Faithlife Sermons

Gray Areas

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I have to admit to you - and Kelly, Eddie, my co-workers, really about anyone that knows me can attest to this – I am a black and white person. When it comes to doing something, saying something, being someone, I believe that we have just two areas – either we are black or white on these subject. Either you are right or wrong. There is no gray area – at least I find it hard to see the gray areas. For me, saying that we have gray areas means that we are just admitting to ourselves that we are physically incapable to admit or decide what we are doing or saying is right or wrong. Not sure if I am like this because of the way I was raised or because of my time in the military and as a deputy sheriff. Either way you look at it, we are either right or wrong – good or bad – righteous or evil. There can’t be any gray areas.
We are faced every day with countless decisions—some seem small and insignificant. Others loom large. What do we choose?
Within God’s Word, we are commanded to do many things. His Word is clear that as Christians we are to search the Scriptures, walk by the Spirit, and praise God for everything.
However, there are many things that God’s Word commands us not to do as well. As Christians, we know that from Scripture immorality is wrong, murder is wrong, taking the Lords name in vain is wrong.
But, unfortunately, there are many things in the world today that the Bible just does not give direction on. Areas of conduct that Scripture does not directly address in and of themselves. These areas are referred to by many as “gray areas” because they are not recognized as being inherently right or wrong.
Many of us have, or have had, questions about areas that are not addressed in Scripture.
Rarely does anyone ask if it’s wrong to lie, to steal, commit murder or adultery. Most Christians don’t need to ask whether or not to pray, read the Bible, and introduce people to Jesus; the Bible is clear about these things and many more.
There are other things, though, that the Bible is not clear about – things that fall into “gray areas.” Our choices in the “gray” areas matter; in fact, they make all the difference. The gray areas of our lives are really important.
Could there possibly be a way to completely banish “gray areas” from our lives and churches?
Biblical Christianity is filled with black and white statements. In John 14:6 Jesus states:
““I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3 states:
“For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality”
These statements leave no room for any arguments on the way to the Father or on God’s opinion of sexual immorality.
If God really loves us as much as he says (and he does), and if his Son Jesus Christ died on the cross for us so that we could have this relationship with God as our Father (and he did), and if God really did send His Holy Spirit to empower us and guide us (and he did), then surely He must mean it when He says He wants to direct our steps and guide our path through life (and he does).
Psalm 119 says:
“I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.”
That’s a great promise! But what do we do when we are faced with a decision and the Bible doesn’t say anything about it?
What about the things in Scripture that are not clearly stated?
What about the “non-essential” concepts that are taught, but the practical applications are not completely spelled out?
Welcome to the dreaded “gray areas.”
While the Bible contains many principles that apply to these subjects, you would be hard pressed to defend an airtight “black and white” stance on these issues strictly from the Bible.
So how do you deal with them? Could there be more than one correct view of a moral principle?
It’s not easy. We are faced with decisions every day, now more than ever before— even in the simplest of places. Did you know that 30 years ago a trip to the supermarket meant that you would be faced with an average of about 9,000 choices of products? Compare that to today, when you go to the store you will be faced with having to choose from over 35,000 products. That’s the average grocery store; that’s not even counting stores like Meyer or Walmart! Even a trip to the store nowadays can be filled with stressful decisions!
Here lies my main beef with gray areas. It seems like a cop-out. I find it hard to imagine the holy, holy, holy Yahweh to have multiple opinions on ANY topic or issue. Yet in our postmodern world, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap that everybody can be right. And it’s also far too easy to label something as a “gray area” instead of actually making the effort to study it in depth and take a personal stand.
The Bible is not Google. You can’t just type in a question and receive an immediate answer to every topic that you will ever face.
Studying God’s Word can be a difficult and intimidating task. And while many of us may pride ourselves of having a strong work ethic, I feel that our mental work ethic often leaves much to be desired.
Fortunately, while many times the Bible doesn’t tell us directly what decisions we should make, it does give us clear guidelines for how to make decisions. Today I want to point you to some questions you can ask yourself that, if you prayerfully ask them whenever you are trying to make decisions, I guarantee that you will choose correctly.
These guiding questions are given to us in 1 Corinthians. I encourage you to keep these in your Bible or put them someplace where you can refer back to them when you make decisions about what you are doing or will do.
READ 1 CORINTHIANS 10:23-33
1 Corinthians 10:23–33 CSB
“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person. Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, without raising questions for the sake of conscience, since the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. If any of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions for the sake of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This is food from a sacrifice,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for the sake of conscience. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I partake with thanksgiving, why am I criticized because of something for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.
Questions that we as Christians need to ask:
1. Will it edify others?
The first question we need to ask ourselves when we are making decisions about a gray area comes from verse 23:
“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up.”
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, and when he made this statement, he was quoting what others in the church were saying. Apparently, there were some in the church who were bragging about how much freedom they had as Christians, and that they could do whatever they wanted to do. So, Paul quoted them to say, “You brag about having freedom to do anything you want, but is what you are doing the most beneficial and constructive thing you can do?”
So, when we are faced with a decision, the first question we want to ask ourselves about whatever choice we are facing is this:
Will it edify others? Is it helpful and fruitful?
If I do whatever it is, if I am considering something that can be classified as a gray area, will it be beneficial and constructive for myself and for others that I witness to? Paul is saying, “Sure, I can do whatever I want, but will it really do the most good— will it help the most people?” People in the church in Corinth were bragging about their own freedom, and Paul was saying that there’s something more important than our own freedom that we need to consider.
As Christians, we could choose to do whatever, but we’re compelled by a greater set of rules bound by love, and this is one of those: we must seek to do what is beneficial and constructive. We can justify just about anything, but Paul is saying our Christian life is not just about you—it’s about what will be most helpful for others. Will your decision be beneficial and constructive?
2. Will it master you?
The next question then comes from this same teaching, but from an earlier chapter, chapter six. You get the idea that the church in Corinth was feeling pretty self-righteous about doing whatever they wanted to do as Christians. So Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 6:12:
““Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.”
Do you see that last phrase – “I will not be mastered by anything”? Paul is setting the example for us, so we need to ask ourselves the question:
- Will this gray area master you?
There are so many things in this world that are addictive and before long can control us. It’s that old joke about the person who wants to quit smoking, and says, “I can quit smoking anytime I want to. I just don’t want to right now.” Well, then the odds are you don’t control it – it controls you.
The Bible is very clear: we have only one master, and that is Jesus Christ. We are not to let anything or anyone else master us. So, whenever you are faced with a decision, you need to ask yourself – is this going to end up controlling me? And maybe you don’t think it will, so ask, “has this thing controlled other people before? Is this an addictive behavior that others have struggled with?” If so, then I’d strongly suggest you steer clear of it.
The third question is:
3. Will it be for the good of others?
In verse 24 Paul says:
“No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person.”
This is a key question to ask ourselves if we are to genuinely follow God as believers in Jesus: “What is my motive? Why am I wanting to make this decision?”
If your outlook about the decision is that you intend to do it regardless of anyone else or how it affects others, then you had better turn around—it’s a bad decision.
Ask yourself, “Is this something I want to do, and who cares about anyone else? Or is it coming from a heart of love and a desire to do good for others?”
If your decision is coming from a heart of selfishness, then the decision is wrong, so examine your motives carefully.
We are told in Philippians 2:3-4:
Philippians 2:3–4 CSB
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Be sure to check your motives in any decision, especially the major ones. Make sure you are motivated by love for others.
The fourth question we need to ask ourselves when the Bible seems to be silent is:
4. Does it violate your conscience?
Remember that Paul was addressing the question of whether or not they should eat meat that had been previously offered to idols. To the Jewish Christians it was an offense, but to the Gentile Christians who didn’t have the Jewish laws and legalism, it was just meat—it didn’t really matter where it came from.
Listen to our Scripture from the viewpoint from The Message. Here, the Message translation really unpacks this question of integrity.
We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.
With that as a base to work from, common sense can take you the rest of the way. Eat anything sold at the butcher shop, for instance; you don’t have to run an “idolatry test” on every item. “The earth,” after all, “is God’s, and everything in it.” That “everything” certainly includes the leg of lamb in the butcher shop. If a nonbeliever invites you to dinner and you feel like going, go ahead and enjoy yourself; eat everything placed before you. It would be both bad manners and bad spirituality to cross-examine your host on the ethical purity of each course as it is served. On the other hand, if he goes out of his way to tell you that this or that was sacrificed to god or goddess so-and-so, you should pass. Even though you may be indifferent as to where it came from, he isn’t, and you don’t want to send mixed messages to him about who you are worshiping.
But, except for these special cases, I’m not going to walk around on eggshells worrying about what small-minded people might say; I’m going to stride free and easy, knowing what our large-minded Master has already said. If I eat what is served to me, grateful to God for what is on the table, how can I worry about what someone will say? I thanked God for it and he blessed it!
Basically, what is being said is this – go ahead and make your decision, as long as it’s ethical and you can do so with integrity. After all, our integrity and our ethics is what people will see and judge us with. If your conscience tells you “don’t do it,” then don’t do it. But it’s not just your conscience— you should also consider others’ conscience as well.
Paul is saying that you should watch out for other peoples and their conscience, too. As Christians, we may feel it’s okay to do something, that we have the freedom to do it and it doesn’t bother our conscience, but if there is someone else whose conscience would be bothered by us doing whatever, then we may want to reconsider. Why selfishly pursue something that may result in negatively affecting those around us and their Christian growth. It just is not worth it!
1. Will it edify others?
2. Will it master you?
3. Will it be for the good of others?
4. Does it violate your conscience?
The next question comes from verse 31:
“So, whether you eat or dring, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
So the fifth question, and one of the most important, is:
5. - Will it bring glory to God?
This is a critical question. Do you remember several years ago when everyone was wearing those bracelets that had the letters “WWJD” on them—for “What Would Jesus Do”? While you wouldn’t see anyone waring those today, I still believe that we need to live our Christian life asking ourselves that question. Because everything that Jesus did while walking on this earth was to bring glory to God in everything.
We need to ask ourselves with whatever gray area that we are facing:
- Who will get the most glory from my decision - God or Me?
Living our lives for the Glory of God alone should be our primary motivation. That’s what the Bible means in Romans 12:1-2:
Romans 12:1–2 CSB
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
That means that we want our lives—all we do with our lives—to be a form of worship to God. And worship means that we give to God the glory that is due him; that he deserves.
Notice, too, that verse says that’s how we’ll know what God’s will for us is! So, in every decision we face we want to ask this question: Will it bring Glory to God?
Matthew 5:16, Jesus tells us:
Matthew 5:16 CSB
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
In other words, as Christians, we are being God’s light to this world. And therefore, our actions, our words, are God’s light to everyone around us and we need to be cautious of our decisions, our actions, to those around us that they reflect God’s light to them.
And finally, our final question to ask yourself:
6. Will it cause a weak Christian to stumble?
Verse 32 tells us:
“Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, as that they may be saved.”
The NIV translation puts it this way:
“Don’t do anything that causes another person to trip or fall. It doesn’t matter if that person is a Jew or a Greek or a member of God’s church.”
Remember that some people in Corinth were bragging about their freedom to eat whatever they wanted. So, Paul warned them not to blatantly act on that freedom without thinking about how it would affect someone else. While some actions might not be a sin for you, it could lead to sin for someone else. Paul told them, before they acted on their decisions, to ask themselves:
- Will it cause a weak Christian to struggle?
Whatever gray area you are facing, maybe you could justify it and your conscience won’t bother you. But if you do it, will it lead someone else to sin – another Christian who perhaps is not as strong as you? You might be able to handle it, but will someone else?
But how do I know if my decision will or won’t cause someone to sin? You don’t always know. So here’s a good rule:
When in doubt, do without.
If you suspect that your decision might result in someone stumbling into sin, then don’t do it. It’s not worth it!
In fact, Paul said this himself in Romans 14:21
“It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.”
Did you hear that?
That’s important, because Paul was only repeating what Jesus stated in Mark 9:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
We are here to help each other, not hurt each other.
We don’t want to cause our fellow Christians—our brothers and sisters in Christ— to stumble and sin. But it’s not just Christians we’re to think about; it’s the impact our decision will have on non-Christians, too. That is why we need to make sure that whatever decision we make, whether we fill it’s a gray area or not, we need to make sure that we are being the light of God to those around us.
If you are a believer in Jesus, your purpose is to introduce the people around you to Jesus Christ. There are those who don’t know him yet, and you have been commissioned by Jesus to introduce him to others. The last thing you want is to have your decisions discourage people from accepting Christ. You want to set a good example for them. Paul concludes this passage on making good decisions by saying in verse 33:
“just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.”
So that they may be saved! (repeat)
Does that drive your decision? That should always drive our decisions. This is especially true when we are faced with gray areas.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 from The Message:
1 Corinthians 9:19–23 The Message
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
We, too, should do everything possible to share the Good News of God’s love with others.
Imagine how your decision will impact them.
Will it move them closer to a faith in Christ, or further away?
If the Bible doesn’t give us clear-cut directions, then those decisions must be made of quality perception by asking quality questions. If we ignore or disregard this advice, then those decisions - and the results - could hold eternal impact in our lives and the lives of lost people around us. I think you can see that the gray really does matter. A right decision will make an enormous positive impact in the Kingdom of God.
Keep in mind that these questions are good for each of us to ask ourselves, especially when faced by a subject that could be a gray area. However, keep in mind that these questions can pose a danger as well. Do not be tempted to evaluate those Christians around you with these questions. You may think that other Christians are doing things that they shouldn’t, but if something is not directly addressed in Scripture, it is not our job to evaluate whether someone else should or should not be doing something. This list of questions is not perfect, but it is a good starting point for any area that we feel is a gray area. Each person should evaluate his or her own conduct with questions like these and with Scripture.
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