A Christian friend recently described to me a course of action he was planning to take on a particular matter. His reason for choosing this path was that he felt it was the least likely to give an appearance of evil or put a “stumbling block” in another’s way, though none of his considered alternatives would have been contrary to God’s written Word. He presented this reason as an absolute maxim for determining a believer’s proper course of action in such matters.
There are certainly times when the most loving thing to do is to avoid that which might cause any kind of mental challenge for others even though the considered action is not actually improper, but I must disagree that the Scriptures teach us that this is always the correct path. Many very sincere Christians spend entirely too much time being overly concerned about what other people might think.
A primary record used to validate this line of thinking is in 1 Thessalonians 5.
1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. [KJV]
Nearly all English versions other than the King James Version translate this more accurately as “Abstain from every kind [or form] of evil.” I believe the King James Version is generally more true to the Greek text than the more modern versions, but this is one where the more modern versions got it right and the KJV did not. The Greek word (eidos) refers to the appearance or shape or form of a thing. The reference is to the actual manifestation of the thing, not to what it “appears” to be as opposed to what it is.
Here’s the deal, It is absolutely NOT possible to avoid all that someone, anyone, might construe as evil. No matter what you do or do not do, SOMEONE is going to think it is evil. Align yourself with candidate “A” for whatever political office. Certain of the followers of candidate “B” are going to think you have gone beyond poor judgment and have actually perpetrated evil. Align yourself with candidate “B” and you will get the same response from some of the candidate “A” camp. Avoid politics altogether and back no one. There will be those who will think you are committing evil by refusing to participate in the process. If we could avoid everything that is actually (and not just looks like to someone) evil, shouldn’t that be enough?
The other primary argument for abstaining from whatever might be objectionable to someone else is the admonition to not put a “stumbling block” in a brother’s way. This is a legitimate consideration, but not as an all-encompassing maxim for all situations. Let’s consider this issue.
Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
The context here is how to deal with those who are “weak in the faith.”
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Romans 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities [weaknesses, not necessarily illness] of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
The section between these two records deals with relations between weaker and more mature believers. One person believes he may eat all things. “Another, who is weak” (Romans 14:2) limits himself to herbs. Each person makes a call for his own life and shouldn’t judge the other. Paul goes on to give another example. One person esteems one day above another. Another person esteems every day alike. Fine. Don’t judge each other for the decision you each make (Romans 14:5). But if the more mature believer who more fully understands the liberty he has in Christ (as per Galatians 5:1), does something that gives the weaker brother head problems then he is not walking in love. That is the basic essence of this section. We that are strong should help the weak rather than please ourselves. The “us” of Romans 15:2 above refers back to “we…that are strong” in verse one. The “neighbour” of verse two is the weaker believer of verse one, not everyone in the world. We that are strong are to please the weaker believer “for his good to edification,” not necessarily for whatever it is he thinks we should or should not do. Sometimes we must temporarily yield to his weaknesses as we wait for him to more fully hear us later. It is always the goal, however, and more “for his good to edification” to teach him the way of God more perfectly rather than yield to his weaknesses.
A similar record occurs in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Again, we are dealing here with relations with weaker brothers. We are to avoid wounding their “weak conscience.” The situation is a little different than the one in Romans. Whereas in Romans 14 the weaker brothers are offended, here in Corinthians they are emboldened to do what the more mature believers are doing. They do not, however, really believe in their hearts that it is OK. Their weak conscience is wounded. Both situations are referred to as a “stumbling block.” We are to avoid being a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. But isn’t it the goal to help them mature and grow up? Are we forever to cater to their weaknesses and to let the least mature among us set the standards of behavior? Consider these words by the Apostle Paul (by revelation).
1 Corinthians 4:3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. [NIV]
1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Galatians 6:12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
So which is it? Don’t let anyone judge you (It’s none of their business), or do whatever it takes to not offend? When people criticized Paul for what he ate and drank, and for “leading about a sister”, and for forbearing working, his response was not to apologize for having put a stumbling block in their paths. He confronted them for being critical of him. Yet in 1 Corinthians 8 he says that if eating meat will make his brother to offend, he won’t eat meat as long as the world stands. The answer to this apparent conflict lies in where the other affected believers are coming from in their minds. (And these records deal only with dealing with other believers, not with the unbelieving. There is no pleasing them.)
As pointed out earlier, the “stumbling block” thing applies to those who are weak, or at least weaker, in the faith. Not everyone who holds a less informed view of the Scriptures is in this category. If someone is born again, but has not been properly taught, he is weak in the faith. If someone is new to the faith and hasn’t yet had sufficient time to fully assimilate much knowledge of the liberty he has in Christ, he is yet weak in the faith. But there comes a point when he is responsible to grow up.
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
If one has been properly taught, but refuses to believe what he is taught, preferring rather to promote another doctrine, a more legalistic one, his legalistic views are not to be catered to.
Galatians 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Paul wasn’t all that thrilled with those whom he called “false brethren” who came to spy out his liberty. He didn’t subject himself to them.
Galatians 2:3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
There are those who have laid down their own rules outside of God’s written Word for what behavior they accept or reject. Your violation of any of these rules might well be viewed by them as evil. Are we to cater to every such self-proclaimed authority? Of course not. We give some slack to new or otherwise ignorant (not willfully ignorant) believers, but there are people who are not in this category. They are just plain heretics, having been taught sound doctrine but having rejected it, they seek to control the lives of others. The Scriptures do not tell us to not offend them. They tell us to “reject” such a one after the first and second admonition, not comply with whatever he is expounding so that we not offend him.
Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;
As a side note, “reject” does not mean to make a public example of by tar and feathering and running out of town. One just doesn’t condone the heresy either explicitly, or implicitly by hanging out with such a one and complying with whatever it is he is promoting. It doesn’t mean the individual is to be barred from all fellowship meetings, never spoken to again, etc.
Paul was willing to be all things to all people so that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), but the goal was to save some, not live his life in continual subjection to those who reject our God. The Jews required a sign, but Paul preached Christ crucified. It was to them a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23), but it was what they needed to hear.
It isn’t loving, of course, to go out of one’s way to cause head problems of any kind for anyone, believer or unbeliever. I’m not promoting any such thing, but we believers have the right and the liberty to live our lives in accordance with God’s Word without constantly dwelling on what other people might think of whatever little decision we might make.
Let’s examine an example of how this plays out in practical Christian living. Man exists to worship, serve, and love God, not vice versa; God does not exist to serve us. The earth and all its fullness with its plants and animals exists to serve man. Many Christians have this backwards. They think we are here to serve the earth, rather than the earth serving us. And though they would never say it in so many words, they view God as One Who exists to care for us, rather than our serving Him. God doesn’t belong to us. We belong to God. We don’t belong to the earth. The earth is here for us. The animals exist to provide our food and clothing and whatever else we might need from them. These concepts are easily documentable if one goes to the Scriptures and ignores current “PC” whatever. There are, however, Christians who believe we humans are co-equal (at best) with the animals.
Question: what is my wife to do with her fur coat? She loves it, but there are those who would be greatly offended to see her in it and contemplate how many cute little bunnies (no, it isn’t mink) lost their lives so she could have it. Does she just leave it in the closet because wherever she might go there could be someone who would be offended? Let’s say we have friends who are new believers. They have invited us over for dinner. We know the coat will be offensive to them. Does she wear it anyway, hoping it will open a door for Biblical discussion from which they will learn a better-informed perspective from God’s Word on the matter? Does she wear it only when she is reasonably certain that the only people present will not be offended? Does she set aside any thought of what anyone else might think in whatever situation, because she knows she is at liberty to wear the coat?
I will be looking forward to your thoughts (your Biblical reasoning) on this after having read this article. I will comment also, but would like to hear from you first.
God bless you all.