Pause for thought

Can vs. Should

Written by: | Posted on: | Category:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” United States of America Declaration of Independence, July 4 1776.

I think it is safe to say that since the Age of Enlightenment began in about 1685, heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents such as Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith, Western civilization has been focussed on identifying and protecting a vast array of “rights” and the freedom to exercise those rights. 

Wars, both civil and worldwide, have been fought over them. The Constitution of the United States saw its first set of amendments as a “bill of rights”. 

A key distinction between democracies and totalitarian societies can be seen in the rights afforded its citizens to associate, assemble and worship according to the dictates of their conscience and beliefs. The list of rights being advocated or discovered seems to  grow exponentially every year and includes human rights, civil rights, Miranda rights, voting rights, women’s rights, animal rights, marital rights, indigenous rights, … and so on. The list is seemingly endless. Who knew that eventually the legislature in California would enshrine the right to wear the hairstyle of your choice into law without your employer having any say in the matter!?

But what about religious rights?

It is well known that the Puritans we now call “the Pilgrim Fathers” decided to flee Europe’s oppressive laws against their worship practices so that they could set up a colony of their own where all the participants would follow Puritan rules. This was not exactly religious freedom since you could be excommunicated for not adhering to the rules! Similar examples can be found in monastic gatherings and nunneries. The Franciscans and Augustinians were often at odds with each other because of their different interpretation of what the rules should be. And for Quakers, “no rules” was the only rule for how you should worship in their devotional meetings.

It certainly seems that we humans are very attracted to rules because rules set boundaries. Most people like to stay inside the lines, others like to skate along the edge of the boundary lines, and others delight in getting outside the box. 

Of course sometimes people like to follow rules blindly because they think that “I was just following orders” relieves them of intellectual responsibility and is a valid moral defense ( I respectfully disagree!).

So, what are the rules for Christians - Jesus followers? Jesus was asked about this and he said there were only two rules, and they were so similar as to be equivalent. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

So these rules comprise the Christian’s "Law of Love". This is the obligation every Christian has. 

But what of the Christian’s freedoms? Again listen to Jesus’ words: “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36 NIV Or as Paul points out: “…you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14 NIV

This is extraordinary freedom. There are still boundaries, but now the boundaries are set by the Law of Love. The Christian is no longer bound by man-made rules, but has complete freedom so long as he acts within the constraints of Love of God and fellow man.

To early Christians, especially those brought up as Jews with its myriad of rules governing the smallest action in life, this was bewildering. The are many Christians today who are equally bewildered. Actions which were previously prohibited by tradition and man’s laws now seemed to be allowed. So the big question arises: does “can” mean “should”?

As an aside, I am of the opinion that “should” is a “God" word. Anytime you find yourself using “should" in your speech or thinking, pause and think how it relates to the will of God for yourself or the person you are addressing. It will be an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to you directly! Anyway...

The Holy Spirit gives guidance through the writing of Paul to the church at Rome:

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” Romans 14:13-18 NIV

In essence Paul is saying that just having a clear conscience about our actions with respect to loving God is not enough, we have to balance our freedom with the effect our actions will have on others and love our neighbors too!

When I was in Sunday school we used to sing a chorus (to the tune of “Jingle Bells”), "J-O-Y. Surely that must mean: Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between!" I think this gets the priorities right! For anything you want to do, test the perceived outcomes in the following order: does it Glorify God?, does it benefit others?, will it bring me joy?

So to return to my title: knowing I “Can” only ever means I “Should” exercise my boundless freedom when doing so fulfills the law of love and glorifies God and uplifts my neighbor. 

Let me add to the ever expanding list of rights we have: We have the unrestricted right to commit random acts of kindness We have the pluripotent right to glorify God by our living We have the unlimited right to enter God’s presence and ask for his guidance in exercising our rights.

Enjoy your freedom! Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black 

Saturday September 24th, 2022
Saturday September 10th, 2022