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Stumbling Stones Among Us

stumbling stones among us croppedSome Scriptures cause me pain, especially when held in tension with others… seemingly conflicting ideas pulling at the soul, demanding wisdom… and let’s face it, wisdom can be exhausting. It’s so much easier to either throw caution to the wind or to develop a strict moral code in which every issue is settled through what I call toggle-switch morality. Click! Sin. Click! Not Sin. No thinking required. No tension. No pain. No mercy. No wisdom.

Discussions of Christian freedom in regard to matters of conscience, like the eating of meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, or non-vegetarianism and the consumption of alcohol in Romans 14:1-23, stand in tension, even in those passages with the needs for both non-judgmentalism and love and care for those with weakness.

The conscience of some is strong; they’re little influenced by peer pressure, not easily ensnared by substances, able to walk through many a fire unsinged. By their example, however, they can easily lead weaker souls into destructive situations. If it’s okay for them, why not me?

Paul warns of this. 1 Corinthians 8:11  says, “And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.” Romans 14:15 concurs, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Jesus died for them… what am I willing to do for them… or not do?

Let me illustrate.

My church growing up was rather liberal with alcohol. They regarded drunkenness as a sin, but seemed little bothered by skating boldly over thin, beer-soaked ice in that regard.

At a Christmas party held at a private residence, one of the guests, an elder’s wife, thought it would be funny to spike the punch. What a hoot it was when two married “recovering alcoholics” at the party drank the punch unawares, left driving drunk, and didn’t stop their alcohol fueled nightmare for days, finally calling my father to come help them.

Our youth group leader, a good man, a prosperous construction company owner, enjoyed a beer now then with the guys. He would hire teens from the church to keep them busy during the summers and to help cultivate their work ethic. His confiscation of my life one summer, demanding that I take a job with him, saved me from throwing over my morals during a rough patch in my walk with the Lord. I am forever grateful for his effect on my life. But… that occasional beer with the guys was the stimulus to a life of alcohol abuse for another of the teens. The man never boasted of his beer, he simply hired one of the teens who saw him on the job site with one. This encouraged this teen to accept a beer at a friend’s party. Only he found that alcohol for him was not an occasional thing. It snared him. He developed a drinking problem. He tried for a time in his late teens to break free, but eventually gave himself to it and walked away from Christ.

At another church, an acquaintance of mine had been saved out of a life of alcoholism. The doctors had told him that he’d destroyed his body and that if he didn’t stop drinking he would not live out the year. He was a mean drunk. He tried to change. He came to church. He got saved. He lived without alcohol for many years. He was no angel, but he tried hard to allow Christ to help him be a better man. Then at a guys party, some of those there, free in Jesus with a little alcohol, coaxed him. They waved away his refusal with promises that Jesus had changed him. A little couldn’t hurt him. Jesus would help him control himself. He was dead within a few months, just as the doctors had promised him. By the time he came to himself, it was too late. Meeting his wife one day at the door with desperate cries of pain and trouble, repenting in the hospital to his family for going back to the bottle, didn’t save his life. He was 39.

I ask myself, what do those involved in these situations think of their role? Do they accept any responsibility for what their freedom did to weaker souls for whom Christ died? What of me? How has my freedom hurt others unawares? What is my responsibility for unknown numbers who, lured on by my liberties, and at times by my sin, stumbled, fell, and, perhaps, fell away?

There are a lot of gray areas. Indeed, a wisdom approach to life as opposed to a toggle switch morality creates many of them. We face issues of TV, Movies, Music, Diet, Dress, Sexuality, Language, Jest, Dating… etc. We tussle with loving the sinner and hating the sin and are not always certain what lines to draw or exactly where to draw them when striving to do so.

When I was in youth group we would ask that same leader with the beer, “How far can we go? How much can we get away with without sin?” He always said the same thing. “If your goal is to be as self-indulgent as possible, you’ve already crossed the line.”

4 thoughts on “Stumbling Stones Among Us

  1. The Dandler says:

    I have mixed feelings about this – it’s a pertinent issue. But given God’s commands to enjoy things like wine and “strong drink” throughout the Old Testament, and Jesus’ own drinking in the New, I think it’s important to remember that wine was given to man in order to “gladden the heart of man”. So while we should be careful and considerate in our drinking when those we know are struggling are around, I don’t believe we should abstain for fear of those who MAY one day be given to addictions, because then, nothing would be good for us. Other people’s actions, particularly future ones, should not hinder our own personal expression of freedom in Christ. Again, I’d like to repeat that it’s different if there are people currently struggling with drinking at a party or what not, and spiking the punch is an atrocious thing to do! But it’s a thin line into legalism to begin making rules within a community that prohibit this or that thing because some day someone may or may not become an addict. In the end, each man stands alone before God.

    Also, while I understand the principle that “if what I eat causes a brother or sister to fall” we shouldn’t eat that thing with them around, I get a little wary of equating eating meat in a temple of an idol to having an alcoholic drink. It’s not necessarily the same thing. Drinking alcohol is not and never has been a sin or a pagan practice. God told His people to do so when they were to have a feast in order to celebrate His goodness, and Jesus himself drank, as stated above. Eating meat offered to idols, however, is superficially a pagan practice and was considered a sin under the old covenant. When one did that, they looked like they were promoting paganism to those with little understanding, whereas if someone is having a drink, it doesn’t follow that they look like they’re drunk or that they are promoting drunkenness.

    I would also disagree with you that the man who drank the occasional beer was “the stimulus” for the teen who turned to a life of drunkenness, even if that teen claimed that to be the case. That teens own sin and his own weaknesses and lies were the stimulus for his drunkenness, because it’s out of the heart that these sins proceed. The responsibility doesn’t lay with the man who was not sinning by enjoying a drink but with the teen whose own choices and dispositions caused him to be enslaved to alcohol, a very different thing. The problem isn’t the beer, its the heart of that teen.

    Now, as to your example regarding the men at a party who “coaxed” an alcoholic to drink, is without a doubt, as you said, a sin. But the sin is in their inability to care for their weaker brother and their enticements to him to do what would ruin his conscience. The sin is not in the fact that there was alcohol at the party or that those men were drinking it.

    In the end, I think your youth group leader mentioned has it right. If you’re asking “how far can we go” you’ve already have a heart broken by sin and deceit. Drinking is for our enjoyment, our relaxation, our celebration, and ultimately, for the glory of God who provides all good things for our enjoyment. It is not for unrestrained self-indulgence or an escape from reality. The gray area isn’t whether drinking is okay, but where the line is between enjoyment of something God has given man and abuse of that good thing.

    1. I know I will get a strong reaction from this one. I’ve touched a sacred cow among us. I’ve called for wisdom and sensitivity. Made some observations. I will be honest, is there a substance that we imbibe in our society that cause more damage on more levels than alcohol? The answer is no. It kills many times as many people a year as guns. Not as many as cigarettes, but more than everything else.

      That said, all I’m called for here is wisdom and sensitivity. A sense of responsibility for how our example affects others.

      Jesus drank.

    2. Thanks for commenting, by the way. I’ve missed your discussion of late. 🙂

  2. The Dandler says:

    I do love me some wine. 🙂 I understand where you’re coming from – I do. I’ve just heard a lot of hubbub about drinking, particularly from my Pentecostal friends, and I realized once you do away with the wine = grape juice argument, there is ONLY wisdom to stand on when dealing with alcohol. It’s a personal call to discernment, not a biblical call to abstinence.

    “Jesus drank.” Hehe. Are there any other two words pertaining to the life of Christ that American Christians love to toss around more? Almost as powerful as “Jesus wept.” 😉

    It’s interesting. I grew up in an Italian culture where I was always allowed wine at the table on special occasions. There was a “comfort” feeling to it, and a real sense of family and feasting and all that good stuff. It was never some forbidden thing that I had to go do behind my parents’ back and I never really was looking forward to that binge on my 21st birthday. It was what it always was. Not that big a deal but enjoyable if it was around. It’s also interesting how in countries like Italy, where drinking wine is a part of the culture and not avoided or demonized, alcoholism is much lower than here in the United States, where there’s a history of Prohibition and a very old drinking age.

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