• Pastor Mark Driscoll
    • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
    • May 28, 2006

So Father God, thank you, first of all, that you love us. You care for us. You speak to us through your Word. You give us boundaries for living a holy, healthy and happy life. You want us to obey you so that we might know freedom and joy. God, thank you that in addition to Scripture you’ve given us a conscience to guide us to make decisions where the Scriptures are not clear, so that we might at least be clear where we should land practically in our own lives, and personally for our own choices. And so God, as we study today, we pray for unity as a church around the teachings of Scripture, and we pray for diversity around the issues of conscience.

For that to happen, we ask that the Scriptures be made known to us, that the Holy Spirit would teach us, lead us, guide us and convict us, and we ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

I’ll just start right in, in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. I’ll just read the whole section. Paul is here dealing with one large issue, and I want to read it in totality, and then we’ll pull some principles out and make them applicable to our modern day. 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Now about food sacrificed to idols” – something I know you’re all desperately struggling with is food sacrificed to idols. It’s such a huge issue, that demon meat. “We know that we all possess knowledge” – they were a sort of bragadocious bunch, saying they were very smart. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.”

So it’s important to know things. It’s more important to know that God loves you. “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.”

There he introduces this concept of conscience that will figure very prominently in our discussion today. “But food does not bring us near to God” – all you vegetarians, underline that – food does not bring us closer to God – as well as you steak-eaters, underline it too. “We are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom” – something else we will talk about – “does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” Here he introduces the concept of spiritual weakness, which will also play prominently in our discussion.

“For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” Here’s the issue: Christians exist in a greater, wider, larger culture than just the church in which they participate, and we are called of God to be missionaries into the culture.

In our day, this means that some issues are real controversial. Can I drink alcohol? Can I get a tattoo? Can I listen to hardcore or indie rock or punk rock or whatever my style preference is? Can I get a tattoo? Can I get a piercing? As we are missionaries in greater culture, the question is what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct for a Christian? In Paul’s day, the issue was meat sacrificed to idols, and here’s how it worked: meat was a delicacy. You didn’t get a lot of meat. Meat was generally associated with pagan occultic religious practice.

People would get together, they would slaughter an animal to some false god, false religion. And then they would have a huge barbecue, and everybody would eat meat, and it was part of the pagan worship ceremony of a false god. Some of those people became Christians, and they were conflicted. “Hey, can we eat that meat or not? Is that demon meat, or is that good meat?” Some Christians said, “No, that’s demon meat. It was offered to an idol, a false god. People are eating it in a false religious ceremony. I can’t do that, because that’s wrong.” Other Christians were saying, “It’s meat, and there’s no demon meat, non-demon meat; there’s just meat, and you eat the meat. Thank you, Jesus, for the meat. That’s why God made cows out of steak, so that we would eat them.”

That’s why he did it that way. And so there’s this big debate in the church – can we eat the meat; can we not eat the meat? Today that would be like can we smoke the cigarettes; can we not smoke the cigarettes? Can we get the tattoo; can we not get the tattoo? Can we play in the band; can we not play in the band? And so they asked their pastor Paul this question, because they’re debated over this issue, they’re divided. And so he answers them, and what he does is he’s following in the example and the instruction of Jesus Christ, and I’ll give you some preface. Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers, knowing that these kinds of missionary cultural issues would arise.

And Jesus prayed, “Father, my prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” And Jesus foresaw this for the Corinthian church, and he foresaw this for us, and so he prayed in advance. And what he prayed against was the twin errors of sectarianism and syncretism. Sectarianism is fundamentalism that says, “We restrict ourselves from engaging in culture. We don’t get cable TV. We don’t listen to certain bands. We don’t go to movies. We don’t speak with non-Christians. We separate ourselves with lots of rules and morality and legalisms that distinguish us from non-Christians. Things that aren’t in the Bible, but rules we’ve made.”

And that is what Jesus prayed against – “My prayer is not that my people would leave the world” – that they would dissociate and disengage from culture. Jesus prayed also, on the other hand, he said, “I pray, however, Father, that you would protect them from the evil one.” Jesus was praying there not just against sectarianism, but against syncretism. Not just against fundamentalism, but liberalism. Not just avoiding culture, but so being compromised in culture that your handling of sex and money and power is no different than a non-Christian; it’s worldly, and altogether corrupted. And these are the twin tracks that Christianity tends to ride on: separatistic, fundamentalistic, sectarianism, and compromised, accommodating liberal syncretism.

Jesus prayed against both. Don’t leave the world, and don’t be just like the world. Live in the world. Go as far as you can to participate in culture knowing that some things are a sin, and you have to draw the line, and you cannot do those things. And so we will just jump right in, and we’re gonna look at four questions that we can each individually ask that will help us decide our participation in culture. The first, from 1 Corinthians chapter 8, answers the question can I do this cultural activity? That question is answered by this question: what does my Bible say? What does the Bible say?

The Bible is the Word of God. It’s the law of God. It tells us what God has for us to do and not do. It gives us boundary markers for acceptable and unacceptable human conduct on the earth. We are Bible-believing literalists. We are a Bible-believing church. We make no apologies. We believe that the Bible is universally in principle applicable to all people. It doesn’t matter what culture, what time in history, your gender, your race, your age, your generation, your preferences, your experiences. The Bible speaks to all people, giving them one codified set of truths. What that means is this: rape is always wrong. Murder is always wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong.

Because the Bible says that those things are wrong, and they are for all people, times and places. These are universal sins. Additionally, other things, like homosexuality, fornication – which is sex before marriage, pornography – which is lust, are also spoken of throughout the totality of Scripture, and they too are sins, because when you disobey God’s law you are by definition sinning. 1 John 3, I think it’s around verse 4, says that sin is the breaking of the laws of God. So when God says, “Don’t do this,” and you do it, you are by definition sinning, okay? And so there are universal sins for all people, times, places, and it is applicable to everyone.

So the first thing we must ask: is this something that violates the Bible? If I do this, will I be violating the teachings of the Bible, the law of God, the Word of God, the Commandments of God? And this is how we obtain our Christian unity. Murder, sex before or outside of marriage, lying, stealing, rape – those are sins. We’re not to do them, and if we do we are to repent and not do them anymore. So the first thing is when you’re thinking about engaging in a cultural activity you ask the question what does my Bible say? And if the Bible says “no” then you abstain. But if the Bible doesn’t forbid something, you are free to do it. The question now is should you do it?

There are two questions: can I, second question, should I, do this thing? So then we go to the second question, which is what does my conscience say? See, in addition to Scripture, God has given us a conscience. We’re image-bearers of God. Part of being made in God’s image and likeness is that we all have a conscience. A conscience is like a rudder on a boat; it helps steer you through difficulty and keep you from just drifting and ultimately being destroyed. So some of you, even though you weren’t Christians, or maybe you’re even not today, you’re still a fairly moral person because you’re working out of your conscience that God gave you.

You know that stealing is wrong, and lying is wrong, and raping is wrong, and murder is wrong, and it’s not because you believe the Bible. It’s because your conscience is still functional. So you and I also obey and abide by conscience, which when the Bible doesn’t speak of something clearly, then we operate according to conscience, and the Holy Spirit works through conscience. What this causes us to decide, then, is that some things are a sin for you and not for me, and vice versa. This leads to particular sins. If it violates the Bible, we’re dealing with a universal sin that’s a sin for everyone.

And if we’re dealing with a sin of conscience, we’re dealing with a particular sin that’s only a sin for some people, some places, sometimes, some cultures, some circumstances. And I’ll give you a practical example from my own life. My dad, who probably is here in this service – hey, Pop – he grew up in a family where there were some generations of alcohol abuse – alcoholism. So the drinking stopped with my dad. My dad was not a drunk, and I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home. And growing up, though, I remember reading and being told that there is a genetic link and predisposition toward alcoholism.

So that caused me to be very fearful; I don’t want to be an alcoholic. I don’t want to be a drunk. It stopped with my dad, and I don’t want it to start with me. So what I decided was I would not drink alcohol. Now, does the Bible forbid the consumption of alcohol? No, the Bible says that God gave wine to gladden the heart of man. Jesus’ first miracle was the making of wine. Jesus drank alcohol, right? I mean this is just so clear in Scripture that only a confused fundamentalist could get it obscure, you know? Only they could make it unclear.

But for me, if you would’ve asked me – I became a Christian at 19. I got married at 21. And my wife and I, Grace, we were in college together at Washington State University. And I turned 21, and she said, “Are you gonna have a drink on your 21st birthday?” I said, “No.” I mean they almost kicked me out of school for it, because there they just don’t put up with that kind of stuff at WaSu. And I told her, I said, “No. For me, drinking is a sin. It’s a conscience issue.” She says, “Well, do you think it’s a sin for everybody to drink?” No, I don’t, because some people can drink in moderation. Their conscience is free. The Bible tells us that you’re free to consume alcohol.

You gotta obey the governments; you gotta be 21 or older. I said, “But for me it’s a sin.” So we got married, and she said, “Well, does it bother you if I have a drink in front of you?” I said, “No, because I’ve never drank. I don’t struggle with alcohol. I’m not tempted to get drunk. I just don’t want to drink at all, because I’m afraid that maybe I would get drunk, and I don’t want to do that.” So she would drink when we were newly married, and have, you know, a glass of wine with dinner or something, and I wouldn’t, out of conscience. And my conscience was that way until I was 30 years of age, and I was studying John’s gospel, and I saw Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. And so what I did is I actually had a drink.

My conscience changed. What I’m saying is you need to obey your conscience, because you need your conscience. Don’t break it. It’s like the rudder on a boat – you’re gonna need that. If you break your conscience, you don’t have a conscience, and then we call you a sociopath, right? So we would all like you to have a conscience and use it – please do.

But your conscience also may change. You may mature in your faith to a point where something that used to be a sin in your conscience no longer is, and you’re free to have a change of conscience. And what frustrates me is when people bind other people by their conscience, making rules that aren’t in the Bible. Whole denominations do this – “alcohol’s a sin” – well, it’s not, but if it’s a sin for you, you shouldn’t partake. But you shouldn’t bind everyone else by your conscience. Some of you wish we’d make a rule saying all alcohol consumption is a sin. There’s other people that wish we would make driving a car a sin, right, and they all want you to ride a bike, because they’re environmentally happy, friendly peddlers, right?

And what we don’t want to do is say everybody binds everyone by their conscience with things that the Scripture doesn’t bind us by, right? Usually everybody’s bound by the preacher’s conscience. I don’t want to bind you by my conscience; I want the Holy Spirit to bind your conscience, and I want you to obey your conscience.

I don’t like rules that aren’t Bible, because I so respect the Bible that I don’t feel like it needs my help, you know. I feel like the Bible is sufficient, and if the Bible doesn’t forbid something, then why should I? But let me say this: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. You are free, but your conscience has to also guide. Your conscience has to also guide, which means, for example, you are a vegetarian, and you love Jesus – then don’t eat meat.

But don’t expect everybody else in the church to become a vegetarian, binding them by your conscience. You don’t have a problem with violence – because you’ve read the Old Testament and you know it’s Biblical – you don’t have a problem with violence, then you can watch Ultimate Fighting. If you marry someone, though, like I did, and she says, “I don’t like violence,” then I watch it with my boys, not with my wife.  

So my boys and I operate by conscience; my wife operates by conscience, right? So my wife doesn’t like Ultimate Fighting. I do. And we take care of one another. We love one another, and this issue of conscience means I can’t bind people by my conscience, they can’t bind me by their conscience, and my conscience may change. So it makes no sense to make an irreversible rule on something that may change, like my position on alcohol did. That being said, I’ve never been drunk, because that’s not a conscience issue, that’s a sin issue. I’ve also never caused anyone else to stumble, which we’ll deal with, because that is not a conscience issue. That is a sin issue.

So first question: what does the Bible say – can I do it? Second question: what does my conscience say – should I do it? Third question: what does my weakness require? We are all – let me say this. Some of you will be frustrated, say, “I’m not weak; I’m strong!” You probably are weak if you’ve gotta whine about it, but the truth is we’re all weak and we’re all strong. There’s things spiritually where you’re very strong; you’re not easily tempted. There are other things you’re very spiritually weak, and you’re very easily tempted, and you have to be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 8 about those who are weak and those who are strong, and those who are strong not causing those who are weak to sin.

I’ll tell you where I’m strong. I’ll tell you where I’m strong. I’m really strong in drugs. I have no temptation toward drugs. I grew up in a neighborhood near SeaTac where I was offered drugs all the time. I grew up riding my bike around White Center and the projects with my friends. I’ve seen guys put needles in their arm, pop pills, smoke bowls, smoke pipes. I’ve seen guys trip out on acid. I’ve seen people smoke crack in front of me. And I’ve never once even touched a drug, or drug paraphernalia. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette in my whole life, because I saw the effects. I was like, “That just does not look good. I want nothing to do with that.”

So I can hang out with people that are struggling with drug addiction. I’ve hung out with street kids on the Ave when they’re doing drugs, trying to talk to them and see what has happened in their life that they ran away, and talk to them about Jesus. And I’m not tempted at all, because I’m strong. Drugs don’t bother me. I don’t have any personal desire to do drugs. Some of you are recovering drug addicts; you should never do that. You’re easily tempted. You’re spiritually weak.

You being around people that are doing drugs or still struggling with drugs, or maybe let’s say you were doing drugs and you lived in a house with some roommates, and you’d all get high together. Then you meet Jesus, and you’re still real weak, real susceptible. You know what you should do – move! You should get in a place where your weaknesses are constantly being exposed. If you’re strong, maybe you can go out to your friend’s house where they’re doing drugs and say, “Guys, what are you doing? Come on – this is not right. You guys say you’re Christians, you’re sitting around getting high together?” And you’re not tempted; you’re strong, so for you, that’s an okay place for you to go and be to share the love of Jesus. But for those who are weak, they shouldn’t go anywhere near that place. We’re all weak, we’re all strong.

I’ll tell you where I’m weak: I’m weak with horror movies. I know that sounds weird. I can’t handle horror movies. I have seen a lot of demons, all right? I won’t tell you all the freaky stories, but I’ve dealt with a lot of demons, quite frankly, and I don’t like them. Our general position on demons is we’re con – I mean, that’s our general position on demons.

So when I watch a horror movie, and they’re like somebody’s possessed, or their head’s spinning around on their neck, or they’re flying, or stuff’s raising, or superhuman power, I’m like, “Dude, I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt and still twitching, and I don’t want to watch that!” Because they think, you know, it’s kind of enticing into the occult – man, I’ve seen it. I don’t like it; freaks me out. I’m also weak when it comes to movies and television shows with storylines where children are being tormented and harmed. I can’t watch that stuff. I got five kids. I’m defender, protector, loaded gun dad, right – that’s me.

And the thought of something happening to a kid just destroys me, so I can’t watch that. Is it a sin to watch a horror movie? Probably not. Is it a sin to watch a television show that involves a plot line of a child? No, but should I watch it? No. Why – because my conscience doesn’t allow me to. I’m weak there. You’re not all weak and all strong. You’re all weak in some areas; you’re all strong in some areas. So you gotta ask what does my weakness require? Where you’re strong, you could be free – you can have a lot of freedom and liberty. Where you’re weak, you have to restrict your freedom.

You have to say, “You know what, I can’t go there. I can’t hang with those people. I can’t watch that. I can’t do that. I just can’t. To me, it’s just a weakness. It’s just not something that’s good for me.” Now, what frustrates me is legalists will make lots of rules, okay; I don’t want to make a lot of rules to bind your conscience, because I don’t know where you’re weak and strong. I’ve been at churches that make all kinds of alcohol policies, but they don’t make any food policies, so people don’t drink, but they eat like crazy.  

You’re weak and strong, and so we need to allow our brothers and sisters who are strong to entertain themselves and enjoy their liberties. And where we’re weak, we need to be honest and forthright, and we need to intentionally restrict our freedoms so that we don’t sin.

So then the fourth question is this: what does my friend need, or what do my friends need? One of the biggest problems we have in America is rights. You say, “What?” The problem with rights is this: you’ve become so selfish you only think about your right. You don’t think about others, right? You say, “But I’m free in Christ to do this!” You are free in Christ to do this, but what about your friend? You know what’s more important than your freedom, Paul says here – your friends. If your friend is a recovering alcoholic, and they’re coming over to your house for dinner, don’t serve any drinks. Don’t choose beer over your friend.

If you’re going out to dinner with a vegan and you love them, order something from the vegan side of the menu, and tell them, “I’m not being bound by your conscience. I’m not gonna be a vegetarian. But when I’m with you, I’m a vegetarian.” “Why?” “I love you. You’re more important to me than a steak. You’re my friend. I’ll give up my steak when I’m with you. I don’t care. I just want to be with you.” The last thing we want to do is shove people away that are willing to be friends with us because we’ve chosen our freedom over our friends. That’s just horrible. People are more important than things. And so yeah, the Bible may give you freedom. Your conscience may give you freedom.

Your strength may give you freedom, but your friend may cause you to lay aside your freedom and to restrict yourself in an effort to show affection and concern for them. Well, that seems nice, doesn’t it? Jesus says to love your neighbor, to love your brothers, to love your sisters; this is exactly what that looks like. So you can give your freedoms, without them being taken. This is where we get our diversity. We’re unified around our belief in the true teachings of Scripture, and we have our diversity around these freedom matters and conscience matters. What this means is this: when you’re in the presence of a friend who’s weak where you are strong, or they disagree with you in conscience, here’s what you do: you accommodate them.

You accommodate them. That’s what Paul is saying. In their presence, which means don’t drink with a recovering alcoholic. Don’t eat meat in front of the vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean that if they’re not around you can’t have a glass of wine with a steak at dinner, absent of their presence. You do whatever is most accommodating and affectionate toward them.  

Let’s say a friend of yours is a recovering alcoholic, and being in a bar is just not a good place for them to be. You know what you should do? You should say, “We’re not gonna go to the bar, because he or she can’t go, and we love them. Maybe some other time when they’re not with us, maybe we’ll go shoot pool at the bar – no problem. But when they’re with us, we don’t.” “Why?” “Because we love them, and we don’t want to exclude them, and we don’t want them to come along because they want to be with us, and we don’t want them to be tempted to sin and drink and get in trouble. And that’s a whole lifestyle they’re trying to avoid, and we want to honor that.”

Does this make practical sense? You have freedoms, but you’re also free to not exercise them, and you’re also free to accommodate others, and you’re also free to give away your freedom out of love for people. So, we will practically deal with this. I’m gonna go through a lot of the issues we get all the time in the time I’ve got left. I’ll make two prefatory comments. One, you cannot break the law. Romans 13: obey the law, right? Some of you are like, (in slow motion) “Dude, can I smoke weed?” And I love the pot-smokers, because they usually ask it like this? (In slow motion) “Dude, weed has no proven medical implications.” You’re like, “Really?”

I love those pro-pot guys on TV, you know? They’re all like, “It doesn’t do (pause) anything.” You’re like, “It kinda does. You’re just high, and you don’t notice.” So you gotta obey the law, right? So if you’re under 21, you don’t drink, right? You can’t smoke weed, because it’s against the law, right? And additionally, you need to obey your parents, right, because I know what’s gonna happen. Some 12-year-old kid is gonna be like, “Pastor Mark said I could get a tattoo and drink beer and play in a band and watch R-rated movies and drive a motorcycle.” No, you can’t. You gotta obey your parents, right? Some of you are gonna go home and go, “Dad, I’m free in Christ!”

He’s like, “Not in my house! I’m king, lord, this is my dominion.  

But if you’re not causing anyone to stumble, if you’re not causing anyone to violate conscience, if you’re not breaking any laws, if you’re not getting drunk, if you’re not addicted, if you’re not habitually drinking, it’s okay to occasionally have a drink. Okay, yeah, that’s our position. That’s our position. “How about vegetarianism?” How many of you are vegans? What’s our position on veganism? Our position is that’s a conscience issue. The Bible doesn’t require all Christians to be vegans, but it’s not a sin to be a vegan, so it’s an issue of conscience, which means if you have vegan – if you’re a vegan, cool.  

Just don’t be a self-righteous little legalist who believes in justification by carrots, but it’s not okay to be a vegan who thinks that you’re holier than other people because of your diet. Paul just said here, 1 Corinthians 8, you’re not more holy or unholy by what you eat. You’re not. But let’s say that you’re a vegan. Is that cool? That’s totally cool. Some of you for health reasons are vegan. That’s okay.

What we would say is if you’re hanging out with your vegan friend, eat vegan. Accommodate them; love them. But vegan friends, don’t try and impose yourself on everybody else in the church, okay? Allow freedom for some to be vegans, some to not; because the Bible is flexible on this issue, we must be flexible. “How about organic food and naturopathy?” Right, the PCC, whole foods, quasi-hippie movement, right? My wife’s in this. My wife is organic, PCC, whole foods, nuts, grains, quinoa, rapadura – some of you know what I’m talking about now. The rest of you are like, “Big Mac?” No, they don’t have any of those. They have tofutti and soy burgers, thank you, Satan.

And this is all stuff at my house. My wife’s more of a naturopath organic girl. So she’s like, “Can we have a naturopathic doctor? Can we eat whole foods? Can we eat organic foods and brown rice, and can we do all” – I say, “Yeah, honey, that’s cool. How about clothing?” This is a great job. “How about clothing? What can I wear, Pastor Mark?” Right, okay, Paul says to dress ladies how? With modesty. I’ll illustrate. This, ladies, this is not a shirt. This is not a shirt, okay? Gentlemen, this is not a bathing suit, all right? This is not a shirt, or a bathing suit, right? There’s a line, right? You gotta dress modestly. What is that? Well, it means we should have something left to the imagination, right?

So yeah, dress modestly. You gotta wear a burkha, a muumuu? Not necessarily, you know; not necessarily. But modesty in dress, I mean you shouldn’t be the short skirt and the neckline meeting, you know.  

“How about number of kids?” Oh, some churches are all just, “Have kids! Have more kids! Have a lot of kids! All kids are good! More kids are good! Just keep pumping out kids!” You look at Mom, she’s like, (old lady voice) “Yeah, kids, love kids!” I mean she’s got bags under her eyes. She looks like she got beat up, you know? And Dad’s just, “New Covenant, New Covenant!” you know, “a thousand generations!” Mom’s like, “I hate him.” So you gotta think through how many kids. What you don’t want to do is say some of you want to have big families. We say praise be to God! I got five kids. We had a miscarriage; otherwise we’d be at six.

Your elders are big kid families, right? That’s where we’re at. Most of us have a lot of kids. But you know what, some of you may decide not to have a lot of kids. Some of you get married later in life, and you’re gonna have a few kids. Some of you, Mom has medical health conditions, C-sections, certain number of kids, after that it gets dangerous. You know what, let’s not judge each other. Let’s just hold up the value of we love kids, we love marriage, we love family – we allow a little room for conscience, right? Maybe Dad got hurt on the job, and the income stream has dried up, and the family’s really tight financially, and they wanted to have more kids, but it’s not wise at this time.

I mean, let’s leave a little freedom of conscience for people, but let’s hold up the value of marriage, family and kids. Not to mention some churches split all over homeschool, public school, private school, and they plant the flag and declare war. Let’s not do that, right? Let’s not do that, because the Bible doesn’t say. Ephesians 6 says that parents should raise their kids, so whatever educational choice is chosen, the parents have to be actively involved in the instruction of the child. But it’s not a sin if your kid’s going to private school. It’s not a sin if your kid’s homeschooling, right? It’s not a sin if you decide to send your kid to a public school.

Each parent needs to work by Biblical principles and personal conscience to make the decision every year for every child. Certain churches get so legalistic on this, and they proof text verses to try and make it stick. And I know some of you will try, and will send me an e-mail, and I will delete it, and that is fine. But you know what we’re gonna do on this? We’re gonna leave freedom. We’re gonna leave a little freedom here. “How about political parties?” Oh, I get this one all the time from the media. “Are you a blue church or a red church?” I said, “We’re a purple church.” We’re a purple church. We have red and blue. Some of you are Republicans, some of you are Democrats.

Most of you who own a home are Republicans. Most of you who don’t are Democrats. And you’re all saying, “We need more taxes for poor people,” and you guys who own the homes are going, “We don’t want to give you any more of our money.” And people change, right? When you’re young and 20 and you don’t own a home, you’re like, “Stick it to the man!” And then when you become the man, you’re like, “Hey, don’t stick it to me,” and you become a Republican. So this changes too, right, and I get this all the time. The media always comes up: “Where is your church politically?” I tell you where we’re at: on certain issues, we do have positions, because we don’t see them as political issues as much as we see them as theological issues.

Marriage is one man, one woman, right? Sex is between one man, one woman, not all kinds of other activities. So we’re not pro-gay. We’re not pro-gay marriage. We’re just not. There’s certain things Biblically we say, “That’s just not Biblical. That’s not a political issue. That’s a theological, moral, Biblical issue.” Our thing is, “You know what, there are certain things that the Bible is clear on, but what political party to join is really a matter of conscience.” Really a matter of conscience, right, and we could point to Democrat and Republican Presidents who have deeply loved Jesus personally. And so we don’t split over that issue. The media always comes up, “Well, where are you at politically?” I mean I always get this. “Well, who did you vote for?” They’re trying to nail us on something. I said, “I voted for Jesus.” “What?” “I wrote in ‘Jesus.’”

I seriously did. Last election I wrote in “Jesus Christ” and sent it in. So I mean I figure when they ask, then I’ll be like – because if I say I didn’t vote, then they’ll be like, “You don’t vote!” I’m like, “Okay, I voted.” “Who’d you vote for?” “Jesus. Gotcha! Try to get me – I got you! I voted for Jesus.”

How about this one: how about cigarettes? How about cigarettes? Does the Bible forbid cigarettes? No, sadly. I hate cigarettes. I’m an asthmatic. If you smoke around me I sound like an obscene phone call. I sound like Darth Vader. (Choking sounds) If you have a cat and you’re smoking, I die. That’s what happens. I just die. So I’m not a big fan of cigarettes.

I don’t smoke. I never have smoked, and I’ve tried to make a proof text argument against smoking, right, because smoke is usually associated with hell in the Bible. You know, “the smoke of their torment rises forever,” Isaiah says. “Well, there’s some smokers!” You know, it’s not – it’s a different kind of smoking. They’re not smoking; they’re being smoked. It’s different. So you can’t really make a case in the Bible against smoking, okay?  

Smoking – is it a sin in violation of Scripture? No. Okay, so what would I say about it. Well, here’s what I would say: it still may not be smart. There are things that are permissible, but not beneficial. Paul will deal with that in the next chapter. For example, am I free Biblically to eat my lawnmower? I am. There is no “Thou shalt not eat small one-stroke engine tools.” There’s no verse. So I am free in Christ. But it’s not a good idea. Though I’m free, it may not be smart. Likewise, I can take a roofing hammer to my head. “Free in Christ! Free in Christ! Free in Christ! Free in Christ!” And I can, but it’s dumb. And I shouldn’t, because it’s not a good idea.

Smoking would, I think, be like that. Now, I do know people in this church who are weird, and they say, “Oh, I know it’s not good for me. That’s why I only do it after I jog.” I’ve actually had people tell me this. “I run Green Lake, and then I smoke.” What kind of public school logic is that? That is the silliest thing I ever – they say, “Well, I work my lungs, and then I pollute them, and it cancels each other out.” That’s like eating a bucket of wings on the treadmill. That is just weird. But you are free in Christ to be weird, so have at it. It’s not a sin to smoke, but is it a sin to smoke around your kids? Is it a sin to smoke around people like me who are asthmatic?

Yeah, because now you’re what – you’re harming other people, and you don’t want to just have your freedom, you want to have your friends, right? So it’s not a sin to smoke, and I know a lot of you would say, “Just tell them it is!” Nah, these are smart people. They read the Bible, and they’ll send me emails saying, “You have no case.” I will tell you, I don’t think smoking is a sin, but I don’t think it’s wise. I don’t think it’s wise. “How about this one: tattoos?” How many of you grew up in that fundamentalist church, where they told you the one verse on tattoos? Where is it? What book? Leviticus!

All these dudes at the front are twitching; dudes with tats are going, “Leviticus! Leviticus! Leviticus! Leviticus! Leviticus!” Because the youth pastor said, “Don’t get a tattoo. It’s right here in Leviticus. Don’t get a tattoo.” Okay, but the thing of it is – couple things: if you read the whole context, it actually doesn’t apply. It’s Old Covenant, not New Covenant, so Jesus has fulfilled the law. Additionally, generally it’s talking about priests marking their body, thereby identifying themselves with paganism, so I don’t think it really applies. You can disagree with me; that’s fine. I don’t think that the Old Testament Levitical requirement – there’s poly / cotton blend requirements in the Old Testament too. You’re not allowed to wear fabric made of two kinds of material.

Well, you know what, that’s fulfilled in Christ. We’re New Covenant, not Old Covenant. I could get into all of this. I don’t have time for it. Let me just say our position is that tattoos are not a sin, right? Jesus Christ is going to have a tattoo, Revelation says, on his second coming. It says that down his leg will be written, “King of Kings, Lord of Lords,” which will be really freakish for all the fundamentalists to see Jesus all tatted up. I can’t wait for that day they’ll all see Jesus tatted up. Now, that being said, I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t have any tattoos not because I think they’re a sin. Just because I think when I get old, and they stretch out, and they get faded, that’s more what I’m concerned about is the esthetics of the whole thing. But I don’t have any moral aversion to it. I’ll tell you what though – if you are gonna get tatted up, a couple things. First, be smart about it. Like if you’re a single gal, don’t get your boyfriend’s name tatted on you, right? “Jimmy forever!” Then Jimmy dumps you and you marry Hank, and it’s the honeymoon and Hank’s like, “Who the heck is Jimmy?” right? So be a little wise about it. And what sounds cool after a beer when you’re 19 is not, right? You’re like, “Let’s get tattoos!” Make sure you go to a good tattoo parlor.  

Just think it through, pray it through, and a tattoo is between you and your conscience, and your spouse, right? 1 Corinthians 7: “Your body does not belong to you, but also to your spouse,” right? So if your wife doesn’t like dudes tatted up the neck, and you come home with flames up your esophagus, you know, she’s like, “Huh?” Talk to her about it.  

“how about music?” How many of you were told when you became a Christian, “You cannot listen to secular music!” You’re like, “What? What is secular music?” “That’s the good music. You cannot listen to any of that.” So you chucked out all your albums, right? You bought praise music and started having suicidal thoughts. “I just want to go now.” You know, some of you have conscience issues on music. Like I had a gal, she’s a friend, she loves the Lord, she grew up sort of Rastafarian, smoking dope, getting high, and she, when she came to Jesus, she couldn’t listen to reggae any more.

Because for her it brought up all these bad associations and memories of just sitting and toking out, and it just wasn’t good for her. “I just don’t like to listen to it. It just brings up lots of bad memories.” Is it a sin to listen to Bob Marley? No. But if she’s riding in your car, should you put Bob Marley in? Probably not, if you like her; I mean if you hate her, there you go – there’s something you could do. But if you love her, and you want to be nice to her, you just say, “You know what, what do you like, what do you not like?” You know? And you have to do this when people are coming over for dinner.

“Are you a vegetarian? What do you think about alcohol? Do you have any food allergies? Do you have any conscience issues?” “Why?” “I want to love you, I want to accommodate you, I want to consider you.” Same thing with your music; you got roommates; you’re riding in the care with certain music. They go, “You know, I just really don’t like that.” “Okay, cool.” That doesn’t mean that it’s a sin to listen to a certain style of music, but it does mean for that person it’s a conscience matter, and you want to honor that.  

Paul walks into Mars Hill in Acts 17, quotes their poets, their musicians, and he does so freely. And we say, “You need to know the culture.” If you’re a missionary, you need to know the culture you’re reaching. Which means you may not even listen to certain music and watch certain films just for the entertainment value, but more for the education value, to understand what the predominant themes and concerns and ideas in the culture are, so that you can talk about how Jesus meets those needs in the greater culture. So the whole thing is really about being a good missionary, and it’s about being able to articulate to others in a language they understand – this is where we’re going next week – the truth of Jesus in culturally appropriate forms, going as far in the culture as you can without sinning.

This means everyone hates us, right? Theologically conservative, meaning this: we are Biblical literalists. We believe in the Bible. We believe that there is one God. We believe that everyone is a sinner. We believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We believe that everyone else is going to hell. That’s what we believe. We are Bible-believing, conservative, theologically conservative people, who are also culturally liberal, which means if the Bible doesn’t forbid something, neither do we.

If the Bible gives freedom of conscience and strength and weakness, so do we, which means some will be tatted up, some won’t. Some will smoke, some won’t. Some will be into hardcore music, some won’t. Some will be vegans, some won’t. Some will be Democrats, some won’t. And what holds us together is our theological conservatism, not our cultural flexibility. But the way it works is the fundamentalists say, “We love their theology. We love their Bible. We love their Jesus. We hate their music. We hate their clothes. We hate their style. We hate their use of technology. We hate the fact that people smoke and drink beer.”

Likewise, the liberals over on the other side, the syncretists, will say, “We love the fact that young people come, and they smoke cigarettes, and they can be themselves, and they can get a tattoo, and they can speak in just plain old plumber’s English. But we don’t like the fact that they open the Bible, and we don’t like the fact that they talk about sin, and we don’t like the fact that they’re into Jesus.” And we are both; theologically, very conservative; culturally liberal, very flexible; very flexible. And if we bound one another by one another’s conscience, this would be nothing but a legalistic mess.

We would need to sort out the matters of conscience to do that. I would need to set myself up as like a little demigod saying, “This is right, and this is wrong, and this is right, and this is wrong.” Making rules where the Bible doesn’t; imposing my will where God doesn’t; restricting your freedom where God doesn’t; taking away your conscience and being your conscience, and serving as the Holy Spirit for you? No. No, we’ll teach the Bible, and we’ll allow the Holy Spirit and your conscience and your love for your brothers and sisters and the overall wellbeing of your church to dictate certain secondary matters of freedom.

Some say, “But that’s messy.” You know what, that’s life. That’s why the New Testament was written. That’s why we’re dealing with these issues. You know what’s just as messy – legalistic, fundamentalistic homes where sin is never confessed because everyone’s hiding it. You know what even messier – places and churches where there is rampant, abundant sin, and nobody deals with it because they’re into tolerance and diversity, not holiness and truth. As sinners, it’s always messy. We take our example from Jesus. Jesus Christ entered into human history, though he is eternal God, and he entered into culture.

He had holidays and festivals and meals and music and friendships. Jesus broke lots of cultural taboos. He was friends with women. He taught women. He was even friends and sat with a woman who had been very sexually active and impure. He hung out with men who were thieves and alcoholics. They accused him of being a friend of alcoholics and addicts and gluttons and sickos – that’s what they accused him of. So Jesus accommodated lots of people, and he never joined them in their sin. He didn’t have sex with them. He didn’t steal with them. He didn’t murder with them. He didn’t get drunk with them.

He loved them to repentance, and it’s the kindness of God, Romans says, that leads us to repentance. And so Jesus went far into culture, broke lots of cultural taboos, but he never violated Scripture. He says he came to in fact fulfill all of Scripture, and he never disobeyed the Bible. He never sinned. But he broke some rules that religious people made, and you and I, to be good missionaries, we must do the same. We must obey the Scriptures, and we must not obey the rules made by religious people who seek to bind our conscience and restrict our freedom. What that doesn’t mean is that we get to exercise all of our freedom.

It means we personally will restrict it out of love for certain people, to welcome them so that we can be close and in good, loving friendship with them. And in that way we maintain our freedom, and we give it rather than it being taken from us by rules and legalism and abusive spiritual authority. So if you’re listening to this, and any things are coming to mind, that’s the Holy Spirit working in you. Saying, “You know what, I’m not really a Bible-believing person. I sin, and I disobey the Bible, and I don’t really care.” You’re in sin. Or maybe, “I made a lot of rules that aren’t in the Bible. I got a whole list of rules that aren’t in the Bible, and I think they’re just as important as the Bible.

Maybe I really have something wrong with me that needs to be repented of.” Maybe you’ve sinned, and you’re convicted of your sin, that you’ve gone too far. Maybe you’re convicted that you haven’t gotten far enough, and you’ve shoved away people that you should be loving. And you shoved them away unnecessarily, because you are not willing to break one of your own little rules. But God would ask you to do that to be friends with them. We call this repentance, where we acknowledge that we’re not like Jesus; that we all sin and fall short. We confess our sins to Jesus, who died to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose to forgive us, and send the Holy Spirit, and empower us to live a new life, like him, on mission in culture for others.

When you’re ready and you’ve repented of sin, then you can partake of communion. That’s where we have juice and wine to just illustrate this. If you have a problem with alcohol or you’re under 21, take juice. If you don’t, exercise your freedom in Christ. We illustrate that at communion. Give of your tithes and offerings. If you’re a visitor or a non-Christian, don’t give – you’re our guest. And last thing, we’re gonna sing, we’re gonna celebrate, we’re gonna have music that’s culturally appropriate. We’ll have a good time that’s culturally contextualized, because we worship Jesus here, now, today. We go as far as we can without crossing the line of sin. I’ll pray.

Thank you for the Bible, Father God. I just love your Word. I love every word of your Word. We receive it as altogether true, altogether holy, altogether helpful, altogether necessary. But God, may we go no further than Scripture. May we not think that there are imperfections in your Word that we need to make up for. May we not think that there are other things that should’ve made the Bible, but just didn’t, so we will insert them. May we not take portions of the Bible and bend them to fit what we wish they say instead of what they truly do say. God, please keep us.

Please keep us from sectarianism, where we so become a subculture, isolated, that we no longer relate to the city. Please keep us also from syncretism, where we so blend in that we’re sinning with our sex, and our money, and our use of power, and our alcohol, and we’re sinning all the time, and we justify it by being hip and cool and relevant, when in fact we’re just being wicked. Please allow us to be good missionaries. Please allow us to be a good missional church. Please allow us to be unified around the teaching of the Bible, and to be diverse around the matters of freedom and conscience and weakness and friendship.

And God, above all else, may we consider others more highly than we ought consider ourselves. May we think of other people, not just our rights, and our freedoms, but our relationships and our friends. Amen.

As individual Christians we have freedom in Christ to enjoy food, smoke, drink, film and other activities often debated and regulated by Churches. However, our liberty must submit first to the Bible, our conscience, and the needs of our brothers and sisters.
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