“Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21
I’m sure most, if not all of you have heard the phrase, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” This is often said in jest, but I believe it reveals an attitude that is pervasive in our culture, and one that is certainly not funny. This phrase essentially says, “I’m going to do what I want to do and if it’s the wrong thing, I will make amends for it later.” It is a selfish attitude, and for the follower of Jesus it is lazy faith. The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to Corinth that even though we have free will and the freedom to do whatever we want, not everything is beneficial or constructive. Actions are not without consequences. We are not to seek only our own good, but also the good of others. Paul is not telling us to never seek our own good, but he is admonishing us to seek the good of others as much, and in the same manner, that we seek good for ourselves. The context of the Corinthians passage is of believers eating meat that may be sacrificed to idols. If doing so may cause another person to stumble, then that meat should not be eaten. As Paul says later in verse 33, (f)or I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, SO THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED. (emphasis mine). For Paul, the purpose of his life was not his own comforts or earthly freedom (remember, he spent many of his Christ-following days in prison and/or being persecuted), but living for Christ in such a way that others might be saved.
The apostle James, one of Jesus’ inner circle (along with Peter and John), also challenges the follower of Jesus to know when to use restraint. He writes that we need to be QUICK to listen, SLOW to speak, and SLOW to become angry. If there is intelligent life out there and they came to our planet, it would only take them moments to observe that we are a people (believers and not-yet believers alike) that are the exact opposite. We tend to be quick to get angry, quick to speak, and slow to listen (if we ever truly listen at all). We seem to be people that are more interested in our own comforts than the salvation of others at the expense of our freedoms. All Christians are for the salvation of others, but not all are willing to sacrifice freedoms and comforts for that to happen. The book of John records how many DISCIPLES stopped following Jesus because his teachings were too hard. They saw his miracles, heard his powerful words, and still walked away. How much more vulnerable are we? James’ focus, as was Paul’s, as was Jesus’, was on caring for others as much as ourselves. James writes that instead of being so quick to speak and get angry about everything that bothers us, we must focus on ridding ourselves of moral filth and evil, and humbly accepting the word planted in us (read Galatians 5 about the acts of the flesh and you will find “selfish ambition” in the midst of all the other immoral things Paul speaks of). James writes that doing so can save you. Again, the focus is on salvation, not on our personal comforts.
Many followers of Jesus, with the best of intentions, have fallen into this attitude of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission attitude.” We speak before we think, we act before we take anything to prayer, and we too often assume what God would or would not approve of. While it is true that it may be easier to ask forgiveness than permission, once those words and/or actions are out there, they cannot be undone. It is much easier to destroy trust than to build it; to lose respect and influence than to gain it. If we would heed the words of Paul and James, who are heeding the words of Jesus, we might just avoid many of the problems that we help create. Just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial. If we truly took everything to the Lord and sought his leading and guidance before we spoke and acted, the gospel would have much greater impact. God is not hiding in a corner needing someone to come to his defense. He is not shocked by what he sees in the world. He is not unaware. And he certainly is not unable to work even in the darkest of places.
You see, God always has, and always will have, a big picture mindset. From the instant Adam and Eve sinned, God had a plan to restore humanity. Although forgiveness was given to all mankind through Jesus, if Adam and Eve had sought God’s counsel before taking the apple, we wouldn’t even be in this situation. But alas, here we are. The philosopher, poet, and novelist George Santayana is credited with the quote “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must remember that the past goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Let us not be deceived by the serpent any longer, but strive to truly trust God in all things, with all things, and for all things. It may be easier to ask forgiveness than permission, but it causes a lot more harm than good, and creates more problems than it fixes. The bible tells us to “pray without ceasing” for a reason. Only God can cure the world of its ills. Though you and I have been commissioned to share of His great love, we ain’t God! Seek His forgiveness when necessary, but strive more to seek His will that you won’t need to seek forgiveness–from Him or anyone else…