April 19

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Mark 4:1-20; 1 Corinthians 10:14-33; Psalm 89:11-18; Judges 8

Paul brings this section of 1 Corinthians to a close with a general summary of his principles for ethical guidance. Lest anyone think becoming “all things to all men” (9:22) means that nothing is off limits, Paul calls on them to flee from idolatry (10:14). While he has said that idols are nothing (8:4; 10:19), he does not deny the existence of other spiritual beings. He reminds the Corinthians that demons do exist, and that it is wrong for Christians to be involved with them. There are limits to what we can do in the name of being “all things to all men.”

In today’s pluralistic world, curiosity about and tolerance of other religions is promoted. While Christians should know about other religions and religious ceremonies, participating in these practices is prohibited. Courses that survey world religions can become smorgasbords offering opportunities to experience different religious practices and experiences. Even if a Christian thinks he or she has strong enough faith, participation is not appropriate. Practices offered for healing or relaxation or inner development must be scrutinised to ensure they are not disguised religious practices. Reiki, for example, involves the healer contacting spirits (which Paul here calls demons) to bring healing. Our world is enamoured by many spiritual practices which are incompatible with following Jesus.

While some things are immoral, Paul returns quickly to his general principle that “everything is permissible” (10:23). He seems to recognise a human tendency to inappropriately broaden the category of what is immoral. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus similarly condemns the tendency to elevate human traditions to the status of divine commandments (Mark 7:1-13). God does declare some things absolutely wrong and some things always right. We must be careful not to include ‘grey areas’ among the black and white.

Yet even if something is permitted, Paul declares that this doesn’t mean it is beneficial or edifying (10:23). Decisions on amoral issues should not be based on our freedoms and rights, but on the good of others. Will my freedom to do this cause another to violate his conscience? If so, then I should willingly restrict myself. Will my refusal to do something amoral offend a non-believer? If so, then I should be willing to participate so that it may improve the chances of someone being saved. Either way, all things should be done for the glory of God and the good of others.

Underlying all of these is the importance of being in prayer over our decisions, seeking wise counsel, and being led by the Holy Spirit.

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