By Leon Mauldin
Avoid Occasions of Stumbling
Jesus encountered the “philosophy of negation” during his ministry on earth. When he was questioned as to why his disciples did not observe the tradition of religiously washing their hands before eating, he replied, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is given to God; he shall not honor his father or his mother. And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition” (Matt. 15:3-6).
The tradition they devised was, if one had given his gift to the Lord, when it came to helping his needy parents he could say “Corban” (that is, a gift [to God], Mark 7:11). Since he had already given to God, he had no further obligation to “contribute” to relieve his parents. By this accepted line of reason and explanation, they neglected God’s commandment governing the honoring of one’s parents. They had thus denied the law of its force, and robbed it of its power and real meaning. This is the “philosophy of negation” that is addressed in this article. We are dealing with the fundamental problem of gainsaying the word of God.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees of Matthew 15 were not the last to try to somehow circumvent God’s revealed will. I remember a class in which the text discussed pertained to the eating of meat (either Rom. 14 or 1 Cor. 8). A seemingly ill-prepared teacher looked at the text he had just read aloud, pondered over the implications for a moment, and then said, “Well, if I ran into someone who believed it was wrong to eat meat, I would teach him, but I’m going to eat meat! ” His reasoning was the philosophy of negation. He, like the Pharisees who refused to honor their parents, was essentially refusing to do what the passage said. He was negating God’s will regarding sensitivity to one’s brethren, and the kind of concern which should govern one’s behavior lest he be guilty of causing one to stumble. The bottom line is that if it ever came down to it, that teacher was prepared to disregard what God had said through the apostle: “Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13). The attitude which negates the principle of this passage is not the spirit which converts sinners to Christ, nor does it edify weak Christians.
Yet some negate the force of this passage by reasoning that there is always someone who will object to anything you do. Therefore, they argue that since you “can’t please everybody,” they will just do as they please. They may even decide that they don’t care what anyone thinks about what they do.
It may well be that no subject has been “reasoned around” more than has been the case with church discipline. Just as the Pharisees made their argumentation as to why they did not have to honor and provide for their parents, and then disregarded God’s law which clearly required such, many will enumerate the many reasons why discipline is not or should not be practiced. The Bible says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6). But we are told that you might act too quickly. Others say that you just can’t know all the necessary information or circumstances that you would need to know in order to take such action. Still others caution that you might run some off. And then there is always someone who will say, “Well, we all make mistakes; who among us has not sinned?” Thus when the philosophy of negation does it work, you end up with the very opposite situation as that which the Lord intended. Such gainsaying contradicts the Word of God. The result of such reasoning is that some brethren are willing to let year after year pass by, and let problems slide (and grow into bigger problems), and be like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand!
These often heard statements can be easily countered by careful students of God’s Word. Though it is certainly true that faithful Christians do not want to act too quickly, Titus 3:10 still reads, “A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse.” To say, “We don’t want to act too quickly” simply must not be allowed to nullify that command. There are some problems for which more time is not the solution: “And some save, snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 22).
Likewise, to say, “Who among us has not sinned?” (in the above context) is but an ill-disguised attempt to negate the authority of God’s Word which demands corrective action. It would seem that no church had more problems than the church at Corinth, but Paul still said to “put away the wicked man (the fornicator) from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). He said, “not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat” (v. 11). It is also amazing how selective one can be as he says, “We all sin.” He may mean that he expects tolerance when it comes to himself, his family, and his friends, but don’t be surprised if you o6serve antithetical strictness when it comes to the conduct of others.
In Luke 10 when Jesus was questioned as to what one should do to inherit eternal life, he answered by asking the inquirer what is written in the law. He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Lk. 10:27). Jesus answered, “Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live” (v. 28). “But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) If you take the commandment as it stands, to love your neighbor, you would help those with whom you came in contact as you had opportunity and ability (as Jesus demonstrated by proceeding to tell the story of the “good Samaritan”). But the term “neighbor” became hard to define for this man who questioned Jesus. After all, how close does one have to live before he is a neighbor? You see, if you can raise enough problems and difficulties with determining who a neighbor is, that puts you back where you started (in most instances) with loving/helping friends and/or relatives – those whom you naturally were inclined to assist all along. -Others are simply not included. it seems the very question “Who is my neighbor?” in this case was intended to negate the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The church at Thessalonica was concerned with winning souls. Located in the Roman province of Macedonia, Paul commended them, “For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to Godward is gone forth” (1 Thess. 1:8). The Lord expects us likewise to be concerned with converting others to Christ; first at home, and elsewhere to the full extent of our ability. But do we instead hear ourselves saying, “I know these people here; none of them is interested”? Rather than negate God’s will that we teach the Gospel to the lost, let us live in such a way that we adorn the doctrine of Christ (Tit. 2:10), and attract others to Christ. Let us pray for opportunities to teach others, and be vigilant to recognize open doors. Let our lives be as Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Our only hope of glory is that Christ is in us (Col. 1:27). Far better to hope and work for the salvation of others, than to be a gainsayer.
When God said, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” he was concerned with his law being believed and obeyed. He was not interested in the Pharisees’ reasons (no matter how plausible, or even religious-sounding) as to why they were not about the matter of obedience. So it is with all the Word of God. There is no reason that will stand the test of judgment, for failure to do what Jesus said. Take heed, and beware of the philosophy of negation!
Guardian of Truth XXXII; 11, pp. 334-335
June 2, 1988