Making Mature Decisions

The New Testament does not give many specific “do” and “don’ts” as in the Old Testament.  There are many specific commands, but we must make the majority of our decisions using principles established in the word of God.  We do not have a specific command:  “Thou shalt not cheat on your federal income tax form.”  Nevertheless, we do have the principles of honesty, fairness, and “paying taxes to whom taxes are due” in the scriptures.  The Bible does not outline specifics on our apparel (how long, how tight or loose, etc.) but does command us to be modest, able to blush, not to incite others to lust, and wear clothing that reflects godliness, not worldliness.  Through an honest application of these principles, we can determine what is proper attire.
Some will say, “But the Bible doesn’t say not to” when trying to defend something that may have no specific restriction but is against the very principles of Christianity.  Does the defendant believe in a loophole that will allow his behavior to pass on the Day of Judgment?  There are things that might be good that are forbidden in certain circumstances such as eating meat in 1 Corinthians 8:13.  Eating meat offered to an idol is not wrong unless it would cause my brother to stumble.

As Christians, we must grow to maturity so we can use the word of God to make decisions in our lives.  We must pursue or avoid some things based on general principles of godliness and holiness.  The Bible does not tell us what specific movies to watch, books to read, music to listen to, or TV programs to watch.  We are given principles that must guide our thoughts: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things,” Philippians 4:8. 

Some may be frustrated since there are not many “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not’s” in the New Testament (note: The Old Testament had guiding principles as well: Matthew 22:34-40).  However, God is trying to make us better people, not just individuals who can read a checklist and do what is commanded.  God did not create us to check off a list of commands but to transform us into Christ-like creatures that want to be godly, holy, and useful for every good work.  We must guide our mind by principles in addition to following specific commands.
You will find no particular book of the New Testament that lists all of these principles.  The principles are spread throughout the Bible, are seen in the life of Christ, and are the very fabric from which the Christian life is made. By daily study and practice, we can learn the principles and the thought processes that must guide our daily decisions.

Choose Friends With Care

One of our strongest influences is our friends.  The friends we choose will help us draw closer to God or go farther away from Him.  There are good examples like Cornelius in Acts 10 who invited his friends to hear the gospel.  There are bad examples like the friends of Rehoboam, in 2 Chronicles 10, who gave Rehoboam bad advice which cost him most of the kingdom.

Proverbs 12:26 and 22:24-25 warns us to choose our friends carefully since the wicked can lead us astray.  Most people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 15:33:  “Evil company corrupts good habits.”  When our closest friends are people who do not share our faith, priorities, and principles, we create the potential for many conflicts and unnecessary tests of our faith.

 We should not abandon friendships with non-Christians, but should make our closest companions (who are in greater positions of influence) those who share our values and priorities.  Some have lost their faith by associating with very worldly people thinking, “I will change them.”  However, it is often the child of God who is changed, and usually for the worse.  Paul prefaces his “evil companions” warning of 1 Corinthians 15:33 with “Do not be deceived.”  It is easy for us to deceive ourselves and think that others cannot corrupt us.

Good friends can greatly strengthen us.  Proverbs 27:17 teaches that good friends can improve one another as iron sharpening iron. We should choose our closest friends from the children of God.  They understand the trials that we face, the importance of service to God, and the principles that guide our lives.  By our mutual associations, we can encourage one another to do what is right, Hebrews 10:24-25.

Beware What Entertains You!

Although we may not realize it, the things that entertain us can greatly influence us. Their influence is more subtle, like the gradual erosion of a rock by rain, wind, and heat. Yet, gradually the entertainment industry can shape our minds. Many women have poor self-esteem because they cannot look like television stars or models. However, the stars and models do not look perfect either! We see the final product, filtered by editing rooms and touch up artists. There are no perfect looking people and, as the Bible teaches, these transitory features must not be our focus anyway, Proverbs 31:30.

The media culture will try to convince us that we do not have enough.  It teaches that unless we have certain labels on our clothes, certain jobs, elite neighborhoods, and the like, that we will be miserable.  Therefore, we must continue to shop and continue to buy.  Proverbs 27:20 warns us: “Hell and Destruction are never full; So the eyes of man are never satisfied.”  We must be content, 1 Timothy 6:6.

The entertainment industry often teaches values that are not in harmony with the Scriptures.  The popular culture approves of many things contrary to sound doctrine (Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 5:19-21).  We can desensitize ourselves to the abhorrent nature of these sins by exposing ourselves to it a little at a time.  The gradual assault on our minds can erode our good morals and godly principles.  Sadly, we have opened the door for these influences, sat them down in our houses, and parents have even placed them before their children.

Positive entertainment, when shared by godly friends, can draw people closer together.  We can do many activities as Christians.  Our joy is enhanced when we can do those activities with our fellow brethren and families.  There are some movies and TV shows, though rare, that provide positive lessons and exemplify good principles.  Some songs extol the marriage relationship, the parent-child relationship, and doing the right thing.  We can properly use what is good but must shun evil.

Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).

Do I Have To Love Other Christians?

God commands us to love our brethren.  Loving my brother is not an option, nor is it a command that I can follow selectively.  Although we realize that some brethren’s personalities clash with ours, or they have habits or idiosyncrasies that bother us, we must work harder to overcome these minor things to be brethren.

Some have the attitude, “I have to love him but that doesn’t mean that I have to like him.”  Perhaps they wish to reconcile the command to love our brethren and the reality that some brethren can be obnoxious, overbearing, insensitive, and annoying.  How can we truly have love for our brethren if we do not make significant attempts to overcome the natural reaction to avoid these people?  Will we show true hospitality, help, love, and concern for someone we love but whom we make conscious efforts to avoid?  A better approach is to look past character traits to the soul within.  Perhaps the gentle rebuke made in sincere love could chisel away some undesirable characteristics to make the brother lovable to others.  Certainly, there are people who grate on our nerves but we probably grate on the nerves of others as well.

Paul addresses the need to make a special effort to love the unlovable in Colossians 3:13: “bear with one another.”  The word “bear” here is used elsewhere of God suffering or bearing with us (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19).  In 2 Corinthians 11:1,19, the same word is used in a sense that we might translate as put up with.  There is a great need for us to suffer with, forbear, put up with, and bear with one another.  We come from different backgrounds, geographical areas, financial situations, educational levels, etc.  We are a dissimilar people unified into one body under one head.  It is essential that we bear with one another and not willfully withhold our full love for some brethren because we do not “like” them.  “What do you do more than others?  Even the tax collectors love those who love them,” Matthew 5:46 (paraphrased)