Some things in life are simple matters of right and wrong. Other questions are much harder to work out, and the right thing to do may depend on circumstances, conscience, or the good of others.
I have been reading 1 Corinthians recently, and chapters 5 and 6 give examples of plain right and wrong. A Christian in the church is having an affair with his step-mother. This is plain wrong, and the man is to be expelled from church life, at least until he puts his life right. Chapter 6 talks about church people who have sex with prostitutes; it’s plain wrong.
But chapter 7 asks the question: Should an unmarried Christian get married? and Paul has much to say, but he does not give a simple yes or no answer, because the right thing to do depends on many factors. Should a slave gain his or her freedom? Again, it depends. Is it better to be circumcised or uncircumcised? It doesn’t matter: ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.’ (1 Corinthians 7:19).
God gives us permission and freedom to order our lives in many areas. It’s a bit like the Garden of Eden: ‘You may eat of any tree in the garden’. But he also gives laws, which we have to obey straightforwardly: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil …’ (Genesis 2:17).
I think that some people prefer simple rules and like to be told, ‘Do this and not that.’ Others prefer freedom and like to be told, ‘Do as you please.’ But life is not so simple. There are laws from God which must be obeyed. But there are also many areas where God has decided to let us work it out and make decisions, prayerfully, wisely, sensibly, in such a way as to honour him and each other. 1 Corinthians 8 is about recognizing that Christians will differ in their views on some things (like eating or not eating meat that has been sacrificed at a pagan temple); and we shall often need to think about how other Christians will be affected by our actions. In many areas of life, God has given us freedom, but he asks us to use that freedom for his glory and the good of others.
Do you value God’s laws? And do you value also your own brain, conscience, decision-making ability? All is God-given. When making decisions, we always need to ask: Is it right? Is it wise? Is it loving? Will it enable me to honour God? Or is it an absolute matter of freedom? (Today I am wearing black socks).
With best wishes – James.