In 1939 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the leading Christian preachers and teachers in Germany — but the country had been taken over by Adolph Hitler, and the noose of his control was beginning to tighten over the country. Soon it would be impossible to leave. Bonhoeffer, who was starting to become known internationally, was offered an opportunity to leave Germany, and take a teaching position in the United States. What should he do? Should he take the position? Or stay where he was? How should he make his decision?
One of the most common questions Christian people ask is, How can I know God’s will? How do I make the right choice when I am faced with a difficult decision? One of the most helpful things I have ever learned in that regard was from Henry Blackaby in his study, “Experiencing God.” In it he wrote that there are 4 things you should consider whenever you are making a decision: 1) God’s word 2) prayer 3) circumstances, and 4) godly counsel. Those are good things to turn to in every decision you make: pray, look at what God’s word says, consider your circumstances, and then get godly (the word “godly” is a key here!) counsel to help direct you.
But as I was reading through the book of I Corinthians a few months ago, I came across a series of verses that, I believe, also give us some valuable help in making decisions from a Christian perspective. Here we find 3 verses that each provide a question that can help guide you into making both good and godly decisions: I Corinthians 9:23; I Corinthians 10:24; and I Corinthians 10:31.
The situation that Paul was addressing here
The whole book of I Corinthians consists of the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dealing with various problems that existed in the Corinthian church: divisions, immorality, and controversy. One of them was introduced in Chapter 8, “concerning things sacrificed to idols.” The situation was that pagan Greek people would sacrifice meat to idols, and then that meat would go “on sale” as it were. Many of the Corinthians saw buying and eating that meat as an ungodly thing, since it had originally been offered to an idol, but others said basically, “Hey, there is no such thing as an idol, God is the only true God, and this is cheap meat! We are free in Christ; let’s buy it!” There was a real division in the church at Corinth about this issue. So in these couple of chapters in I Corinthians, Paul spends some time working through this problem with them, as to how they are to decide what to do. As he does, he gives US some direction for the way that WE should make decisions as Christians and church members as well.
There is an important Presupposition here:
That Christians are NOT to make decisions the way that everyone else does. People in our world make their decisions by considering various things, like: “What’s in it for me?”, or “How much will I get from it?”, “How will this make me look?” “What will people think about this?” or “What does my heart feel about this?” But Christians are different. We claim to belong to God. We claim that Jesus Christ is our LORD, which means “Master” or “boss.” I Corinthians 6:20 says: “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.” If you are a child of God, then you do not make decisions the way that everyone else does. You are to take God and His will into consideration. The 3 verses we are looking at this morning provide for us 3 questions we can ask ourselves to help us make God-honoring decisions in every situation:
I. “Will This Further The Gospel?”
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9:23, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel.”
In the first part of this chapter, Paul had written about the “rights” that he could have exercised as an apostle (to take along a believing wife, to be supported financially, etc.) but, he said, I do not always take advantage of these rights, if not doing it helps to spread the gospel. He went on to say, to the Jews I become like Jews, to the weak I become weak; he famously said, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (:22) and it was THEN that he added in :23 “I do all things for the sake of the gospel.”
So Paul said, there I things that I could do, that I do NOT do, if it would help to advance the gospel. Similarly, there might be things he would NOT want to do, that he DOES, because it will help to spread the gospel. The key point here is that Paul’s decision-making was based on the effect it would have on the GOSPEL, not on his own personal preferences.
If you are a Christian, you should make this same consideration a part of your regular decision making process. You should always ask: “What impact will my decision have on the gospel?”
— if I take this job, will I have more opportunities, or less, to share the gospel?
— If I take this job, will it help, or could it possibly harm, my witness for the gospel?
— Should I be involved in this activity? Will it help, or harm, my witness for the Lord? Will I have more opportunities, or less, to share the gospel, if I am doing it? We should always consider the impact our decisions have on the gospel.
I know of a pastor and church staff who decided that they were not going to use their church family life center to work out in — even though they had treadmills and weights and all the equipment they needed — because they wanted to purposefully get out into a public gym where they could build relationships with people in the world, and be witnesses to them. It was more convenient for THEM to stay in the church gym; but it was a better decision for the GOSPEL for them to go to the public gym. They made their decision based on what was best for the gospel.
For many Christians, quite honestly, this is a neglected area of consideration in our decision-making. When we make a decision we consider what it will do to us financially; what it might do for our health; what impact it will have on us socially (what will people think about it?); what impact it might have on our husband or wife or children — all kinds of considerations — but do you ever ask: “What will this do for the gospel?” If you are a Christian, and you are facing a decision today, one of the primary questions you should ask is: “Will this further, or hinder, the gospel?”
II. “Is This Good For Others?”
In I Corinthians 10:24 Paul writes: “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”
Most people, in making decisions, have one over-riding consideration: “What does this do to/for ME?” How much money will this make or cost ME? How will this make ME look? How convenient or inconvenient will this be for ME? How will this affect ME?
And how things will affect you IS one consideration. We can consider how a decision will affect us. But Paul says here that as a Christian, we are to have a greater consideration: what will this decision do for OTHERS? “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” In other words, we are not merely to consider the impact that any decision will have on US, but also the impact that it will have on OTHER people.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” And he goes on in Philippians 2 to give the example of Jesus, who left the comfort and glory of heaven to come to earth to die for us. Jesus didn’t leave heaven because it felt good for HIM, I can promise you! He did it for US. Jesus didn’t just ask: “is this good for ME?” but “is this good for others?” — and it was good for us, and He left heaven and came to die for us — and aren’t we glad He did?!
So now if we are His followers — which means that we are to imitate Him! — Jesus asks us to do what He did, and consider not only what is good for YOU, but also what is good for OTHERS in all your decisions.
This is at the heart of The Golden Rule: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them” (Matthew 7:12) Consider other people in your decision: if you were in their shoes, and were going to be affected by your decision, what would YOU want you to do in this decision? Think of other people. Is this good for THEM, not just YOU?!
One of the common arguments of those in favor of abortion is “My body, my choice.” But this is a very limited, selfish argument. It basically says: “It’s my body; I can do with it whatever I want to.” But that kind of argument will NEVER be found on the lips of a person who is serious about their commitment to Jesus as their Lord & Master. A Christian knows that this is NOT “their body.” “Their body” — and everything about them — belongs to the Lord. Paul made this clear earlier in I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body.”
Those are key words there: “YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN.” Your body is NOT all about you — not for the Christian person. Now: if you reject the Bible; if you do not make a claim to follow Jesus as your Lord; if your life is all about YOU and what YOU want to do, then you are free to say, “My body, my choice.” But if you claim to be a Christian then things are different. Because a Christian is a person who has said, “I used to go my own way, living a self-centered, sinful life. But now I have ‘denied myself and taken up my cross and followed Jesus’ and now my life is the Lord’s, not mine.” That is what it means to be a Christian. So you cannot say, as a Christian, “my body, my choice.” You know your body now belongs to Jesus, and you have a consideration for that unborn child — and for everyone else in your life as well — not just yourself.
This principle of considering others applies in all kinds of areas of our lives. It applies to the church music controversy that has ravaged so many churches across our country. Thousands of churches have lost their effectiveness because the members are fighting each other over what kind of music they should have in church: traditional hymns with piano and organ? — or contemporary music with guitars and drums? Each “side” fights for “their way” — but I believe that both “sides” are missing the whole thing. They are acting like the world. They are acting like their own personal preference is the only thing that matters,
— but they have ignored I Corinthians 10:24 here entirely: “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”
— They have forgotten the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
–They have stopped following in the steps of Jesus who left heaven for the good of OTHERS and not His own good:
On the one hand, many Senior adults have selfishly wanted their own hymns and organs, no matter whether it would reach younger people or not. They don’t care if their churches are dying — which in fact they are by the thousands all over our country — as long as they get “their songs” — and in many cases they are selfishly driving their churches to the grave.
But then on the other hand, many younger pastors and younger church members have basically driven many senior adults out of their churches by forcing upon them a musical style which is uncomfortable and even offensive to them, and they don’t give the senior members any consideration in their worship music?
Who’s right: the senior adults or the young people? The answer is NEITHER! Nobody is “right” who doesn’t take other people into consideration!
Our young people should be saying, we love our senior adults, and we want them to have some music that ministers to them. Our senior adults (who should be more mature spiritually because they have supposedly been walking with the Lord longer!) should be saying, Hey, this is not all about US; we need to have music in our services that young people will respond to — we need to build the next generation!
See: the failure here is that so many Christians in America have acted like the world and not like the Lord in our decision making. We have made it all about our own personal preferences instead of “seeking the good of our neighbor” like God commands here.
And the church music issue is just one application of this principle. Too many Christians all over our country, whenever faced with a decision, only consider their own self-interest: what will this do to ME?; what will this do to MY class?; how will this affect MY ministry — and not what it might do for others.
And it is the same in our personal lives too: husbands making decisions without considering the impact it have on their wives and families; employers making decisions without considering how it will affect their employees; homeowners doing things without consideration for the impact it might have on their neighbors — and on and on. There are countless ways to apply this, in every decision we make every day.
As a Christian, God says your consideration for your decisions — large and small — is NOT just to be about what benefits you. “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” The second piece of a Christian “decision-making grid” is “Is this good for others?” — not just yourself.
III. “Will This Glorify God?”
Later in I Corinthians 10, :31, Paul writes: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God
Here Paul reminds us that the single greatest purpose in life of a Christian is to glorify God. We were made to glorify Him, and he says that whatever we do — eat, drink, anything we do — we are to glorify God in it.
Jesus did everything that He did for the glory of God.
— In John 12:28, Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Your name.” He knew that this was His chief purpose on earth: to glorify God.
— Philippians 2 describes all that Jesus did in His suffering and dying for us, and it ends by saying that God raised Him up and that “every knee shall bow” before Him as Lord — and then it says: “to the glory of God the Father.” Everything Jesus did was for the glory of God.
And everything WE do is to be for the glory of God. “Whatever you do”, Paul said, “do ALL to the glory of God.” The old Westminster Shorter Catechism has a statement that every Christian should memorize. In its classic “catechism” style of asking a question and then answering it, it asks: “What is the chief end of man?” and then answers: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This is it! This is what you & I were each made for. We were made for the purpose of enjoying God, and glorifying Him. We are here on earth to begin to learn to enjoy God (which we will learn to do fully forever) and to GLORIFY God while we are here.
If you enjoy watching BBC dramas you should check out the old series “The Barchester Chronicles”, about an Anglican minister and his parish. It is a very cute and thought-provoking series. At one point in the program, Mr. Harding, the minister who is the central character in the story, finishes playing a new anthem he had composed for his cello, for his daughter Eleanor and her sister-in-law Mary.
Eleanor: “That’s beautiful.”
Harding: “It’s a new anthem.”
Mary: “To celebrate something special?”
Harding: “Yes.” (long pause)
Eleanor: “Mary obviously hopes you will tell her what the music is going to celebrate, Father!”
Harding: “God. Everything I write celebrates God: I know of no other compelling reason to make music.”
That little story has it exactly right. We were made to celebrate God. We exist to glorify Him, and everything that we do should be to His glory. If that is so, and it is, then every time we have a decision to make, we should ask ourselves this question: “Will this glorify God?”
NOT: what is easiest?
NOT what will make me look the best before other people?
NOT what will get me the most money?
NOT what will be popular?
But what will glorify God?
Not only as individuals, but also as a church we need to constantly be asking this question: What will glorify God?
NOT: what is cheapest? NOT what is easiest? NOT what have we always done? NOT what do people want? But what will glorify God? Everyone one of us individually is here for the purpose of glorifying God, but the church is especially here to glorify God, as His set apart people. God should be glorified in the church more than anywhere else. So we must constantly be asking ourselves this question: What will glorify God? Because this is why we are here!
Both as a church and as individuals, we should always ask this question before we make any decision: “Will this glorify God? Can God get glory from this in some way?” We are here to glorify God, and we need to make sure that we always consider how He might be glorified, in every decision we make.
So if you put those three things together, what you have is a “Christian decision making grid.” If you are faced with a decision in your life today — or when you are in the future — then you can run your situation through the “grid” of these 3 questions, and it can help you find your answer:
— Is it good for the gospel?
— Is it good for others?
— Does it bring glory to God?
And remember: this is not just for “big” decisions like getting married or selecting your career, although it definitely helps with things like that; it is also for every little decision we make. (And here’s a hint: if you make all your “little” decisions every day using these Biblical ingredients, a lot of your “big” decisions will just fall naturally into place!) Use these question for every decision you make, large and small.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the German pastor & theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was offered the opportunity to leave Germany before the beginning of World War II in 1939. It would have been good for HIM personally to get out of there as soon as possible. But he had more considerations than merely his own well-being in mind:
— He wanted to stay in Germany to preach the true gospel, when most of the churches had abandoned the genuine faith and had compromised with Hitler’s regime.
— He also had many disciples and students in Germany, and he wanted to take care of them.
— And more than anything, Bonhoeffer wanted God to be glorified with his life by publicly standing for right against the evil dictator and his practices.
I have never read that Dietrich Bonhoeffer looked specifically at the 3 verses that we are studying today, and that he made his decision based on them. But consciously or subconsciously, that IS what he did. He made his decision by asking these 3 questions:
— Is it good for the gospel?
— Is it good for others?
— Will it bring glory to God?
And Dietrich Bonhoeffer went down in history because he stayed in Germany, stood against Hitler, and gave his life for the gospel.
You & I will face many hard decisions in our lifetimes. Maybe you are facing one in your life right now. If you aren’t, you can be assured that one day soon you WILL! We all face difficult choices eventually. When you do, ask yourself these 3 scriptural questions, and it will help you to find God’s direction for your life: “Does this further the gospel?” “Is this good for others?” “Will this glorify God?” If you answer is “yes” to all 3 of these questions, then you can be confident that you are headed in the right direction!
— some of us need to pray today for God’s direction about a decision …. or pray for someone you know. We want to give you an opportunity to pray during this invitation time about the decisions on your heart.
— As you pray for God’s direction, just review and meditate and pray about these 3 questions, and ask God to help you answer them rightly about your situation: “Does this further the gospel?” “Is this good for others?” “Does this glorify God?”
— Maybe you would say, I have never really given my life to Jesus as my Savior, and my life has NOT been based on glorifying Him. But today you are ready to turn from your sin, trust Jesus as your Savior, and turn your life over to Him. Come and share that with me, and let me get you to a counselor who will pray with you and help you to nail down your commitment to Jesus today!