Not As Many “Thou Shalts” And “Thou Shalt Nots” As You Might Think
Contrary to what a lot of people think, God’s preceptive will for man has very few “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Most of what God would have us do is learned from principles taught in His word. This is why Bible study is so important. Unless we are thoroughly familiar with God’s word, we will not know the principles that allow us to make the right decisions in our lives. For example, when we are familiar with the “sanctity-of-life” ethic taught throughout the Bible, we can make the right decisions concerning the many pressing issues of our day such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, et cetera. In times past, God’s people perished because they were ignorant of His word (cf. Hosea 4:1), and the same thing can happen to us today if we are not careful.
However, and this is important to understand, many of the decisions we face every day are neither required nor forbidden. The key to understanding this point is to be found in the idea that it is not our task to know if a particular decision is God’s will but, rather, if it falls within God’s will. For example, Paul wrote, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). This is, of course, God’s preceptive will and it requires, among other things, that a parent furnishes nourishing food for his or her children. So, as long as this general principle is met, the specific decision of whether to have liver and onions or steak and green beans for dinner does not matter. Furthermore, whether one eats in the kitchen or the dining room, whether the beans are fresh or frozen, whether one has a hamburger for breakfast, lunch or dinner, does not, in essence, matter all that much to God. As long as the general requirements of this passage are being met, God is not particularly concerned with the choices that are made. Understanding this point can be liberating for one who has mistakenly thought God wanted him to make one particular choice in every set of circumstances.
To be pleasing to God, everything we do must fall within His preceptive will (cf. Colossians 3:17), even those things that are not specifically required by it, such as matters of opinion and indifference. For instance, we have the right (i.e., it falls within God’s will) either to eat or not eat meat. But, and this is most important, we have no right to bind either of these on anyone else (cf. Romans 14:1-13). Likewise, we have the right (i.e., it falls within the umbrella of God’s preceptive will) to send our children to either a public or private school; but, we have no right to bind either of these on someone else, as some are wont to do. Furthermore, we have the right (i.e., God grants permission) to marry within or outside our particular “race”; but, we have no right to bind our personal inclinations on anyone else. There are, of course, many other things that could be listed here, but you get the point, I’m sure.
The truth is, God is not nearly as judgmental as some people think. When someone insists on making his personal convictions the judge and jury of other men’s consciences, he becomes more judgmental than God Himself. The Bible teaches it is just as wrong to bind where God has not bound as it is to loose where He has not loosed. This is Paul’s point when he said, “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” (Romans 14:4).
Making Right Choices
Within the liberty we have in Christ, our desire is to make the best choice among the many different options we’ve been given. Unfortunately, our experiences tell us that we do not always make the best, or even the better, choices. Afterward, we realize that the exercising of an another choice would have been a much better decision, even though the choice we made was not, itself, sinful. Nevertheless, having observed how our choice turned out, we now know it was not the better/ best choice. As we are often told, “Hindsight is better than foresight.” What, then, is our problem? In truth, ours is a lack of wisdom!
The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). If the lack of wisdom is what keeps us from making the best choices, and it is, then all we need to do is ask the Lord for wisdom and He’ll give it to us. Consequently, we’ll always make the best choices in life—it’s that simple! Or is it? Although this wisdom comes from God as a direct response to our prayer, and is, therefore, something other than just a knowledge of God’s preceptive will, it must not be thought of as either a magical formula or instant omniscience. Neither should we think of it as something totally divorced from one’s knowledge of the Scriptures. Yes, we are assured if we ask the Lord for wisdom, He’ll give it to us, but Proverbs 4:5 commands us to “Get wisdom, get understanding,” which implies that wisdom and understanding must be acquired and, thus, are not something to be received passively. In truth, Proverbs 4:5 qualifies James 1:5—i.e., it tells us that wisdom is not going to be given without some effort on our part. Moreover, wisdom has to do with how we use the knowledge we already have. Within the context of Proverbs 4, wisdom, which is identified as the “principle thing” (v. 7), is connected to “instruction,” “doctrine,” “commandments,” being “taught,” and by application, to the subject at hand—viz., a knowledge of God’s word. In fact, even a casual reading of the “Wisdom Literature” will demonstrate the connection between the instruction and wisdom of which I speak.
Additionally, Moses, at the beginning of the Law, said:
Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
As we’ve seen, wisdom and understanding are associated with God’s instructions and commandments. In 2 Timothy 3:15, being “wise unto salvation” is connected with “the holy scriptures.” Therefore, a man who is not studying to show himself approved (2 Timothy 2:15) cannot be asking for wisdom “in faith, nothing wavering,” as James 1:6 requires. Such will no be receiving anything from the Lord! On the other hand, Those who desire and pray for wisdom, willingly cultivating it with God’s help, will surely receive it, just as He said they would.
In seeking wisdom, the following suggestions are offered:
- Know as much about God as possible. Proverbs 1:7 teaches, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In Psalm 111:10, it is said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” Although the fear mentioned in these passages is not totally unaware of the “terror of the Lord” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:11), contextually, the word indicates reverence for and respectful awe of God’s divine nature. What this means is that without reverence for and awe of God we cannot know what we ought to know and, further, we cannot ever hope to utilize properly the little knowledge we do have. For as long as I can remember, my regard for God has always moved me to think about His characteristics and attributes. Now, the more I have learned about Him, the more I have stood in awe and veneration of Him. Besides, the more I have learned about Him, the closer I have felt to Him. My fear of God has not just allowed me to know more about Him, it has allowed me to know Him, that is, to have an intimate, loving relationship with Him. As a result, loving God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength has become the consuming passion of my life. I love Him more than my wife, and I love her more than I do my life. Consequently, I have never known greater love than His love for me and, as a direct result of His great love for me, I have never loved more than I love Him. Although it at first seems ironic, as my “fear of God” (i.e., my reverence, veneration, and awe of God) has increased over the years, almost without me realizing it, my “fear” of Him has disappeared. How can this be? According to the apostle John: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). The relationship I now have with the heavenly Father, “in Christ,” no longer involves the fear of torment. In Christ, I no longer have an adversarial relationship with God the Father. I am no longer antagonistic of His commandments, but joyfully and enthusiastically keep them from a heart filled with love (John 14:15). All this has produced in me a careful “boldness” (cf. Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19; 1 John 4:17). Without the remission of my sins, which has been provided by the grace of God, and accomplished as a result of my faith in the blood of Christ, I would be terrified to go into the presence of the Lord (cf. Hebrews 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:11). But now, “in Christ,” with the fear of His wrath having been taken away, I possess a boldness and confidence to enter into the very presence of God. I emphasize the idea of “careful boldness,” because until I finish my course in this life, I could, through moral neglect, lose (Hebrews 3:6, 14) that which God’s faithfulness guarantees (Philippians 1:6). As I have had the opportunity to preach and teach God Almighty over the years, I have noticed this same effect produced in others. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. If, though, the only time we think about God is when we ask Him for wisdom, we might as well not waste our time. I remain confident that as we continue to learn more about God, our love for Him will only increase.
- Know as much about God’s word as possible. Because knowledge is a requirement for wisdom, we should pray for wisdom while learning as much about God’s word as possible. In other words, praying for wisdom is not a substitute for Bible study!
- Know as much about life as possible. This is a mighty big job, and one that, more often than not, comes with experience. The Hebrew writer makes this point when he says, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). For example, if one did not know that most “birth control pills” actually prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the mother’s uterus, thereby receiving nourishment, it would be difficult to make a biblically informed proper decision about what method of birth control one might wish to use. Furthermore, unless one knew that in vitro fertilization routinely involved the destruction of fertilized ova, it would be almost impossible to make the right decision about this procedure. But, knowing about life is more than the accumulation of facts, it is also the cultivation of the knowledge of how these facts affect life. This is why respect for and consultation with our elders is so important for one seeking wisdom (cf. Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31; 1 Peter 5:5). Quite simply, they have seen more of life and, therefore, should be wiser as a result.
- Finally, know as much about wisdom as possible. As we said previously, praying for wisdom does not result in instant omniscience. It is unfortunate that when many are faced with a decision, they say a prayer for wisdom; then, no matter what they decide, they assume that this particular decision was supplied by God. But, as we have indicated already, wisdom does not work this way. Wisdom is not specific answers to specific problems. Rather, wisdom is the ability to discern the best decision from those that are only better. We recognize that wisdom applies general knowledge and understanding to specific situations with excellent results. This means it is a skill! Consequently, as we pray for it, we realize it grows and increases with not just study, but the exercise of what we have studied and learned. Unfortunately, even a wise person sometimes makes a poor or even a bad decision. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord to give us wisdom, we continue to learn as much about God, His word, life in general, and wisdom as we can. Only in this manner will we become acquainted with and enlightened by true, worthwhile wisdom.