Why is it always our tendency, as believers, to err on the side of legalism? “When in doubt, throw it out.” Even if it means complete segregation from the World. Where does our responsibility to keep from stumbling our weaker brothers end, and our liberty in Christ begin?
Perhaps in the attitude of our hearts?
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~1 Samuel 16:7
We traditionally think of “outward appearance” to be limited to our physical appearance. But, what about our actions? Isn’t Scripture clear that our actions don’t necessarily reflect what we are like inside? This is especially obvious in the lives of the Pharisees Jesus confronted so often for appearing good, but who were, in truth, evil hypocrites.
Why do we choose to abstain from certain things? Is it to be holy? Is it to keep others from stumbling? Is it to avoid temptation ourselves? To avoid grieving the Holy Spirit? To bring glory to God? To win souls? All of these are good motivations, I believe. But, there is another motivation, more sinister, and often less obvious.
Do we do what we do so we can stand before God and say, “Thank you, God, that I am not like them?” (Luke 18:9-14)
Believe me, I ask these questions of myself, and if I am being truthful, I must admit that 90% of the time, it’s the latter. I hate that about myself, and cannot wait for the day when I finally stand face-to-face with God and am freed from such damnable pride! Save me, now, Lord!!! If only…
Anyway. In this post, I primarily want to address the motivation of avoiding causing another believer to stumble in their walk.
So, how do we decide what may stumble others? Not a lot of the food we eat is “sacrificed to idols” any more. So, that context doesn’t apply much. Not literally anyway. The principle, however, applies quite readily. So, what constitutes a stumbling block? Who decides?
Alcohol is a potential stumbling block.
Yoga is another.
Treatment for mental illness.
Movies. Especially those tricky Rated R’s.
Women in the workplace.
All of these are the cover on the book. What’s in the pages, though? That is ultimately what matters. We see, time and time again in Scripture that the cover of the book only matters to God when it reflects what is going on inside. Too often, that is not the case. We all have things on our covers that are not reflective of our hearts. Ideally, what we want God to see is this:
We have downgraded the meaning of this word to mean merely the covering of “enough” skin that we won’t cause our brothers or sisters to stumble by having lustful thoughts toward us.
Modesty is so much more than that. Ultimately, it is basic humility.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” ~C.S. Lewis
How much time do we spend thinking about and focusing on ourselves when we are deciding what to abstain from? On what others would think of us, and not necessarily whether they might stumble. I would argue that we are thinking of ourselves an awful lot more than we need to.
I can honestly say that I don’t even know the answer to that question in regards to my own life, let alone anyone else’s. Only God can see the heart. That deceitful, wicked, tender thing that we need to guard so carefully. Out of its abundance, we speak. It is our wellspring of life. (Jeremiah 17:9, Luke 6:45, Proverbs 4:23)
It is difficult for us, for all we have to go on when evaluating a person’s character is their actions and speech. Their fruit might look good, but how do we tell if it’s rotten? What about those in whom we don’t see much fruit? What if they have fruit in abundance that the world can’t see, because they do it in secret?
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” ~Matthew 6:1-4
I think it’s important to remember that this is exactly why Jesus commanded us not to judge or condemn others based on what we see. The reality is that we cannot know. We can judge actions, but not hearts. Those are two very different things.
So, what is our standard? Jesus made that clear as well: Love God. Love others.
And in the meantime, remembering the liberty we have in Christ.
” ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” ~1 Corinthians 10:23-24
I think that, if we are truly seeking the good of others, then we’re probably doing okay – even if we’re a little mistaken sometimes. However, if we revel in the commendation of fellow believers, we should probably evaluate our hearts a little more deeply.
It takes humility to really understand that not one of us has the corner on the market of all the do’s and don’ts, and that we never will. It’s when we begin to think we’ve got a handle on it that we have to be careful. There’s a little Pharisee in all of us, and he very much wants to come to the forefront.
Modesty won’t let him. Modesty knows that God is God, and we are not. Modesty understands that all we can look at is some outward fruit, but only God can see the healthy roots of the tree or the rot in the center of the trunk. We can’t always recognize bad fruit because we aren’t privy to the private inner workings of anyone but ourselves.
Sigh…I wish I had a handle on this. I hesitate even to publish, because I know full well that I don’t have my act together. I definitely don’t. I have to punch my inner Pharisee in the face and beat him down pretty often. The jerk. If we deny that this is true for any of us, we might be in a more dangerous position than we thought.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” ~1 Corinthians 10:12
Essentially, we need to be checking ourselves constantly. It’s not our job to check others, unless they are in blatant sin. No one can miss the kind of fruit showing when a dude is sleeping with his stepmother! (This issue addressed in the Corinthian church by Paul in his first letter to them.)
Short of that kind of thing – we cannot know. Let’s have fewer ready answers, and more open arms. Fewer commentaries on who is doing what and why, and more listening. Less confidence in our own convictions, and more understanding for those who are at a different point along the same narrow path. Less demanding our own way, and more willingness to admit we could be mistaken. Less pride, and more willingness to laugh at ourselves.
Less of me, more of Christ and his love.
We can do this. By the power of Christ, and the grace of God, we are equipped, and we can do modesty.
You know, I think it’s also pretty easy to err on the side of “too much freedom,” hence the issue the Corinthian church was facing. But, I didn’t address that. That’s another post for another day. If I ever write it. 🙂
Also – I believe it’s biblically appropriate to “check” another believer who has asked us to do so in the context of a trusting, close, loving relationship. Holding one another accountable is a wise practice, but it’s not up to us to impose accountability on someone who hasn’t asked for it. (Dang – I could write a whole other post. That’s two more potential posts from this ONE. Ha. But, here I stop.)
Grace & Peace,