While there’s great joy in romping through fields of wildflowers, we know that the pastoral scenes in novels and movies aren’t really accurate. There are ants at the picnic and snakes in the woods. The world is a broken place; it’s really not a good idea to follow my recommendation in the previous post—“learn all you can about everything you can”—without putting some sensible limitations in place.
We’re not in Eden anymore.
How do we decide which trees in the garden to sample?
Many Christians like to use the guidance in Philippians 4.8—
- whatever is true,
- whatever is honorable,
- whatever is just,
- whatever is pure,
- whatever is lovely,
- whatever is commendable,
- if there is any excellence,
- if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.”
I don’t doubt that anyone who focuses his mental faculties on these things will be better for it.
But I note a few things about this list. First, it’s not presented as exhaustive; there’s no command to think only about things on this list. Second, there are times when the Bible itself tells us to think about manifestly negative, even sinful things—to consider the way of the fool, for example. Sometimes it tells us stories that are anything but lovely. And third, I would suggest that because everyone’s different, there are probably even some good things that I shouldn’t dwell on—and you’ll have a similar list, though it’ll probably be different from mine in the particulars.
Why do I say that?
Because the Scripture tells us that we need to make individual adjustments to our mental explorations based on our strengths and weaknesses and our personal characteristics, such as our consciences. Let me give some examples.
Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient” (1Co 6.12). In fact, he says it twice (1Co 10.23). What does that mean? It means that some things that others can do freely will not get me toward my goal, will not help me fulfill my purposes. I need to stay focused, give primary attention and time to the things that God has called me to do. For example, I’m called to be a teacher. But I’m fluent only in English. When I teach overseas, I often teach through an interpreter, which means I get in only half the content in the same amount of time. Every time I meet a new language, I’m really tempted to learn it so I don’t have to use an interpreter and can cover more material. But the time it would take for me to learn Kiswahili, or Bemba, or Afrikaans, or Xhosa (and those clicks!), or Mandarin, or Chamorro, or even Spanish, would severely limit the time I can spend on my primary calling, which is studying the material and thinking about the most effective ways to present it. It’s not a profitable use of my time, given the time required to gain fluency. It’s not expedient. It’s better to let someone else do that.
In the first verse in the previous paragraph, Paul also says, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” We’re all prone to give in to the allure of some activity or other—playing video games, watching TV, eating butterscotch sundaes. Most people can handle those activities in a balanced way, but for some it just becomes addictive. I’ve written about my decision to go cold turkey on caffeine. We need to make the firm decision to stay away from otherwise good things that pull us off balance.
In the second verse above, Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” Sometimes we have to decide whether something we’re free to do might get in the way of our spiritual growth—or someone else’s. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and set aside weights that keep us from running our best race (He 12.1).
So as we enjoy God’s good gifts, we do so thoughtfully and purposefully, and that means carefully and cautiously.
Be curious! But be careful.
There’s great freedom in that.