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For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. - Jesus


Navigating Moral Gray Areas

by danielg [+/-] show/hide

While the scriptures are clear on the morality of some issues, on the more mundane issues, it is largely silent, and it is up to us to apply principle to determine these issues.

So to answer questions of the gray areas of personal morality, Romans 14 is very instructive.

The Apostle Paul taught that, while some matters are black and white, other matters, like whether it is a sin to eat meat offered to idols, are up to the invidual. He gives the following guide to navigating such gray areas:

1. Obey Your Conscience

Each person ought to obey his or her own conscience in the matter. If I feel something is wrong, I should not do it. If I feel it is OK, I can do it.
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. (Romans 14:5)

2. Exercise Concern for Others

For those who feel free to enage in a questionable activity, Paul remarks that they should let concern for others guide their actions. If my friend feels it is *not* OK to drink alcohol (maybe he is an ex-alcholic), but I feel it is OK for me, I should still restrain myself around him out of concern for him, even though my conscience does not bother me.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (Romans 14:1)

Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way (Romans 14:13)

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Romans 14:19)

There is a balance to this, though. If you have an overactive conscience because you are trapped in an overly strict ideology, you lack freedom, and I may need to tactfully display freedom in your presence to let you know that you are bound! Remember how willing Jesus was to offend the religious sensibilities of those caught in the Pharisaical religious system.

3. Avoid Condemnation of Others

For those who do not feel free to enage in a questionable activity, Paul asks that they do not JUDGE the person who feels he has the freedom to do so. Each should obey his own conscience and leave it at that.
Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

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. (Romans 14:10)

Sweet, huh? Hat tip to J. Vernon McGee, the great radio bible teacher, who first showed me this. He's not with us anymore, but his teaching is still on the radio!


  • Did you sleep last night? That's a whole lot a posting!

    By Blogger Aaron, at 3/31/2005 5:58 AM  

  • "If you have an overactive conscience because you are trapped in an overly strict ideology, you lack freedom, and I may need to tactfully display freedom in your presence to let you know that you are bound!"

    But Paul's not referring to any "overly strict" ideologies, is he? Consider Rom 14:6-9. Paul's not saying, as you seem to be, that "each person ought to obey his or her own conscience" in whatever matter is at hand, is he? (Sorry if I'm reading-in to what you're trying to say.) Paul's continuing his point from Rom 13 here where he said that we should "conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day" & "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." So, in Rom 14, he tells us that even though some Christians might choose to eat any food while others might become vegetarian, neither should be judged by the other because both are doing so "in honor of the Lord." He's already quoted 4 of the 10 Commandments in Rom 13:9 so he's not referring here to a difference of ideological opinion, is he? He's saying that there are various devotions that Christians can use in "honor of the Lord" to serve Him.

    Am I mistaking your point?

    By Anonymous Moochie, at 3/31/2005 12:36 PM  

  • You are right, I am generalizing his specific point instead of merely using it in its narrow context - I only did this for brevity, since a more detailed discussion of conscience is longer - but I do believe that we can faithfully globalize these principles rather than just applying them in the immediate context.

    1 Corinthians 8-10 have a lot on the same subject, which I think makes it more clear that Paul is using the whole meat eating thing as a specific example to expound general principles.

    Here are some other scriptures on conscience.

    By Blogger papa, at 3/31/2005 5:33 PM  

  • So you're moving from the literal sense of these passages to the moral sense of them, yes? I that respect, I see your point. But be careful about generalizing overmuch with this issue. The problem is that it could lead folks to rationalize certain behavior that Paul never meant to be supported by his point. We can only read Scripture in the moral sense if we remain honest about the fact that the literal sense of Scripture continues to hold priority.

    As I'm sure you know, there are some folks out there - let's call them *modernists* - who simply deny the inspired character of Scriptural passages they find distasteful or troubling. All Scripture is inspired, not only the parts we're comfy with! And some seek to explain away the literal sense of Scripture by focusing predominantly on a symbolic reading of specific passages. The morality taught in Scripture is not a static thing but an unfolding thing. So it can be a very grave mistake indeed for folks to use specific passaged in Scripture to support some very non-Biblical ideologies. Ever heard of so-called *queer apologists*? They use Scripture to support & rationalize thier homosexual behavior! But where they go wrong is that they take passages out of context, picking & choosing to suit their needs. Other folks use the fact that God permitted divorce under the Mosaic covenant to say that divorce is really OK; but Christ clarified for us that God the Father permitted divorce because of the hardness of people's hearts, not because it was His will. (That's just an example & not meant to be a full treatment on divorce. Folks in abusive relationships may have no alternative. And that's another discussion.)

    There are also some anagogical senses to the passages from Romans you're discussing. Not every Christian will be inclined to a specific devotion, but that does not devalue that devotion. Some, as Paul points out, will sacrifice meat to honor God, & that's OK. But not all will desire to do that. (Your point about alcohol is apt, though not from the POV of a spiritual devotion, but to help a brother or sister in their quest to remain sober.) But taking Paul's point farther into the spiritual: Say you're more attracted to group prayer while I'm more contepletive. Both are fine, so long as they're done for the glory & honor of God. But for either of us to say that the other is *wrong* would be an error as both are pleasing forms of prayer in the eyes of God! We'd be saying *our* way is better & more pleasing to Him. Such ethnocentrism is prideful & wouldn't be pleasing in God's eyes, would it?

    Sorry . . . I love this stuff!

    By Anonymous Moochie, at 3/31/2005 9:57 PM  

  • Moochie, i think we agree, but i think you are making this too complicated. We agree that we should strive to exegete the specific intended meaning of each passage as our primary resonsibility.

    However, when it is also clearly meant as an illustration of a broader principle, as I believe this case is and should be, especially in light of the other scriptures, we should do so.

    To say this another way, we should first strive to interpret a passage within its immediate context, but also in the context of the entire bible, in order that our understanding of the subject is complete. That includes building our own theological constructs around an idea (like conscience, or like navigating gray areas) if the scriptures don't have such a clear construct.

    That is what theology is all about - because not all biblical ideas are as clearly and logically presented as those in Romans - and even the ideas in Romans could yeild to a nice general (larger) theological construct.

    By Blogger papa, at 3/31/2005 10:24 PM  

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