Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Word, Godly Counsel, and Personal Discernment

Just yesterday, I got an e-mail like many I've received over the years...

  • Do you think it's OK for a mom to work part-time?
  • Can my husband and I engage in oral sex?
  • Is it OK for a Christian couple to watch ____(a particular movie or TV show)____?
  • Should a Christian couple use birth control? What kinds?
  • Should we buy a Mac or PC?
OK, I made that last one up.

Let me say, I understand and affirm the desire to seek counsel and input from people you know or trust. Proverbs says again and again in various ways that it is wise to seek counsel. In life, it is extremely likely that we will encounter situations where we don't initially know what to do, and where Scripture seems to not clearly outline one decision or another. We all reach out and want input when we hit situations or decisions that we feel uncertain about, or that the Bible doesn't explicitly talk about... so I'm not condemning the desire for input, and certainly not pointing the finger at those who have written to me.

But I do want to share some thoughts from the sermon we heard today at church. I think these are helpful ideas as we think about issues of conscience.


#1- Listen to God's Word
When we consider if we can do a particular thing, we should always --first-- be counseled by God's Word. Jesus Christ is our master, not men.

The pastor pointed out this morning the two ideas, held in tension, that:
  • we are under grace, and
  • a child of God is not free to indulge in sin.
Both are true. We are no longer under the law, and yet we are to have hearts fully submitted to God. Our "law" is love for Christ, and it constrains us to obey Him, and to love others.

#2- Be sensitive to the weaker conscience of other believers.
The second thing he said was to be considerate of the weaknesses of others.

Here is the interesting part of this portion of scripture (Romans 14): throughout this chapter, the one who is free is the stronger brother. The one who is bound by his convictions or conscience is the one who is considered "weaker" in this passage. So if we feel free to wear tank tops, go to public schools, drink wine, send a daughter to college ... basically, indulge in any disputable/non-eternal activity that is not explicitly written in Scripture one way or another... that is fine, but we are not to seek to condemn the constraints/restrictions of another person's convictions.
"By your freedom, don't destroy your brother for whom Christ died."
So if we feel free to watch a particular movie or TV show, that may be fine, but we ought not flaunt that in front of a couple who has very strict boundaries set for themselves in the area of entertainment.

A Few Clarifying Questions:
Finally, he offered these questions for the believer who is evaluating a particular issue or idea.
  1. Does this violate God's commands or God's Word?
  2. Can I offer thanks to God while I do this activity?
  3. Would I do this if Jesus was physically here with me?
  4. Can I do it in faith? (Romans 14 says whatever is not of faith is sin.)

I think these are helpful, clarifying questions. Again, different genuinely Christian couples/individuals may come to different conclusions on the same issue, even with these questions.

The Bible says we will each give an answer to God, that we will each give an account of our lives, so we should not go against our own conscience. Scripture also says that wives are each to submit to their own husbands. So I don't need to submit to your husband's personal convictions, and you don't need to submit to my husband's, but we do each need to submit to our own husbands. This is where it can be problematic offering advice/input openly in a blog or website setting. It's a fine line to try to walk, to be transparent in sharing personal stories or convictions, whilst always upholding the authority of Scripture, and freedom in Christ for others to be constrained by Scripture & the Spirit inside each believer-- not by the words of some random blogger or author.

I love to encourage women to seek God and love Scripture... and am happy to correspond with other women via e-mail... but I pray that my words will never constrain where Scripture frees, or loose where Scripture constrains.

God be with us all as we seek to be discerning, wise women!


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