Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19, esv).
Life is full of gray areas, choices that individuals or families can make—and even biblically defend, whichever side of an issue they may come down on.
The drinking of alcohol, for instance, is one of those debatable areas. On one hand, numerous verses in the Bible, particularly in Proverbs, decry how drinking impairs wisdom, how it’s unnecessary, destructive, addictive, and harmful in numerous ways. “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine” (Proverbs 23:29–30, nkjv). Yet someone else, equally confident in his or her stance, can note how the drinking of wine is almost assumed in the Scriptures, that Jesus turned water into wine as His first recorded miracle, or that Paul advised Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach” (1 Timothy 5:23, esv).
But while drinking alcohol is an example of an area where we may choose to lovingly differ, the Bible provides a proven path for taking the high road through all kinds of gray areas. When faced with an unknown that could be argued either way, consider the following criteria.
1) Make the wise choice. While you may technically feel the freedom to indulge in a particular pleasure or activity, permission alone should not be the final determinant in your decision-making. Solomon said, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). What if you and your family would be better off if you chose to forego something, even if you felt a personal green light yourself for doing it? Wouldn’t forgoing it be the wiser way to go?
2) Make the loving choice. “Above all,” said the apostle Peter, “maintain an intense love for each other” (1 Peter 4:8, hcsb). Love for others, not your own preferences and desires, should be a main filter that every decision of yours runs through. Paul, in advising the Romans on a contentious first-century matter about the acceptability of certain foods, said, “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:15, esv). Your actions or decisions may be fine on a superficial level, but do they stand up to the test of love?
3) Make the edifying choice. Choices are never made in a vacuum. They either build up or cause damage to those who observe you. Especially in families, kids tend to embrace what their parents tolerate. So when evaluating the wisdom of doing something, don’t think only of its rightness or wrongness. Take into account that your children may go further in your choices than you’ve gone. The next generation could go to a destructive level with what you’ve deemed harmless, unless you make a deliberate effort to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
4) Make the supportive choice. Others will be much quicker to notice your behaviors than to ask you for your reasons and rationales for why you’re okay with them. Realizing this, will the silent perception you’re sending be one that helps protect the people you influence, or will it do more harm and raise more questions? “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21). Does your position on an iffy subject meet this biblical standard?
Especially when a decision falls in a gray area, evaluate it in the light of God’s Word and counsel.
Heavenly Father, thank You for not leaving us without counsel on issues that are hard for us to figure out. Thank You also for teaching us the wisdom of seeing not only what the impact on ourselves will be, but also the higher, broader, more eternal implications of our actions. Help me be motivated by nothing less than Your honor and others’ protection, so that I will not disgrace either You or them by the example of my lifestyle. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.