Permitted Is not Always Required

By Michael E. Brooks
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4 NKJV).
Our party arrived at the mountain village of Ling Ling, in Nepal’s Rasuwa district just before dusk. As is customary there we were greeted warmly, invited to rest, and offered tea. However in this case I was surprised when I took my first sip of the warm brew.
This was not the customary black tea of most of the Indian sub-continent. Rather it was “Tibetan Tea”; a concoction formed by churning or pressing a blend of tea leaves, butter and salt, with hot water. Let it suffice to say that Tibetan Tea is an acquired taste. I gradually managed to down my cup, but then refused seconds and later servings.
Some in Ephesus were insisting that dietary restrictions be imposed upon Christians. Whether these were the Jewish food laws from the Law of Moses or rules from some other source we do not know with certainty. Whatever their nature Paul makes it plain that no one has the right to deny any other Christian his choice of food.
So long as we are thankful to God we may eat anything we choose, without spiritual consequence. (Note, elsewhere we learn that we may need to voluntarily surrender this right for the sake of others – see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).
Does this freedom of choice however, and the essential cleanness or goodness of all of God’s created things, imply that we are obligated to eat all manner of food, regardless of personal taste, preferences, or health needs? Certainly not. We clearly see that one may fast, or eat only vegetables, or choose other restrictions according to his own personal needs or wants. While all food is good, not all is required of us.
This lesson also applies to many areas of Christian living. We sometimes are prone to classify things as all good, or all evil. That is we view activities (especially religious activities) as either forbidden or required.
Yet there is a third category – those things we may do, but are not compelled to do. Observance of special days falls into that category (Romans 14:4-6), as do many areas of Christian service or ministry. Each has particular gifts, and is exhorted to use his own gifts to the glory of God (Romans 12:3-8).
Churches offer (or at least they should) various opportunities for ministry and growth. Most of these programs do not intend that every member must participate. Yet sometimes we feel guilty if we cannot be part of them. Worse, some inflict guilt or accusations upon any who do not work in the accuser’s favorite area of ministry. We feel that everyone ought to do what we are doing.
Let us be reminded that there is much good that we can do, but not all good may be done by all people. This is not to endorse inactivity or slackness in our service to God. All have gifts, therefore all have responsibility (James 4:17).
But let us not make the mistake of compelling all members to work in the same ministry or to serve the Lord just like we do. Let us utilize each opportunity we have to do good (Galatians 6:10), but also recognize that not all have the same opportunities.

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