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Christian Unity and Divisiveness

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Question #1:  Hi Robert, I know that there are lots of churches today that are worldly and "seeker friendly", as they call it (meaning letting everyone do their own thing on doctrinal matters). There are so many denominations who teach that we should just get along regardless of doctrinal differences, but I think that there may be a danger to this. E.g, if a denomination teaches "baptismal regeneration," or justification by works, it can damn others to an eternity in hell. Many denominations or members within these denominations do nothing to correct these errors because they fear it may lead to disunity. I know that Christ taught that we should be "one," even as He and His Father are one, so how do we do this without disrupting unity? There was this younger fellow who listened to Christian rock and dressed like a hoodlum, and certain fundamentalists chastised him for it. He got upset and left them and told them that they were judgmental and had no love. The fundamentalists told him that they were only abiding by the Bible, and that God thinks that the way this young fellow lived was an abomination to the Lord. How should we deal with such situations within the body of Christ?

Response #1:  You are certainly right that there is much in the NT about the unity of believers and how we are supposed to pursue that unity (e.g., 1Cor.1:10-17; Eph.4:3-13). In all such passages, faith in the truth is what unifies, what unites, what draws together instead of rending apart. To me, that is the key. We are to do our best to be at peace with and cooperate with those who are truly serving Jesus Christ, but we are never told to compromise the truth or our faith – that would be defeating the entire purpose of unity in the first place. In one of our Lord's final prayers we find included several petitions for us to be "one" and for our "unity" (Jn.17:11; 17:20-23), but a primary means of this unity is said by our Lord to be "sanctification by the truth" (Jn.17:17), that is, our acceptance through faith of the "Word of God" (Jn.17:6; 17:8; 17:14; 17:20-21); this is the only way to be truly "knowing" God (Jn.17:20-25), that is, by believing Him and His truth. So without the genuine truth of the Word of God – its knowledge, acceptance, and belief through faith – such unity is impossible. And since the very purpose of Christian unity is to facilitate this process of drawing closer to the Lord through His truth, compromising it "for the sake of unity" clearly has things exactly backwards.

Therefore it seems clear enough that we are to make the truth the instrument of division and inclusion (Matt.10:34; cf. Eph.6:17; Heb.4:12). The first and foremost principle of the truth by which we live is our knowing, believing, and accepting the truth about Jesus Christ (Jn.17:3); therefore at a minimum we are not being commanded to go to great lengths to preserve unity in the case of those who are not genuinely believers, and we certainly are not by such association to add the weight of our authority to those who are in any way corrupting or perverting the message of the gospel and thereby confusing the true way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

So be aware of this, that in the last days there will be difficult times. For [in those times] there will be men (i.e., false teachers; cf. chap.2) concerned only for themselves, devoted to money, egotistic, arrogant, blasphemous, not concerned for their parents, ungrateful, irreverent, implacable, slanderers, uninhibited, savage, despising the good, betrayers, impetuous, megalomaniacal, devotees of pleasure rather than lovers of God, possessing an [outward] appearance of godliness, but [in reality] having rejected its [true] power. From such men turn away.
2nd Timothy 3:1-5

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
2nd John 1:8-10 NIV

Jesus told us that not to stop those who were ministering in His Name because "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mk.9:40; Lk.9:50), but He also said "he who is not with Me is against Me" (Lk.11:23). These passages may seem contradictory at first glance, but in fact are in agreement and actually very useful in tandem in giving us some general guidance about the question you ask. The latter statement of our Lord was made in the context of the Pharisees et al. blaspheming Him by claiming that He was possessed by the devil (and who were thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit): where those who claim to be Christians are in fact either lost or wedded to a system of theology or practice which is leading others away from Christ, clearly we are to take no part lest we "share in the wicked work" (2Jn.1:10-11; cf. 1Cor.5:11).

The latter case is very clear (and falls into the category of absolute separation described in the two passages quoted at length above); anyone who is not acknowledging Jesus is "against Me"; that person is someone from whom we must stay away. However, in the former case, we have to do with a situation similar to the one about which you ask where the person or group in question is not rejecting Jesus outright, but rather not following Him in the same careful way as we are: the disciples were doing it correctly; these other individuals were doing it in a more "free" (i.e., less accurate) way. In that case, these persons, while no role-models to be sure, are as our Lord says "not against us" and so "for us".

Note that in such instances the issue is not "Me" (i.e., Jesus), but "us" whom these theoretical persons are not "against". That is to say, they have not rejected Jesus as the Christ, so are not to be opposed; rather their "issue" is with "us" (not with "Him"); they are "helping" but not walking in a way that is precisely correct (otherwise they would be with Jesus and His disciples, and, in the analogy, they would be pursuing spiritual growth as we are trying to do instead of being off on an less than accurate tangent). So when the issue is not Christ per se because they are proclaiming Christ, but the issue is us, the workers (i.e., us, the stalwart followers of Christ) and what degree of fellowship we should maintain, in that case then even if from impure motives these theoretical persons are giving us a hand (cf. what Paul says at Phil.1:15-18: "whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached"); the work being done could be construed as the Lord's work (i.e., casting out demons in Jesus' Name).

Note well, however, that our Lord does not say that His disciples or we should embrace such people or form close fellowships with them, only that we should not try to prohibit them from doing what they are doing (in contrast to what the disciples had indeed done). It is a far cry from close cooperation and collaboration to the "live and let live" policy that our Lord is setting out here.

Putting all of this together it seems clear to me from scripture that the issue of love and unity on this point of fellowshipping with those of different creeds and organizations is much more concerned with what not to do what to do. This "tolerance-love" is somewhat parallel to the tolerance-love we are to exhibit to believers within our own fellowship who are not very spiritually advanced or who are mixed up on principles that do not rise to the level of exclusion or separation:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
Romans 14:1 NIV

Therefore within our circle we are not to allow differences on non-essential issues to drive people away from our fellowship – but we are also and very importantly not to allow ourselves to brought down to the same inferior spiritual level (and separation is better than regression). And outside of our circle we are not to pro-actively attempt to prevent from invoking Christ those whose Christianity is suspect. But on the other hand, we are certainly not to agree in any way with any proclamations, teachings, or behaviors which run counter to the truth, or join hands with the people who embrace them. And we are not to allow the false beliefs of others to knock us off our stride of pursuing the truth, wherever these false teaching emanate from. Unity is a valuable thing, but it is not to be pursued to the detriment of the truth, for it is the truth that truly unifies in a truly godly way – it is the Spirit's leverage and the fuel behind our Christian hope and love (Col.1:3-8). So let us pursue growth in the truth and the unity that naturally flows from drawing closer to Jesus, but let us never compromise on the truth for any reason, even in the service of so-called unity.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Some of my friends at church would tell me that becoming a Christian or going to church might cause separation from family. They used this passage.

Luke 12:49-53
49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

Is this always true? A friend of mine got saved was fairly young; she wasn't raised in a church and family rarely goes. Her dad is lost and her mom goes like once a week. She tells me that she can't make it without church and told me that she had to miss out on her family to go to church and that it should be the other way around. She had spoken to her pastor about this and her mom has been putting guilt trips on her. She's still trying and have seemed to make some time for church and her family, but it seems as if church or being faithful to God can cause division.

Response #2: 

The principle is certainly true – we can't argue with scripture. How that plays out in our individual lives is another story. We may be blessed to have family members who are even more dedicated to the Lord than we are, or we may have to deal with loved ones who are a definite hindrance to our spiritual advance. It all depends on the personal circumstances the Lord gives us to deal with. Our Lord's words here, while true in principle always, do have a particular application to the end times. In Matthew 10:34ff. our Lord quotes this passage (Micah 7:6) in the context of sending out the twelve whose earthly ministry foreshadows and is paralleled by the ministry of the 144,000 under the auspices of Moses and Elijah (see the link: "The 144,000"). In that time, the division among families and between genuine and apostate believers will be severe, and the pressure on the true believers will be unprecedentedly intense. I think the essential point of this passage is clear: we have to be willing to choose for the Lord and for the Word of God against any and all emotional attachments, regardless of the source. Otherwise, we stand to be compromised in what is really important in this life. Finally, you make a very good point. When one is in a lukewarm environment, being "red hot for God" is indeed a divisive characteristic. One thing about organizations: they tend to bring their members around to the equilibrium of the group, whether that is "hot", "cold", or "in-between" – and with very rare exceptions that generally means cooling off believers who really do want to grow in Christ, progress spiritually, and produce for Jesus in order to win eternal rewards. In our Laodicean age, it is very difficult to do this within any Christian group, since almost all of them are cemented in lukewarmness (only the degree is at issue).

In the One who is our all in all, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

A sister in Christ wrote this on Christian liberty and how it can be abused and I wanted your feedback.

Lately, I've been reading arguments that Christians can do what they want as long as it isn't specifically mentioned as sin in the Bible. I'm told this is called "Christian liberty." We are free from the law through Christ. That means I can smoke, imbibe alcohol, listen to whatever music I want, etc. I think that this Christian liberty of ours is being abused. The common theme I see there is "I." It's what I want. If God doesn't convict me, I'm okay. Yet I wonder why they are so defensive and challenging in their liberty? As I have considered this, I have come to one thing.

I Peter 1:15-16 says, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy."

Holy in the original language comes from a word that means sacred (physically, pure, morally, blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated). That doesn't seem to leave a lot of wiggle room in my behavior; however, we can look at one more passage and find out how God is holy.

Isaiah 6:1-5 says, "In the year that Kind Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. and one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."

The word undone indicates in the Hebrew that Isaiah thought he was going to be destroyed because he saw the living God. He was put to immediate shame for sin in his heart and for the sin of his people, the Israelites. Isaiah was not the same man after this. I dare say that the things he though important before he saw the Lord high and lifted up became as nothing. I think that when we argue for our Christian liberty, we do nothing but argue for our selfish desires. I think we have not seen God high and lifted up. I think we love our casual Christianity a little too much. It's safer so. "

I'm not sure if I entirely agree and wanted a second opinion

Response #3:   

Your friend has a point, though it is not one which I would want to take to all the way to legalism.  Sanctification is refraining from sin as God defines it, not refraining from behaviors which are not sinful just because others are bullying us to do so.

Many people misunderstand what scripture means by the "freedom we have in Christ". It is not freedom from anything so much as it is freedom for something: freedom to follow Jesus and serve Him without the restrictions of the Law of the earlier age. Where freedom is mentioned, there is usually a caveat to this effect:

It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free. So stand fast [in it], and do not again encumber yourselves with the yolk of slavery (i.e., the Law).
Galatians 5:1

For you were called unto freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but be slaves to one another through love.
Galatians 5:13

For thus it is the will of God for you by doing good to silence the ignorance of the ignorant. [Do so] as free people, and not as those using your freedom as a cloak for evil, but as servants of God.
1st Peter 2:15-16

We are given freedom in order to produce for Jesus Christ, not in order to please ourselves or enjoy the world. If we are truly walking as His disciples, putting spiritual growth in first place through diligent study of the Word and helping others to do likewise through our personal ministering, then this freedom is a resource which we are bringing to bear for Jesus in the same way we do with all our other resources (time, money, opportunities, talents, etc.). It is only when we begin to think of freedom as being able to do what we lust to do in our sinful flesh rather than what Christ wants us to do in the application of our spirits that we run into trouble.

In the One who gave up His freedom to liberate us from sin and death forevermore, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:

Hi Bob!

Some of my "friends" are talking negative things behind my back as told by some of my closest friends. They have attitude problems and I pray for them and don't condemn them for their faults. However, they look for faults in me and criticize me when I make one slip up. They act like they have all the answers and I am just some simple minded person who needs to learn to be like THEM. What should I do?

Response #4: 

It sounds to me as if your application is correct – turn the other cheek. However, I might hasten to add that an environment where supposed Christian brothers and sisters are constantly back-biting, gossiping and judging, is hardly a healthy one (Gal.5:15; 5:26; Tit.3:3; Jas.4:11; 5:9; cf. Rom.14:13). We are supposed to love one another, and gossip is most certainly a sin (Prov.20:19; Rom.1:29; 2Cor.12:20; 1Tim.3:11; 5:13; 2Tim.3:3; Tit.2:3; Jas.4:11).

With friends like that . . . maybe the Lord is trying to tell you something.

May the Lord deliver you from the scourge of the tongue.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

I am asking a real true honest question here. I am not trying to ruffle any feathers. I met a person this weekend who is genetically both male and female - it is also known as hermaphroditic. She is a very nice person who helped me find my way to the auditorium, but I guess when she saw the puzzled look on my face she felt compelled to explain her "condition" to me. This little country gal has a few things to learn about life I suppose. Anyway I just laughed it off and said "life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you are going to get." This poor woman has faced a life time of ridicule and discrimination. They even challenged her right to be at a political debate, even though she was clearly on the list as a delegate and had her ID card with her. Those "Frozen Chosen" treated her very badly and she wound up leaving before the debate was over. Did God make a mistake when he created this woman to be as she is? She has children and grandchildren who do not seem to mind. The problem is that she sounds just like a man, with a deep baritone voice, and she has a square jawline and manly facial features and muscular build. She is treated like some sort of freak - Ala the whole Steve/Susan Stanton story - but she did not choose to be this way, she was born this way, biologically, genetically having both male and female anatomical features. Her parents chose to raise her as a female and she has lived her entire 63 years as a female. A person like Steve/Susan Stanton believes in his mind that he is a woman trapped in a male body - but does not have any scientific evidence to bear that out. However the person I met this weekend really does. What do you think about this? What would you do, how would you react if you met someone such as this?

Response #5:   

Clearly, the people who are giving your friend a hard time have a lot to learn about Christian love. One would hope that anyone who claims the name Christian would be able to see the difference between voluntary sin and involuntary circumstances; the fact that some sin can be hidden so as not to cause open offense and that some circumstances cannot be hidden even though they do give (unwarranted) offense does not change this equation one iota. Perhaps this is actually a blessing in disguise, because, clearly, these individuals and their group have shown their true colors, and perhaps sanctified separation is the proper course (I would not shed tears to be free of people who are this hypocritical).

As to the question of unfairness, we know by faith that God never makes mistakes. There are many people in the history of the world who have been born in circumstances and with problems, troubles, difficulties, challenges, oddities, abnormalities, and other such disadvantages – as well as those born with exceptional advantages as the world sees things. Some people die before they even have a chance to choose for or against the Lord, while others are born without the ability to exercise the free will that would otherwise be theirs by virtue of human birth (i.e., anyone who is mentally challenged for whatever reason). But God took absolutely everything into account before the world was made. Those who cannot choose or who die before they can reasonably be held accountable are automatically saved. And we see within the population of those who have been most severely disadvantaged many who choose for Jesus, while we also observe within the population of the exceptionally advantaged many who would never deign to give the Lord a second thought.

So consider your calling, brothers, namely [the fact] that [there are] not many who are wise by fleshly standards, and not many who are in positions of power, and not many of privileged birth [who have been called to Christ]. But God has instead chosen what is foolish from the world's point of view, that He might put to shame the wise. And He has chosen what is weak from the world's point of view, that He might put to shame the strong. And He has chosen what is ignoble from the world's point of view, yes, what is considered completely worthless, of no account whatsoever, that He might do away with what does count [in the world's opinion], so that no flesh may boast before God.
1st Corinthians 1:26-29

As Jesus tells us, "it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle". This demonstrates that what we see as an advantage can be – in the true scheme of things and the divine viewpoint – a significant disadvantage. The same is true in reverse. There are many who are saved or who have turned their lives around for the Lord who would very probably not have done so had they not experienced trouble, problems, setbacks, and disadvantages of various sorts, whether received at birth or occurring later or both. The Lord knows exactly how everything we experience will affect us and exactly how we will respond to everything with which we have to deal. The world inevitably looks at things on the surface, but as Christians we learn to look deeper. This can be hard to do when considering the suffering of third parties, harder when the suffering is of those we love personally, and hardest of all when we ourselves are under pressure and testing. But the truth is that this life is very short indeed, and all of the things that cause tears now will soon disappear forever. When we are with our dear Lord, none of the hardships of this life will affect us ever again. At that time we will fully appreciate in every respect just how true it was and now is that He is "working out all things together for the good for those who love Him". When the subject is any sort of hardship, suffering, or disaster, this truth can require great faith to accept fully, but it is a great blessing to accept it fully now, and leads to the greatest blessings of reward on that glorious day of days.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised, who has in His great mercy caused us to be reborn to a hope which lives through Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, and to an inheritance which will never be destroyed, defiled, or dimmed, but which is being guarded in heaven for us, who are ourselves also being kept safe by God's power and our faith in Him to an ultimate deliverance ready to be unveiled at the end of time. Rejoice in this [salvation to come], even though at present it may for a time be your lot to suffer through various trials so that this validation (lit., "assaying") of your faith [which results from your successful passing of these tests] may result in praise, glory and honor for you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. For this [validation process] has a greater benefit [for you] than [is true in the case of] gold, which, while it is also proved by fire, ultimately perishes (e.g., in contrast to the eternal rewards of faith proved genuine through testing). Though you have never laid eyes on [Jesus], yet you love Him. And though you cannot see Him at this present time, yet you have faith in Him. For this reason you rejoice with an inexpressible joy that bespeaks the glorious future to come, when you shall carry off in victory the ultimate prize – your life's [eternal] deliverance – which is the very purpose and objective of this faith of yours.
1st Peter 1:3-9

In the One who cares for us, no matter what may betide, our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #6:

One of my relatives used to hit me on the head when I was little until I cried if I didn't go to church or refused correction; that was supposed to get me "to conform to the image of Christ". Well, I went to church and eventually my going to church out of fear led me to become interested in church and the word of God. Do you think that was the correct thing to do? or good discipline? I know that sometimes God can use certain things (disasters, brother or sister in Christ, accidents) to help us be disciplined and to be corrected.

Response #6: 

I certainly would discourage this type of activity, whatever the result, intended or actual (especially in the case of children). Legitimate parental influence in the case of children excepted (i.e., reasonable physical punishment that is not capable of producing permanent damage, a.k.a., a good spanking), corporal punishment needs to be left to the state (for serious crimes) and to the Lord. That said, God has unlimited ways of reaching us, and it is not an uncommon testimony among believers to have received prodding from God in uncommon ways – that doesn't recommend or justify the behavior of agents who provide unusual/unscriptural prodding, but it is a demonstration of the fact that God works everything out for good for us who love Him, even things that at the time may seem unfair, unkind, or bizarre.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Hey Robert,

How are you? Over a year ago I sought your advice on getting a tattoo of an ichthys and I found what you said to be very encouraging even though it went against what I wanted to do. So, I didn't get the tattoo :) and today I am SO glad that I didn't. However, I've gotten myself into a situation where I am stuck and I don't know what to do. I know you don't like to give advice and I don't even know you but I have no one around from which I can find these answers. Have you ever done any studies or research on homosexuality among Christians?

If you have time can you help me out a bit?

Thanks,

Response #7:   

Good to hear from you. Believe it or not, I was just recently thinking about that e-mail and wondering if I might have laid it on a bit thick. But you have proved yourself capable of receiving straight-talk without taking ordinate offense – and that is a mark of some considerable spiritual maturity!

As to your question, there is an e-mail response posted to the site which deals with an attempt to suggest that somehow the Bible allows such behavior. In fact, of course, it does not (as any reasonable reading of scripture will easily confirm: see the link: question #3 in "Political Action versus Biblical Christianity"). However, there is a very important distinction which needs to be made on this score, one which most people fail to make properly, Christians included, and one which in failing to make correctly the issue has become dangerously confused in our society, often to the spiritual detriment of all.

All of us are sinners. All of us are tempted to sin. That remains true even when we come to believe in Jesus, even as we are attempting to follow Him without fail up the high road to Zion. Now each of us is different. Sin is a wide-ranging thing which could never be completely defined in a comprehensive way, not even if the Bible were a hundred times as large as it is. As human beings, we are born in sin and wallow in it most of our lives. It is only thanks to the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord that we are saved in spite of our sins. For Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, every single one of them, those of believers and those of unbelievers as well. As a result, sin is not the issue in eternal life; Jesus is the issue. If we put our faith in Him, we are saved in spite of our sin; if we do not, we are not saved, even if we avoid as much sin as we can (of course it's not realistic to expect that we could avoid much as unbelievers, but some have tried, often by limiting what they claim to be sin). Of course if we are following Jesus, we wish to please Him, and that entails turning away from our sinful life even as we grow closer to Him (sanctification); on the other hand, if we delude ourselves into thinking that we can persevere in a sinful life without consequences we soon find out otherwise, for He disciplines those He loves (Heb.12). Persistence in sin in the face of mounting discipline, moreover, tends to harden us against the Lord and His truth. Taken to extremes, this can cause the death of our faith as we turn away from Him in the end – and that end is "worse than the beginning" as scripture says (2Pet.2:20-22). Please see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"

However, as suggested above, there is an important and underappreciated distinction to be made between sin and temptation. That is the main point I would wish to make here, the one that is catastrophically often left out in discussions of this sort. We all are born with "sin in the flesh", that is, with a sin nature. However, we are not all tempted in the same ways, to the same extent in the same things, or by the same things. One person may lust for fame; another may not care about celebrity at all but may lust for money; another may not be too concerned with wealth at all, but may lust for pleasures. And even if we do lust for similar things, we may manifest these responses to temptations in altogether kaleidoscopically different manners. To put the matter simply, what tempts you greatly may not tempt me to the same degree; and conversely what I have trouble resisting may be no great problem for you at all. However we all share in common that in these bodies of corruptible flesh we are going be tempted and tested by the lust of our flesh and the things of the world, a process and a circumstance which the devil exploits at will.

Since there is a difference between temptation and sin, I am not sinning if I am tempted to engage in sinful sexual behavior and yet refrain. On the other hand, if I engage in sinful sexual behavior out of no particularly great temptation but out of curiosity or for money or for any other reason, it is sinful regardless of whether or not it is in line with my natural proclivities. To be blunt, I do think there is an argument to be made that some people are "genetically predisposed" to be tempted more than others in this area of behavior. The fact that such people are tempted to do something sinful is not in itself a sin or a cause for judgment or displeasure from the Lord anymore than the fact that someone who is heterosexual is tempted to heterosexual sinful behavior is sinning if he/she refrains from doing so. It is the behavior that God evaluates and judges, not the temptation. What that means then is that the issue of whether someone is "gay or not gay" or certain attempts in evangelical circles to "cure gays" is not only not the way the Bible couches the issue but entirely misses the point: scripture does not allow for sinful behavior of any sort, whether or not a person is greatly tempted. If we are directed to avoid certain behaviors, we must avoid them, regardless of whether or not we personally feel this to be difficult to do.

Whenever I read a passage which delineates types of sins, Galatians chapter 5, for example, there are always things concerning which I feel I have no problem and no issues; then again there are always things wherein I am aware of a personal problem, at least of a potential nature. We are all tempted in different ways, but we are all held to the same scriptural standard by the Lord: obedience. Now of course we all fail from time to time and we are all very grateful for the forgiveness we have through the blood of Jesus Christ (1Jn.1:9)! Let me also hasten to add here that sexual sin of any sort is very dangerous and particularly warned against in scripture:

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
1 Corinthians 6:18 KJV

(3) Now this is God's will, namely, your sanctification (i.e., separation from sin). [He desires you] to keep away from immorality, (4) and for each of you to know how to keep his or her own vessel (i.e., body) under control in sanctification and honorable conduct, (6) not [giving in] to the passions of lust like the gentiles (i.e., unbelievers) do who do not know God, (7) so that you may not transgress and thereby take advantage of your brother/sister [in Christ]. For the Lord is an Avenger of all these sins as I have warned and born solemn witness to you before. For God did not call you to uncleanness but in sanctification.
1st Thessalonians 4:3-7

Now there is a big difference between failing and repenting of that failure then going to God for forgiveness on the one hand, and on the other of pretending what one is doing is no sin at all, or what is even worse, of seeking to justify our sinful behavior as actually righteous – such things are death to spirituality and can bring about a quick death to faith as well. I know that many apologists for this behavior you ask about complain of a double standard. Heterosexuals have a way to express/release their sexuality, so why can't they? This is in truth a false argument. On the one hand, only married heterosexuals have any non-sinful outlet for their temptations. For the very large number of us who are not married, we are in a comparable situation to someone tempted in the way you relate who likewise puts what Jesus wants ahead of what the flesh desires. Secondly, it is not as if any or all heterosexual marriage is countenanced by the Lord – many believers get into major difficulties by violating the rules on marriage (e.g., we are not to marry unbelievers). Finally, even in marriage, it is not as if temptation disappears. Otherwise, why would so many married people engage in adultery, mental and overt? The reality is, the vast majority of human beings will face sexual temptation for by far the greater part of their lives, regardless of their physical proclivities and regardless of their marital status. This is true of all of us, whether we think of ourselves as "straight or gay", or however we are described or self-described. In true biblical terms, there is more likely a line of progression from one side of the spectrum to the other rather than a strict "either or" set of categories. In any case, God does not categorize us in these terms at all, and that is the truly important point. God looks at the heart, and it is how we respond to Him as individuals and His truth in Jesus Christ that makes all the difference (completely apart from any categorical definition, whether of gender, or class, or race, or nationality, or sexual "orientation"). This world is passing away, and indulgence or lack thereof in the things of this world will not matter for very long. What abides is our response to Jesus Christ – and that will abide forever.

For more on the entire topic of sin (treated very cursorily above), please do consult the following link:

Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin

In anticipation of that wonderful day of resurrection to come when we shall be with Jesus forever.

Bob L.

Question #8:

In scripture, Jesus says "Judge not least ye be judged". It seems many Christians and non-Christians like to throw that around whenever someone might say something. Would you explain exactly what Jesus meant by this. Does He say that we should not judge anyone's actions? And example of this was at work we have a very nice resident, intelligent and very successful and someone said that it was very sad that he has ruined his life with his legal drug use. Another staff said "judge not least ye be judged" and went on to say that we should pray for him not judge him. Is this an example of what Jesus meant? The truth is that this man has indeed become dependent on morphine, methadone and a number of other drugs and his life is often spent in periods of stupor and lethargy.

Thanks for all you help. You are a wonderful resource for us longing for the truth on His word.

Blessings,

Response #8: 

As to "judge not", it is pretty clear from the context of Matthew 7 (judging from the illustration of the mote in the eye, for example), that Jesus is telling us not to condemn others for their behavior but to forgive them instead (cf. Lk.6:37). But we all know this principle from many passages (e.g., the parable of the ungrateful servant). Your question really deals with practical application. This passage does mean that we should not hold grudges against anyone for what they have done to us, nor go out of our way to verbally criticize others when it is none of our business to do so. It does not mean that we should refrain from a correct evaluation of the behavior of others, or that, in a supervisory or like capacity, we are not allowed to exercise proper oversight – far from it. There are numerous passages in the pastoral epistles where the function of the elders/pastors would be impossible without it (and all legitimate authority in life is dependent on the same sort of oversight). What I take these "judge not" passages to mean is that we should not look down on others nor should we cherish grievances against them, nor should we criticize them unduly for no other reason than our own pique (especially to third parties), but we should forgive them as we wish to be forgiven, and pray and work for their salvation and spiritual growth along with that of everyone else in the world. This is what God wants, after all. But that does not mean, for example, that God does not punish outrageous behavior or that He will allow into heaven anyone who rejects His Son.

The same sort of dichotomy applies to us in this regard. We can pray for a criminal even as we report his behavior to the police. We can pray for a drunk even as we refuse to take a ride home with him. We can forgive a noisy neighbor even as we understand correctly that his behavior is selfish and inappropriate (doing so without allowing ourselves to dwell on the issue or be angry, but learning just to let it drop). We are allowed to separate; we are allowed to discriminate; we are allowed to evaluate; and if it is appropriate we are allowed to act in a legitimate way in response to behavior that is unacceptable (as in reporting crime or disciplining a subordinate or correcting a fellow believer out of genuine love, etc.). We can do all this in Christian love and without judgment, leaving judgment to the Lord as far as sin is concerned, and refraining from hate, anger, jealousy, retaliation, vengeance, or the like. I do understand that it is sometimes difficult for immature believers to separate these things out, but those of us who have been "in the Lord and in His Word" for some time understand the difference immediately. To respond to your specific example, if I am not going to be taking action (none of my business or the like), I do try to refrain from verbally analyzing the behavior others for the benefit of third parties; but I certainly do have my own opinions about these things, and when necessary do get involved. I do not consider that "judging" in the sense Jesus is referring to here. People like this who are "trouble" need at the very least to be avoided (i.e., deliberate association with such a person out of a desire to "show I'm not judgmental" would be incredibly foolish), and sometimes they have to be dealt with – whether personally or administratively – for their own sake and for the protection of others. We are supposed to be as wise as serpents at the same time as we are as innocent as doves (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:19; 1Cor.14:20; Prov.14:18). That is the standard, and it is dangerous to get out of touch with either side of it.

Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement! I greatly appreciate them.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

What is your criteria for judging another Christian brother's worthiness of your esteem or respect? What is God's criteria for determining His children's worth? What should our criteria for that be? These questions have been swirling around my brain the past few days, and I'd really love to them answered.

Response #9:   

There are a number of ways to approach this question, but the one I would want to take is the "judge not that ye be not judged" route. Clearly, we are going to like (and love) some people more than we do others for all sorts of subjective, unbiblical, irrational, and very personal reasons. Clearly, our opinions about other people and other believers are going to be far wide of the mark in many cases, because we can't possibly know what is in another persons' heart to the degree of making such close judgments. That doesn't mean that we are not responsible for being "judgmental" to a certain degree for practical reasons (as, for example, deciding on the right church, deciding with whom we may or may not associate, staying away from people who are "trouble", etc.). However, it seems to me that if even Samuel could not figure out whom God had picked out of all of Jesse's sons because "man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart", then it will be very hard for the rest of us to come to know whom God esteems more than others (or less, etc.). Through spiritual common sense and through continued spiritual growth we may get better at this by degrees, and it is true that there are some people who seem to have special "gifts of discernment" in this regard, but even as far as we judging ourselves it is really better to take Paul's advice and "not judge before the time" (1Cor.4:4-6). On that great day of days, Jesus will make clear whose work has been golden, and whose has been stubble.

In hopes of refining our efforts more and more, day by day.

Bob L.

Question #10:

Thank you so much for helping me and providing me with answers. I forwarded your reply to get a second opinion . He essentially stating that there are times when we're to judge.

"Matthew 7:1-5 (of which verse 1 is too often quoted out of context) is teaching us not to judge hypocritically - it is not teaching us to forbear from judging at all. Other verses teach us to judge righteously, to judge and prove (ie. test) all things, to judge by the Word of God (ie. grow in our discernment). The passage about Samuel was stating he could not tell someone's spiritual condition based on their physical characteristics - like height, weight, or physical build (note I did not say physical appearance - there is much we can tell by someone's appearance: long hair on men indicates shame and rebellion, as does short hair on women; immodest clothing and the attire of a harlot indicate clothing that is not right in God's eyes - and often indicates sensual living; tattoos and piercings indicate worldliness, rebellion, and often paganism - at least when first received - the tattoos may have been put on during a rebellious period that they later repented of, but are now stuck with the tattoo like a scar that won't go away; etc.). And yet we are forced to make judgments every day. We have to choose whether someone is behaving in a way that is good for us to be around or not. So, obviously, choosing not to judge is leaving something out. What might that be?"

Do we have the right to judge as he has stated?

Response #10: 

I don't see any real disagreement here. It is clear that we have to make certain decisions as I said in my last e-mail. But I don't see a need for us to set up some personal matrix whereby we assign everyone we know or meet a particular score (as if we were able to keep score). We have to make choices about whom to associate with and whom not, about churches, about subordinates, about any number of things, and the scriptures give us good guidance about such matters. But where there is no necessity for judgment, better not to judge.

In the One we will stand before to be judged, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Is it wrong to judge others? I know that some Christians say that this person or that person is not saved? but how do we determine that? Because God only knows the hearts of people. The bible states that we shouldn't judge unless we will be judged and that we are also to use righteous judgment. So how do we judge others?

Response #11:   

On this one, I think it is more an issue of Greek versus English vocabulary. Clearly, we have to use our discernment in this life for many things, and that discernment and evaluation of possible or probable realities very often has to apply to people. I believe the type of "judging" we are commanded to refrain from is the attitude of malicious condemnation of others expressed in our hearts whose counterpart would be slander or "bad-mouthing" when expressed with our lips. I think it would be impossible not to see someone's conduct and form a biblically informed opinion about their likely spiritual status. But as long as we are not bearing a grudge, or hating them, or cursing them in our hearts or with our mouths, evaluating "without pronouncing judgment" is in my view not being disallowed by these scriptures. Jesus told us to be "wise as serpents" even as we were "innocent as doves" (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:19; 1Cor.14:20). Keeping an open mind about people, seeing them as God sees them, with a loving attitude, wanting them to be saved, wanting those saved to grow spiritually and stay spiritually safe, having their divine interests in mind instead of slipping into seeing others from our own selfish and self-serving point of view, requires the employment of a certain amount of evaluative discernment. The key it would seem to me is keeping our sin nature out of the mix. To the extent that our thinking, speaking, and behaving is motivated and controlled by the Spirit and has the true best interests of those concerned in mind from the divine viewpoint, to that extent our evaluation is not judgmental. But to the extent that our thoughts, words, and actions come from our "old man" and are characterized by envy, jealously, antipathy, anger, ego, self-centeredness and the like, to that extent we most probably are entering into the very judgment that our Lord has forbidden.

Hope this helps – feel free to write me back about this.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #12:

I have a problem understanding this passage on "avoiding the appearance of evil". The problem I have is with the word "appearance". I can have a particular appearance or I can make an appearance. When said differently, I can have the appearance that I am overweight, or I can make an appearance at the YWCA. So 1 Thess 5:22 could be implied as avoid everything that looks evil, or it could imply abstain from evil every time it appears. English aside, which if these makes most sense contextually?

14Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
15See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16Rejoice evermore.
17Pray without ceasing.
18In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19Quench not the Spirit.
20Despise not prophesyings.
21Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22Abstain from all appearance of evil.
23And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With the KJV's structure here, it's easy to see this as a simple list. Until we get to Verse 21. Two statements are combined in one verse. Presumably they go together. We all know the verse numbers were not there original, so read it without verse divisions.

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the part which is relevant: Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.

These seem to go together contextually. Actually, the whole passage does, but specifically, we see a call with regard to prophesy to prove all things, hold onto the good abstain from the evil. I have been told that this is called making complimentary statements. The two statements compliment each other. Hold onto the good, abstain from the evil. There is some inferred evidence as well. As a whole, we find God not concerned with appearances (man looks on the outward, God looks on the heart, etc. ). The only time we see a call for Christians to avoid certain things for appearances sake is in the company of a weaker brother. (Rom 14). We see Jesus spending time with sinners, prostitutes, etc. In those times, did he take on the risk of appearing evil? Certainly the Pharisees thought so and accused him of such. So I do not think that the theory of not looking like you are evil is without scriptural merit. There are specific reason to as in the case of a weaker brother or with pastoral discussions on being above reproach in Titus, etc. But I do not think this is a proof text for that principle. It would seem this is one that is so often quoted because it is simple, but quoting it, as have done for so many years, is really doing a disservice to the actual merit of the text. What do you think?

Response #12: 

Let me first congratulate you on a very well thought out investigation of this issue (I especially like your linking of the two commands). To answer your question, I don't think this verse is saying anything at all about a person's "appearance", but is instead talking about "how things appear" to us after careful scrutiny. This prohibition as you know comes in a list of exhortations and commands which I would adjudge as beginning with verse 12 "So I ask you, brethren . . . . . ", and ending with this prohibition about which you ask. Now there are some groupings in this set. Since verses 19 and 20 are both prohibitions with an expressed negative (i.e., Greek me/, equivalent to our English "Don't!" – there may also be a conjunction here; the Greek de/ ("and/but") would also suggest we take these three together, although it is difficult to say from the manuscript Aleph whether the addition is contemporary. Therefore I would see "abstain" in verse 22 as going together with both of the commands in verse 21, and with the first one, "carefully evaluate everything", as being the primary command, then "do hold onto the good" and "do hold off from (the bad)" being the opposite ends of the spectrum. That is, what we should and should not do what we do as a result of "carefully evaluating" everything.

The verbs in this pair of commands are both from the same root verb (Greek '/echo, to have or hold), so that the parallelism here is very deliberate on Paul's part and is also very obvious to anyone paying attention to the Greek (i.e., his 1st century listeners would not have failed to see the deliberate connection). In such cases, we can often use the two sides in a pair to help explain the other side. By "hold onto the good" or "onto what is good" we clearly have a broad command. That is to say, Paul is not telling us to find something "good" and physically take hold of it. Rather, he is commanding us to 1) figure out what it is we ought to do (as a result of the prior command to carefully evaluate everything in our Christian lives), and 2) "hold onto it" once we've found it. This would include, for example, maintaining good habits in Bible reading, Bible study, attending to Bible teaching, growing by believing and applying the Word, passing spiritual tests by trusting Jesus, and ministering to others according to the gifts we have been given. In short, "hold on" assumes we have figured out what we should do in our Christian lives (having first carefully evaluated it in every way), and commands us to maintain this correct course once we have. At this point, it would seem a little banal for Paul to merely say something like "and stay away from everything you should stay away from", so in good Greek style he varies the construction slightly. This is a Greek equivalent to something similar we have in English. If I am writing something formal, be it an essay, or an article, or a novel, or what have you, I would be very reluctant to use a particularly recognizable word or phrase too often in a single context. For example, I love to say "in fact", but I would not want to say this twice or three times in a single paragraph (unless it was to make a particular point through deliberate repetition: i.e., the figure of speech called "anaphora").

But there is "in fact" a slight variation of meaning here too that needs to be addressed, and this gets to the meat of your question. The essence of what Paul means here by saying "hold off from every appearance of evil" is indeed "just as you have done on the positive side of things, now that you have figured out what you should not be doing in your Christian walk, so also keep on refraining from doing what you know you ought to stay away from". But Paul puts this in a very, very emphatic way. The word "appearance" you are correct has a variety of meanings and applications in English, and the Greek word it translates, '-eidos, is similarly flexible. Now '-eidos comes from the aorist root of '/orao, the Greek verb for "to see". Since the subject here is the average Christian, and since this is a command which that subject must obey, the "appearance" is best related to the subject's actions. What I mean by this is that the "appearance" here is how things "appear to you" (rather than how you appear to others). So this is an emphatic command to stay away from anything that is not demonstrably "good" or might in any way be interpreted or seen as "evil". To put this in contemporary English, I believe what Paul is saying is as follows: "Take pains to carefully evaluate everything you are involved with. If it is truly good, then hold onto it. But if it even looks like it might be bad, then stay away from it."

Stay away from anything that [even] looks [like] evil.
1st Thessalonians 5:22

In other words, if we are in any doubt about whether a particular behavior, or course of action, or association is evil or not because to some extent it "looks like" it may well be, then we should be safe rather than sorry. Putting things this way takes away the justification for our natural tendency to give our self-indulgence the benefit of the doubt.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not [even] make any plans for carrying out the lusts of the flesh.
Romans 13:14

And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
Jude 1:23 KJV

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

 

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