New Believer Advice #7: Don’t make mountains out of molehills!
There are many biblical truths that we cannot negotiate on. And as you read your Bible regularly, you will learn more and more about which issues these are. Jesus’ sacrificial death being the only way to heaven. That He was God and man. That we are to care for the poor, needy, orphans, and widows. That salvation, forgiveness, and grace are free gifts that God has made available to us, that we can never earn but can only accept. That we need to forgive others and seek forgiveness for our sins. That extra-marital affairs, lying, cheating, stealing, and such are wrong. Etc.!
But then there are many other issues which are not so black-and-white. And when it comes to these, we cannot let disagreements about them become divisive and cause us to fight against each other. We cannot turn these molehills into mountains, these “less significant” issues into major ones, these “less clear” ones into strict “black-and-white.” This should never be the case . . . because it will only cause problems in the body of Christ.
New Believer Advice #8: And we should not let our position on these “less clear” issues trip up others.
As an example, let’s look at drinking alcohol. Let’s say that you believe it is okay to have a drink every now and then, but your friend believes it is wrong. This is not a clear issue in the Bible. It says to not get drunk but it doesn’t say to not drink. Even Jesus provided alcohol at a wedding for His first public miracle of turning water into wine. Yet we all know the dangers of drinking, so there is good reason to stay away from it. So there is some support for your position and for your friend’s position.
We have to figure out - between ourselves and God - where we stand on these kinds of things. We are accountable to God for the convictions He gives us about these “less clear” issues. And we need to let others be accountable to Him for their decisions, too.
Yet our different positions should not cause division, with one of us acting superior, more holy, and more godly than the other. We can agree to disagree, to tolerate those kinds of differences, living respectfully alongside others who don’t share our beliefs on this.
But the person who drinks has to be careful to not trip up another believer who gets distressed about Christians drinking or whose faith is shaken when someone tries to convince them that it’s okay. If they do not feel it is okay for them to drink, we would not be acting in love to throw them into confusion by telling them they are wrong or by making them overly concerned that we are “in sin” when we drink. If we let our views on these “gray areas” trip up another person’s faith then we are not acting in love. And we are out of line. So you may have to keep those kinds of “liberties and freedoms” to yourself if it will hurt the faith of another believer.
Romans 14:5-23: (a few verses taken out for space)
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. . . . But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. . . . For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . .
Therefore let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. . . . It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Whenever you are in doubt or tempted to judge or tempted to challenge someone who is distressed about your position, err on the side of compassion and grace and keeping your mouth shut. But if God does put it on your heart to confront someone on their position about an issue, do it in love and gentleness and always full of grace. It’s not your job to change them, just to confront them, if God so leads you to do it.
(New stuff for this post)
When I wrote these two points, I was thinking of issues in Scripture that are not totally clear and that Christians have differing opinions about. Issues like:
- predestination vs free-will,
- pre-trib rapture vs post-trib rapture vs no rapture,
- drinking alcohol occasionally vs not drinking alcohol at all,
- working mother vs stay-at-home mother,
- celebrate Halloween or don’t,
- put the words to the songs at church up on a screen or use a book,
- specific prayer techniques, etc.
Believe it or not, these kinds of unclear, non-central, debatable issues can become very divisive. They can break up churches. I remember hearing about a heated argument once at a church about whether the songs should be projected up onto a screen or if paper copies should be handed out. And I have heard of churches who have broken up over what color to paint the walls. Talk about mixed-up priorities!
Yes, many of these issues are very important (not wall color or “paper vs projector”) and we can feel very passionate about them in our own lives, but we have to resist the urge to force everyone else to fall in line with us. We can share our view and make our case, but we have to allow others to disagree.
The thing is, we often feel like we have to convince others that our way is “right.” Maybe it’s because if they disagree with us, we feel “wrong.” Or maybe we feel “less godly,” so we try to get people on our side. Or maybe we slide on over to their side so that we can seem “more godly” like them. Or maybe we feel “high and mighty,” like our way is right and like we are more godly and like it’s our job to change their minds. (This is more of a possibility the more educated you are about some issue, such as maybe “predestination vs free will” or “rapture vs no rapture.” The more you learn, the more sure and passionate you might become about your view, and the more likely you are to feel like you are “right” and like those who disagree are “wrong.” Be careful to still be teachable, graceful, and humble, no matter how much you “know.”)
But with many of these issues, it’s not about right or wrong. (And sometimes it is, so it takes wisdom to know the difference and to handle it gracefully.) But it’s about living in peace with those who don’t agree with us. About being okay with our stand and letting them be okay with theirs. This takes some maturity - to have the confidence to make up our own mind, the strength to let others make up theirs, the humility to live in peace with others, and the ability to be teachable in case we are out of line.
And we have to be careful to not use “God told me” to bully others into agreeing with us. I remember one teen at our youth group telling us something he thought we should do as a group. And he said, “God told me this is what He wants us to do.” Now, maybe God did and maybe God didn’t. But this teen made it so that if any of us disagreed, we would be arguing with God Himself. That kind of statement makes his view supersede any others. Because “God said.” And no one should argue with God. And in most cases, it’s just not proper (unless it’s clearly from Scripture) to say “God said” to support our view and our plans.
We need to very careful and humble about “God told me” moments. I think it would be far better to say, “I think this is what God is saying” instead of saying “God told me.” That kind of humility makes it easier for people to listen to your view and to be understanding if you get it wrong.
Also, I have heard people use the Bible to support their view on a controversial, debatable position, such as the rapture. They present their view and then say, “You don’t have to like what the Bible says but you have to believe it. Because it’s all in there.”
However, they are not presenting a biblically-clear position on an issue. They are presenting what they think the Bible says about an issue that isn’t clear and that has been highly debated over the centuries. Yet they present their view like it’s “Gospel Truth.” And they say that if you disagree with them then you are disagreeing with the Bible.
But no! On these unclear, controversial, non-essential issues, we disagree with each other’s idea of what the Bible teaches, not with the Bible itself. Be careful about using people’s “fear of disagreeing with God or the Bible” against them, forcing them to agree with you about the “gray issues” in Scripture. Do not put words in God’s mouth or use His name to further your agenda or your views (unless they are clearly Scriptural and Scripturally-clear).
As we mature in faith and in life, we should be learning to tolerate views that are different from ours and people who disagree with us (without going soft on key, biblically-clear issues). And we should be growing in a graceful attitude toward others. With many of these gray “molehills,” it’s more important to be gracious than “right.”