Rash behavior is of the hallmarks of the teenage years. Cars are driven at high speed; strange creatures are consumed; experiments are made with drugs, chemicals, and other such things. But why? Many times such things are done because they can be done. No thought is given to the value, benefit, or consequences of the activity; if it can be done, teenagers reason, it should be done. Only later in life do we realize how dangerous and misguided that logic really is.
Such lessons seem to fall on deaf ears in our society. Too many people are more concerned about potential and feasibility than with sense and real value. People push the limits of human endurance just to see what is possible; science and technology blaze ahead, pausing to wonder about the value or ethics of their work only in hindsight. Most people wonder what humans are capable of doing; precious few wonder what humans might be better off avoiding.
This same challenge exists within Christianity. When it comes to ascertaining the types of activities which glorify God and the means by which they may be accomplished, far too many are concerned only with what can be done. The prevailing logic remains, “if we can, we should.” Does the New Testament teach this principle or suggest that it is valid?
It remains true that Christians must first establish whether a given activity can be done in order to glorify God. Everything we say or do ought to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17); we must make sure that the Scriptures authorize the activity as a good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We must have conviction in faith based on God and His message in order to properly participate in any activity, for, as Paul says, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
But Biblical authority involves more than just whether the activity can be done or not, as Paul makes evident in 1 Corinthians 10:23:
All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify.
In context Paul discusses eating meat sacrificed to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:14-33). He has already made it evident in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 that Christians can eat meat sacrificed to an idol, but he makes it clear in both 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, 7-13 and 1 Corinthians 10:24-33 that there are times when it is not profitable to eat such meat because of how it impacts the faith of others.
Paul makes it clear that “If we can, we should” is insufficient. He exposes the logic as sophomoric and ultimately insufficient to accomplish God’s purposes. There is more to Christianity than merely what can be done; we must also establish if a given activity or means by which the activity is accomplish is wise, beneficial, profitable, and glorifies God. If its exercise sears the conscience of a weaker Christian or an unbeliever or is a stumbling-block to another Christian, it is unprofitable (Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:24-33). If its exercise does not glorify God, it should not be done (1 Corinthians 10:31)!
“If we can, we should” reflects a legalistic mindset, concerned only about the legality of matters and not the propriety thereof. How many people, armed with this mindset, have approached the Scriptures only seeking to find justification of their behavior as opposed to searching out what truly glorifies God? Everything the Christian does ought to glorify God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31), and therefore everything we do must flow from faith working in love (Galatians 5:6). Let us act wisely, therefore, making sure that what we do and how we do it are not just authorized but also profitable, glorifying and honoring God in Christ!