by W. Jerry C
Believers today live in an age of compromise. That does not mean, however, that they should compromise God’s standards. God’s Word does contain principles for helping one to determine right from wrong.
Society today seems to be realizing that modern civilization has produced a monster which threatens to devour everyone. Economically, politically and environmentally this monster produced by man’s “intelligence and learning” has gotten out of control. Nowhere, however, has the influence and effect of this “wild beast” been more devastating than in the moral realm.
The problem is twofold: Not only is there a widespread moral decline among the populace as a whole but, even worse, Christians (who actually set the moral standards for any society, according to Matt. 5:13-16) are no longer as certain as they once were about what is right and wrong. Moral confusion is the order of the day. The ethics and morals of two generations ago no longer seem relevant. It is true that people today face daily circumstances and situations which were never encountered by previous generations. But black was black, and white was white back then, with nothing in between. In contrast, many today maintain that black and white habe both merged into an ever-present “gray” so that even Christians begin to wonder if there are any absolute moral standards. Rathet than standing up for what is right, they go right ahead and conform to the world as an easy way out.
Is there no way out of this moral confusion? Are there no guidelines by which believers may determine right from wrong? The answer is an unqualified yes! God’s Word is quite plain concerning the major elements of morality, and—for those who really want to know right from wrong—God gives them basic principles by which they may test every situation or decision. Seven of these principles are found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians—a letter especially applicable to today, as it pictures the church in the midst of an immoral world.
Will It Profit the Believer?
In I Corinthians 6:12, Paul made a startling statement: “All things are lawful for me.” Did Paul imply that a Christian can do anything he pleases under certain circumstances? Of course not. As always, one must interpret the Bible by its context. In previous verses Paul carefully pointed out that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God… Neither fornicators, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (vv.9, 10).
Contrary to modern opinion, certain thing is always wrong—they always have been, and they always will be. By “all things” here, Paul obviously refers to things which are not covered by these categories—things which are not specifically covered in God’s Word.
The first principle for testing doubtful activities is found in the rest of Paul’s statement: But not all things are profitable” (v.12). The word “profitable refers to those things which can encourage and cultivate growth in the Lord, whether physical, spiritual, mental, emotional or moral. The abuse and neglect of the body which was practiced by some during the early church era, for example, may appeared to profit the spiritual nature, but it actually harmed both body and sprit and was therefore, wrong (see also Col.2:20-23).
Will it Gain Power Over the Believer?
Paul continued, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Cor.6:12). This refers to anything which can have power, authority or influence over the believer—anything which is habit-forming. However, even things which are good in themselves may become habit-forming. Moses, for example, became so accustomed and adjusted to the role of shepherd that he was reluctant to exchange his peaceful and pastoral life for a life of public service and exposure (see Ex. 3:11; 4:1-18). Believers too may become so settled in a particular place, position or attitude that they are unwilling to change as the Lord directs. Anything which has more influence or authority over a Christian than the Lord Himself should definitely be avoided.
Will It Harm Others?
Christians must realize that their lives are not lived in a vacuum. Their actions affect the lives of other people as well as themselves. Paul warned in Me Corinthians 8:9: “Take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Paul’s argument in this section dealt originally with the rightness or wrongness of eating meats which had been offered in sacrifice to heathen idols, but the principle involved is timeless. The point is this: If I do something which another views as sin—even though I do not regard it as such myself—then I may be causing irreparable harm to this individual. One should have Paul’s attitude—he was willing to refrain from any activity—even though it might be perfectly proper in itself—that would cause his brother to be harmed in any way (see v.13).
Will It Hinder the Gospel?
“We endure all thing,” stated Paul, “that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ” (9:12). Paul dealt in this chapter with his willingness to give up a perfectly legitimate right—gaining his income solely from preaching (v. 14)—rather than hinder the gospel. Each believer must similarly test every aspect of his life: How will this affect his testimony as a Christian? Will it encourage and advance, or hinder, the progress of the gospel? Will this activity—seen in his life by those who know that he professes Christ as his Saviour—cause people to desire to know the Saviour, or will it drive them from Him?
Will It Profit Others?
At first glance, Paul’s fifth principle seems identical to his first: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable” (10:23). There is an important detail here, however—the words “for me” found in 6:12 are omitted in this verse. There Paul was referring to that which was profitable for himself; here (as the context reveals in verse 24) the emphasis is on that which is profitable for others. Will this activity which I am contemplating—or already practicing—be in the best interests of other, both Christians and non-Christians (v. 27)? If not, it should be halted or left undone.
Will It Edify Others?
The second part of the verse contains the other side of the same coin: “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (10:23). To “edify” means literally to “build up” and is applied both to literal buildings (Matt. 7:24) and to the “spiritual building” of the Body of Christ (I Pet. 2:5). Here the test is whether or not one’s activities definitely and positively work toward the up building of other individuals in the Lord, increasing their faith and bringing them into a closer personal relationship with Him. There are two things in particular which the New Testament points out as having a definite edifying effect: the Word of God (see Acts 20: 32) and Christ like love (see I Cor. 8:1).
Will It Glorify God?
The final principle is perhaps the most searching of all: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31). A believer should ask himself, Will my life, like Paul’s cause others to glorify God because of me (see Gal. 1:24)? Or will it be said of him, like certain ones of old, that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of” (Rom. 2:24) him? Tragically, the lives of many Christians today cause the world to regard Christ and Christianity with disdain and ridicule (se also I Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5).
This test emphasizes the fact that one’s motives and attitudes are just as important as his actions. This principle also warns against relating the test only to direct Christian ministry or service. Activities—from washing dishes to digging ditches to reading a book—can be carried out in such a manner that God is either honored or blasphemed. A lady in our church, for example, has lived the last 20 years in a cancer-ridden, pain-wracked body. Yet her sufferings—which could have caused her to become bitter and complaining—have actually glorified the Lord because of the spiritual strength and faith which she radiates even in the midst of her pain.
Another example is the worthy lady of Proverbs 31:1-31, who approached her daily tasks with such an attitude that everyone—herself, her husband, her children, her neighbors—was helped, and it was to the glory of God!
These seven principles divide into three groups. One’s every action is to be weighed by its effect on himself (the first two), on other (the third, fifth and sixth), and on God and the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ (the fourth and seventh). Every activity which is not decent and honest (see Phil. 4:8) and cannot be carried out in these ways should definitely be avoided by the Christian seeking to do God’s will.