Making It Legal Does Not Make It Right
We are living in a time when civil law and divine law are not in harmony. The ideal situation is that civil government be "the minister of God to thee for good" and "not a tenor to good works, but to evil" (Rom. 12:3,4). However, increasingly, government seeks to "change laws" (Dan. 7:25), God's laws.
Fortunately, our government has not moved to the extremes of ancient Judea and Rome forbidding that men should preach Christ (Acts 4:18). But, it is nonetheless guilty in that it exercises authority to legalize and protect what God has forbidden and condemned. Ours is not the first nation to do this. Observe Isaiah's statement concerning Judah:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of this right! (Isa. 5:20-23, RSV)
The experiences of Daniel, Mishael, Hananiah and Azariah in Babylon stand as proof that legalizing sin does not make it right. These four young men came to Babylon during the first installment of the captivity. In Babylon it was certainly legal to eat and drink what would have been regarded as unclean in Judah (Dan. 1:7,8). Yet, they purposed not to defile themselves. Later, Mishael, Hananiah and Azariah are compelled to worship the image of the king of Babylon which they refuse to do (Dan. 3:1-18). In this case it was not illegal to worship Jehovah, but it was also required that one worship the image. While Nebuchadnezzar was willing to allow the worship of many gods, Jehovah only allowed the worship of himself (Exod. 20:3-5). During the reign of the Persian kings Daniel is required to make his petitions to the king only, in other words, prayer to Jehovah is outlawed (Dan. 6:1-17). Here government went to the limit of perversity forbidding what God had commanded. Yet, Daniel remains true to his God in old age as he had in youth. These four men were not deceived by Satan's attempt to weaken their convictions against sin by having civil government make it legal. Thus, they are remembered among the great heroes of faith (Deb. 11:33,34).
Our purpose in this study will be to consider some practices which our government has decided are legal, but which the Lord condemns. It is hoped that by such a study the faith of some will be renewed and others will be led to repent. Like the companions of Daniel, Mishael, Hananiah and Azariah, there are some among the church who have succumbed to Satan's devices and turned asied to "legalized sin." As we study together let us remember these great heroes of faith.
Legalized Intoxicants and Addictive Drugs
Since the end of Prohibition the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages has been legal in the United States. Alcohol sales generate a substantial revenue for the federal and state treasuries ($8.01 billion for the U.S. Treasury in 1992). The enforcement of the regulations and collection of the taxes necessitates a sizeable bureaucracy in Washington. Similarly, our government subsidizes the production and sale of tobacco. This, too, generates revenue for the government ($5.05 billion). Following this precedent there are those who advocate the legalization of marijuana, heroine and cocaine. However, the legalization of these intoxicants and addictive drugs will not change the sinful nature of their use in any amount.
The New Testament specifically condemns the drinking of strong drink in any amount: "For we have spent enough for our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles when we walked in licentiousness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (1 Pet. 4:3, NKJV). The "drinking party" of the New King James Version is the "banqueting" of the King James 1611 Version. Notice that the text says drinking and not drunken. Of this word H.A.W. Meyer in The Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the New Testament says the term is "chiefly applied to social drinking at the banquet." R.C. Trench in Synonyms of the New Testament says the drinking is "not of necessity excessive" (p. 225). The New English Bible translates the word as "trippling" which means "to drink alcoholic liquor continuously in small amounts." Thus, the text condemns drinking strong drink.
While one may use intoxicants and drugs with impunity from civil authority, there yet remains the consequences of this sinful behavior. In wake of their use lie the dead bodies of innocent men and women (Mark 6:17-29), broken homes (Prov. 23:33), wasted money (Prov. 23:21), lost virtue (Gen. 9:21,22), weakened manhood (Dan. 1:5-16), corrupted manners (Dan. 5:1-4; Ps. 78:65), perversity (Gen. 19:32), ruined spirituality (Amos 2:12; Isa. 28:1-8) and others sins too numerous to mention.
Solomon knew the consequences of going after strong drink and the only remedy:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper (Prov. 23:29-32).
Never take the first drink.
Tobacco is no better. We now know that it is an addictive drug which robs a man of his self-control. It too consumes money, health, good manners and spirituality. While there is no specific prohibition against "smoking" in the Scriptures, how can the smoker justify his habit in light of these general principles? Paul wrote: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Cor. 6:12). Peter commanded the Christian to "add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perservance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love" (2 Pet. 2:5-7).
May 29th marked the one year anniversary of the Texas Lottery. The State boasts that it has in that year given away 968 million dollars. Texas is a relative late-corner to legalized gambling. Most of the neighboring states have had parimutuel betting on sports events, casino gambling, bingo and lotteries for several years. Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey have been gambling meccas in the United States for decades. Like alcohol and tobacco, gambling is a source of revenue for the state treasuries. On the average governments receive about six percent on parimutuel operations and 14 percent on lotteries. Thus, Texas made about $265 million from the lottery in its first year.
However, the Scriptures condemn every form of gambling. One text in the New Testament, Romans 13:9-10, strikes gambling out: "For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this wrongheaded ought to be apparent to even casual Bible students. Saying, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
Gambling is sinful because it is stealing. Granted all parties to a wager are willing, but this does not affect the fact that whoever wins obtains the proceeds by extortion. There are only three authorized means by which property can be exchanged. One may give or receive a gift (Acts 20:35). One may earn it as a wage (Eph. 4:28). Or, property may be obtained through a fair exchange or investment (Jas. 4:13-15).
Gambling is sinful because it is rooted in covetousness, that is, a greedy desire to have more. Those who gamble do not do so in order to provide for someone's needs. If this were the motive, then following the example of the early saints is in order (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32,34-35). No, those who gamble do so in order to get rich. This is the base desire upon which the government preys when it promotes its lotteries. Paul knew that Christians would be tempted by such means and strongly warned us against the snares and temptations which covetousness brings (I Tim. 6:5-10).
Finally, gambling is sinful because it is contrary to the ethic of love. Jesus taught, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7:12). The gambler does not put up his wager because he wants the other gambler to take his money, deprive his family and make him late on his bills. Let's get serious. Is the gambler living by the principles of love, blessings, giving and praying for those who bet against him (Matt. 5:44)? Is the gambler when he wagers "envying not" and "seeking not his own" (1 Cor. 13:4-8)? Those who say they love their neighbor and then take his money on a bet do not know the meaning of the word.
Legalized Adultery and Fornication
In the last fifty years we have gone from a society in which it was nearly impossible to get a divorce, to a society in which divorce has been relegated to almost a do-it-yourself legal kit. Marriage is held in low esteem with many couples living together without its benefit. Legislators have advocated renewable licenses for married couples which expire every three years, more often than a driver's license. The federal government actually penalizes through its tax policy married couples on social security. Even the courts of our land are ruling in favor of everything but biblical marriage. Recently the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must show a "compelling interest" for not allowing homosexuals the privileges of marriages.
The Bible is clear and easily understood on the question of who may marry. In the beginning God revealed that one man and one woman may marry for life, that is, "until death do us part" (Gen. 2:24). Jesus reiterated this teaching while upon the earth in Matthew 19:3-9. Jesus rejected divorce on all grounds but one, "except it be for fornication" (Matt. 19:9), and then only the one who puts away a fornicating spouse has the liberty to remarry. All who divorce and remarry for causes other than fornication commit adultery (Matt. 5:32). Therefore, the only way to avoid this sin is to "remain unmarried, or be reconciled" (1 Cor. 7:11).
To make matters worse some in the church are advocating that alien sinners who have divorced and remarried according to civil law, regardless of the grounds, should be accepted into the church upon their baptism. This cannot be; aliens are as much amenable to the law of God on marriage and divorce as are believers. Jesus said that "from the beginning it was not so" that a man could not put away his wife for every cause and remarry. Thus, God has never allowed men to divorce and remarry at will.
Consistent application of this principle would reak havoc on the morality of the people of God. Think about the consequences if the civil authority recognizes homosexual marriage, then those who are baptized must be accepted into the church. Consider if the gospel went to polygamous nations there would be men with a plurality of wives in the churches. That this teaching is sinfully
What Shall We Do?
When we see our nation obviously following the broad way that leads to destruction what should you and I do? Some have taken to the streets in protest, others have organized committees, preachers and elders are becoming more and more involved in politics in an effort to change the course. However, this is not the mission of the church.
Christians need to exhibit child-like trust in God's providence over the nations (Dan. 4:25). It is his business to rule the kingdoms of men. It is our business to spread the gospel to the whole world (I Tim. 2:1-4) and save our-selves in the process. If the moral character of this nation is to be elevated, it will be accomplished through the transformation of the individual citizen into a child of God. Yet, if this nation falls because of its wickedness, no matter how terrible the destruction you will have saved your soul and the souls of those who hear you. Remember, brother, you are a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
Let us all strive toward that heavenly kingdom. Let us honor the king and pray for peace that the gospel may be preached. But above all, let us obey God rather than men (Matt. 7:12).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 22, p. 12-14