The Word, Godly Counsel, and Personal Discernment

Just yesterday, I got an e-mail like many I've received over the years...
  • Do you think it's OK for a mom to work part-time?
  • Can my husband and I engage in oral sex?
  • Is it OK for a Christian couple to watch ____(a particular movie or TV show)____?
  • Should a Christian couple use birth control? What kinds?
  • Should we buy a Mac or PC?
OK, I made that last one up.

Let me say, I understand and affirm the desire to seek counsel and input from people you know or trust. Proverbs says again and again in various ways that it is wise to seek counsel. In life, it is extremely likely that we will encounter situations where we don't initially know what to do, and where Scripture seems to not clearly outline one decision or another. We all reach out and want input when we hit situations or decisions that we feel uncertain about, or that the Bible doesn't explicitly talk about... so I'm not condemning the desire for input, and certainly not pointing the finger at those who have written to me.

But I do want to share some thoughts from the sermon we heard today at church. I think these are helpful ideas as we think about issues of conscience.


#1- Listen to God's Word
When we consider if we can do a particular thing, we should always --first-- be counseled by God's Word. Jesus Christ is our master, not men.

The pastor pointed out this morning the two ideas, held in tension, that:
  • we are under grace, and
  • a child of God is not free to indulge in sin.
Both are true. We are no longer under the law, and yet we are to have hearts fully submitted to God. Our "law" is love for Christ, and it constrains us to obey Him, and to love others.

#2- Be sensitive to the weaker conscience of other believers.
The second thing he said was to be considerate of the weaknesses of others.

Here is the interesting part of this portion of scripture (Romans 14): throughout this chapter, the one who is free is the stronger brother. The one who is bound by his convictions or conscience is the one who is considered "weaker" in this passage. So if we feel free to wear tank tops, go to public schools, drink wine, send a daughter to college ... basically, indulge in any disputable/non-eternal activity that is not explicitly written in Scripture one way or another... that is fine, but we are not to seek to condemn the constraints/restrictions of another person's convictions.
"By your freedom, don't destroy your brother for whom Christ died."
So if we feel free to watch a particular movie or TV show, that may be fine, but we ought not flaunt that in front of a couple who has very strict boundaries set for themselves in the area of entertainment.

A Few Clarifying Questions:
Finally, he offered these questions for the believer who is evaluating a particular issue or idea.
  1. Does this violate God's commands or God's Word?
  2. Can I offer thanks to God while I do this activity?
  3. Would I do this if Jesus was physically here with me?
  4. Can I do it in faith? (Romans 14 says whatever is not of faith is sin.)

I think these are helpful, clarifying questions. Again, different genuinely Christian couples/individuals may come to different conclusions on the same issue, even with these questions.

The Bible says we will each give an answer to God, that we will each give an account of our lives, so we should not go against our own conscience. Scripture also says that wives are each to submit to their own husbands. So I don't need to submit to your husband's personal convictions, and you don't need to submit to my husband's, but we do each need to submit to our own husbands. This is where it can be problematic offering advice/input openly in a blog or website setting. It's a fine line to try to walk, to be transparent in sharing personal stories or convictions, whilst always upholding the authority of Scripture, and freedom in Christ for others to be constrained by Scripture & the Spirit inside each believer-- not by the words of some random blogger or author.

I love to encourage women to seek God and love Scripture... and am happy to correspond with other women via e-mail... but I pray that my words will never constrain where Scripture frees, or loose where Scripture constrains.

God be with us all as we seek to be discerning, wise women!


Ruth said...

Thanks Jess,
I see a lot of wisdom in what you wrote here. Thank you for the encouragement to always seek the Scripture first and also submit to our husbands. I have been in christian circles my whole life and seen everything from super conservative to very liberal lines of thinking. Listening to man makes things very confusing; God's Word should always be our plumb line, and we should listen to the Holy Spirt and seek our husband's counsel in making decisions. I really like what you said.

Rightthinker-Andrea said...

I agree with your post, very much.

One of the main issues with blogging, are the amount of "experts" out there. While it's never a bad thing to be in fellowship, and receive Christian encouragement from our peers/elders, sometimes the blog world is a little misleading.

Many blogs focus on the expertise of a woman in one particular area...and we may even have a hard time "measuring up", but it's important to remember God has called us all according to His purpose! We each have to walk our own walk. We each need to read the Word of God for OURSELVES. We each need to be in Christian fellowship with others. We each need to submit to our own husbands, as you wrote.

There is so much Christian expertise, so much chatter..yet I often wonder what makes a woman an expert in one area if we all fall short of the glory of God?

I always encourage women to get back to the basic Word of God. Go word for word through the text, read, pray and study on it. So many churches lack actual teaching through the Word, that reading the Word, coupled with submission to Christ and our husbands, and prayer, is really the only way we can be sure of our choices and decisions in Him.

God Bless, and great post!

Ruby, accepted in the Beloved... said...

Hi Jess!
Great post! There are so many issues that aren't clearly laid out in scripture. I know I have been guilty of seeking wisdom from God as a last resort at times. How foolish! Thanks for the reminder to go to the source of all wisdom, & to realize that what's wise for someone else may not be the best thing for us, or vice versa.
Ruby (4them on SL)

Candice said...

Such a wise response, Jess! I think it's often easier to share our own convictions than to encourage others to seek the Lord about their own questions. That being said, I think there is a place for carefully discussing personal standards and the reasoning behind them. I think it's a way we can 'sharpen' each other and spur one another on to love and good deeds. But I agree, it's tricky to do that in a format such as a blog, as opposed to a private conversation.

Anonymous said...

Could you expand on the last question (can I do it in faith?)?

Shaunta' said...

One of the things I enjoy most about reading your blog is savoring the wisdom that God has given you. I am inspired that you are a young woman like I am, and are full of so much wisdom. I'm grateful that the Lord is using you in my life.

Jess said...

RE: "Can I do it in faith?"

Here are a few thoughts I have on it-- I'd love to hear from others on this point...

The question he proposed is based on this passage from Romans 14:
"22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

So, from vs. 22, if you sense freedom in an area that is not expressed explicitly one way or another in Scripture, you are "blessed"... but if you have doubts about freedom in a particular area or with a particular action, you should NOT do that thing... because whatever can not come out from faith is sin.

So if you do not believe that God has given you freedom in a particular area, you ought to not do that thing. We should come to God in prayer and in His word about issues that we feel conflicted about, to see if resolution comes through those things. If married, we should definitely talk them through with our husbands and see if they have insight for us to consider. If it is a serious issue, we would be wise to seek wise counsel from a couple, man, woman, or church leader that we trust. And then, I think, we either choose to act in faith, or not to act.

What do you/others think about this?

Sara said...

What about if you feel you don't have freedom in a certain area (like working outside the home), but a sister is asking you to help her do that thing? Would that not be in faith then?

Jess said...

That's something you'd have to search the Scripture and talk through with your husband or godly friends.

I could see how loving your sister, and wanting the best for her child might allow you to watch her child (for example), which would enable her to work... but your motivation would be the issue there-- loving her, and loving her daughter. Each issue has to be weighed against the law of love-- love God, love others... and obeying Scripture falls under loving God, of course.

I'm sorry I can't be more specific... each situation may have so many different factors. I'd be willing to email with you about it ( or I'd encourage you to talk with your husband or godly friends.