Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What Less Can I Do?

I once knew a wonderful Christian wife of an elder at the church I was in who had a remarkable outlook. She believed that God required that she not eat certain foods. She based it primarily on Old Testament prohibitions. So she didn't eat pork or shellfish or the like. But here's where she was remarkable. She understood that it was her conviction and that a large portion of Christianity disagreed, so she didn't try in the least to impose that on anyone else. It was her personal conviction. You know, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23) So she would cook pork or shellfish for her husband and eat a salad herself. She didn't make an issue of it. She just believed that she would avoid those things as a matter of gratitude to God. If you didn't care about that stuff -- either because you didn't agree or because you didn't care to obey it -- she was fine with that. She would do for God whatever extremes she thought she should.

Have you ever noticed that Christians seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much less they can do for God? Think about it. We all know, for instance, that tithing is an Old Testament thing, not a New Testament thing. Why? "Well, it was primarily for the upkeep of the priests. It was for Israel back then and it is not for believers today. That 10% is arbitrary. You know, 'The Lord loves a cheerful giver' (2 Cor 9:7) which clearly means if you're not cheerful about it you shouldn't give. As every believer knows, we are not under the law; we are free from the law." Do a little search and you can find lots of arguments and reasons why Malachi 3:8 does not apply to Christians and giving 10% is not a Christian obligation. Now, Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt 23:23), but we're still pretty sure we're under no obligation to give 10%. From there many conclude that means that we needn't give anything at all. You see, we've diligently searched to find out what less we could do for God. Is 10% a Christian requirement? No. Cheerful giving is. Giving all that we can is. Gratitude is. John asks, "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) John asks that; we don't. And, for reasons unknown, we stop at "we are not required to give 10% of our money" and don't even consider our time, property, energy, or the like. Is tithing for today? No, I don't think so. (If I had enough readers, you would have heard a collective sigh of relief.) I think the command is all (Rom 12:1).

We're all pretty sure that the whole eating of pork and shellfish is an "Old Testament thing" and we are no longer under obligation to do it anymore. I'm also fairly certain that most Christians don't know why. Why is the prohibition of mixing of threads (Deut 22:11) or the rounding off of the hair on your temple (Lev 13:29) no longer in effect? Most Christians are happy with "You don't have to do that anymore" and never ask "Why?" Because we're looking for ways to avoid doing too much. We don't want to make too many sacrifices, give up too much comfort, surrender too much of what we have and are.

"Oh, Stan, you're going on and on about Old Testament. Move on." Okay, how about "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven." (1 Cor 11:4-5) In fact, the disappearance of headcoverings for women is a fairly new thing in the church. It is still prevalent in many parts of the world. But we've figured out that we don't have to do that anymore. Why? (That's a rhetorical question.) In fact, as it turns out, many of the New Testament commands regarding women have met their end on the chopping block of feminism and modern thinking. No, husbands are not head over the wife (1 Cor 11:3). No, wives do not need to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22) nor do women need to be submissive (1 Tim 2:11) or "keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34). Yes, they can teach and exercise authority over men (1 Tim 2:12-14). And New Testament claims of God's commands become too burdensome to retain.

How about divorce? Oh, we've become quite lenient on that. Jesus thought otherwise (Matt 19:3-12). "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:6) As if that wasn't enough, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matt 19:9) Jesus attributed divorce to "your hardness of heart" (Matt 19:8).

So we edge on further out. If tithing and eating pork is no longer applicable, what else? If the New Testament has stuff in it we don't actually have to follow, what else don't we have to follow? How about ... oh, I don't know ... sexual immorality? How about that dreaded Old Testament and New Testament statements against homosexual behavior? How about other things that we don't particularly care for? Like "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." (Rom 13:1) Not one many of us like, especially when we drive by one of those speed limit signs.

Why is it that we are constantly pushing the boundaries out? We are keen, it seems, on limiting the amount we have to give to God, whether that is money or obedience. We're most concerned, it appears, at being careful not to do too much for God. As if when we get to heaven we'll have God tell us, "You know, that whole 'wives, submit to your husband' thing wasn't for you. You didn't have to do it." And we'd be disappointed at having done too much for God. If we were as diligent at seeking to do all we possibly could to please God, what a difference that would make! If our primary concern was doing good in such a way that people would glorify God (Matt 5:16), I think the name of God would be less blasphemed because of us. Paul was talking about financial giving in the 9th chapter of his second letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote, "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Cor 9:6) I think it works with what we do as well as what we give. We cannot out-give God, even in obedience.

3 comments:

Alec said...

I can't wait to hear how others weigh in on the subjects you've raised here:

* When is it God-glorifying to keep the Old Testament commands?
* Why aren't the New Testament commands you mentioned binding on Christians in 2016?

Alec

Stan said...

I can. But that's just because I'm thinking that not too many are willing to weigh in on those subjects. You know, "don't hold your breath."

Marshall Art said...

Speaking of weighing in, I'm down to 224lbs from 231, looking to get down around an even 200.

But more to the topic, "What are you doing? Talking about the Bible as a rule book???"

I find your underlying point to be spot on. I don't see "reason" as something that is required for most of the Bible (God's Word) with regards human behaviors or practices. None of it has to make sense, as what is important is whether or not I seek to please God above any personal desire for pleasure, comfort or worldly happiness. It all indeed becomes a matter of what one no longer has to do, versus what is one willing to do. The woman to whom you referred has the right idea, even if her choices are not required. How much more so for those behaviors or practices that do not have some measure of "adjustment" (for lack of a better term) in the New Testament (of which dietary restrictions are an example). Another would be the issue of how we dress for Sunday service. Am I obliged by law or by my sense of reverence for the God I claim to worship?

No doubt, I'm lousy at thinking of God first as often as I feel I should. But I think I can say it's not because I'm trying to figure out the least I must do. Putting God first just isn't a habit I've succeeded in developing to the point of "naturalness". I still must make conscious effort constantly.