Which way do you go when you march off the map?
Ron Hutchcraft tells of a Roman officer leading his troops on a dangerous mission far from home. At one point they cross into land beyond any territory ever explored by the Empire. The commander orders his troops halt and make camp, and sends his fastest courier back to Rome with a brief but slightly desperate message: “Have just marched off map. Please send further instructions.”
I’ve been there, haven’t you? I’ve ended up somewhere neither my map nor my GPS recognize. It’s strange and frustrating not knowing which direction to go, longing for some familiar landmark, some road sign to give you further instructions.
Tonight I want to talk to you about another way we march off the map and need further instructions.
Every born again Christian believes the Bible is our road map for life’s journey. God’s Word tells us how to get from where we are to God, how to get to heaven. It gives us moral direction: the basics of what’s right and wrong, what pleases God and what displeases Him.
Yet in spite of all the clear directions of Scripture, there are times when we march off the map. We face choices and issues that are never clearly dealt with in God’s Word. Such as:
· Which political party (if any) should you belong to?
· Should a Christian celebrate Halloween?
· Should a Christian invest in the stock market?
· When it comes to men’s hair, how long is too long?
· When it comes to women’s shorts, how short is too short?
The Bible doesn’t specifically mention smoking, dancing, gambling, bowling, or mixed swimming. When you deal with these kinds of issues, you are marching off the map. How do you know for sure which way to go? Is there any way to get further instructions, not in the form of new revelation, but some way to apply what the Bible says to these “off the map” issues?
I believe there is. I think God gives us some clear “further instructions” about dealing with off the map issues in 1 Cor. 10:23, 24, 31. I want to offer these further instructions to you in the form of 3 questions, based on these verses. Let’s begin looking in vs. 23.
The book of 1 Corinthians is full of questions asked by people of the church in Corinth to the apostle Paul. This a church with a lot of problems. They are divided in factions, following different leaders. They are tolerating gross sin in the lives of their members.
Their worship services are religious free-for-alls, where they misuse and misunderstand the Lord’s Supper, the gift of tongues, and the resurrection—as well as other important doctrines. In other words, they were a lot like the church of today.
One issue that I think we’ve gotten past is the one Paul addresses in these verses. You have to go all the way back to 1 Cor. 8:1 to find out he is dealing with the question of whether or not it’s OK for a Christian to eat meat that’s been sacrificed to idols. Let me allow John MacArthur to explain this custom
The Greeks and Romans…believed…evil spirits would try to invade human beings by attaching themselves to food before it was eaten, and that the spirits could be removed only by the food’s being sacrificed to a god. The sacrifice was meant…to cleanse the meat from demonic contamination…That which was not burned on the altar was served at wicked pagan feasts. What was left was sold in the market.[i]
This meat was often sold for a much cheaper price. The question: is it OK for Christians to eat this meat or not? Paul goes into great detail exploring and explaining the issue, until finally in the verses here he sums up some further instructions on how to handle not only meat, but any other “off the map” issue. I want to express his conclusions in the form of 3 questions which you and I should ask when we march off the map and need further instructions.
Question #1: What is best for me? (v. 23)
This seems like a little selfish question to begin with. But be sure you understand the question: not what is best to me, , not what do I want, but what is best for me, no matter what I want.
Paul says plenty of things are legal, but not helpful; many things are not necessarily bad, but they aren’t good for me, (not all things edify=build up.) The question is not what can I get away with? But what is best for me?
This guideline makes more sense when you understand your life is a stewardship from God. God expects you to do whatever keeps you healthy in mind, heart, and body, and to stay away from things that are unhealthy. There are many things the Bible doesn’t specifically call sinful but you know they’re not really good for you.
For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say it's a sin to smoke or chew or dip. Many well-meaning Christians act as if the Bible says in black and white thou shalt not use tobacco in any form whatsoever. But I haven’t found that verse in my Bible.
But there are warnings pasted on every tobacco product in the USA which tell you tobacco use causes cancer. It doesn’t say it may cause cancer—it tells you that it has been proven to cause cancer in human beings. You have to take that into consideration when you ask the question is this good for me?
The same can be said about food—not just eating too much (a problem I am too well acquainted with) but what kinds of food you consume. Nowhere in the Bible does it say thou shalt not pig out on Domino’s pizza and coca-cola but you don’t have to be a nutrition nut to know that’s probably not good for you. I’m not telling you it’s a sin to eat a candy bar, but whatever you eat, it’s a good idea to ask is this good for me?
There are other things that really may not be wrong in themselves but they can still be harmful to you.
I’ve heard people claim media really doesn’t affect us much, if at all. They claim that watching slasher movies or playing violent video game doesn’t automatically turn you into a serial killer. That’s true, but then that’s not the question. The question is is this good for me?
Advertisers have done the research. They know if they can get your attention for even a 30 second commercial, it influences what you buy. It certainly won’t make you buy something, but it will influence what you buy.
Some people tell me they only listen to the music, and ignore the lyrics. Yet they can still quote word for word the lyrics. Do you really believe you can have something memorized and it have no influence on you?
I’m not trying to tell you what to do or not do—my purpose is to get you to think. If it’s clearly condemned in the Bible I have no problem telling you that’s sin, that’s an offense to God, you need to quit. But when it comes off-the-map issues, my goal is to get you and me to begin with this simple question: is this best for me?
Last time I was at DQ I saw a sign at the drive-thru window warning people that food served there had peanuts in it. That didn’t seem such a shocking revelation until I remembered how some people are deadly allergic to peanuts. Imagine one of these folks getting angry. I have as much right to eat peanuts as anybody else! I might even like the way they taste! There’s nothing wrong with eating peanuts. Why shouldn’t I have peanuts on my ice cream sundae? It’s not a question of right and wrong—it’s a question of what is good for you.
This is the first question when you march off the map and need further instructions: Not what’s wrong with it, but is this good for me? Does it build me up in my faith? Does it help me draw nearer to Jesus, or does it tend to pull me away from Him? If you will be open to the Holy Spirit, this question can guide you into knowing what you should do—or not do.
But this isn’t the only question Paul raises.
Question #2: What is best for others? (v. 24)
When you march off the map, you don’t need to just think about yourself, but about others—especially those who are influenced by what they see you do.
Should a Christian eat meat used in idol worship, or should they refuse to buy or consume it? He answers in vs. 25-28.
Paul here is concerned about the influence of these “off the map” issues are on those around us—especially people who may not be as grounded in their faith as you are. He stresses this point back in 1 Cor. 8:9-13. Eating this meat offered to idols made some of the new Christians think well, if it’s OK for him to eat this meat, then it must be OK for me to eat it. Maybe it’s OK for me to go back to the temple and see my old friends. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with worshipping with them either.
Paul’s point is: we need to think about how our decisions affect others. Let me give you some examples.
Suppose for some strange reason you are riding on Highway 20 in Tuscumbia and pass by the Stagger Lee Lounge, where you can’t believe your eyes—there is pastor Mike me walking his van parked there, walking into the door of the bar. Would that bother you? You’ll never guess who I saw walk into the Stagger Lee Lounge!
Now suppose an alcoholic who just got saved saw me enter that bar. Maybe I went in for some good reason (though I cannot imagine one right now!) My actions have the potential for tripping this brother up. That preacher tells me to quit drinking and here he is at the bar!
Could Satan use this incident to tempt this brother? Sure. That’s why you won’t find me stopping by for a coke down at Stagger Lee’s. (No, I’ve never been there. I got the address from the internet.)
Now let’s take me out of the picture and put you in. Suppose a friend walks into a Christmas party where there’s drinking and drugs and other immoral things going on. You’re supposed to be a Christian, you’re not doing those evil things, but you don’t seem to have a problem with what other people are doing. Your presence here is telling them one thing: All this bad stuff must not be so bad. After all, Joe Christian is here, and he’s not bothered.
Again, please understand: I’m not trying to make decisions for you, I’m just trying to get you
to think. Your choices, even about off the map issues, influence (for better or for worse) the people around you—your family, your friends, other Christians. Nowhere does the Bible say thou shalt not walk into a bar (especially if you’re a preacher), or thou shalt not go to wild parties. But God does say quite clearly
Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. When you march off the map, is this the question you ask: what is best for others?
1 Corinthians 8:9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.
Matthew 18:6-7 6“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
You are not responsible for other people’s choices, but listen you are responsible for your influence on others.
Edith Schaeffer writes When I was a little girl my mother would often say to me, "Edith, I know just who you've been playing with today." She knew because I had become something like the other little girl, whichever one it was, enough like her that the girl could be identified by my changed accent, my mannerisms, and other telltale changes. Children often copy other children quite unconsciously. So do adults.[ii]
The Lord Jesus wants you to be a positive influence on the people around you, even if it means limiting your own freedom for their sake. This is part of what it means to love your neighbor as you love yourself—whether that neighbor is your spouse, your kids, your friends, or anybody else. When you march off the map, and you need further instructions, ask yourself what is best for others?
One more important question you need to ask is
Question #3: What is best for God? (v. 31)
This is the ultimate question for the believer who is sold out completely to Jesus. When you march off the map, your main goal never changes: you are created to bring glory of Jesus Christ. Whatever brings Him glory you need to do; whatever doesn’t bring Him glory you shouldn’t do.
But even this can be tricky, can’t it? I think about all those folks who say Lord, help me win the Powerball jackpot, and I’ll be sure the church gets their 10%. But you cannot gamble for the glory of God because gambling is not about what honors God, but about greed and covetousness. It is so easy to rationalize and twist logic so far as to think you can do wrong for the glory of God.
Answering this question is tricky because it addresses the area of motivation—not just what you do but why you do it. If you want the true answer, you have to look deep and uncover what’s in your heart.
Can you eat pizza to the glory of God? Can you watch TV for the glory of God? Can you go on vacation for the glory of God?
None of these activities are wrong, and all of them can be done for the glory of God.
One person can do these for God’s glory with a thankful, loving heart, and another person could do them with little or no thought of God at all. How can you be sure of the difference? Let me suggest 3 tests:
The thankfulness test. Can I do this or participate in this with a grateful heart to God? Or does something seem wrong about thanking God for this?
The conscience test. Does this offend my conscience? Do I have to do some heavy rationalizing to convince myself or others this is right? That’s a red flag that ought to lead you to wonder if it really does bring glory to God.
The Jesus test. Do I have a really hard time imagining Jesus doing this? Would I be ashamed if He were standing beside me while I did this?
Doing what is best for God will cost you something. It will rearrange your priorities. It will be a radical reconfiguration of your life. Almost anything you do can be done for God’s glory if your heart is set on glorifying Him.
I want to challenge you this week, at your job, do it for the glory of God. If you're a student, study to the glory of God. If you are playing a sport, do it to the glory of God. If you are sharing the Gospel, do it to His glory. If you've got any doubt in terms of decision this week, ask yourself the question, "What is best for God?"
Jonathan Edwards, one of our nation’s first great theologians, recorded his resolutions for life, which included the first two:
Resolved first: that all men should live for the glory of God.
Resolved second: That whether others do or not, I will.
This is a great resolution that can guide us when we need further instructions.
Charlie Brown stops at the psychiatric help stand to talk with Lucy. He confesses, “My trouble is I never know if I'm doing the right thing. I need to have someone around who can tell me when I'm doing the right thing.” Lucy says, “Okay. You're doing the right thing. That'll be 5 cents, please!” Charlie Brown walks away with a smile on his face. A little he returns with a frown. “Back already?” asks Lucy. “What happened?” Charlie Brown says, “I was wrong. It didn't help. You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you're doing the right thing.” Lucy says, “Now you've really learned something! That'll be another 5 cents please.”
You and I need the Holy Spirit to be our Guide for life. We seek His leading first and foremost through His map for our lives—the Bible. But when we march off the map, when we face issues not directly addressed in the Bible, we need to ask ourselves 3 questions:
What is best for me? What is best for others? What is best for God?
These further instructions will keep you going in the right direction, even when you march off the map. Do you need further instructions tonight?
[i]MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (1 Co 8:1). Nashville: Word Pub.
[ii] Edith Schaeffer in The Art of Life. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 8.