Do You Always Need a Bible Command?
WHEN you were young, your parents likely gave you many rules. As you grew older, you came to appreciate that they had your interests at heart. As an adult, you probably still live by certain principles they instilled in you, even though you are no longer under their authority.
Our heavenly Father, Jehovah, gives us a number of direct commands through his Word, the Bible. For example, he forbids idolatry, fornication, adultery, and theft. (Exodus 20:1-17; Acts 15:28, 29) As we spiritually “grow up in all things,” we come to appreciate that Jehovah has our best interests at heart and that his commands are not unduly restrictive.—Ephesians 4:15; Isaiah 48:17, 18; 54:13.
However, there are many situations for which there is no direct command. Thus, some feel that in the absence of a direct Bible law, they are free to do as they please. They argue that if God had felt it necessary, he would have expressed his will in the form of a direct command.
Those who think this way often make unwise decisions that they later deeply regret. They fail to see that the Bible contains not only laws but also indications of God’s way of thinking. As we study the Bible and come to know Jehovah’s view on matters, we develop a Bible-trained conscience and are helped to make choices that reflect his ways. When we do so, we make his heart glad and we reap the benefits that result from making wise decisions.—Ephesians 5:1.
Outstanding Bible Examples
When we look at Bible accounts of servants of God in ancient times, we find situations in which they took Jehovah’s thinking into consideration even when they were not under a direct order. Consider the example of Joseph. At the time he was confronting the immoral advances of Potiphar’s wife, there was no divinely inspired written law against adultery. Yet, even without a direct law, Joseph perceived that adultery was a sin not only against his own conscience but also “against God.” (Genesis 39:9) Evidently, Joseph recognized that adultery was in violation of God’s thinking and will, as expressed in Eden.—Genesis 2:24.
Consider another example. At Acts 16:3, we learn that before taking Timothy along on his Christian journeys, Paul circumcised him. Yet, in verse 4 we read that Paul and Timothy thereafter traveled through the cities delivering “the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem.” Among those decrees was the decision that Christians were no longer under law to get circumcised! (Acts 15:5, 6, 28, 29) Why did Paul feel that it was necessary for Timothy to be circumcised? “Because of the Jews that were in those places, for one and all knew that [Timothy’s] father was a Greek.” Paul did not want to cause unnecessary offense or stumbling. He was concerned that Christians keep “recommending [themselves] to every human conscience in the sight of God.”—2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
This kind of thinking was typical of Paul and Timothy. Read such passages as Romans 14:15, 20, 21 and 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; 10:23-33, and see how deeply concerned Paul was with the spiritual welfare of others, especially those who might stumble over something that, strictly speaking, was not wrong. And Paul wrote of Timothy: “I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you. For all the others are seeking their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know the proof he gave of himself, that like a child with a father he slaved with me in furtherance of the good news.” (Philippians 2:20-22) What a fine example these two Christian men set for us today! Rather than opting for personal convenience or preference when not under specific divine command, they imitated the love of Jehovah and his Son by considering how their personal decisions might affect others spiritually.
Consider Jesus Christ, our primary example. In his Sermon on the Mount, he clearly explained that one who grasps the spirit of God’s laws will obey them even beyond what is specifically commanded or forbidden. (Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, 28) Neither Jesus, Paul, Timothy, nor Joseph adopted the reasoning that in the absence of a specific divine law, a person can do as he pleases. Conforming to God’s way of thinking, these men lived by what Jesus identified as the two greatest commands of all—to love God and to love one’s fellowman.—Matthew 22:36-40.
What About Christians Today?
It is clear that we should not approach the Bible as one would a legal document—expecting every obligation to be clearly spelled out. We bring great joy to Jehovah’s heart when we choose to do that which reflects his thinking, even when there is no specific law to dictate our course. In other words, rather than always having to be told what God wants us to do, we can ‘perceive what the will of Jehovah is.’ (Ephesians 5:17; Romans 12:2) Why does this make Jehovah happy? Because it shows that we are not concerned so much with personal preferences and rights as with pleasing him. It also shows that we appreciate his love to the point that we want to imitate it, making such love the force that motivates us. (Proverbs 23:15; 27:11) Additionally, actions based on what is indicated by the Scriptures contribute to spiritual and often physical health.
Let us see how this principle can be applied in personal matters.
Choice of Entertainment
Consider the case of a young man who wants to buy a certain music album. What he has heard from the album is very appealing, but he is concerned because the back cover indicates that the lyrics are sexually explicit and profane. Then, too, he is aware that a large portion of the artist’s recordings are angry and aggressive in spirit. As a lover of Jehovah, this young man is interested in His thoughts and feelings on the matter. How can he perceive what God’s will is in this regard?
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul lists the works of the flesh and the fruitage of God’s spirit. You likely know what is included in the fruitage of God’s spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. But what activities constitute the works of the flesh? Paul writes: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these. As to these things I am forewarning you, the same way as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”—Galatians 5:19-23.
Note the very last expression in that list—“things like these.” Paul did not provide an exhaustive list of everything that would be considered a work of the flesh. It is not as if a person could reason, ‘I am Scripturally allowed to engage in any activity that is not on Paul’s list of the works of the flesh.’ Rather, readers would need to use their perceptive powers in order to identify things that may not appear on the list but are “like these.” Those who unrepentantly engage in practices that are not mentioned but that are “like these” will not inherit the blessings of God’s Kingdom.
Thus, we need to perceive, or discern, what is displeasing in Jehovah’s eyes. Is that difficult? Suppose your doctor advised you to eat more fruits and vegetables but to avoid pie, ice cream, and things like these. Would it be hard to determine on which list cake belongs? Now look again at the fruitage of God’s spirit and the works of the flesh. To which list does the above-mentioned music album belong? It certainly bears no resemblance to love, goodness, self-control, or the other qualities associated with the fruitage of God’s spirit. One would not need a direct law to perceive that this kind of music is out of harmony with God’s way of thinking. The same principles would apply to reading material, movies, television programs, computer games, Web sites, and so forth.
Acceptable Personal Appearance
The Bible also provides principles that have a bearing on matters of dress and grooming. These enable each Christian to be guided in maintaining a fitting and pleasing personal appearance. Here again, the lover of Jehovah sees in this an opportunity, not to do whatever he pleases, but to do what will make his heavenly Father rejoice. As we have already seen, the fact that Jehovah has not given specific regulations in a matter does not mean that he does not care what his people do. Styles differ from one location to another, and even in the same location, they change periodically. However, God provides basic principles that should guide his people at all times and in all places.
For example, 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 says: “Likewise I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works.” Thus, Christian women—and men—ought to give thought to what sort of appearance people in their area expect of those “professing to reverence God.” It is especially proper that a Christian give thought to what his appearance will cause others to think of the Bible message that he carries. (2 Corinthians 6:3) An exemplary Christian will not be overly concerned with his own preferences or supposed rights but, rather, with not becoming a source of distraction or a stumbling block to others.—Matthew 18:6; Philippians 1:10.
When a Christian finds that a certain style in personal appearance has a disturbing or stumbling effect on others, he can imitate the apostle Paul by placing concern for the spiritual well-being of others ahead of his personal preferences. Paul said: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) And of Jesus, Paul wrote: “Even the Christ did not please himself.” Paul’s point of application to all Christians is clear: “We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.”—Romans 15:1-3.
Sharpening Our Perceptive Powers
How can we develop our perceptive powers so as to know how to please Jehovah even when he has not given specific direction in a matter? If we read his Word daily, study it regularly, and meditate on what we read, we will experience growth in our powers of perception. Such growth does not take place rapidly. Like the physical growth of a child, spiritual growth is gradual and is not immediately discerned. So there is a need for patience, and we should not become frustrated if we do not notice immediate improvement. On the other hand, the mere passing of much time will not of itself sharpen our perceptive powers. Such time must be filled with regular consideration of God’s Word as noted above, and we must live that Word to the best of our ability.—Hebrews 5:14.
It might be said that while God’s laws test our obedience, his principles test the depth of our spirituality and of our desire to please him. As we grow spiritually, we will place increased emphasis on imitating Jehovah and his Son. We will be eager to base our decisions on God’s thinking on matters as indicated by the Scriptures. As we make our heavenly Father happy in all that we do, we will find that our own joy increases as well.
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Clothing styles differ from place to place, but Bible principles should guide our choices