By Joe R. Price
Much is being said these days about a balanced approach to Christianity. Appeals for balanced approaches to preaching and to general Christian living are heard among us. Such scripturally based appeals are always appropriate, needed, and appreciated. Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 teaches we should find the “golden mean” of life by avoiding self-righteousness, conceit, and deliberate wickedness while pursuing reverence in all things. Read God’s description of a truly balanced life:
All this have I seen in my days of vanity: there is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil-doing. Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thy-self? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from that withdraw not thy hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth from them all (Eccl. 7:15-18, ASV).
God expects us to love him “with all (our) heart, and with all (our) soul, and with all (our) mind, and with all (our) strength” (Mark 12:30). Some say that the Christian life is not a balanced approach to living. “Fanatical” is the description they assign to those who live by faith in Christ. Such characterizations notwithstanding, Christianity is indeed a life which is balanced upon the standard of revealed truth. We must speak clearly and without ambiguity when advising brethren to pursue balanced lives. Since God’s word is clear, we must speak with equal clarity as we address all matters pertaining to life and godliness (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 1:19; 11:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2). In our rush to be balanced we must be careful not to lose our equilibrium. Consider some applications we can make to ensure scriptural balance in our lives as the people of God.
“Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preaching is balanced when the preacher preaches the whole word of God “in season, out of season.” Loss of balance occurs when we are unwilling to preach what needs to be heard when it needs to be heard (Jer. 20:7-9; Ezek. 2:1-7; 3:17-21). We are not promoting balance when we fail to address from God’s word the immediate spiritual needs of our hearers (whether they are our brethren or those outside of Christ). Remaining silent when error is being taught (instead of reproving, rebuking, and exhorting the teacher of that error) is not a balanced approach to gospel preaching. While in Ephesus, Paul properly balanced his teaching of the gospel when he “shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
On many occasions the apostle Paul, directed by the Spirit of God, deliberately addressed the needs of his brethren. Was Paul out of balance? What do you think? In 2 Corinthians 10-13 he extensively defended his apostleship. Was that balanced Christianity? Or do you think he should have simply ignored the false charges being spread against him and his work? If he had so acted, he would have been like some brethren today who will not defend their own teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage or unity-in-diversity. Did Paul practice the “balance” for which some brethren are calling today? He did not. Where is the “balance” for which some brethren are calling today? When Paul devoted an entire epistle to the Galatians to defend salvation by the gospel of grace instead of the law of works, was his equilibrium distorted and his balance lost due to an inordinate zeal for truth? When the writer of Hebrews repeatedly emphasized the “better” nature of Christ and his covenant was he guilty of losing his balance? After all, he spent most of his time exposing the error of those who would return to the Old Testament system for their salvation. Perhaps he should have been more loving and less direct? Would he then have achieved greater “balance” in his presentation of the truth? You see my dear brethren and friends, our definition of and plea for balance can very easily result from human wisdom and judgment instead of applying the divine standard of truth.
Some Christians are uncomfortable with exposing false doctrines and false teachers with the light of gospel preaching. Some who advise us to pursue balance are out of balance when they are unwilling to publicly respond to error which is publicly taught. When we are content to leave the controversial subjects to others, choosing instead to remain silent when error is taught, we have forfeited Bible-based balance. Crying “peace, peace, when there is no peace” will not heal the wounds of sin and error among God’s people (Jer. 6:14). Silence is not golden when it comes to addressing, exposing, and rebuking error with God’s truth. Balance compels us to speak out!
Some appear to be defining balance as “smoothness.” But, things will not always go smoothly when truth exposes error. Not everyone will accept sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Why is the one who straightforwardly speaks out against error said to be out of balance (“his timing is off,” “he is insensitive,” “he is unkind,” etc.)? Why is he viewed as not having a balanced approach toward error and the errorist? Yet, the one who will not speak out and answer error with the truth of God is seen as balanced, loving, and consider-ate? My brethren, whether it is doctrinal error outside the body of Christ or doctrinal and moral impurity within the body of Christ, we must not be deceived into softening the message of truth for the sake of inappropriately defined balance.
One brother recently wrote that “the really effective preacher is balanced in his approach to preaching.” Amen! By scripturally defining “balanced in his approach” we can exhort every gospel preacher in this regard. However, re-member that charging a fellow-Christian with not having a balanced approach in his preaching can also cloak an underlying disagreement with the truth he advocates. Describing one as unbalanced in his preaching could re-veal a hesitation and unwillingness to forthrightly condemn error. It is always easier to say a brother is not being “balanced in his approach” than it is to carefully and scripturally approach a sinner about his sin! Remember, brethren who objected to the truth he preached charged Paul’s approach as being out of balance (2 Cor. 10:10-11, 2). Beware brethren, lest we accuse faithful brethren in Christ with being out of balance simply because we disagree with the truth they preach. The crucial question we ought to be asking is whether their preaching agrees with God’s word. Have we developed itching ears, looking for someone to scratch them? Or do we think we are above such temptations today? The warning of 2 Timothy 4:3-5 continues to apply.
“And the Lord’s servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Here is another call for a balanced approach in our dealings with others. Unfortunately, today’s call for balance confuses the issue and can become an excuse for inaction. The desire for “balanced Christianity” can be-come an excuse for not confronting the sinner about his sin (in an effort to convert him, Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). Have you ever known of Christians reasoning this way when trying to decide how to help a fellow-Christian who has fallen into sin: “We have to go slowly here. We might run him off. Let’s wait awhile and not be so direct, and maybe he will come around. After all, his heart is sincere.”? We have become afraid of straightforward, loving yet immediate action toward brethren in sin (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1)! We have become afraid we will not appear balanced.
The genuinely balanced approach toward confronting sin compels us to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching.” It wastes no time in snatching the sinner out of the fire (Jude 22). What greater balance can we strive for in our lives than to understand the serious and eternal consequences of sin and being prompted thereby to rush to the aid of those ensnared by it? Look at some of the Bible examples of true balance in this area: (1) Peter did not delay in rebuking Simon’s sin (a new convert, Acts 8:18-24). Peter took the appropriate and balanced approach toward saving a brother from spiritual death. He shows us how to balance our knowledge of the sinner’s condition with our responsibility to help save him (cf. Jas. 5:19-20). (2) When Paul publicly withstood Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, was his approach out of balance? Not at all. Upon seeing the hypocrisy of Peter’s conduct as well as its influence upon other Christians, he immediately and publicly opposed Peter. Paul sets an example for us of balancing the needs of the sinner and those influenced by him with the personal discomfort of confronting the sinner. Very few people enjoy confrontation. Paul did not (cf. 2 Cor. 2:1-4). But, he understood that unless he acted at once (where truth and souls were at stake) both the gospel and the souls of men would suffer (cf. Gal. 2:4-5). That, my brethren, is the balanced approach we must instill within ourselves whenever acting to meet our responsibility toward those held in the clutches of sin and error. (3) Inspired with God’s word, Jeremiah was commissioned by God “to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10). Was Jeremiah unbalanced? Four of the things he was told to do were “negative,” destructive (pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow). Only two were “positive” (build and plant). Who told Jeremiah to do these things? God did! Since we do not want to charge God with being out of balance, we ought not charge his servants, who preach his word against error, with being unbalanced.
Whose standard will we use to determine when preaching is balanced, God’s or man’s? Some people see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as balanced preaching, but describe the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 as unbalanced? The fact is Jesus was balanced on both occasions because both times he dealt with the specific needs of the moment, addressing the very issues which would cause the good-hearted hearer to obey the gospel, while exposing the sinner and his sins. Why shouldn’t we pattern our preaching after that of our Master?
Whose definition of balance will we apply? Who are the preachers, papers and/or writers today who are being de-cried as out of balance? For three years while in Ephesus Paul “ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Imagine the outcry today if a gospel preacher were to give daily warnings for three years against specific sin and error! If Paul were alive today how often would he be charged with not practicing balanced Christianity? (Could Paul preach in the church of which you are a member, or would he be unbalanced in his preaching?) Why are we eager to oppose similar warnings today, characterizing them as unbalanced, or even as biased hobbyism? What would you think of a magazine that spends 17 months (or even three years) refusing to allow legitimate, thoughtful, and Bible-based responses to the writings of one of its editors? Would it have become unbalanced in its approach of teaching the gospel and wobbly in its effort to advance the cause of Christ? Would it be less than a balanced approach for that same magazine to then remind us of our need to practice balanced Christianity? Why then are brethren accused of being out of balance when they warn against this unbalanced approach to preaching?! As a dear brother of mine would often say, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!” Have we lost our love for the truth and its warnings which are designed to protect us from sin and secure us in our faith and hope? Are we only comfort-able with preaching and writing when it is smooth, agreeable and “positive” (but object when it must “pluck up and break down and destroy and overthrow,” Jer. 1:10)? Is that and that alone the balanced approach? If so, then we have lost our balance!
Jude said “Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). Immediate situations and circumstances compelled Jude to focus his attention and that of his audience upon contending for the faith against ungodly men and their influence (Jude 4ff,). Was Jude’s approach out of balance because he spent his entire epistle warning of God’s certain judgment against those who deny the Master? No, his teaching was balanced against the deceit and danger of error and sin! We should not censure or criticize similar gospel preaching and teaching today!
“He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that cloth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38). Jesus taught that we must have total, unwavering allegiance to him at all times (cf. Luke 9:23-24; 14:26-33). All who have this such loyalty to Christ and his truth can expect persecution (2 Tim. 3:12; Matt. 5:10-12). Yet, with resolve of faith we must deny ourselves, take up the cross of suffering, and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38; Luke 9:23). This course of life for a follower of Jesus will not always be smooth, but it will be the balanced life of faith. It will not always be free of pain and heartache. Nevertheless, it is the balanced life of genuine discipleship.
We must not balance ourselves upon the pedestal of human wisdom, but upon the solid rock of Christ and his truth (1 Cor. 3:10-11). If one tells you that you are not taking a balanced approach to Christianity, acknowledge that he might be right, but that such a characterization must be established upon the basis of revealed truth and not that of human wisdom. Ask for the Bible passage(s) you are violating or failing to obey, thereby causing your alleged imbalance. You need to know the truth in order to once more balance yourself (John 8:31-32; 1 John 1:9). If your approach to Christianity is judged to be out of balance, it may be that earthly wisdom has dictated an unrighteous judgment against you (Jas. 3:13-18; 4:11-12; John 5:24). Or, it may be a legitimate assessment requiring diligent examination and correction of yourself in the light of truth (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Acts 26:20). Either way, living by faith will not produce a smooth (soft) life, but it will bring you the reward of eternal life (Heb. 10:32-39; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
God’s people must live balanced lives of faith that put God first, others second, and ourselves last (Mark 12:29-30; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 12:1-3). Balanced Christianity must be completely weighted in favor of God, his truth and his righteousness not our personal convenience, comfort, or wisdom (Matt. 6:33; Luke 9:57-62; Ps. 119:104, 128, 160; 1 Cor. 3:18-23; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Guardian of Truth XLI: 10 p. 10-13
April May 1, 1997