Gnats and Camels

“Pastor, is it right for me to  …?”  I hear that question often from young and old. No one has ever asked me about the ‘rightness’ of murdering anyone. Lying is a little more complicated and some wonder if it’s right to avoid the truth if it protects somebody. That’s a very slippery slope! Questions about sex and pornography get asked of me more these days than 20 years ago. Many wonder about choices involving entertainment, diet, and even how and where they work. It’s a privilege to help a sincere person work through a question about ethics or honoring God. But, often the question is about the finding the minimal compliance- “What choices can I make and avoid crushing guilt?” To borrow a phrase from Tony Campolo, such a question for a true follower of Jesus is an adventure in missing the point! The real question we should be asking is: “how can I live so that I enjoy the full Presence of the Spirit, keep my heart and mind open to Him, and reflect the beauty of Christ to my friends, family, and neighbors?”

Abba-FatherThe Spirit, who lives in us and knows us personally will guide us. His guidance is so much better than rules written by your pastor or church. Christian disciples are always tempted to write rules, for themselves and others, in an attempt to govern the sinful nature. My parents legislated all television out of the house when I was a child. The church I attended had an unwritten code prohibiting many things including use of tobacco and alcohol, attending church, and manner of dress. Each rule probably developed around a good intention, but we still found ways to sin! Human nature being what it is, people find loopholes, ways to excuse themselves or they scrupulously observe the rule while ignoring, completely, weightier matters of the heart. Jesus spoke of rule-keepers who ‘strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.’  Who said he didn’t have a sense of humor?

The Word teaches us that it is not a law that should compel us, but the Spirit who should guide us to lives that are devoted to God. First century Christians were divided in their convictions about dietary choices. Some were convinced that they eat anything, others equally convinced that eating meat that was once part of a sacrifice to idols was sinful.  Did Paul write a rule? No!  He pointed out a principle that remains for us.  “You were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:11-14, NLT)  He pointed out the importance of recognizing the difference between what is permissible and what is in our best interest spiritually. A key question we ask of ourselves in every situation is: in making this choice, am I moving towards Christ or away from Him?

Another principle that guides us in our daily choices as a Christian is our love for others. If our choice is harmful to other Christians, we are choosing wrong.  To those first Christians were arguing about what day was the ‘right one’ for worship, who were making rules about what meat was right to eat, the Spirit said:  “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” (Romans 14:6-7, NIV) “Let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” (Romans 14:13, NLT)

Disciple are you wrestling with what’s right and wrong for you?

First, know the Word!  The Bible is crystal clear that things like greed, injustice, dishonesty, and adultery are unacceptable for Christians. On other issues the Word is silent. We have a Guide. Listen as you pray for the Spirit’s leading. He will lead you to a place where you are able to enjoy the deepest intimacy with the Lord.

Commit yourself to the Law of Love. “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)

Do this, God helping you, and you will never stray from His path.

Here’s the word from the Word, a beautiful invitation to a holy life, rich in love. “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.

If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.

Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?” (Galatians 5:13-18, The Message)

Father, I thank You for the Your Spirit;

Both the correction and the comfort He brings.

Help me, each day, to understand my true needs,

To accept the provision You make for those needs,

And to hear and respond when You call me to obedience.

May I not live fearfully but lovingly,

Openly, never with secrets or lies.

Lead me around the quicksand of compromise,

Onto the solid ground of faith that responds with a ready yes.

May the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

Amen.

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