In Defense of Clean Speech in Christian Fiction, Part 9
See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.
Secondary Considerations: Romans 14:16
I began this series with the intention of sticking to Scripture for my main defense. That’s because Scripture is sufficient for every area of life (2 Peter 1:3)—I truly believe that. If something is just my opinion, I could be wrong.
But God is never wrong. So what He says must be our foundation—our absolute—for all behavior.
Though I’ve listed various Scriptures during our discussion, I recently realized I had left out a few key verses, and I would be remiss not to mention the important principles they teach in the context of our discussion. Let’s take a look at the first one.
“So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16 ESV).
As a theologian friend recently reminded me, “Context is king.” So let’s look at the verse again, this time in the context of surrounding verses:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Rom. 14:14-19)
These verses come from a discussion about the eating of idol’s meat, which we discussed more thoroughly in Part 7. In the time and culture these verses address, unbelievers offered meat to idols. Leftovers were sold for food. Some Christians thought the meat was fine to eat; others didn’t agree. They hadn’t grown in their maturity to the point of eating the meat without a guilty conscience.
The issue wasn’t whether the meat was evil—Paul said nothing in itself was sinful about eating the meat. However, if by doing so, one Christian might harm another Christian, he or she was better off not doing so lest his or her “good be spoken of as evil.” In other words, if our example upsets another Christian—encourages that Christian to participate in something that goes against his or her conscience—then we have abused our freedom in Christ.
John MacArthur writes, “When unbelievers see a strong Christian abusing his freedom in Christ and harming a weaker brother, they will conclude that Christianity is filled with unloving people, which reflects badly on God’s reputation (cf. Rom. 2:24).”
How does this relate to the writing of Christian fiction? What must the world think when we cite Christian liberty as our basis for inserting in our novels vulgar or profane language that is unacceptable to other Christians? At that point, are we accurately reflecting Christian love before a watching world?
The Bible Knowledge Commentary addresses the matter this way:
14:15-18. How should a Christian whose convictions allow him to eat everything respond to one with scruples against certain foods? In Christian love he ought to forgo his liberty in Christ to avoid being a spiritual hindrance to his spiritual brother. If he persists in exercising his liberty so that his brother is distressed (lypeitai, “grieved, hurt”), Paul concluded, then the Christian exercising his liberty is no longer acting (lit., “walking”) in love. Such persistence could cause the spiritual destruction of a brother for whom Christ died. Destroy renders the word apollye, which often means eternal ruin. Here it may mean temporal ruin; a Christian forced to act contrary to his scruples, even though more strict than necessary, may find himself ruined by his wounded conscience (cf. 1 Cor 8:10-12). Persisting in one’s freedom could also result in his Christian liberty (what you consider good) being blasphemed (spoken of as evil, blasphemeistho).
The bottom line is that in all things God wants us to consider others before doing what we want. I have chosen not to use unclean speech in my novels. But if I did, would I be living in harmony with Scripture, knowing that many Christians disapprove of this language?
No. Based on these verses, I would not be walking in Christian love.
The world tells us to look out for number one, to do what we want regardless of what others think, to step on others if necessary to reach the top.
But God calls us to live in a countercultural way. He wants us to put on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2) and to think about others before exercising our rights. That means dying to self and sometimes foregoing our liberty for the sake of others—even those we may think are more strict than necessary.
Writing a Christian novel is a good thing. Why would we allow our good thing to be evil spoken of because we included unclean speech in the presentation? Do we want the world to view us as unloving toward other believers? Do we want to reflect badly on God’s reputation?
Putting others before ourselves “is acceptable to God and approved by men,” allowing us to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Some on the other side of this debate have complained that the weaker brother has handcuffed their creativity. But based on what we see in Romans 14, is that attitude consistent with the Christian love God wants us to express to other believers?
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Great post, Adam. There are so many issues in our Christian walk that would really be resolved by everyone considering others rather than feeling the need to exercise our freedoms. Dying to self, like you mention, puts Christ in first place.
Thanks for your thoughts, Gwen. It really is a simple remedy. If what I want to do could offend or hurt someone, I’m better off not doing it. That just shows the love of Christ, and that’s what our world needs to see so badly.
Hi Adam, I agree with your main point, but I would quibble with a minor point. The argument in Rom 14 is about any kind of meat, not idol meat. 1 Cor 8-10 are about idol meat, the argument in Romans is quite different. To my mind that makes your point stronger, however. The Rm 14 meat is clearly neutral, so if Paul has this standard for neutral things, how much higher should be our standard for questionable things?
Thank you, Don. I thought I did my homework, but I must have missed that part. I may do some revision. I appreciate the heads-up.