Monday, April 2, 2012

Judging Purity on the Merits

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. - Colossians 2:16-23


Sexual purity is hardly what I'd describe as a fun topic of discussion.  So when I wrote my latest Crosswalk.com article on the topic, in regards to being an unmarried Christian, I expected a bit of push-back.

And I wasn't disappointed!  At least, not exactly.

A friend of mine posted a link to my article on his FaceBook page in support of my view that we need to be careful about how Christians who are dating model sexual purity.  But one of his FB friends took the issue a bit further and said singles should not be left alone with a member of the opposite sex - ever.  Even - and perhaps, especially - if they're engaged to be married to each other.

I say "perhaps," because although I saw his post, I didn't really dwell on it.  I don't know the guy, and if I took the time necessary to consider everybody's post I see on FB, I'd never get anything done.  I figured if somebody else thought the guy was serious, they'd take him to task on it.

And somebody did.

Friends on FaceBook

It was a teachable moment, actually.  A fairly recent newlywed challenged the idea that singles should always be under the watchful eye of a chaperon.  But she did it with the quote from Colossians (above), which pretty much summed up the totality of her argument.  And left the impression that she believes any form of judging is wrong.

After all, in verse 16, the apostle Paul warns, "Do not let anyone judge you."  In verses 17 through 19, he references people who delight in false humility.  And in verses 20 through 23, he asks why believers should submit to the rules of the world.

On it's face, this passage from Colossians seems to reinforce teachings from Matthew 7:1-6, which is the famous - or infamous - "judge not, lest ye also be judged" passage.

Don't you bristle when somebody else tells you what to do?  Especially when what they're telling you runs contrary to what you want to do?  If we're trying to learn something to earn more money or otherwise bring immediate rewards to ourselves, having somebody tell us what to do can sometimes be tolerable.  Otherwise, not so much.  I realize that sometimes, considering the tone with which I write, not to mention my topics, many people probably bristle and think I'm judging them.  They even become indignant because I don't have a slew of capitalized consonants after my name, so what gives me the illusion I've got the qualifications to preach to anybody?

Actually, I don't have any special qualifications to preach to anybody.  And even though some people think I'm preaching to them, particularly from a position of superiority or accomplishment, y'all can rest assured that I'm not.  I'm not superior, or accomplished, or in any way better than you are.

I'm just layin' out what I've been taught.  Taught by the School of Hard Knocks, pastors in my life who really had capitalized consonants after their names, and by the Holy Spirit Himself.  On those rare occasions when I've stopped long enough to listen to Him.

And I've been taught that the "judge not" from Matthew 7 isn't the "judge not" we Westerners like to think it is.  God expects us to be discerning, which means we have to judge behaviors.  Yes, we have to judge.  We can even evaluate somebody's fitness for serving as an elder in our churches.  So perhaps "judge not" would be more accurate as meaning "don't be slanderous," or "don't be critical regarding the speck in somebody else's eye when you haven't dealt with the log in yours."

If anything, however, "judge not" does apply when we're talking about man-made rules.  And despite the fact that I have not memorized much of the Bible, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that God never tells people who are dating never to be along together.  So yes, the guy who commented on FB that dating couples should always have a chaperon is wrong.  And I can judge him on that!

In fact, I can think of a number of reasons why betrothed people should be spending time alone together:  learning private things about each other, making innocent plans without meddlesome third parties, developing a healthy prayer life as a couple so they can hit the ground running after they're married - and these are just for starters.

So if anybody tells you that you shouldn't spend time with your sweetheart without a third person present, tell them they're making up rules.  They're dabbling in shadows of reality.  They're delighting in false humility.

Their rule lacks any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

We have plenty of ways to demonstrate our love for Christ and obedience to God without holier-than-thou folks constructing unnecessary hoops through which to jump.  That's what the Pharisees were doing in New Testament times, and Christ taught against it and them.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

But while we're on the topic of avoiding the appearance of sin, consider these scenarios I didn't have space to include in my Crosswalk article

I have a good friend who's in a long-distance relationship.  The woman he's dating lives several hours away from where he lives, so when he goes to see her, it usually involves at least one overnight stay.  To respect their purity, they've decided that on those occasions, he stays in her apartment, while she goes over to a girlfriend's apartment to sleep. But his car is still in her driveway. So it may look like they're sinning, but she's on the other side of town when he's sleeping there.

What would you say?  I told him I think that God still honors their intentions, even if somebody might be looking for any little item to gossip about. That gossipping is the type of thing the Colossians passage addresses, right? 

Or how about this:  what if you planned ahead and booked separate rooms at a hotel for a road trip with your significant other, but your car breaks down in the middle of a blizzard and you're stranded on the side of the road overnight?  Do the two of you sin simply by remaining in the car together - alone - overnight?  Or should one of you sit outside the car in the snow and freeze to death to maintain the appearance of purity?

If God does not tempt us beyond what we are able to bear - and He's promised not to - would He allow situations to crop up we cannot endure?  Of course not.  Now, if you'd secretly planned to not fill up the gas tank so you could run out of gas on a deserted highway, alone with your sweetie, then yeah, it's pretty obvious you're at least hoping the opportunity comes along for you to sin.  Therefore, we need to use the wisdom He gives us to anticipate trouble spots and plan accordingly. Especially to preserve the virtue of the person we say we love.

After all, romance certainly isn't dead in our society, but morality sure seems to be on life support.

If there's any good news in all of this, it's that we don't need to pay attention to rules of propriety that don't really accomplish anything.  As I mention in my Crosswalk article, one of the reasons efforts to enshrine morality failed in previous eras, such as Edwardian England, consisted of their focus on appearance at the expense of human intentionality.  In other words, the supposed modesty of clothing only worked as long as you wanted to pursue purity.  The rules regarding chaperons, dating, women living alone, and other presumptions of virginity were not Biblical, and if they ever worked, it was likely in conjunction with Biblical morality, not petty societal rules.

Suffice it to say that God knew what He was doing when He instructed His Gospel to be written down for us.  And He also knew what He was doing when He ordained the Holy Spirit to be our instructor and guide along our paths of sanctification.  Sometimes I suspect the people who bristle most at words of caution such as mine do so not out of piety as much as conviction that articles like "Does Appearing Pure Matter?" are more accurate than their own twisted justifications.

Not that I'm preaching here, mind you.

It's just that when people judge me, in the way some say I judge them, I'd like for it to be done on the facts!
_____

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