“What about the Gray Areas?”
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

I’ve got a ten question quiz for you. These questions are black and white—not difficult at all. Ready?

1) How long did the Hundred Years War last?
• Answer: 116 years, from 1337 to 1453

2) Which country makes Panama hats?
• Answer: Ecuador

3) Catgut comes from what animal?
• Answer: From sheep and horses

4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?
• Answer: November. The Russian calendar was 13 days behind ours

5) What is a camel’s-hair brush made of?
• Answer: Squirrel fur

6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?
• Answer: The Latin name was Insularia Canaria—Island of the Dogs

7) What was King George VI’s first name?
• Answer: Albert. When he came to the throne in 1936, he respected the wish of Queen Victoria that no future king should ever be called Albert.

8) What color is a purple finch?
• Answer: Raspberry red

9) Where are Chinese gooseberries found?
• Answer: New Zealand

10) How long did the Thirty Years War last?
• Answer: Thirty years, of course. From 1618 to 1648
You know what? Some things just aren’t as black and white as they seem.
The difficult things about the Christian life are the gray areas of Christian living. Is this okay? Should I as a Christian participate in this? Can I do that? Is it okay to listen to this? Can I watch that? Go here? Stay there? Be with them?
We are called to hold the middle ground between being holy and different and set apart on the one hand and salty and relevant on the other. Don’t you feel this tension? If you don’t then you’ve probably gone to one of the extremes, either you’ve withdrawn and have no salty influence whatsoever or you’ve gone to the other end and you’ve blended Christianity and your own belief system.
How can we live out this calling to be God’s people in God’s world? I want to provide a biblically based strategy for faithfully accomplishing this assignment, one that is transferable to any culture or around the world. There are biblical principles that are true anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstances that will help us communicate and “live out” the gospel more clearly.
A great place to discover this strategy is found in 1 Corinthians.
The Church at Corinth was a church gone crazy, a church in a battle in terms of its moral and ethical decision-making. They were struggling, and struggling mightily, both inside and outside their community, and they had the awesome task of being the radically secular, immoral, non-Christian context. Maintaining a clear gospel witness was difficult and problematic. Therefore, Paul wrote this letter in order to instruct the Corinthians in how to live out a “gospel-centered ethic.” Within 1 Corinthians 6:12-13:13, he sets forth a number of universal principles that would enable them to engage the culture with integrity while staying true to the gospel of Jesus Christ both in what they said and how they lived. The wonderful thing about these principles are that they work for those in the 1st century, but also those of us who are living in the 21st century. These principles will be the focus of our attention in the following study.
TEN PRINCIPLES FOR MORAL DECISION-MAKING
Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.
1) WILL THIS ACTION BE HELPFUL TO ME?
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything. – 1 Cor. 6:12
“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. – 1 Cor. 10:23
Certain actions are not helpful for believers. They don’t build you up or make you better for Jesus. They accomplish little or nothing.
2) WILL THIS ACTION POTENTIALLY ENSLAVE ME?
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything. – 1 Cor. 6:12
Paul is confident that he is a slave to only one master. His name is Jesus. No one or no thing is to “be master” (NIV) over us other than Him. Later, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul will point out that living near the edge of sin can even make one vulnerable to demonic attack and influence.
One boasts: “I have liberty in Christ” and “I am free under grace” can become something of a moral rationalization that is more likely a personal idol erected for satisfying sensual pleasure. What you convince yourself will hurt no one will lead you yourself into a world of slavery and bondage to the cruelest taskmaster of all: yourself and your own carnal desires. True spiritual freedom is not the right to do what you want, it is the supernatural enablement of Christ to do what you ought and enjoy doing so! Gordon Fee says, “There is a kind of self-deception that inflated spirituality promotes, which suggests to oneself that he/she is acting with freedom and authority, but which in fact is an enslavement of the worst kind–to the very freedom one thinks one has.” Christians must consistently guard themselves against any action that will potentially enslave them. I believe this is a tremendous word of wisdom as it relates to issues like drugs, alcohol, tobacco and pornography just to note a few of the more common destroyers of lives and families in our day.
3) WILL THIS ACTION ENCOURAGE MY BROTHER OR SISTER IN CHRIST?
Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall. – 1 Cor. 8:13
No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. – 1 Cor. 10:24
Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God… – 1 Cor. 10:32
Paul, for the sake of others, was willing to adjust his life that they might not be hurt or harmed. His brother or sister in Christ mattered more to him than his rights or liberties. This principle is grounded in the “mind of Christ” text of Phil. 2:3-5. For the sake of the body of Christ, your community of faith, “consider others as more important than yourselves.” Paul drives ethics to the gospel and to the cross. The gospel demands that the needs of others outweigh selfish desires. When it comes to wise decision making, a believer in Christ should always have an eye toward a potential weaker brother. John McArthur says, “Right or wrong is not the issue, but offending someone is. This principle was an important guide for me as a father. Being blessed by God with four daughters, I did not want to do anything that could hurt them, harm them, mislead them or lead them astray. I wanted to live before them, as best I could, in a way that would encourage them to take the high road ethically and morally, and to avoid the “danger zones” that could lead to sorrow and even destruction.”
4) WILL THIS ACTION HELP OR HINDER MY GOSPEL WITNESS?
If others share this authority over you, don’t we even more? However, we have not used this authority; instead we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. – 1 Cor. 9:12
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law—not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ—to win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, that I may become a partner in its benefits. – 1 Cor. 9:19-23
Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Cor. 10:32-33
This principle is so crucial Paul repeats it at least three different times. He makes it very clear that his ethics are to help his missions and evangelistic endeavors. He did not allow anything to hinder the gospel from going forth and being heard in the most effective way possible.
Today that expression, “all things to all men,” is often used as a form of derision. He (or she) has no backbone, we say; he is two-faced; he is “all things to all men.” But Paul wears the label as a witness to his evangelistic commitment. Even so, he could not do this if he did not know who he was as a Christian. The person who lives by endless rules and who forms his or her self-identity by conforming to them simply cannot flex at all. By contrast, the person without roots, heritage, self-identity, and nonnegotiable values is not really flexing, but is simply being driven hither and yon by the vagaries of every whimsical opinion that passes by. Such people may “fit in,” but they cannot win anyone. The bottom-line: nothing must hinder or obscure the gospel! Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
5) IS THIS ACTION CONSISTENT WITH MY NEW LIFE IN CHRIST? I COR. 6:9-11, 19
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. Some of you were like this; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Cor. 6:9-11
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own… – 1 Cor. 6:19
Followers of Jesus are brand new creatures. We are now temples of the Holy Spirit corporately (1 Cor. 3:16) and individually (1 Cor. 6:19). One aspect of this “newness” is that we honor God and bring Him glory in our bodies (1Cor. 6:20). This is Paul’s way of saying glorify God all the time in every way with all that you are. Body, mind, will, and emotions are all to be brought under His Lordship and control. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget this and tragic consequences follow. Christ is hidden rather than displayed in our lives.
Tim Keller wisely informs us, “All of our personal problems and church problems come because we don’t come continually back to the gospel to work it out and live it out….Christians are enormously bold to tell the truth, but without a shred of superiority, because you are sinners saved by grace. The balance of boldness and utter humility, truth and love-is not somewhere in the middle between legalistic fundamentalism and relativistic liberalism. It is actually off the charts.” (Tim Keller, “Being the Church in Our Culture.”) When considering how to live for Christ in the 21st century, our new life demands that we proclaim and live the message with great boldness, holiness and humility. We are to live a life that is in harmony with who we are as new creations in Christ. – 2 Cor. 5:17
6) WILL THIS ACTION VIOLATE MY CONSCIENCE?
Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This is food offered to an idol,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? – 1 Cor. 10:25-29
It is risky, even dangerous, to ignore the inner voice of conscience. It is God-given and under redemptive-reconstruction through the Spirit, Word and fellowship of the Christian community. A well-informed, Scripture-saturated, Spirit-sensitive conscience will be an asset in warning us of things that are sinful, evil, and unwise.
Now, I do not think Paul would say, “Let your conscience be your guide,” as if conscience by itself is a sufficient umpire or arbitrator when it comes to good decision-making. Rather he would say, “Let your conscience guided by Scripture and controlled by love be your guide.” The internal voice of a believer’s conscience can be a great aid when guided by Scripture and controlled by love. It can give you peace in what you are doing and joy in the doing. Romans 14:23 reminds us, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” Living with a clear conscience before Christ and others is a worthy goal for all of us to pursue.
7) WILL THIS ACTION FOLLOW THE PATTERN OF THE LIFE OF JESUS?
Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ. – 1 Cor. 11:1
To be like Jesus should be the goal of every Christian’s life. By God’s grace someday we will be (Rom. 8: 28-30; 1 John 3:1-3). However, until that day arrives, we should strive to imitate Him in all things with a holy passion and blazing zeal.
A while back I was listening to a lecture by N.T. Wright. As he raised the issue of Christian ethics he noted that a number of his British friends had poked fun at and dismissed the silly, shallow American phenomena of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet. However, he then went on to note that several of his children were now making their pilgrimage through the teenage years. Suddenly, he did not find WWJD concept to be a silly and shallow consideration at all. In fact, he rather hoped his children might adopt such an ethic in this post-modern, anything and everything goes culture of the West. Of course, it is essential to KWJD (Know What Jesus Did) if asking WWJD is going to be of any benefit. In other words, this gospel-centered, Christ-centered ethic requires an immersion in the Scriptures. To live like Jesus you must know Jesus! To live like Jesus you must love Jesus.
8) WILL THIS ACTION SHOW LOVE TO OTHERS?
If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – 1 Cor. 13:1-3
Love is a magnet that draws others to Christ. If our actions are not grounded in love, it does not matter what we say, how much we know or even what we do. Love cannot be prostituted! D. A. Carson is helpful in assessing this balancing act: Strong Christians may be right on a theological issue, but unless they voluntarily abandon what is in fact their right they will do damage to the church and thus “sin against Christ” (8:12). To stand on your rights may thus involve you in sin after all-not the sin connected with your rights (there, after all, you are right!), but the sin of lovelessness, the sin of being unwilling to forgo your rights for the spiritual and eternal good of others. (Carson, The Cross and the Christian Ministry, 125).
9) WILL THIS ACTION HONOR MY BODY WHICH BELONGS TO GOD?
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor. 6:19-20. In these verses Paul declares that we are not our own and have been bought with a price. Therefore, we should honor God in all we do with our bodies. Chuck Swindoll says our bodies are: 1) a physical extension of Christ, 2) a moral illustration of the Lord, and 3) a spiritual habitation of God. Use your body in ways that will show that God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the body craves” (John Piper, “You Were Bought with a Price”). I don’t know about you, but I like this. Use my body to show how satisfying God is? Now that’s a life in the body worth living!
10) WILL THIS ACTION GLORIFY GOD?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. – 1 Cor. 10:31
This climatic and over-arching principle has been called “the joyful duty of man.” It is right in its God-focus for He is the most beautiful and valuable person in the entire universe. It is right in its human perspective for it makes clear why we are here: to live for God’s glory. John Piper is right: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!” (John Piper, Desiring God, 9). No part of life is exempt from this principle. It is comprehensive and it is satisfying! So, seek His glory, and do it with passion!
PUTTING OUR TEN PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE
When making ethical choices, world Christians will not wed their cultural and personal preferences to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will vigorously keep them separate and distinct. They will not insist on their rights or their special interest that could cloud the beauty and purity of the gospel. How can a devoted Christ follower stand beneath the cross of their Savior and insist on their rights? To give up our rights for the spiritual and eternal blessing of others will be a joy and not a burden. It is our calling in Christ (Mark 10:35-45).
How will this influence the way we live as Christians? We are all an example to someone. We all influence someone. So the loving thing is always to esteem others better than yourself, it is to look out for their interest, not just your own. “Liberty in Christ regulated by love” for Him and others is the ethic that guides the man or woman in Christ. Is it more loving to insist on my freedom or to sacrifice for another? Because I love you and would never want to lead you astray by my example, I will choose to say no to that which can enslave, intoxicate and addict. It’s just the loving thing to do.

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