Each person should be fully convinced in their own mind. Romans 14:5
I have a friend, a rock-solid Christian, who works in the world of finance. He comes from a predominantly Hindu part of the world and just recently was approached by a Hindu group which wanted to take over a redundant church building. They asked him if he would act on their behalf in organising the necessary finance.
What was my advice - should he or should he not accept this work?
The more I pondered it the more I felt you could see it in two distinct ways.
On the one hand... how could it possibly be right for a Christian to engage in any activity which in effect promoted the cause of a “rival” faith, and one which, from a Christian point of view, was false?
On the other hand... my friend is a businessman, the request was made from a purely business perspective, the work would be completely legal and above board - so why not? (Added to which, if he didn’t do it, it would only get done by somebody else - so wasn’t it in fact an opportunity to witness for Christ by the honesty and reliability he brought to the task?)
What do you think? Should he? Or shouldn’t he?
There is no place in the Bible which gives a clear answer to that precise question. But the verse I have quoted does give a clear statement of principle regarding “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) - “grey areas”, as we sometimes call them: be “fully convinced in your own mind”. Or as it could be put: keep your conscience clear.
Paul is discussing various issues where the early Christians were tempted to fall out with one another - sabbath-keeping; meat-eating; drinking alcohol; accepting hospitality from a non-Christian friend who might have bought the lamb steaks from a shop which got them from the local pagan temple.
Not all of those are relevant to us today. But plenty of others are...
I have another friend who likes to bet - yes, really! He is very disciplined about it - he sets aside a certain amount of money, and when he has used it up, that’s it. I questioned him about it once, and he responded quite warmly. His background is very much working-class (he cheerfully refers to himself as “an old scumbag”) and he wanted to know if I would question the better off people who speculate on the stock market: and if not why not? “They’re gambling too, aren’t they?” He then - a bit of a clincher, this - told me that he always tithes his winnings for God’s work.
I dislike tattoos - I suppose I’m fairly conventional middle-class. A girl in the church came to me some time ago: “Hey, Colin, want to see my new tattoo?” “All right,” I said, smiling sweetly as I groaned inwardly, “show me.” Whereupon she pulled up her sleeve to reveal the words (wait for it) “Matthew 5:14-16” (look it up), these being the verses she was given when she was baptised. I have to ask myself, Is my dislike of tattoos a “spiritual” thing at all? - or just the result of my upbringing? Again, mmm.
I could go on. I have known Christians who think it wrong to enter a cinema or go to a football match. It’s good to raise money for some good cause by running a half-marathon - but what if that half-marathon takes place on a Sunday?
There’s a story about the great Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon. He got on a bus one day and found some young men from his church contentedly smoking their pipes. “Young men!” he said frowningly, “aren’t you ashamed to be seen smoking in this way?” Sheepishly, they put their pipes away. Whereupon Spurgeon took his pipe out of his pocket, lit up, and said, “I am not ashamed.” I think we get the point...
At least two things emerge from all this: an observation to keep in mind, and a command to impose on ourselves.
First, the observation: not all the things we puzzle over have clear-cut, black-white, right-wrong answers. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is!
I am sometimes approached by people who seem to think that because I am a minister I will be able to tell them the rights and wrongs in every situation. In effect, they want me to do their thinking for them.
But no: God has left various things for us to think through for ourselves. These people need to go back to Romans 14:5 and really digest it.
Second, the command: don’t criticise, condemn or look down on someone else because they see things differently from you! Provided they have reached their opinion thoughtfully and prayerfully, it is, if I may put it bluntly, none of your business.
So... what did my businessman friend do? Sorry, I’m not telling you! (Actually, I don’t know.) It’s between him and the Lord, after all, and therefore none of my business.
Lord God, help me to tell the difference between the things that are of the essence of the Christian faith and those that are matters of individual conscience. And help me to respect, and to accept, those who see things differently from me. Amen.