(All scriptures quoted from NASB unless otherwise noted)
Recently I took my kids to a local park to let them burn off some energy and when we got there the playground was already occupied by a mom with three little kids all under the age of about five. The first thing which caught my attention as we walked up was that the oldest of those little kids ran up to her little brother, who looked about three years-old, and pushed him down for no apparent reason … other than that he was there. The mom immediately jumped to her feet, picked the little boy up and scolded the little girl. The scolding wasn’t harsh at all, but the little girl set her jaw defiantly, waited for her mom to finish, and then started running around again. Her little brother scrambled after her, and when they both wanted to get up the same set of playground steps, the big sister once again pushed her little brother down and scrambled up the steps. Her mom got up once more, picked up the little boy, and scolded the little girl. The mom must have said something that registered with the little girl this time, because I saw her mouth gape a bit and her eyes showed a little worry (maybe mom threatened to take dessert away or something of the sort)? But both children were soon off and running again; the little boy happily bouncing after his sister as if she had done him no harm.
It wasn’t long before the little boy got in big sister’s way again, however, and this time there was a change in behavior. The little girl pulled herself up as if to shove him again, but she caught herself. There was a moment of hesitation as she glanced at her mom and, attempting in a childish way to hide it from her mom, she reached out and pinched her brother instead, then turned and ran away. For a moment I think the little girl thought she had done something very clever – something for which she’d go unpunished. However, mom figured out pretty quicklythat naughtiness had been perpetrated when the little boy suddenly started crying loudly and so she sprang after the little girl.
The whole thing was funny to watch (funny to me since it’s not my child, I guess). Even though it provided a couple of laughs,while internally sympathizing with the overworked mom, the event quickly faded from my thoughts and I forgot about the whole episode after we left the park. That is, I forgot about ituntil something came up which made it spring to mind again the other day. I missed the first part of a conversation between a couple of people at work but I overheard, as I walked within earshot, one of them – whom I know to be a Christian – say something like, “I know that it’s wrong to watch that show, but it’s so funny! And, after all, it’s not like I’m watching ‘50 Shades of Gray’ or something like that!” I passed by them and continued on my route, but after a few steps the face of the little girl at the park came to mind again. In my mind’s eye, I again saw the little girl hesitate, think her action over and then switch her push to a pinch. And, in the context of what I had just heard from my Christian co-worker, I realized how childish and pitiful our fight against the flesh often is. I suppose that it is something which I’ve always innately understood but I’ve never been able to satisfactorily describe; but the simple fact is that we are ALWAYS equivocating. We are always quibbling about numbers or degree. We are always hedging our bets, prevaricating against the worst by choosing the second-worst, breaking the lesser commands as if it is commendable when compared with transgression of the greater.
If you are a Christian like me, you have to join me in asking: How often am I equivocating?
How many times have I found myself doing what that little girl did? The principle that shoving my little brother down is undoubtedly wrong … so, what if I just … well … pinch him instead? It may be harmless enough if I choose, while on a diet,to eat a brownie instead of a full chocolate cake, or to eat two tacos instead three (who can eat only one taco?!). However, it’s quite another thing when I equivocate between continuing on with a dirty novel just because it isn’t a pornographic movie, or when I justify listening to that one song with the one dirty word because it’s not that other song with eight.
If we are honest we must admit that we spend a massive amount of our time locked in bouts of internal legal jousting, seeking a way to ease our consciences or silence the Spirit of God. Our nature is to try to drive a wedge between words in the law of God to make room for our wants and desires. We do all that we can to sequester the instructions of God from our time, our culture, or our circumstance.
This reveals two related things about our human nature. It shows us to be constantly desiring what is evil, and it shows that we’re all either legalists or lawless (antinomians) at heart. As to the legalism part, our nature is to split hairs even if it means we need an electron microscope and a laser to make the partitionfine enough for our self-deception. As to the lawlessness, we either impose lesser, man-made laws, or we do away entirely with all inhibitions in order to comfort ourselves in our lies.
It is a hopeless situation! Even if we intend good, we often find that our efforts neglect other things. We might, with all the effort we can muster, attempt to do our best – to be our best – and to raise ourselves up by every ounce of strength we can muster to overcome our sinful desires. We might sit upon a rock in the North Atlantic or in a cave in the deserts of North Africa, foregoing all human interaction and comforts in order to escape from equivocation, and yet in so doing make a worse bed of equivocation by foregoing greater commands to purposefully love and care for our brothers and sisters. Similarly, we mightassuage our guilt by offering alms to the poor to an extent which leaves us in complete poverty, only to then find that we have neglected the weightier command to meet those poor peoples’spiritual needs.
The problem – and the relentless, furtive exercise of the problem– has innumerable ways to rear its ugly head, so they can’t be treated individually or exhaustively. It’s not as if we fight theproblem by simply a matter of degree anyway. Sometimes we argue that way though, right? By degrees of wrong. But sometimes, as I said, its also an argument by number. I brought up reading a dirty novel being substituted for a pornographic movie and how we somehow justify the former because it’s not the latter. But do we also justify reading one dirty novel because it’s not seven dirty novels? Do we justify getting high once, because we don’t get high every day? Do we justify listening to a filthy song on the radio because we aren’t spending our money to buy ten dirty songs on iTunes?
If I’m honest with myself, I know how I’d answer questions like that. I equivocate based on the perceived “bigness” or frequency of my sin in spite of the fact that I know how each time I equivocate, it makes it easier to follow it up with more. What is worse, is that I know deep down inside, that the justifications which I give for such equivocation are all uselessbecause they defy the underlying principle of God’s instructions. Going back to the example of the little girl and her brother: It was very apparent that the little girl’s mom paid attention and was engaged in teaching her kids what was right and wrong. Therefore, it is likely that the little girl knew that the pinch was as bad as the push … and yet she did it anyway. Though mom’s instruction was probably something like, “Don’t push your little brother,” the little girl used that to justify pinching. However, you and I both know that the deeper principle in the mom’s instruction was to be nice to the little brother, to put her little brother’s wants and needs ahead of her own, not to mention tolisten to and obey the wishes of her mother.
Now, I am well aware that a five year-old girl probably lacks much of the reasoning ability to dig into the secondary implications of substituting a pinch for a push. But we aren’t children, are we? I hope not. I sometimes wonder how much we’ve all grown up spiritually though; especially when we are so childish in our equivocation. We are called to be child-like in our faith, not childish in our thinking. In fact, in our thinking we are commanded by the Apostle to grow up, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).
It is a verse like this which sums up everything which I am trying to say, so let’s break it down a little bit. Note first that Paul addresses his command to “brethren.” It’s not the world to whom he’s talking, it’s his brothers (and sisters) in the faith. Which puts into context the two subsequent, inextricably linkedinsights. The first insight is said in two separate ways. He says at the beginning of the verse, “Do not be children in your thinking,” and then adds at the end, “but in your thinking be mature.” This is sandwiched around the other thought, “yet in evil be infants.” These ideas must be linked so that we don’t misunderstand that “child-like” does not mean the same as “childish.” We are all familiar with Christ’s admonition to His disciples in Mark 10:14-15, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” But too many people look at this passage and then make the false assumption that being “child-like” means persisting with the simple and elementary. If we’re honest with ourselves, we are aware thatgrowth is key in life; otherwise Luke wouldn’t have been so deliberate in saying that Jesus (our example in all things), “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). It would have looked awfully funny if Jesus had stopped growing in size, but wouldn’t it have been just as odd if He had stayed childish in His actions and thinking too? And yet many misinterpret His own words about children when reading the story in Mark 10, as if childishness is the key to heaven, rather than child-like trust.
We see that maturity and growth is key to the life of Christians by searching through the rest of the New Testament. Think first about how Paul was quite clearly teaching that maturity is key to love in his famous chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish things” (ESV). Paul also says in Ephesians 4:13-15, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”Or see also what Paul says regarding maturity and his own ministry in Colossians 1:27-28, “[I admonish and teach] every man with all wisdom, so that [I] may present every man complete in Christ.” In other words, admonishing and teaching in wisdom is what completes us in Christ. We see this same idea echoed by the writer of Hebrews when he laments that his readers “have become dull of hearing,” and then continues on to say, “you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity” (Hebrews 5:11-6:1).
But the other key to our conversation here is the phrase Paul sandwiches in 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (emphasis mine). That phrase, “yet in evil be infants,” is not a contradiction of the rest of the verse – or the other instructions at which we have looked. Instead he’s referring to something which is necessarily related to growing up in thinking. He is saying that being an infant in evil – untouched by it, unstained with it, pure and holy regarding it – is simultaneously the prerequisite and the result of us growing up in thinking. Paul seems to be saying that there is a mutual exclusion between maturity in evil and maturity in Christ. You can’t be mature in both … and we shouldn’t seek to be mature in both. Nothing is gained by staining ourselves with the evil of the world, and nothing is lost by seeking purity.
And this is why our constant equivocation is so very dangerous spiritually: Mature thinking is key to purity, and purity is key to maturity. This statement isn’t one of simple belief, flavorless whim, or personal fancy, it is a positive, concrete, undeniable, and airtight principle that mature thinking is key to purity, and purity is key to maturity. If we find ourselves in a state of spiritual complacency, or in the developmental doldrums, the probable reason is a lack of emphasis on purity. And if purity is not emphasized, the likelihood is that there is a problem with constant immature equivocation rather than straight-up, hell-bent rebellion.
As I said earlier, we equivocate in two different ways. In the first way, we may constantly shut down our consciences or silence the Spirit by legalistically arguing that our actions are less egregious than they are because of either magnitude or frequency. Or secondly, we may argue that the laws of God are just ‘guidelines’ or ‘recommendations’ or ‘policies’ which God would like us to follow. But both types of equivocation reveal one fault: a pitiful lack of spiritual maturity.
As Christians we must constantly reassess and reorder our lives by prioritizing God in them. Wisdom, knowledge, and completeness in Christ are gained through maturity. And maturity cannot take place if we equivocate on evil. Let us all do as Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica, “Do not quench the Spirit … but examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” So that the prayer of Paul may apply to us as well, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-24).
Oh, Lord, forgive me when I equivocate and trade the good things which You have planned for me for the pitiful and passing things of this world. Help me to be spiritually mature and to hold fast to that which is good, abstaining from every form of evil. This I ask in the name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen.