Summary: We are acting in love when we are considerate of the other person’s conscience.
Title: Navigating the Gray Areas
Text: I Corinthians 8:1-13
Thesis: We are acting in love when we are considerate of the other person’s conscience.
In the Roman Catholic Church there is a list of the seven deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Wrath, and Sloth. In 1995 a film titled Se7en focused on the seven deadly sins, a character that thinks of himself as the Sword of God, chooses victims whom he believes to be egregious examples of people guilty of each of the seven deadly sins and metes out punishment to them.
The seven deadly sins exist in a black and white world. The Ten Commandments exist in a world of black and white. The Catholic Church recently added seven additional sins to the original seven.
The Vatican newspaper cites an additional seven “violations of the basic rights of human nature.” They are:
1. Taking part in polluting the environment
2. Genetic engineering
3. Being obscenely wealthy
4. Taking or selling drugs
5. Having an abortion
6. Engaging in pedophilia
7. Causing social injustice
(“Vatican City: More sins to avoid,” The3 Week (3-21-08), p. 6 and Richard Owen, “Seven Deadly Sins: Are you guilty?” www.timesonline.co.uk (3-10-08), Preaching Today.com)
These additional sins now enter the world of black and white… they are listed among what is clearly perceived as sinful behavior. However, while things like pedophilia and abortion may be clearly in the black column… some of the others are not so. Is idling your car at a stoplight sinful and turning off your car at a stoplight righteous? Or is it a gray area?
I grew up in a black and white world in which there were the obvious sins like breaking the Ten Commandments as well as a number of others that, at the time, seemed to be on a par with breaking the Big Ten. Perhaps you too grew up in a black and white world where it was a sin to drink alcohol, dance, play cards, use tobacco, attend movies or associate with anyone who did any of those things.
Bonnie and I attended a Christian college that was very definitive in the matter of defining what was black and white. In addition to all the understood sins like dancing and going to movies, they added things like skirt lengths, that coupes when seated in the Main Lounge separated at least by the thickness of a hymnbook when sitting together, and when a generous donor gave two new pool tables to the men’s dorm, they were returned for fear that the presence of pool tables on campus would have a negative effect on the financial support of its constituency.
Over my years of pastoral ministry I have been exposed to numerous examples of attempts at defining black and white, including the forbidding of playing bingo or dominoes in the church fellowship hall, raffling quilts, drinking coffee or tea, i.e., caffeinated drinks, showing movies in the sanctuary, listening to Christian rock music, i.e., Christian and rock are oxymoron’s, singing praise music in worship, women holding office in the church or holding pastoral ministry. I’m sure there are other things, but I grew weary even in recalling those that readily came to mind.
And, keep in mind I’ve not even begun to touch on things like political affiliations, vegan or non-vegan, wearing fur, driving SUVs, living in designer homes, shopping at Wal Mart, indebtedness, birth control, abortion, passivism and war, taking fertility drugs, and that is not to question the ethics and morality of transferring 8 embryos to the uterus of a woman who already has 6 children, and so on and on and on….
While it may be convenient to live in a world where we make lists of what is right or white and what is wrong or black… it is not necessarily that simple. In fact, I think there is a great deal of gray. Not everything is black and white and there are legitimate differences between freedoms and convictions among Christians.
My hope is that by examining a rather archaic example recorded in I Corinthians 8, we can gather a scriptural principle that will help us navigate some of those gray areas in our contemporary culture. My intent is not to rewrite of define what is black or white, but to give us what may be thought of as transferable principles that we may apply to any area of question.
The first principle we must always keep in mind when navigating a gray area or a matter of dispute is this:
I. Love is more important than knowledge when it comes to navigating gray areas.
You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. I Corinthians 8:1-3