A really insightful question was posed to me recently by multiple people on different occasions in various ways. I could summarize the enquiry, “Is it wrong to do something that is not sinful, even though you know it’s not wise?”
This question has many applications, for example, entertainment choices, debt, disciplining one’s children, selecting a school, choosing friends, spending money, exercising Christian liberties, and pretty much anything covered in the Book of Proverbs.
So what do we do when our flesh wants to do something the Bible says is foolish, but not necessarily sinful?
Some Behavior is Just Plain Dumb.
We need remember that some activities we like are not particularly dastardly, they’re just unwise and poise us for consequences like a golf ball on a tee. E.g. watching certain lowbrow sitcoms, visiting your girlfriend’s house when no one else is home, shopping on December 24th, buying your kids vampire pulp fiction, smoking in a library, smoking at a gas station, smoking at all, etc.
The Solomonic street smarts of Proverbs and other wisdom snippets of Scripture catalogue for us a litany of behaviors that are simply stupid for Christians who are serious about loving the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and strength to engage in. You expect them of the spiritual neophytes and socially jejune, but not of believers who are serious about sanctification.
This is not meant to be a post about debt, so feel free to insert any Mad Lib combination of…
- dating an unbeliever
- frequenting a night club
or any other conviction you have that the Bible says is the behavior characteristic mainly of people who end up…
- ruining their witness
- dying of lung cancer while smelling like an ashtray
- in AA meetings
But I will stick with debt, because I have as a “smoking gun exhibit A” the current economic climate and all its secular pundits as expert witnesses backing up what God has said all along.
Though going into debt isn’t an explicit prohibition (in fact He allowed Israel to lend money in Deut 15:6, which implies borrowing must be permissible) God certainly doesn’t hide from us His view of our clothing accounts…
- He lumps debtors with distressed and depressed people (1 Sam 22:2).
- He employs examples of fools in debt as an object lesson (Matt 18:34).
- He used being debt-free as a sign that He had blessed Israel (Deut 15:6).
- He warns quite unequivocally that “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Prov 22:7).
God is our Creator; when He gives instructions it is because He knows best. Proverbs is not just another anthology of advice out there to be shelved with fortune cookie strips and Oprah’s book club recommendations. God, who invented economics, in His wisdom urges us against going into debt. He also invented hormones, human perception, lungs, and other helpful aspects of life. He knows how they work, and He knows what instructions to give for their optimal use, for example, flee temptation, avoid the appearance of evil, be a good steward of your body, and many more.
When God suggests a course of action, what special kind of fool would deliberately choose the opposite? Enter a special kind of fool: the biblically literate devil’s advocate.
But stupidity is not (always) sinful.
After a Bible study on debt/gambling/etc., the teacher is frequently accosted with objectors who have on their spiritual business card the self-designated moniker, “Devil’s Advocate.” Their diabolical opening arguments usually begin with the phrase, “But technically…” An unprepared teacher may flounder a bit when it is pointed out that technically the practice in question is not forbidden in Scripture. You might parry with “All things are lawful but not all are profitable” (1 Cor 6:12), to which they counter with this riposte: “Do not go beyond what stands written” (1 Cor 4:6). And as soon as you concede that it isn’t sin per se, you are open to accusations of legalism, fundamentalism, or any -ism that lets people do what they really want to anyway.
So what do you do?
You forget about winning the argument, and go for the heart. This is what Jesus did when the Pharisees asked why His disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-4). Ask the devil’s advocate what his/her highest aim in life is. Is it to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? Well, yes, I suppose. Good. So then what is the course of action you should take, a) the one that the God you love says is stupid, dangerous, and characteristic of people who don’t love Him… or b) the wisest course of action that will build up your love for God, your testimony to unbelievers, your example to believers, and your general godliness? Mmm, tough choice.
So, is choosing folly sin?
Here’s Solomon’s Mad Lib exercise:
The really ______ young man ventured to try ______, which God said was foolish, and expected ______, but of course suffered ______ and now realizes that God was ______ and he was really, really ______.
(For hints, read Proverbs 5).