In one of his live comedy shows, Jeff Foxworthy used to tell the story of taking his redneck family to Hawaii on vacation. The in-air film for the flight featured talking animals. During the movie Jeff’s cousin leaned over and said matter-of-factly, “You know that ain’t that dog’s real voice.” At this point in the story Jeff asked the audience, “What do you say to that!?”
“A Christian cannot sin” replied the man. Seeing the blank looks of the committee, he continued, “Paul told the Corinthians, ‘everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial.’ Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive.” As the committee listened in stunned silence, one member asked, ”So, if you were sexually unfaithful to your wife by committing adultery, that wouldn’t be a sin?” “‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial,” he replied with confident ease, like the way someone says, “Water is wet”.
What do you say to that? How do you communicate with someone who’s confident passivity far outweighs their knowledge? This is a particularly pertinent issue today since we live in what author of Generation Me terms the age of self-importance. She writes, “We simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams.” (p. 49) The Greeks had a term for people who are so closed up in their own world that they concern themselves only with their personal goals. They called them idiotes.
Punctuation is funny (I personally think ‘punctuation’ is a funny word). But more to the point, punctuation is part of that’ jot’ and ‘tittle’ section of the inspired Word too. When Paul writes, “‘Everything is lawful’ — but not all things build up ” (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV), it is easy to miss the quotation marks that surround “everything is lawful” in our English translations. Paul is quoting the Corinthians, not asserting his own thought. They are saying, “Everything is permissible”; Paul counters “but not everything is beneficial; not everything builds up.” Paul was confronting in Corinth a spirit very much akin to our own age – a spirit of self-importance and self-exaltation…the attitude of the idiotes.
Most of us don’t go as far as the terribly misled man by claiming that Paul meant “everything is permissible,” but many of us exhibit the spirit of self-importance and self-righteousness about our freedoms in Christ. We often accuse others of legalism when they call us to obey what is clearly a command of Scripture. Christ’s death and resurrection do not liberate us from the necessity of obedience, but empower us to obey by making us new. Cowper wrote about the power of the gospel to produce obedience: “To see the law by Christ fulfilled, and hear His pardoning voice, turns a slave into a child, and duty into choice.”
So, how should we speak with Christian people who feel entitled to flaunt their Christian freedom? First, we must remove the log out of our own eye. Then, in great humility and love, contemplating the same patience Christ has displayed towards us idiotes, point out that funny little thing called punctuation.