The Friday feature of the Worldly Saints blog is a reflection on a recent event or topic. The topic could be something taken from the news cycle, popular trend in culture (e.g., movies, music, etc.), a debate on social media, or the like.
The confederate flag is “all the news” right now. As a result of the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that resulted in the deaths of nine people at the hands lone 21-year old gunman, the politicians in the state of South Carolina removed the confederate flag from their government buildings. Other companies nationwide have followed this example and began pulling items from it’s sales inventory: Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, Sears, and e-Bay.
The reason for the sudden controversy stems from the racial baggage that the flag represents. Our President has gotten involved, presidential candidates have shared their opinions, TV newscasters are talking about it, celebrities want their point of view to be heard, etc. And now, Christians have begun debating this reaction.
In my opinion, the decision to remove a flag like this is easy is very simple. And it is not what the flag does or doesn’t represent. In my opinion, the issues comes down to this: it offends people and the Bible is very clear with what we are to do when something that falls into a “gray area” offends another person.
I Corinthians 8 is a great text to consider on issues like this. The Corinthian Church was eating with unbelievers and buying meat in the marketplace and when they ate dinner together and had meat, the questions would be raised verbally or non-verbally: “Where did this meat come from? Should I eat the meat provided for me? Is it going to defile me in some way? If I choose to eat it, will it communicate some kind of allegiance to a false god?”
“Idol food” was served everywhere in society. Some were reluctant to attend such functions for fear of eating “idol food”; others freely ate.
So I Corinthians 8 answers these questions: how can be navigate through the fog of “gray areas”? Or “how do I know how or when to adjust my own actions accordingly in their gray areas?”
Here are 5 questions that can be asked when you are up against a “gray area.” These questions are not directly asked by Paul in I Corinthians 8, but summarize his counsel to the Corinthians with their “gray subject.”
#1 – What is your motivation? (I Cor 8:1-3)
Love is the key to lifting the fog from these “gray areas.” When working through “gray areas,” we have to fight the temptation to selfishly go after our own pursuits or conceits. Paul says that we need to be motivated by love when we address these issues, and love is not self-seeking. It seeks the edification of others.
In Corinth, “weaker brothers” were not ready to eat meat. The question must be asked and answered, “Is your motivation one of loving others and preferring them?” Or, “Is it to try to overpower people with knowledge they don’t have and belittle them along the way?”
#2 – Have you considered what your brother knows? (I Cor 8:4-8)
Some lack understanding. Not everyone has the same amount of “knowledge.” And for those who still believe that a piece of meat offered to idols will defile them, their conscience lacks the information necessary to move on from that.
A person without an informed conscience will not be able to eat such meat, and if they did, they show their weakness and seem to be “defiled.” A weak conscience is an un-informed conscience. The act of eating this meat wasn’t wrong, but the conscience still thinks it is because it has not been properly educated. We will talk more about the conscience next week.
Here is the point: we need to be aware of the level of understanding that our brother or sister has when approaching gray areas. Not only must we check out motives to make sure they are loving, but we must also make sure to understand how informed their consciences are.
#3 – Do you know what your brother’s conscience would say? (I Cor 8:9-11)
Paul says, “Don’t cause another person to sin; don’t do anything that might cause them to ‘stumble’.” A “stumbling block” refers to anything or even anyone that can lead another to sin. It’s like putting a bottle of wine in the hands of an alcoholic and saying, “Drink.” Actually, it can be more subtle than that. It’s like drinking a glass of wine around an alcoholic and asking, “How is your walk with the Lord?” A “stumbling block” is an invitation to sin. Paul says, “Don’t do or be that way!”
In other words, those things you feel the freedom to do are the things you should not do if your weaker brother is not ready to hear or see them. If you watched a movie that someone else won’t watch, because their conscience won’t allow it, you don’t go bragging about how much you enjoyed the movie. If you don’t think someone should kiss before marriage, and your best friend disagrees, don’t judge him and pretend you are holier than him. If someone’s conscience forbids them from dressing up on Halloween and trick-or-treating, don’t have a costume party, invite them over and go out frolicking around the neighborhood. It is an issue of understanding the conscience.
#4 – What would Jesus do? (I Cor 8:12)
See your brother as Christ would. Think about how often Jesus could have disowned the weaker brothers in the disciples, but He loved them to the end. He patiently walked with them, listened to their complaints, heard their misunderstanding(s) of Scripture and prophecy, watched them make foolish statements, etc.
And He never said, “You know what? I made a mistake choosing you. Why don’t you grab that fishing pole you left on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and resume your life without me.” No! Jesus loved them indiscriminately, as he does all of us.
When dealing with “gray areas,” don’t step on toes. Don’t be overly critical. Don’t take the molehills of Scriptures and pretend they are mountains and try to convince everyone else they are mountains. Behave in such a way that would show Christ. Jesus was very harsh and critical of the hypocrites, but he was long-suffering and patient with the weaker brothers.
#5 – Are you willing to limit your Christian liberty? (I Cor 8:13)
What a wonderful conclusion this is! To modernize what Paul is saying: “If you have friends that are abstinent, don’t drink around them. If you have friends that think gambling is wrong, don’t invite them over for poker or to go to Las Vegas with you. If you have friends that believe the KJV is the only translation, use it when they are present. If you have friends who think bringing up Santa Claus at Christmas is wrong, don’t send them a Christmas card of your kids on Santa’s lap. If you have friends who choose a different form of school than you would for your own children, don’t treat those families or children as inferior to your own. If you have friends that believe Sundays should be restful, don’t invite them join you favorite amusement park on a Sunday.”
Paul, who seemed to enjoy meat, said, “I will become a vegetarian at the table of those who can’t eat meat.” The relationships, to Paul, were more important to him than the food. He was willing to our aside his Christian liberties. Be eager to limit your Christian liberty. Humility is putting your liberty aside and considering the conscience and understanding of your brother. Don’t assert your rights over another. Your brother has the right to refuse certain liberties just as you have the right to accept them.
And if we don’t know if they would be offended by something, assume they will! Abstain from whatever! Go ahead and give up all you can until you know them more.
In conclusion, if someone wants you to pull down the confederate flag because it offends them, yank it down! God never commanded us to raise it in the first place!