God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 3

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

3). Will this action encourage my brother or sister in Christ?
Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall. – 1 Cor. 8:13

No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. – 1 Cor. 10:24

Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God… – 1 Cor. 10:32

Paul, for the sake of others, was willing to adjust his life that they might not be hurt or harmed. His brother or sister in Christ mattered more to him than his rights or liberties. This principle is grounded in the “mind of Christ” text of Phil. 2:3-5. For the sake of the body of Christ, your community of faith, “consider others as more important than yourselves.” Paul drives ethics to the gospel and to the cross. The gospel demands that the needs of others outweigh selfish desires. When it comes to wise decision making, a believer in Christ should always have an eye toward a potential weaker brother. John McArthur says, “Right or wrong is not the issue, but offending someone is” (Giving Up to Gain, 5). This principle was an important guide for me as a father. Being blessed by God with four sons, I did not want to do anything that could hurt them, harm them, mislead them or lead them astray. I wanted to live before them, as best I could, in a way that would encourage them to take the high road ethically and morally, and to avoid the “danger zones” that could lead to sorrow and even destruction.

4). Will this action help or hinder my gospel witness?
If others share this authority over you, don’t we even more? However, we have not used this authority; instead we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. – 1 Cor. 9:12

For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law–though I myself am not under the law–to win those under the law. To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law–not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ–to win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, that I may become a partner in its benefits. – 1 Cor. 9:19-23

Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Cor. 10:32-33

This principle is so crucial Paul repeats it at least three different times. He makes it very clear that his ethics are missiologically and evangelistically motivated. He did not allow anything to hinder the gospel from going forth and being heard in the most effective way possible.

Some misunderstand Paul to mean that he is infinitely flexible. However, antinomianism has no place in Paul’s theology, missional strategy, ethics or personal life. He would never say I am free to do anything that I want. He is “under Christ’s law!” To say, “to the thief I became a thief to win the thief; to the drunkard, I became a drunkard to win the drunkard” is utter nonsense and a total misinterpretation of what Paul is saying. Paul is not infinitely flexible; he is not free from the law of Christ that places the souls of men and women at a premium. The insights of D. A. Carson are helpful:

All of God’s demand upon him [Paul] is mediated through Christ. Whatever God demands of him as a new-covenant believer, a Christian, binds him; he cannot step outside those constraints. There is a rigid limit to his flexibility as he seeks to win the lost from different cultural and religious groups: he must not do anything that is forbidden to the Christian, and he must do everything mandated of the Christian…Today that expression, “all things to all men,” is often used as a form of derision. He (or she) has no backbone, we say; he is two-faced; he is “all things to all men.” But Paul wears the label as a witness to his evangelistic commitment. Even so, he could not do this if he did not know who he was as a Christian. The person who lives by endless rules and who forms his or her self-identity by conforming to them simply cannot flex at all. By contrast, the person without roots, heritage, self-identity, and nonnegotiable values is not really flexing, but is simply being driven hither and yon by the vagaries of every whimsical opinion that passes by. Such people may “fit in,” but they cannot win anyone. They hold to nothing stable or solid enough to win others to it! (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 120-21).

The bottom-line: nothing must hinder or obscure the gospel! Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 5: What is the Gospel? The Full Orchestra Rendition

Think of your salvation testimony as a melody being played on a quiet instrument-a clarinet or oboe, perhaps. You play the tune for the Lord and to anyone and everyone who will listen. Now imagine that one day, while engrossed in the joy of playing your simple song, you are joined by an enormous, massive orchestra. And not just an orchestra of dozens or even hundreds, but thousands and tens of thousands-and a choir that is even larger.

Their sudden appearance is overwhelming. What’s more, you realize that they didn’t really join you. Rather, it becomes clear that your melody is actually part of a much larger movement of music-a piece marvelous in its intricacy and genius. At that point you realize that your salvation isn’t just about you; your redemption is part of a plan that encompasses heaven and earth.

Some verses in the Bible highlight the benefits of the Gospel for the individual believer, such as when Paul identifies himself with Jesus (“who loved me and gave his life for me.” Gal 2:20d). Other passages emphasize how the Gospel is producing a special people-the church-for God (i.e. “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for her” Eph 5:25). The Bible makes much of what the Gospel means for individual Christians and the corporate church, and we should too.

But that’s not all the Bible has to say about the subject. Not by a long shot. Time after time, in passage after passage (Rom 9-11, Eph. 1-2, Col 1, and Rev 5, just to name a few), the Scriptures unveil the Gospel’s full orchestra rendition. And what a symphony it is! The Gospel is not just about you and me, or even only about the church. The Gospel is for the nations because it is good news of cosmic proportions (Rom 8; Col 1). The Great Commission Resurgence is a call to hear the Gospel as the ballad of the one true epic of history.

So what exactly is the Gospel?

1. The Gospel is “the good news of the Kingdom” (Matt 24:14). The Gospel must be understood within the grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. God has invaded our sin-darkened world-this is really good news! So the Gospel is the “Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9) because it is the bulletin that God has acted decisively in history, that he has not left us in darkness, and that in so doing is glorifying himself. Often the Gospel is called the “good news of the Kingdom” because it announces that God has arrived in the person of his Son, King Jesus (Mark 4:23; 9:35). The Gospel declares that Christ has begun to establish his Kingdom and will return to fully reign over his dominion. All Creation looks forward to that day (Rom 8:22-25).

2. The Gospel is the good news of victory-over Satan and death. Pictures of Times Square packed with thousands celebrating the end of WWII have become iconic of the giddy relief felt when dark days give way to victory. That is nothing compared to the worshipful celebration of the redeemed (Rev 5:11-14). By his death, burial, and resurrection, Christ made an open spectacle of our implacable enemies (Col 2:15). On our behalf he defeated death and the Devil (1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:9-15) and established his supremacy over all things (Col 1:13-23).

3. The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins. In his discussion of the Gospel in 1 Cor 15, Paul emphasizes that Christ died “for our sins.” The Gospel is the good news that at Calvary Jesus became our substitute and suffered the wrath of God on our behalf. The blood of Christ is both our propitiation and expiation. It both pleads on the behalf of and cleanses the one who trusts him as Lord and Savior.

4. The Gospel is the good news of reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11; 2 Cor 5:18-21). The Gospel announces that God has reconciled himself to us in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the true “good news of peace” (Rom 5:1; Eph 6:15). In sum, the Gospel is the joyous news that God, by and through his Son, acted to redeem all things-including us-to himself. This is the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; Gal 1:7; 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:16).

Yes, the Gospel is about us. But it’s not just about us. It’s not even primarily about us. The Great Commission Resurgence is a call to resist the temptation to think of ourselves as soloists. We are part of the ultimate symphony. What a glorious privilege.

How to Weaken Pride and Cultivate Humility

One of the most convicting and encouraging books I have read in the last year is C. J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness. At the conclusion of the book, Mahaney offers a list of activities to help believer’s weaken their pride and cultivate humility. Though I meditated on the list when I first read the book, I was reminded of it on a recent Sunday when one of our pastors referenced Mahaney’s list during a Sunday School lesson. I thought I would make the list available here as a brief word of encouragement for all of our readers who, like me, are daily waging a spiritual battle against pride and seeking to mortify that most fundamental of sins.

HOW TO WEAKEN PRIDE AND CULTIVATE HUMILITY

A List of Suggestions

Always:

1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.

As Each Day Begins:

2. Begin your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God.

3. Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God.

4. Practice the spiritual disciplines–prayer, study of God’s Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at day’s outset, if possible.

5. Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.

6. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.

As Each Day Ends:

7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God.

8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep.

For Special Focus:

9. Study the attributes of God.

10. Study the doctrines of grace.

11. Study the doctrine of sin.

12. Play golf as much as possible [he wrote it–I promise! NAF].

13. Laugh often, and laugh often at yourself.

Throughout Your Days and Weeks:

14. Identify evidences of grace in others.

15. Encourage and serve others each and every day.

16. Invite and pursue correction.

17. Respond humbly to trials.

[Note: This list is taken from C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah, 2005), pp. 171-72. I would also highly recommend Mahaney’s great little book Living the Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing (Multnomah, 2006). Either book would be an excellent choice to read as part of your personal devotions and the latter especially would also be very useful in a small group study in your local church.]