With the global pandemic, COVID-19, closing our borders and shutting down travel and trade, I have been trying to be deliberate about getting out and being in the sunshine. The other day, my husband and I and one of our sons, and our two dogs headed to the beach. Our stretch of beach is really two beaches and a bog and some forest and some sandbars. There were probably 25 people and 12 dogs enjoying the beach (all well outside of the two meter safety zone). The dogs ran and tussled and their people smiled at one another as they passed by, getting only close enough to be heard, as they called hellos.
In the next day’s news cycle, I heard accounts of local beaches that were so crowded that there was no available parking. People were getting out together in large groups, wrapping up their beach day with house parties. The day after that, our province announced a state of emergency. All provincial parks and trails were closed. People were instructed to stay in their homes or walk only in their neighbourhoods.
It drew my mind to
1 Corinthians 6:12
“Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.
As I typed that out, I noticed something that I had never seen before. Look at the quotations. ‘everything is permissible for me’. In my desire to do the things that I want to do, I can be tempted to claim freedom to do what I want. It certainly is not sinful to go for a walk on the beach…. is it?
Keep reading – but not everything is beneficial. At certain times, in certain seasons, not everything that might be a good choice at one time is always a good choice in other circumstances. For example, when I was 10, climbing trees was great fun and I could nimbly hop from branch to branch and scamper up and down the tree. Now, several multiples of 10 later, climbing trees is no longer beneficial to me – I am very likely to get hurt. Imagine the condition I would be in, if I continued to climb trees, when I was not equipped or prepared to do it safely. If I was controlled by the need or drive or insistence of climbing those trees, I would be hurting myself, and my family. I would be mastered, or owned, by the pride of thinking that this was still a good idea for me.
Let’s pretend (you’re going to have to really use your imagination) that I was still fit enough to climb trees. In fact, let’s assume that I practiced tree climbing regularly and I didn’t get hurt. I enjoyed climbing trees and did so whenever and where ever I got the opportunity. Others saw me climbing the trees and they thought that it looked like fun, and they wanted to climb trees, too; and so they did.
Folks from all around wanted to climb trees. Some folks were fit and strong, but not all were. Some of the tree climbers reached the top and came back down feeling great. Some of the tree climbers could have been called tree faller-outers. They stepped on weak branches that broke and crashed to the ground; they reached for branches that were beyond their ability to grasp. They got hurt. It was hard. They weren’t prepared. Some of the crowd, standing under the trees, got landed on. That hurt too.
I am glad that others found pleasure in tree climbing. It was fun to enjoy something. I didn’t tell anyone else to climb trees and I certainly didn’t advocate for people to try tree climbing when it wasn’t safe for them to do so. But still, some people said that if I could do it, they could too.
Matthew 18: 7-9
Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Matthew 18 has some pretty strong language in it. Tree climbing is not a sin, and neither is walking on the beach. But, setting an example that potentially leads others astray definitely is.
1 Corinthians 8:9
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
I once knew a woman who was coming out of a very conservative church background. She was bristling against the confines of legalism and upon her exodus, she began to get several piercings and tattoos. One day, I asked her why. I have heard people explain that they got their tattoos to in someway bring glory to God (Bible verses and such). I was heart-broken at her defiant response, “It’s my body, I can do what I want and nobody can tell me that I can’t”.
Her motivation was not one of humility, but one of arrogance. She would have her way. Her church family tried to reach out, but all of their efforts were shrouded in judgement and condemnation. She walked away – and she stayed away. The memory of this woman has stayed with me for many years. I can still see the hurt and rebellion in her eyes. This little story may not seem to have anything to do with our current state of emergency situation, but consider this:
How many Christians are going on social media, positing their outings and gatherings? Inviting others for fellowship? Claiming Christ’s protection in the honouring of not forsaking fellowshipping together? How many Christians are scolding, shaming and rebuking others online? In a public forum? Harshly?
Dear brothers and sisters, we are in a time never experienced before. Even considering the plagues of the 19th century, the people did not have the means to travel the way we do. They did not have the instant access to information or social media that we do. The following passages from Titus are a standard we can carry and live, to help us exemplify our walk for Christ-likeness.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good…
In everything, set them an example by doing what is good.