Deciding Questionable Things for the Christian
By Dr. Curtis Hutson (1934-1995)
"For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him." -Rom. 14:2,3.
"One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." -Rom. 14:5.
This week I received a letter from an honest, sincere Christian wanting to know if a certain thing was right or wrong. In the letter he stated that he had searched the Bible and could not find a clear Bible verse regarding the matter; then he said, "It is my purpose to do right and have my family do right. I am honestly in a quandary, or I would not write and ask for help."
This dear Christian was absolutely right - there is no verse in the Bible that gives a clear answer to his question. But one must remember two things regarding the Bible.
First, it was written for all people of all ages; therefore, everything could not be spelled out in detail. For instance, if there were a verse in the Bible that stated, "Thou shalt not smoke Camels (Camel cigarettes)," those old rabbis would have had a difficult time interpreting the passage; and it is doubtful they would have ever figured out exactly what it meant. Some would probably make sure they never built a fire near their camel lest the smoke blow in his direction.
And suppose there were a verse in the Old Testament that said, "Thou shalt not watch TV." Then those rabbis would have spent hours discussing what TV meant, and it is doubtful they would have ever reached an agreement. So since the Bible was written for all men of all ages, many things are not clearly spelled out.
Second, the Bible is a condensed Book. Let me explain what I mean.
The Scripture says in John 21:25, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." So had everything Jesus did been written in books, no one would ever find time to read them all. God chose to reveal to Bible writers what He wanted men to know. The Bible is not a revelation of what God knows, but a revelation of what God wants men to know. If it were a revelation of what God knew, again the world could not contain the books, because there is nothing God doesn't know. He is omniscient.
Someone said, "Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurred to God?"
Since the Bible does not give detailed answers to every question the believer will ever face, then what does he do regarding things not spelled out in the Scriptures? It is often suggested that the Christian let his conscience be his guide. I have heard preachers say, "Follow your conscience," but this is not good advice. One's conscience is regulated by what he believes; and if he doesn't believe right, his conscience will mislead him.
For instance, a Catholic friend's conscience may bother him if he doesn't attend Mass because he believes he should attend; but my conscience never bothers me for not attending Mass, and I have never attended. The difference is, I don't believe I should attend.
So you cannot follow your conscience nor let your conscience be your guide. The Bible never says, "Follow your conscience."
If one cannot follow his conscience and the Bible does not give detailed, clear instructions regarding every question the believer faces, then what is the Christian to do regarding questionable things?
Now while the Bible does not give all the specific details regarding what a Christian should and should not do, it does give guidelines by which every honest Christian can make the right decision regarding questionable things. In this message I wish to share eleven guidelines that will help the believer in deciding whether a thing is right or wrong.
1. Are You Willing to Do What Is Right Once You Know God's Will?
We are the servants and God is the Master. It is not the servant's duty to guess what the Master wants; it is only his duty to obey once the Master makes His will clear. When the believer doesn't know whether a certain matter is right or wrong, he should decide firmly and clearly that he will do God's will even if it goes against his wishes. John 7:17 promises, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." One cannot approach God with the attitude, Lord, let me know whether this is right or wrong, and I will decide if I will do what is right. He must have the attitude, Lord, I don't know whether this is right or wrong,. but if you will let me know for sure" I will do right regardless of what others say or what my preferences are.
The person who wants God' s very best for his life and will do what is right can know God's will regarding questionable things. But if you are not willing to do the right thing once you know it, then the rest of the guidelines are useless.
2. Does It Agree With All the Scripture Has to Say on the Subject?
The Bible says in II Peter 1:20, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." This verse does not mean that one cannot sit down in private and read and study his Bible. It simply means that one passage of Scripture is not to be isolated and interpreted without considering all that the Bible has to say on the same subject.
For instance, there may be a passage that seems to teach one thing; but a careful study of the Scriptures reveals many other clear passages that seem to contradict the obscure passage.
An example is found in Hebrews 6:4-6 which seems to teach that one could be lost after he is saved. If we had only this passage, we might not believe in eternal security. but when you study what other Scriptures say regarding eternal security, the matter becomes clear.
Verse after verse states that the believer has everlasting life-verses such as John 3:16, 3:36, and 3:14. Nothing can be clearer than John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Here the Bible not only states that the believer has everlasting life but promises that he shall not come into condemnation, that is, he will never again be under the sentence of sin.
A good rule to follow is: never use an obscure passage to contradict several clear passages. So whatever Hebrews 6:4-6 means, it certainly does not contradict the clear passages which teach the believer has everlasting or eternal life.
When the honest, sincere Christian is faced with the decision regarding whether a thing is right or wrong, he should ask, Does it agree with all that the Scripture has to say on the subject?
3. Have You Prayed About It?
Dr. A. J. Gordon once said, "There is more you can do after you pray, but there is nothing more you can do until you pray."
The Bible indicates that we are to pray about all things. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." Again the Scripture promises, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). The expression, "What things soever ye desire," would certainly include the believer's desire to know God's will about a questionable matter.
One of the saddest verses in the Bible to me is James 4:2: "Ye have not, because ye ask not." It doesn't say what we don't have; it just simply says we have not because we ask not. That would certainly include the leading of the Lord regarding a questionable matter. If we don't have clear leading, the Scripture says we have not because we ask not.
When praying for the Lord's will about something questionable, don't give up if you don't receive clear leading after one prayer; just keep on praying until God makes it clear. The promise in Matthew 7:8, "For every one that asketh receiveth," means to continually ask. Then when God answers, He will not answer in an audible voice; He will lead you by the Holy Spirit.
Which brings me to the next question:
4. Do You Have the Leading of the Holy Spirit?
When things are not spelled out clearly in the Bible, we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Bible says in Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit directed God's servants where to preach and work.
Acts 13:1,2 says,
"Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them."
Here is a clear case where the Holy Spirit led men to a certain place to preach and work.
There is another case where the Holy Spirit led men not to go to Asia. The Scripture says in Acts 16:6-8,
"Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas."
Here is a clear instance where the Holy Spirit forbade men to preach in a certain place.
Someone suggested that the stops as well as the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. The two Scripture references I have called attention to certainly indicate that truth.
The Holy Spirit leads us in prayer. The Bible says in Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Here the Bible says there are times when we do not know what to pray for nor how to pray.
Recently I spoke at a gathering where many unsaved people were present. Afterwards I asked those who would trust Christ as Saviour to come forward and make a public declaration of their faith in Christ. Forty people responded.
After the service, a dear man came to me and said, "I didn't know how to express myself to the Lord. I knew I wanted to go to Heaven, but I didn't know how to tell Him I was trusting Him." After thanking me for leading him in a simple prayer, he said, "That is what I wanted to say all along but didn't know how to say it."
Most believers who have been saved any length of time have experienced times when the Holy Spirit gave definite leading regarding a matter. I remember such an experience.
Late one night while driving through the state of South Carolina, I passed a hitchhiker and had a strange feeling that I should give him a ride and try to lead him to Christ. But after reasoning that I was alone in the car and it may be dangerous to pick up a stranger, I passed him by. However, I couldn't get him off my mind. Somehow the Holy Spirit was leading me to go back and get him. Now I heard no audible voice. I simply felt that I had made a mistake in not giving the man a ride. I even prayed, "Dear Lord, I have already passed him now, and it may be several miles before I can find an exit where I can turn around and go back ." But that inner feeling would not leave. Finally I found an exit, turned around and went back. To my surprise the hitchhiker was still there. I stopped and asked if I could give him a ride. "Sure," he said, and he got into the automobile.
We had been riding only a few seconds before I explained what had happened. I told him how I felt strangely led of the Holy Spirit to pick him up. I even told him how I had passed him by and turned around and came back. In a few moments, I explained the simple plan of salvation; and the man trusted Christ as Saviour. We had a wonderful time of fellowship; and he promised to find a Bible-believing church, join it, and set out to live the Christian life.
Now when I talk about the leading of the Holy Spirit, I am not talking about hearing an audible voice or having strange visions. The Holy Spirit leads through our desires. Philippians 2:13 states, "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." That is, God works in us the desire and then gives us the power to make the desire a reality. Rest assured that the Holy Spirit will never lead you to do something contrary to scriptural principles. The Bible says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Since all Scripture is given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself in leading someone contrary to the Bible.
In any matter where we have questions, we have a right to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and to expect His gentle guiding.
5. Does It Please God?
The Bible says in I John 3:22, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." It is possible for one to keep His commandments, but what if there is no clear commandment regarding the matter in question? Some things are clearly commanded.
For instance, the Bible commands, "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness," etc. But since there is no commandment that says, "Thou shalt not listen to rock music," or, "Thou shalt not dance," then what does the believer do? When there is no commandment to obey, then the question is, "Does it please God?" The Scripture says, "We keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." Though there may be no clear command regarding the matter in question, does it please God? Can you honestly and sincerely say, "This thing I want to do pleases God?" "The way I want to dress pleases God?" If the Christian cannot honestly say yes, then he shouldn't do it. The Scripture says in II Corinthians 5:9, "Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him." The marginal rendering is "well pleasing to him." The Christian should never do anything unless he is thoroughly convinced that it will please the Lord.
6. Can You Do It in the Name of the Lord Jesus?
Colossians 3:17 states, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." Notice carefully the words "whatsoever ye do in word or deed." That covers every word the believer will ever utter and anything the believer will ever do. And according to the verse, we are to do it "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Let's take the matter of dancing. There are perhaps some Christians who feel there is nothing wrong with the dance. But can you honestly dance in the name of the Lord Jesus?
Can you smoke cigarettes in the name of the Lord Jesus?
Can you curse in the name of the Lord Jesus?
Can you listen to music with suggestive lyrics in the name of the Lord Jesus?
When the believer is faced with a matter and can't decide whether it is right or wrong, he should simply ask, "Can I do it in the name of the Lord Jesus?" If not, then it is wrong.
7. Can You Give God Thanks For It?
Again, Colossians 3:17 says, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." Whatever the matter in question, can you honestly thank God for it?
Peter Cartwright, that old camp-meeting preacher of yesteryear, was passing over the Cumberland Mountains when he was compelled to stop overnight at a house where there was to be a dance. Many of the people had never heard a sermon. Cartwright sat in one corner of the room watching the dance. He made up his mind to stay over the next day (Sunday) and preach to the people.
"I had hardly settled this point in my mind," says he, "when a beautiful young lady walked very gracefully up to me, dropped a handsome curtsy and, pleasantly, with winning smiles, invited me out to take a dance with her."
"I can hardly describe my thoughts or feeling on that occasion. However, in a moment I resolved on a desperate experiment. I rose as gracefully as I could; I will not say with some emotion, but with many emotions. The young lady moved to my right side; I grasped her right hand with my right hand, while she leaned her left arm on mine. In this position we walked on the floor. The whole company seemed pleased at this act of politeness in the young lady, shown to a stranger.
"The black man, who was the fiddler, began to put his fiddle in the best order. I then spoke to the fiddler to hold a moment and added that for several years I had not undertaken any matter of importance without first asking the blessing of God upon it, and I desired now to ask the blessing of God upon this beautiful young lady and the whole company that had shown such an act of politeness to a total stranger."
"Here I grasped the young lady's hand tightly and said, 'Let us all kneel down and pray,' and then instantly dropped on my knees and commenced praying with all the power of soul and body that I could command. The young lady tried to get loose from me, but I held her tight. Presently she fell on her knees. Some of the company kneeled, some stood, some fled, some sat still, all looked curious. The fiddler ran off into the kitchen, saying, 'Lord have mercy, what's de matter? What does that mean?'"
"While I prayed, some wept and wept aloud. Some cried for mercy. I rose from my knees and commenced an exhortation after which I sang a hymn. The young lady who invited me on the floor lay prostrate, crying for mercy. I exhorted again. I sang and prayed nearly all night."
"About fifteen of that company professed religion, and our meeting lasted next day and next night and as many more were powerfully converted. I organized a society, took thirty two into the church, and sent them a preacher. My landlord was appointed leader, which post he held for many years. This was the commencement of a great and glorious revival of religion in that region of the country, and several of the young men converted at this Methodist preacher' s dance became useful ministers of Jesus Christ."
Here is a case where an old-fashioned preacher prayed about a matter in question and the result was a revival meeting and the establishment of a church.
Take the matter of attending movies. The Bible does not say, "Thou shalt not attend movies," but can I thank God for the movies? If I can't, then I should not attend. "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." If you cannot sincerely give thanks to God for the matter in question, then it is best not to do it.
8. Does It Bring Glory to God?
The Scripture admonishes in I Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Whatsoever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. That would involve anything the Christian wants to do or is ever tempted to do, and the question is, "Can I do it to the glory of God?"
One translation reads, "If you eat or drink or do anything else, do everything to honor God."
Does the thing you have a question about bring honor to God? Does it glorify God? Does it give God a good name? If not, then it is wrong. For whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, we are to do all to the glory of God, to honor God, to give God a good name.
Psalm 23:3 states, "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." We are Christians. We bear His name. Our lifestyle, language, attitudes, and manner of dress reflect on His name. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Unless you are honestly convinced that the thing in question will bring glory to God, then don't do it.
9. Does It Offend Other Christians?
Paul said in I Corinthians 8:13, "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." In I Corinthians, chapter 8, the Scripture deals with meats and the limitations of Christian liberty. According to I Timothy 4:3-5, there is nothing unscriptural about eating meat:
"Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God bath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
The Apostle Paul knew there was nothing wrong with eating meats; however, he would not exercise his Christian liberty at the expense of offending another brother. He refers to a weak brother in I Corinthians 8:11 and again in Romans 14:2 where he says, "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs."
It is clear from these passages that some weaker Christians thought eating meats was wrong; and, though Paul taught that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving," he said, "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." The Greek word translated "offend" means "to trip up." One translation reads, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble."
Now when I ask, Does it offend other Christians? I don't mean that if you can find one single Christian anywhere in the world who is offended by the thing in question, then you shouldn't do it. You will probably find some Christian who would be offended at almost anything you did. But if it offended several good and respected Christians, then I wouldn't do it even though I thought it was right.
There are things I have never done; not because I think they are wrong (to be honest, I see nothing wrong with them) but I refrain from doing them because I know Christians who would be offended; and I would not use my religious liberty to cause another believer to stumble.
A lady approached a great preacher of yesteryear and stated that she was offended by his necktie. It was a small string tie that the lady didn't approve of. He politely handed her a pair of scissors and told her to clip it off, which she promptly did. When she handed the scissors back to him, he said, "I am offended by your tongue."
Offending a Christian brother is a serious thing. Jesus said, "It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:2).
With position comes responsibility. There are certain things I cannot do because of my position, things which others may do and no one think anything about it. Relationship also brings responsibility. Because of their relationship to me, my children have a certain responsibility that other children do not have. They also have a responsibility to each other that they do not have to other children.
As children of God, we have a responsibility to every other born-again believer. We must do everything possible to help him on in his Christian life and be careful never to do anything that offends him. If the thing in question offends other Christians, then it is wrong.
l0. Am I Fully Persuaded That It Is Right?
In Romans 14:5 the Bible says, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The word "persuaded" in this verse simply means "convinced." In other words, if you are not thoroughly convinced that the thing is right, then it is best not to do it.
Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., told a story of a man who was getting ready for Sunday school. He picked up a shirt that had been worn before; and raising his voice so his wife could hear him in the other room, asked, "Honey, is this shirt dirty?" She calmly replied, "If it is doubtful, it's dirty."
Romans 14:23 warns, "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
As pastor of the same church for twenty-one years, I counseled with thousands of people. Through the years people have asked, "Pastor, is it wrong for me to do so and so? The Bible doesn't say clearly whether it is right or wrong, and I really don't know."
In many cases I have asked, "Do you have doubts about it?" If their reply was, "Yes," I showed them Romans 14:5 and Romans 14:23, then explained that it is best to give God the benefit of the doubt. I always counsel people never to do anything unless they are thoroughly convinced that it is right.
In connection with this, Colossians 3:15 is a very helpful verse: "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts." The word translated "rule" means to "govern," to "prevail." In other words, let the peace of God govern, let it decide. If you don't have peace about the matter, don't do it.
The worst decisions I ever made were made when I didn't have peace about them. I well remember buying an automobile. It was beautiful, and I really wanted it. However, when it came time to sign the sales contract, I felt very uneasy. I had no peace. I ignored these uneasy feelings and purchased the car anyway.
Boy, was that a terrible mistake! In three months we had spent more on the automobile than we originally paid For it. Time and time again I said to my wife, "I wish I had never seen that car!" If I had followed the scriptural principle in Colossians 3:15, I would have avoided much unhappiness.
When the believer is faced with a decision regarding a questionable matter, he should never proceed unless he has complete peace about it. If there is nothing wrong with it, then God is able to give complete peace. You can rest assured that every time you violate the scriptural principle of Colossians 3:15 you will regret it. When deciding questionable things, a Christian should have complete peace about it and be thoroughly persuaded or convinced that it is right.
11. Do the Best Christians I Know Agree That It Is Right?
Those are blessed words of advice in Proverbs 24:6, "In multitude of counselors there is safety" There have been instances in my life where I have had a difficult time deciding about a matter. After using all the guidelines above, I still wasn't satisfied. My last resort was to seek the counsel of good, godly Christians.
I usually get a good Christian alone and ask, "What would you think if I were to do so and so?" Then I assure him that I want his honest opinion. I have learned a lot through my counselors.
Just two weeks ago I approached at least eight different Christians regarding a matter I had a question about and asked their advice. Not one knew that I had talked to the other, and in this way I got the honest feelings of eight individuals.
It has been my practice for years never to make an important decision without getting the opinion of several good, godly Christians. And I can testify that "in multitude of counselors there is safety" I feel God has protected me through the years because I sought the counsel of wise and good Christians.
When you are faced with a questionable matter, approach several Christians individually and get their opinions. Their counsel is valuable in helping make the right decision.
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