we will gladly sever from Christ’s body for the week. Through these actions, we demonstrate our values. We value these other items over Christ and His Body. Our idolatry for these other things causes us to value the table of demons over the table of Christ. We reason that it is not a sin to miss the Church gathering. Yet, we fail to consider that we are sacrificing what is best on the altar of what is permitted.

Second, we cannot fulfill our obligation to encourage our fellow believers in their walk with Christ if we do not gather with them. A primary purpose of the church gathering is to promote growth in ourselves and others. Sadly, I have generally observed three wrong responses to the church gathering. Some choose to value other obligations or desires over the church gathering. We fail to recognize that when we choose not to gather with fellow believers, we miss the opportunity to encourage growth in Christ. Inevitably, the Christian then feels disconnected from the church body because, well, they are disconnected. Others have chosen to believe that assembling with the church is not necessary for spiritual growth. They reason that they can read the Bible themselves and do not need the authority the church provides. These individuals fail to reckon with 1 John 2:7-11 in which we learn that walking in the light requires a love for God’s people. We cannot walk with God and not walk with God’s body, the church. The last group seems to think it does not matter if they attach themselves to a local church. Much better, they rationalize, to hop around to many local churches. Unfortunately, these individuals fail to recognize that when they do not attach themselves to a local body, they cannot effectively enter into the lives of their fellow believers. They choose numerous shallow relationships and no pastoral authority over a few deep relationships and strong pastoral authority. Perhaps this choice is because they do not want a deep relationship that stirs up love and good works, which require vulnerability, humility, repentance, and submission. Yet, through this failure, they miss the glory of growing in Christ, which comes through the edification of Christ’s Body.

Third, we seek to make decisions that spur ourselves and others to grow in Christ because Christ is returning. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we do these things more each day because Christ’s return draws ever closer. This mindset places our attention on the Eternal Kingdom over the present world. This mindset causes us to recognize the temporal nature of the things we assign importance. When we gather with God’s people, we capture a glimpse of the eternal kingdom and are reminded that Christ is coming. We make Biblical decisions that will encourage growth in Christ because the things accomplished for the Eternal Kingdom withstand Christ’s judgment.

Because the Eternal Kingdom holds the primary position, we seek to encourage others to grow in Christ by sacrificing for others over our pleasure. Christ informs us that following Him requires self-sacrifice. In Mark 8:34-38, Christ tells us of the high cost of discipleship. We must sacrifice our lives for Christ and others to make Biblical decisions. To follow Christ, we must first deny ourselves. Often, the primary concern in our choices is our views and pleasure. We give little thought to the impact on others around us. Yet, being Christ’s disciple requires self-denial. This goes against every grain of our sinful nature. We inherently believe that life is about us. Pride is so deeply rooted in our hearts that we think God has wronged us if He does not comply with everything we consider correct. This denial of self is more than giving up doughnuts for lent. This is more than placing some money in the offering. Self-denial means that you completely turn your back on yourself. It means you no longer determine your goals, aspirations, and desires. Jesus informs us that if we would be His disciples, we must abandon our self-righteousness and sin and submit wholly to Him.

We live in the most affluent society in the history of humanity. The American dream has driven this affluence: The idea that you can be whatever you want with hard work and drive. We have lived with the promise of comfort. As a result, we live for pleasure and fun. We live for ourselves. But what if this is not the way of Christ? What if the call from Christ is actually to say no to ourselves? This is what Christ is telling us. We are to give up our dreams and ambitions for the cause of Christ. Biblical decision-making requires us to actively seek to help others grow in their walk with Christ.

Making Biblical Decisions: Working to Grow and Help Others Grow in Christ, Part 2 – December 29, 2023

Two weeks ago we began our look at 1 Corinthians 10. Here the principle for decision making reminds us that we should ask if the decision we will make will help ourself and others grow in Christ. How can we know if something will help others grow in Christ? How can we seek to ensure our spiritual growth? This text continues with three essential principles to help us consider what will edify. We should consider how these principles work in our everyday decisions.

Certainly, at first glance, some actions and decisions may seem to fail this test. After all, it would seem that strict adherence to this principle means that all we would do is read our Bible and pray all day. We would never discourage these actions, yet creation reveals that God expects us to conduct and participate in other things. When God placed Adam and Eve into the garden, He gave us the creation mandate to subdue and work the earth.

Consequently, there must be times in which these seemingly ordinary and unreligious actions help us and others grow in Christ. Thus, the first principle deals with this struggle. Everything we do should concern itself with God’s glory. Verse 31 reveals that even the most mundane actions of life, like eating and drinking, should glorify God. Indeed, while we should not live for leisure, honoring a regular Sabbath rest reminds the believer that he is a finite being serving an infinite God. Enjoying God’s gifts to us reveals the goodness of God to His people and his regular care for them.

There is then a place for Christians to enjoy sports, entertainment, the arts, and the outdoors. Yet, as Christians enjoy these things, they must keep them in their proper place. They must be viewed and used to provoke and promote spiritual growth and God’s glory. Even our food and drink decisions should point to God. We will deal with this principle more at a later time. However, every action, attitude, and statement should seek to make God look as good as He really is.

 The second principle addresses the need to encourage others to grow in Christ. We live in a very selfish society. Every aspect of the world around us encourages us to take care of ourselves first and to seek our good over every other possibility. Yet, God challenges us with the opposite mindset. We are not to seek our good but rather the good of those around us (verse 24). Rather than seeking to have it our way, we are to seek to promote others. Next week we will look at how this works out practically in life. Several texts of scripture will help us in this endeavor.

Merry Christmas – December 22, 2023

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, my family decorates the house for Christmas. Usually, we have Christmas music playing in the background. Sometimes, we end the day watching a Christmas movie. All these activities serve to place us into the “Christmas spirit.” We then spend the rest of December with a warm fuzzy feeling, looking at the lights, listening to the songs, and anticipating Christmas Day. For whatever reason, I have not been in the Christmas spirit this year. Maybe it is our unseasonably warm weather (until this week). Maybe it is the different December schedule now that the boys are older. For whatever reason, I have found myself commenting that it doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Over the last few days, I have contemplated my lack of Christmas feeling. I concluded that this is not necessarily a bad thing. So often, my Christmas spirit centers around things that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas. I love the feeling of looking at lights, listening to Frosty the Snowman, and watching feel-good Christmas movies. However, this year, I have focused less on these things and more on how Christmas fits into God’s eternal plan. It makes me wonder if I have missed this vital aspect of Christmas in previous years.

Man’s fall into sin did not surprise God. In eternity past, God determined to send His Son to redeem the people He had not yet created. So, when man fell into sin, God promised that the woman’s seed (Jesus) would crush the serpent’s head (sin and Satan). Thousands of years past, sin destroyed the world, yet the seed had not arrived. Until that first Christmas, all seemed lost. Yet, at the right time, Christ came. God became flesh in a small farm town outside Jerusalem and dwelt among us. Yet He did not come for Christmas. He came for Good Friday and Easter. For through His sacrifice on the cross, we have life eternal.

Yet, even then, the story of Christmas points forward to more than Good Friday and Easter. We have the promise in John 14 that Christ will return for us. Although it has been thousands of years, and all may seem lost, the day is coming when Jesus will come again and eradicate sin and its effects. Our broken bodies will be made whole. Conflicts will cease. Death will be no more. When we celebrate Christmas, we are also celebrating Christ’s second coming. The difference will be that the Christmas feeling will last for all eternity at that time.

As you celebrate this year, remember that the sorrow caused by sin will cease to reign. Thorns will no longer infest the ground. Christ will be known throughout the earth. And we will reign with Him. In your sorrow, look up! Your King is coming. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Making Biblical Decisions: Working to Grow and Help Others Grow in Christ – December 15, 2023

As John finished his first epistle, he challenged the church with an interesting statement: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Most Christians today would skip over this verse with little thought. After all, we do not visit temples and sacrifice to idols. Yet, idolatry remains rampant in the church today. Already in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul addressed the Corinthian’s claim that all things were lawful because Christ died for sin, and there is no longer condemnation. Yet, just because something is not a sin does not mean the Christian should participate. Just a few chapters later, Paul returns to this claim. The context surrounding this address provides an interesting and essential principle as we seek to make Biblical decisions. I would encourage you to stop and read 1 Corinthians 10.

As Paul continues his address to the church in Corinth, he addresses the issue of ongoing idolatry. He begins by pointing back to the children of Israel in the wilderness. All the children of Israel enjoyed the blessings of God. They followed the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory, which led them through the wilderness. They all walked through the Red Sea on dry land. They watched Pharaoh’s army destroyed behind them as the sea collapsed over the pagan army. As Paul explains these realities, he seems to draw parallels to the Christian life. We also experience God’s blessing. We follow the Word and experience God’s redemption.

Further, the children of Israel all ate of the manna God provided. In the same way, Christians eat the bread, which signifies the body of Christ, the bread of life. The children of Israel all drank from the water miraculously provided by God, which sprang from the rock. So too, all Christians drink from the cup at the Lord’s table, signifying the new covenant in Christ’s blood. God’s people stand in a privileged position because of the redemption and provision provided by God.

However, God was not pleased with the children of Israel. And due to their foolish decisions, God overthrew them in the wilderness. Verse 6 and verse 11 stand as important reminders to us. These things happened and were recorded as a warning so we do not make the same mistakes. We cannot afford to become idolaters as they were. They engaged in the sexual immorality of the surrounding world. They complained and questioned God’s goodness. They stood in a favored position before God. Yet, the one who thinks he stands should be careful lest he fall.

Because we, as Christians, live in a corrupt world, we are easily swayed and enticed by the false thinking and ideologies around us. We face the same challenge that the Corinthian church faced. The sexual immorality that surrounds us seeps into the Christian’s life when we are not actively aware. We do not guard and value our marriages to succeed and be accepted by the world. Over time, we begin to excuse immoral actions and thoughts because the world clouds our judgment.

Christians are often tempted to complain and question God’s goodness because we have concluded that he owes us a carefree life. We have bought into the world’s message that ease, entertainment, and experience should dominate life. So, we fill our lives with comforts, items of enjoyment, and things that entertain us. When life presents the challenges that come with living in a depraved world, we question God’s goodness. We fail to understand that God allows and even directly places the challenges in our lives to demonstrate His power and sufficiency.

As a result, Paul again challenges the believer to flee idolatry. The Christian must be aware of the soft idolatry that takes place in our lives and run from it. These things demand our attention over God and steal our gaze from Him. Although we stand before God without condemnation because of Christ’s blood, we cannot live in the pagan temple by giving something higher priority than God. We celebrate the Lord’s Table together when we gather as Christ’s church. When we do so, we point to the blood and body of Christ. Yet, through our actions, we also participate in idolatry. In verse 20, Paul intimates that valuing something more than God is also to sit at the table of demons. We seek to serve God and Satan simultaneously.

We come then to the solution in our decision-making in verse 23. Again, Paul echoes the Corinthian mantra: “All things are lawful.” And again, Paul reminds them that not all things are best. Not all things are best because not all things build up. As we seek to make Biblical decisions and refrain from idolatry, we need to ask, “Will this help myself and others grow in Christ?” We are to seek the good of our fellow believers and our growth in Christ. Much then of what we are free to do so far as sin is concerned, we are not free to do so as far as growth in Christ and the good of others is concerned.

How can we know if something will help others grow in Christ? How can we seek to ensure our spiritual growth? This text continues with three essential principles to help us consider what will edify. Over the next few weeks as we look at these principles, we should consider how these principles work in our everyday decisions.

Making Biblical Decisions: Only God Should Control You – December 8, 2023

We noted last week that Biblical decisions require that we seek to do what is best. We do not sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay. Just because you can does not mean that you should. Yet, how can we know if the decision we make is best? At times, the situation is clear. However, there are times when the situation may seem less clear. The Apostle Paul gives us two more critical questions to clarify our thinking in the two texts from 1 Corinthians we referenced last week (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). This week, we will examine the first of the two texts and the question: “Will this control me?”

As 1 Corinthians 6 progresses, Paul addresses the challenge of Christian’s lack of love for one another. They took each other to court and sought worldly satisfaction over eternal good. In the middle of the chapter, Paul reminds the church that it should be marked by holy living. The practice of blatant sin formerly marked believers. However, Christ washed, justified, and sanctified the believers so that they should now be marked by a desire for holiness. Christ’s sacrifice frees the believer from sin.

Some in the church argued that this freedom meant they were now free to act however they desired. As we noted last week, they took up the mantra, “All things are lawful.” The church Father Augustine summarized their spirit with the statement, “Love God and do what you please.” All too often, Christians today echo this same mantra. We believe that as long as we “love God,” we are free to act however we desire. However, the truth of the Christian faith is not that it frees us to sin, but rather that it frees us not to sin.

As Chapter 6 progresses, we learn that the Corinthian church used this mantra to justify rampant sexual immorality. They justified their actions by claiming this was simply the body’s natural use. They rationalized that just as the stomach needs food, so also the body desires sexual relationships. However, Paul zeros in on an important point: the Christian should not be controlled by anything but God. In verse twelve, Paul notes that while they claim that all things are lawful, the Christian should not be controlled by anything. We should “refuse to be shackled to anything, even if it might of itself be something that in some circumstances could be useful.”[1] Even though all things are permissible in that all sin has been forgiven through the cross, and we are no longer under condemnation, not all things are beneficial. There is a danger of being mastered by what is allowed.[2]

As the Christian considers this principle, there are many ways this principle works out in everyday life. The text references sexual immorality. We live in a culture that worships sex. Christians often pay no heed to the sin in their midst. When an unmarried couple engages in sexual relationships, the Christian rationalizes that it is natural, loving, and consensual. These actions reveal the control that the sexualized culture is exercising in the Christian.

Certainly, the obvious controlling substances come to mind. Why should a Christian refrain from drug use? While other principles apply to this question, the appeal of drugs stands in the control the chemicals exert over the body. Thus, drug addiction has become the standard among drug users. Perhaps more concerning in the church is the problem of alcoholism. While the Bible does not condemn alcohol outright, the danger lies in the control that alcohol exerts. The Christian must ask, “Will this control me?”

Yet, the challenge this principle supplies travels much deeper. The Christian may rationalize that they do not have a problem with the controlling substances, yet allow food to rule them. They reach a point where they can no longer resist the urge to overeat and enable food to dominate their life. After all, “The stomach is for food, and food is for the stomach.” Food is necessary for life and is lawful. However, when the desire for the pleasure of food rules life, we cede control over our life to the table.

Allow me to finish with a personal testimony of how I worked this principle out in my life. As a teen, I discovered a love for Mountain Dew. Very few people argue that carbonated beverages are sinful. They are certainly “lawful” and most definitely enjoyable. Close to both my home and my job was a convenience store that sold sixty-four-ounce mugs that could be refilled for just a few cents. As a result, I would stop on my way to work and fill my mug with Mountain Dew. Sometimes, I refilled the mug at lunch. And there were days when I would also refill it on the way home after work. Soon, the caffeine in the drink began to control me.

The day arrived when I headed off to play college soccer. A few weeks before my departure, I learned that the team did not allow the players to drink carbonated beverages during the season. Immediately, I recognized that I had a problem. I stopped drinking Mountain Dew and realized how much it exercised control over me. My caffeine withdrawal was an unpleasant experience. More convicting was the realization that I had ceded control of my life to a beverage instead of God. Few would argue that drinking the beverage was a sin. However, it controlled me.

Decades later, I look back on that stage of my life with shame. While I still love Mountain Dew, I have learned that I must carefully avoid its control. For several years, I refused to touch it. While today I will occasionally enjoy a drink of Mountain Dew, I take active steps to avoid its control. I do not keep it in my house. I allow others to keep me accountable and welcome the comments when they see me with it. While it is lawful, it is not best because it controls me.

Just because you can do something does not mean that you should. Suppose that something will control you instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to control you. In that case, Biblical wisdom calls you to refrain. Each person will struggle with different controlling influences in their life. So, a set of rules cannot be foolproof. Instead, the Christian who seeks to make Biblical decisions should learn to ask, “Will this control me?”

[1] Paul Gardner, 1 Corinthians, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018), 278.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 126.