Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Allowed vs. Expedient

A prevailing belief among Christians is that all forms of pleasure are wicked and must be avoided.  Scripture is loaded with seemingly strict regulations for believers.  The Law of Moses contains 613 mitzvot (commands) which seem to deny Israel of all pleasurable experiences.  Restrictions exist for food, clothing, time, appearance, rituals, sacrifices, and virtually every other area of life.  It's no wonder no one except Jesus could live up to every requirement of God's law.

The apostle Paul, speaking to Gentile believers not acquainted with the law, urged the nations to not concern themselves with many of the law's strict requirements.  Contrary to the Jews, Paul urged his Gentile friends, "Let no one, then, be judging you in food or in drink or in the particulars of a festival, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths, which are a shadow of those things which are impending" (Col. 2:16-17).  For members of Paul's evangel, "All is allowed...but not all is expedient" (1 Co. 10:23).

For Israel, however, the same could not be said.  Having been given the law and expected to follow it, the Jews could not claim that "all is allowed" them.  On the contrary, an awful lot was not allowed them.  As members of Paul's evangel, we bask in our freedom in Christ, thankful to not be held to the same strict standards as the Jews.

Yet a large portion of even Paul's epistles are dedicated to instructing Gentile believers on how to live righteously.  The majority of Paul's letters begin with a greeting, followed by a reminder of the greatness of his evangel, and then a virtual how-to guide for living.  Contrary to the opinion of many, Paul does not encourage debauchery when he reminds us that all is allowed.  He immediately follows that statement with the warning "but not all is expedient."  Our freedom, resulting from grace, frees us from the rigid requirements of the law, but Paul warns that we err when we act on that freedom in a way that is detrimental to our physical or spiritual health.  

Clearly, the biblical answer to our glorious freedom in Christ lies in the appropriate balance between what is allowed and what is expedient (or beneficial).  We are free to murder, but if we wrongfully kill someone we will likely endure misery, guilt, and a life-long sentence on death row.  We are free to be lazy at work, but we will likely end up losing the job which could lead to financial burdens, stress, and, in many cases, divorce.  We are free to act selfishly, but when we do we will face a life with few or no friends.  Discerning what is wise is an absolute necessity for every believer.

Fortunately, few true believers take their freedom in Christ to the extent of committing terrible crimes; but far too many believers live at the opposite end of the spectrum by forsaking their freedom and imposing strict requirements on themselves in an effort to "play it safe" and appease God.  In doing so, they tragically miss out on the many pleasures God has so graciously offered.  Often times, these self-imposed rules are not even biblical.

I've met countless Christians who believe food is for nourishment only and should not be enjoyed as a "sinful pleasure."  They, therefore, eat only foods they don't like too well and eat quickly in order to prevent themselves from enjoying their meals.  Likewise, they refuse to ever drink one drop of alcohol, viewing it as a cardinal sin.  Those same people view marital sex as an act meant only for procreation, so they limit their sex life to one position and don't engage in what they consider to be "inappropriate acts."  Women wear only dresses, often made of a weighty material, and endure extreme discomfort almost daily.  They do all of this in an effort to live up to a perceived code of conduct and to be "right with God."

Ironically, the attempt to "play it safe" is just as foolish as playing it too unsafe, if not more!  It denies the work of Christ in freeing us from the law and pridefully attempts to perfect oneself by personal means.  The married couple who inhibits their sex life should read Song of Solomon!  The woman who is concerned with her diet or clothing should read Matthew 6, in which Jesus Himself says to not be concerned with what one will eat, drink, or wear.  

Paul discouraged drunkenness, but encouraged Timothy to drink wine for optimal health (1 Ti. 5:23).  For Israel, the law of Moses prohibited certain foods but allowed a myriad of others for nourishment.  Song of Solomon depicts a wonderful sexual relationship between Solomon and one of his wives, but in several passages Paul warns against taking sexual desire to the extreme of sexual immorality.

In conclusion, the key in discerning what is allowed and expedient lies in the balance between the two.  Have a glass or two of wine or beer but not to the level of extreme intoxication.  Enjoy sex with your spouse, but don't allow your sexual desires to cause you to be immoral outside your marriage.  Eat what you like, but not so much that you become unhealthy.

While all believers recognize that freedom in Christ is not an approval of endless sin, many defy their freedom in equal foolishness.  As members of Paul's evangel, our mantra should be, "All is allowed me, but I will only partake in what is expedient!" 

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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