Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I'm going to take a mini-break from the series I'm doing and address something other than the "Maps" posts today. 

Every Christian ultimately finds themselves at one time or another facing some issues of right and wrong or difficult choices [ethics or behavior] that are not clearly addressed in scripture. Some things are straight-forward in what is said about them, it is true But for some issues the right or wrong or the who or what of them is not clear at all. Because of this, three categories have been developed by people who do such things [theologians/philosophers perhaps]  that help clarify the differences in some things as to the right or wrong of them for believers. I've found these categories helpful in my own journey.

Issues clearly addressed by scripture are classified as "Black and white." No doubt about adultery, stealing, lying, and a ton of other things being wrong. It doesn't make EVERYTHING about these issues clear, but in principle, they are black and white. For instance, stealing is wrong if for no other reason than the Law of Moses says so. [Exodus 20:15]  But the New Covenant declares for the Church that we are to"steal no more."  [Ephesians 4:28]  No one debates that stealing a million dollars from a bank is wrong. By the same principle, stealing an apple from a fruit stand is wrong also. We might argue over the punishment being different for the two things, but that is arguing over the consequence of an action, not the principle. Stealing of either remains a wrong thing to do. That's easy enough.

Then there are those Issues that are cultural instead of universal in application [a post within itself]  or maybe are just of a personal nature and can only be classified as "Gray areas." These would be things like the use of wine, greeting with a holy kiss, or even whether someone serves their country on the battle field in a time of war. When scripture isn't clear about such matters, and they are NOT all that clear, it usually helps us if we're willing to evaluate motives in the doing of those kinds of things. Gray issues also can prompt us to dig deeper into God's word to find applicable principles that might help us make an informed decision rooted in faith. But that can be a bit precarious at best and that's why being careful to not lift a verse out of context to get a word of direction about matters is a must. If the scriptures are not clear, however, as to yes or no in the doing of something, the WHY I would do or not do that thing can be a helpful guide since WHATEVER we do, we are to do it as unto the Lord. An example....

Several years ago I came to see something of an acceptance of my dad. He was an unbeliever most of his life and was a smoker, yet he nonetheless honored our home by not smoking in it...ever.  He would go out into the back yard and sit alone...smoking. That was alright. What wasn't alright was my attitude about him and his smoking. Smoking is not a right or wrong thing textually since the scripture is silent. Medical arguments, health, our body being a Temple, [though I wouldn't press this if one tends to over eat]  and other logical reasons__ NOT TO__ may abound. But my disdain of him because he did smoke was wrong regardless. I didn't say it, but he was no dummy. He knew of my disdain. I reeked of it. I've now come to see that whole thing was a gray area because, as I said, the scriptures are silent about it. He died in 1971.

One day, I did what I know is a peculiar thing. By myself, I fired up a cigar, outside on my screen-in porch, in repentance of my disdain and in honor of my dad, as I pictured him sitting with me. He died in 1971 as I said, and it was now 1998, but here I was, me and a cigar. I even began to sing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." [What a blessing the memory of my dad and a moment like this was to me.] I began to weep and pray a prayer of rejoicing. 

Now someone may question whether it's OK or not for a Christian to smoke an occasional cigar, but my "why" in doing it that day was the key for me.  [I'm not talking about being addicted to nicotine, that crosses a clear line, at least it seems to me, as does being addicted to food or sex or religion.]   By the way, my dad came to know the Lord a couple of years before he died in 1971, so I'll see him again one day which is pleasing to me beyond words. I still celebrate him being my dad on occasion___if you get my drift. Forgive the simplistic nature of the illustration but it was real for me.

Then there are those issues which just simply are not addressed by scripture and which are left to personal judgement completely. Things like whether to go to this college or that college, take this job or that job. These are areas that those who decided such things called the ADIAPHORON issues. Adiaphoron, as an adjective meaning neutral, indifferent, neither right nor wrong in essence. God's word does not speak to the "how"  to fulfill the will of God in specific adiaphorons such as these.  Who to marry, [though "in the Lord" is a clear directive] the college we should attend, the local church we are to attend...or not attend... are things that are adiaphoron in nature. These things are lived out within our freedom in Christ. He doesn't have a magic will either which we are to fear missing, as if to miss it would cause us to miss God's best for us. 

So there is freedom for us to choose the way in which we follow a direction but we're to always reflect our faith in Him. That freedom is lived out in confidence concerning His Providence, so, in this way, nothing should really ever be thought of as unimportant or neutral. We ARE free to simply choose as we wish with everything being done for His Glory. Then we can look back one day and see how His will was brought about even in our moments of freedom and say, "Boy do I see His Providence in that." So this can be a helpful category as well and there you have it in a nut-shell, IMHO. 

Live life knowing the boundaries of the black and whites in the law of Christ, the motives of the grays and the freedom we have in the adiaphorons. It won't answer everything that's a mystery, but it will give order and clarity to our responsibility and freedom in being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingdom while living in this foreign land.

The things black and white___Obey
The things gray____________Examine motive
The things neutral__________Freedom to choose

All things for His Glory________Objective in life 

Not a bad philosophy of life from my perspective.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

With full acknowledgment of the absolutes to which you refer, somebody once said "All a man's ways are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives."

Oh, yeah. God.

Aussie John said...


You rebel, you! How long before you got the taste out of your mouth?

Your spiritual maturity,which in itself is rare enough these days amongst those who have aged well as a follower of Christ, is showing.

This is must reading for those younger, and even not so young, who are wearing permanently black and white contact lenses.

When that impediment is removed the shades of gray and neutral, can be seen for what they are, a blessed companion of the salvation bought by Christ's finished work.

Amen to Bob's comment!

Johnny D. said...

Great post, Paul.

I stand with Paul (in my favorite epistle, no less):

16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

I have heard somewhere that the respected theologian Spurgeon used to smoke, and when questioned as to why stated something like "every man has his vice."

Unfortunately I don't have the source on that, but it would not surprise me if true. I have also spent some time in France, and have found a glass of wine (especially if paired with some excellent cheese) along with good conversation about the Bible is one of God's little gifts of common grace. :0)

This does, however, stand in contrast to my conservative upbringing, and there are those in my family who feel I am in sin when I admit such things. Those who feel judged are often more forgiving than those who judge, but no one is better than another.

Paul Burleson said...


Great comments. I've been in bed with a fever for the past twenty-four hours and am just now reading them. Thanks to all of you.


I read in one biography of Spurgeon that he stopped his "vice" when he saw an ad in a store window that proclaimed a certain brand as the best since it was the brand of Spurgeon's choice. He quit rather than lead someone into doing what he was free to do while some other [young] Christian might should NOT be as free but would do it anyway because Spurgeon did.

I think Spurgeon saw scripture correctly. If someone is offended by him smoking a cigar it meant nothing to him at all. If some young believer might be led into doing something that could be wrong FOR THEM as a young believer, he didn't use his freedom as a right to continue.

I think he had it right.

Aussie John said...


It's great to realise our God is sovereign, even over fevers! My thoughts are with you.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

He is that. I'm finding that my age shows up in a lack of speedy recovery in matters like this more than anything else. I used to "get over it" in 24 hours or so. Now, it's taking a little longer each time and my patience isn't very good in these matters I've found. LOL

But I'm now on the mend. Thanks for your thoughts AND prayers.

Rex Ray said...

Aussie john,

Good question! “How long before you got the taste out of your mouth?

I remember the taste of my first and only cigarette. My brother and I were in the first grade and in the ‘woods’ with a high school boy. He asked if we wanted to try a cigarette. We said yes. He gave us his can and papers, but we spilled so much he rolled them for us. I remember the taste but before he struck a match, he yelled, “Here comes my mother!” and yanked them out of our mouths.


I haven’t walked in your shoes. To my error big time, I told Belle before we were married that my dad hand NEVER done one thing wrong. (She was worried about living in a school house with her in-laws in Alaska.) When most teenagers ‘revolt’; we were missing our father who stayed on the frontlines of Germany throughout World War II.

Good post.