One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What if?

Is every Christian who enjoys football an idolater?
Some folks make it seem that way. Photo Credit
You've seen it in your Facebook feed, heard it in sermons, maybe even said it yourself: something to the effect of "What would it look like if we got just as excited about Jesus as we got about" fill in the blank - football, NASCAR, Christmas shopping, deer hunting, American Idol - the list is endless. I've come to the conclusion that's not the right question for us to be asking other people. It reveals a faulty understanding of Scripture and lays an unnecessary burden of guilt on those who may take it seriously.

Why do I say that such a statement reveals a faulty understanding of Scripture? Let’s look at a few verses. Romans 14 (and the first part of chapter 15), as you may know, is an important passage giving us direction on charitably handling differences of opinions and preferences. Most of the passage is about the stronger brother (the one who trusts that all things not obviously sinful are gifts from God) not offending the weaker brother (the one who has objections that such life choices are sinful). But in order for the weak and strong brothers’ relationship to work, consideration has to go both ways:
"Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:3-4)
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:20-23)

“Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” When we (I’m including myself, because I’ve done it too) condemn other people for participating in stuff we may not particularly care for, we are violating that principle in the lives of others. In the first passage quoted above, it is not our place to judge a fellow believer in such matters. God is the judge for all of us, and He will work in a believer’s life if they have a genuine problem.

Another portion of Scripture that has a direct bearing on this topic is Deuteronomy 14:22-29. This passage is about the special, every-three-years tithe that the Hebrews were to bring to the house of the Lord. Notice what verse 26 says specifically:“And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” (NKJV)

This tithe was not merely a donation, although that was part of it. Part of this special tithe was that a person would buy whatever food or anything else they wanted with the tithe money, and enjoy it in the presence of God. This time of enjoyment was just as much an offering to God as sacrificing a lamb or a calf, and equally a part of God’s commands for His people at that time. Now I know we can’t directly appropriate Old Testament laws for the church age, but the principle is pretty clear: God is honored by us enjoying anything that makes us happy when we acknowledge Him while we are doing it. If you struggle with this, I recommend you read the entire passage.

This is the amphitheater in Ephesus,
where Paul spent three years. Could
he have seen a play here? Photo Credit
Nowhere in the Bible will you find that it is wrong to enjoy food, activities or hobbies in this life. In fact, Paul on at least four occasions - Acts 17:28 (two references in that verse), I Corinthians 15:33 and Titus 1:12 - referenced pagan Greek poets or playwrights in his discourses and epistles. It’s hard for us to think of Paul taking a break from his work building churches to go down to the city amphitheater to see a play, but apparently it’s something Paul enjoyed.

As many people as there are in the world, there are that many and more things that make them happy. This is not a bad thing. God intended for us to enjoy His creation, enjoy spending time with each other, enjoy making and doing things that make us happy. Whenever I hear someone make some remark (particularly when it’s obviously addressed to me) about somebody loving some activity more than they love Jesus, the thing I infer from that question is that someone thinks I have an idolatry problem. They think I love something more than I love Jesus. That seems to me a reasonable inference to make. How can they know? What business is it of theirs?

Do we need to guard our hearts? Certainly. Even though we are Christians, the unregenerate part of our being is capable of creating an idol out of practically anything, including the fact that we don’t do such-and-such, so we must love Jesus more. We have an entire lifetime of work on our own to keep our own hearts and minds where they need to be before God.

Is it wrong to encourage one another to love Jesus more? Of course not. In fact we are repeatedly commanded in the epistles to do exactly that. But is laying a guilt trip on someone for enjoying something not sinful a good way to encourage each other? No. My advice to you (and for me) is to find positive ways to genuinely encourage one another. Find a good quote or picture or article, and share that on Facebook instead of condemnatory rhetoric. Share your spiritual journey with the folks at your church. I find that the most encouraging things people talk about at church is how we are really working through some issue or circumstance in our lives. That’s encouragement that will make a difference in people’s lives. Condemnatory, arrogant attempts at encouragement only break people down. That’s not what the church or the broader community of believers is for.

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