Joe sat upright and tense as the therapeuticians filed in. "I demand to know what I am charged with," he stated.
"Do not be silly," the first of the therapeuticians, whose name-tag said Dr Mayers, said, "Our job is to detect things that cause nonsocial behavior before it manifests itself as actual criminal episodes."
A woman with a clipboard, whose tag said Dr. Cage, continued, "You have shown excessive interest in certain religious notions. You have been reported as abusing others by pressing your beliefs on them. Metaphysical speculations are acceptable, though we prefer people refrain. But dogmatism like yours is dangerous."
"Further," said a man whose tag said Dr. Trevor, "you have neglected your psycho-sexual development. You have said you are waiting for the right woman, which is totally unrealistic. You need to broaden your experience in this area."
"How do you know that your approach to life is the right one?" responded Joe.
"We are not here for a debate," replied Dr. Mayers. "We have brought you in for treatment."
"I am not at all interested in your 'treatment' unless you can show me by clear logic that your view is the correct one," Joe returned.
"You will not question us," retorted Dr. Trevor. "You will accept our diagnosis and submit to treatment."
"So you are going to force your views on me without even proving you are right." stated Joe angrily. "Have you ever considered that you might be wrong?"
"That's enough," interjected Dr. Cage. "Nurses, put him in a treatment room until he has a better attitude."
They put him in a solitary room for five days. They then put him through a series of treatments. They used counseling, drugs, sleep and food deprivation, and electric shocks. They even tried forcing him to watch pornography. Nothing worked.
Later, there was a tour. The star attraction of the tour was a former inmate named Sam. Sam was held up as an example of what their treatment could do.
"You see," whispered Dr. Travis in Joe's ear, "how foolish your resistance is. Sam was as stubborn as you when he came. But look at him now. A respectable and normal member of society. And he is now helping to lead tours to show people the value of the work we do here."
They gathered everyone they could to the conference room. Dr. Mayers was giving a speech about the work of the facility. "There once was the idea of imposing punishment as a retribution for criminal actions. We have grown out of that. We now seek not to punish but to cure. And we do not to wait until some criminal action takes place, but we anticipate problems before they arise and deal with them."
In the middle of the speech, with all eyes were focused on Dr. Mayers, the tourers all whipped out automatics. "This is a breakout," shouted Sam. "If no one moves, no one gets hurt."
The therapeuticians and some of the nurses pulled their own weapons. There was a brief firefight, and the three therapeuticans lay among the crumpled bodies on the floor.
"Come with me," yelled Sam. "I have a plan to get anyone who wants to out of the country."
As they walked away, Joe fell in close behind Sam. "So they never did break you " whispered Joe in Sam's ear.
"God forgive me, they did break me," returned Sam, chagrined. "They made act contrary to my principles. They made me a liar."
Biblically, there are two types of faith. One is to be able to trust God for miracles (Matthew 8:10; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:19). But there is also the faith that trusts God even it there is no immediate miracle (Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Proverbs 3:5,6). For we are frequently told to wait upon the Lord for the fulfillment of His promises (Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 37:7; 123:2). I find that this second kind of faith is even harder than the first. And I have often found that when we first put our faith in Christ is when we see our most obvious and blatant answers to prayer. I have a theory, though I cannot prove it Biblically, that God wants to encourage us to be those who trust in Him even in adverse circumstances. Therefore, as we grow older in the faith, we often see fewer immediate answers to our requests. God wants us to trust Him even if He does not instantly deal with the situation. I cannot be dogmatic about this, but I do believe God wants us to have both types of faith. And I know that those who trust Him through afflictions will grow in Him (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5).
The Biblical ideal for the Christian church is unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). Different people with different gifts, working together to achieve one purpose. But in modern times we seem to be doing everything we can to avoid this. We divide up into factions against the clear teaching of Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:21-23; Ephesians 4:1-6). And while there are issues of substance, much of it seems to be over personality and giftings. We see teaching churches, evangelistic church, churches oriented toward community. We see churches that are thoughtful and historically deep, lively and emotional, or restrained and commonsensical. I am forced to wonder if the real difference is a difference of principle or a difference of character. I am also forced to wonder if each of these types of Christian do not lose something by not regularly interacting with each other. Is this not what we really need, people who are different from us to knock off our rough edges and to help us see the aspects of the faith we might otherwise miss out on? And in doing so, to keep each the other from running to extremes.
But the present divided state of the church does not look like it will go away soon. How then should we deal with the present situation? We need to work to accept those with different approaches and gifts and to learn to appreciate them, not force them to accept our views or way of doing things (Romans 14:1; 15:7; 8:33,34). Now I do believe that there are limits to what we can accept (Jude 3; Galatians 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1-3). But we need to be careful of making blanket judgments on every minor matter that people disagree with us on (Romans 14:10; James 4:11,12; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). One thing that is valuable is to try to learn where those different from us are coming from and to understand what is valuable in their perspective. And we can welcome and learn from those who do not approach things the same way. Instead of trying to require everyone to strictly conform in every particular. This seems easier than allowing people freedom to express their strong points, but it is impoverishing to the life of the church. We were meant to provoke and encourage each other to grow into the people God wants us to be (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Colossians 2:19). It is easier to press people into a mold than to let God develop each person into a unique servant of His. But the real disciple is worth producing (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:2; Colossians 1:28,29).
Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. It has that within which must offend Thine eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, save Thee?
Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, The Confessions, Book I, V, 6 (translated by E. B. Pusey, Barnes & Noble Books, 1999, p. 4)
Should we see ourselves as in this type of condition and in need of God's cleansing? What are the implications of such a view?
Christians are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:15). But how does this apply to international affairs? There are two contrary approaches to this. We can believe that we are all basically good, reasonable people, and if we just act nicely toward one another, we will all be friends. We can believe that we are all basically sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), but we have an obligation to work to avoid conflict in spite of that. We need to avoid wearing rose-colored glasses; we also should avoid getting on our high horse and looking down on others. We may reach the place where we have to stand up on principle or fight for what is right. But we should be reluctant to do so too easily.
However, does Christianity require us to be pacifists? The Old Testament very clearly upholds fighting for one's country. But there is always the question of how much of the Old Testament requirements apply in the New. On the positive side, the government is said to bear the sword (Romans 13:4). The reference is more to internal than external use, but it upholds the principle. Soldiers are not admonished to quit their job, but to be careful how they perform it ( Luke 3:14). Soldiers are held up as examples of faith, rather than deplored for their profession (Matthew 8:5-13; Acts 10:1-6; Mark 15:39). On the negative side is the command to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). This is a response to an eye for an eye being taken out of context, not as instructions for a judge, but as an approach to life. It is an admonition against always trying to get your own back. But I do not think it is saying there is no point where justice or duty may not require another response. There is also "he who takes up the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). This seems to be a general principle that speaks against seeing the sword as the obvious or first recourse. It seems to be a rule of thumb, not an absolute prohibition. I would conclude that the weight of Scripture is in favor of appropriate military service. But I can see how someone could draw the opposite conclusion.
While I would then conclude there is such a thing as a just war, I get the impression that very few wars clearly live up to this. Though there are exceptions, most wars seem to be stumbled into by two nations, with guilt on both sides. While I would therefore not oppose all wars, I think it is worthwhile to try to avoid them where possible. I do not believe in naively ignoring aggression. But I do believe in giving careful consideration and in legitimate attempts to make peace before going to war. This, at least, is involved in turning the other cheek.
Trying to find God's will for our lives can be an enormous guilt trip. Now there is a place for guilt in the Christian life. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 it speaks of a sorrow for sin which is of God and which leads to repentance. This is the sorrow that comes from the fact that we have sinned against God and need to recognize this and repent (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Psalms 51:1-4). But God then wants us to put our sins behind us and go on (Philippians 3:13,14; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 8:33,34). This is not to say that we should not try to avoid the same sin in the future, but we should not brood over it. But this is regarding clear-cut sin. What is involved in the question of finding God's will is more often than not a matter of judgment. Unless there is clear sin involved (in which case we should repent and put it behind us), we need to trust that God is in control of our life (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; 1:11) and go on from there. The real sins are written in clear language that is open for all to see. There is no idea in Scripture of feeling guilty because we have not found the right secret formula to determine what we need to do. God does not deal in secret formulas, but in open obedience. We should not load on people unnecessary burdens that are not found in Scripture.
How deep does the tendency to do wrong penetrate the human soul? That depends on what we mean by wrong. Scripture has a very strict definition of what is involved here (Matthew 5:21-48; 22:35-40; James 4:17). Based on this, we all fall far short of what we should be. We are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). We are not basically good people whose evil is superficial. But neither are we as bad as we could be (Romans 2:12-16; 2:25-29; James 1:17). We were originally made in the image of God, and even in our current sinful state some remnant of it remains (Genesis 1:26,27; 9:6; James 3:9,10). Total depravity is often misunderstood as saying this. What it actually says is that there is nothing we do and no part of us that is totally free from the corruption of sin. But more importantly, we cannot truly come to God and follow Him on our own (Romans 3:10,11; 8:8; John 15:5). Rather, we require God's intervention to do so (John 6:44,45; 1:12,13; Acts 16:14). We cannot understand the things of God without His intervention (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4; Matthew 11:27). Therefore, a person comes to Christ through God's work to draw them to Himself (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29,30; Ephesians 1:3,4).
But more fundamentally, it means we are in bondage and unable to save ourselves (Romans 3:19,20; 7:14-25; Galatians 3:10). Therefore, we need God to act to deliver us (Romans 8:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10) by sending Christ to die for our sin (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Based on this, God offers eternal life by faith (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), apart from anything we can do to earn it (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:4,5; Romans 3:24-31). The result of this is that the Holy Spirit begins the process of transforming us into who God wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29) This is based on love for God, for what He has done, and not the desire to obtain something from Him (1 John 4:19; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). But this will be a process that we will be involved in all our lives, in which we will not reach the point that we can conclude we have arrived (Philippians 3:12-16; 1:6; Hebrews 12:1-3).
One key thing to remember is that sin is a bondage (Romans 6:16-20; John 8:36; Galatians 5:13,14) and Christ desires to set us free from it (Romans 7:4-6; Galatians 5:1; John 8:31,32). This runs contrary to our natural way of thinking. We want to see sin as a way to freedom. It looks like something desirable at the start, and in the end becomes a ball and chain. This is true not only of the blatant sins, but of subtler sins like bitterness, envy, and pride. We need to recognize that sin really is not a good thing. Its attractiveness is only an illusion.
For even though I am ignorant in all things, nevertheless I attempted to safeguard some and myself also. And I gave back again to my Christian brethren and the virgins of Christ and the holy women the small unasked for gifts that they used to give me or some of their ornaments which they used to throw on the altar. And they would be offended with me because I did this. But in the hope of eternity, I safeguarded myself carefully in all things, so that they might not cheat me of my office of service on any pretext of dishonesty, and so that I should not in the smallest way provide any occasion for defamation or disparagement on the part of unbelievers.
Scripture never says to have a quiet time. What it does say is that we need to bring our requests to God (Philippians 4::6,7; Ephesians 6:18; Matthew 6:5-13). It also says that we need to know, understand, and follow God's Word (Colossians 3:16; Psalms 1:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:15). To do these things regularly requires consistency and planning. Having a regular time set aside for them can be one way to do this. But it also can become a legalistic ritual. And we can get caught up in the details, like evening versus morning. (I am an evening person myself). I have also found it can limit prayer and the consideration of God's word to that period of time. But not scheduling it may mean we will never get to it.
All of us have different personalities. We need to decide what works for us. But we need to focus on the purpose. If we have the idea that Scripture is God's message to us, it will motivate us to want to know what He has to say to us (Psalms 19:7-11;119:9-16; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). It also helps if we see God as a loving Father who has saved us from sin, rather than as a tyrant who is just waiting to punish us if we get out of line (Romans 8:31-39; John 3:14-18; Galatians 4:4-7). And if we recognize that God is the One who provides for our needs (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:19; Ephesians 3:20). That He is the One in control of our lives to work things together for good (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; 1:11). Then we can see why it makes sense to come to Him with our requests and thanksgiving.
But we need to face facts. We are undisciplined people, and we may need to plan if we want to accomplish these purposes. And one way to do this may be set aside a specific time for prayer and meditation on Scripture. But if we make it into just one more spiritual duty, we have missed the point. For it is only as we see beyond the outward requirement to the real purpose that doing this makes a difference (John 4:24; Malachi 1:10; Matthew 6:1). But the important thing is not to try to force everybody into one unbending paradigm. It is to see that the purposes of God are accomplished in our lives (Hebrews 5:13,14; Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 2:19).
It is easy to stare too long and too hard at Satan and his minions and their activities, so that you lose perspective. We are told we should be aware and be on our guard (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8-10; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3). But we are also told that Christ is the Victor over these enemies (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15). We can spend so much time staring at Satan and not at Christ that it can make us paranoid. I am convinced I have the gift of discernment of spirits. And when I first began to take that gift seriously, I felt I had crossed over into the Twilight Zone. I think this may be a normal reaction to taking demonic influence seriously. But we need to beware of being so swept along by this feeling that we let it control us. And we need to focus our attention on Christ, who is the true Ruler (Romans 8:37-39; Colossians 1:13-20; Revelation 5:11-14).
I did not realize until it was too late that it would have made sense to talk about Patrick near his day. So here I am, about a month late.
Patrick is one of those interesting people in church history. An initially obscure person who came to make a big difference. He lived at the time when the Roman Empire was falling apart. He also lived at the time when much of Roman Christianity was becoming nominal and would soon be overwhelmed by a flood of paganism and Arianism (which denied the deity of Christ). Patrick, who was from Britain, which was part of the Roman empire, gives the clear impression that he himself was a fairly nominal Christian when he was taken prisoner and enslaved by the Irish, who were neither Roman or Christian. While he was out taking care of his master's sheep, he became serious about his faith in God. He tells how God led him through a hard process, with the help of answered prayers, to freedom. Then he dreamed that God wanted him to go back to the people who had enslaved him and tell them about Christ. This was a dangerous thing to do. It would have also have been a difficult thing to do. But Patrick, who had lived among the Irish, was an obvious choice, and he ultimately obeyed.
As a result of this, many Irish came to profess Christ. They in turn sent out Columba and others to reach the Scots, who were descendents of the Irish who had settled in the area of Scotland. From there they reached out to the Picts, the original inhabitants of the area. The Irish ended up helping in the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons (the pagans who conquered the British) and in sending missionaries to Germany, where many of the invading peoples had come from. They also sent men like Columbano to the nominally Christian people on the continent. The fall of the Roman Empire was a dark and difficult time. A time of chaos and one when much of the nominally Roman empire was conquered by those of differing viewpoints. It was into this situation that the Irish and their spiritual descendents brought spiritual help. I do not believe they were alone in this; there were others, who I will get to, who also played their parts. I do not believe the Irish saved civilization or saved Christianity, but they made their serious contribution to the cause. All because one man was willing to go back to a people who had kidnapped and enslaved him, to preach the truth of God. I am sure that I could not agree with everything that was taught by this movement, but I see the hand of God here. I also see God's ability to deal with apparent spiritual catastrophe. When everything seemed black, God brought help from an unexpected source. He never fails to renew His people in ways not foreseen.
These are the things that a Bishop of souls should observe in the diversity of his preaching, that he may solicitously oppose suitable medicines to the diseases of his several hearers. But, whereas it is a matter of great anxiety, in exhorting individuals, to be of service to them according to their individual needs, since it is a very difficult thing to instruct each person in what concerns himself, dealing out due consideration to each case, it is yet far more difficult to admonish innumerable hearers labouring under various passions at one and the same time with one common exhortation.
Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Pastoral Rule, Part II, XXXVI, (translated by Rev. James Barmby, Nicene and Post-Nicene Father, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol XII, p. 69)
How should a sermon be framed to meet the needs of all the hearers? What pitfalls should be avoided?
One of my hobbies is studying folklore and legends. And one of the temptations of this is to try to figure out how they originally came about. Or even to speculate on what parts are true and what are embroidery. This is great fun. You start asking if Hercules could have been a real man who killed a real lion and the tale got blown up in the telling. All of this is an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But even if I were a gambling man, I would not bet ten bucks on it in real life. The truth is that trying to figure out how a story developed in a different time, a different culture, and a different language without clear physical evidence is sheer speculation. Now scholars do this all the time with all sorts of works. And one theory displaces another in quick succession, and all of them are different. As C. S. Lewis points out, even in modern books the reviews are usually wrong when they try to figure out how the book was written. He points out the common tendency to claim that Tolkien's One Ring is based on the atom bomb. The problem is, the Ring existed in the book before the atom bomb existed in the world. I have a theory for explaining Ulysses' adventures; Ulysses lied. It seems plausible to me; he is said to have told various lies on his arrival home. Why not one more, the whopper? (All of this assumes, of course, that there is some historical fact behind the story, which is, needless to say, arguable.) But I certainly would not count on it being true.
However, somehow when we come to the Bible, the kind of theories I would not take as more than an interesting game with any other book are put forth as indisputable fact. Now I do detect certain biases on the part of these scholars, particularly biases against the supernatural. But I would not trust such theories as regards any book in the world. It is true that there are those who devote their lives to such things. But I question whether any amount of study or intelligence is sufficient to surmount the problems involved in the task. Also, to be honest, there is a type of scholarship that loves abstruse, complicated theories that show the cleverness of their inventor. But I have to ask if the reason no one has thought of a particular theory before is because it is too obscure to be really believable. Also, I would agree with Lewis that these scholars have spent too much time studying the Bible and not enough studying literature in general. I believe the best test for such an approach would be to test it on other, neutral books. Particularly ones where we actually have some history to check it with. But until I have seen some basis for regarding such methods as anything more than questionable guesses, I am hesitant to apply them to anything.
Sometimes we can concentrate on vast, global fears and ignore the prosaic, everyday fears. I have found that these greats fears can often affect us less than the common daily struggles. Sometimes it is easier to trust God for salvation or the fate of the world than the money to pay the bills next month. One of the problems here is that God does not promise He will always make the problems immediately go away (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 4:16-18; John 16:33). God does promise, in the long run, to take care of His people (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 8:28) and to hear our prayers (Philippians 4:6,7; 1 John 5:14,15; Matthew 7:7-11). But He does this in His way and according to His timing. Therefore, we need to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; 127:1,2) and wait on Him for His timing (Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 46:10; 130,5,6). But as my own experience shows, this is often easy to say and hard to do. And God is still working on this in me.
It is common to live in longing for some golden age of the Christian church. The most nominated candidate is the time of the apostles. Others might look to times like the Reformation or the Great Awakening. But the truth is, there never has been such a golden age and will not be until Christ Himself comes back to reign. This is important because it affects how we see the Christian life. My understanding from Scripture is that Christian growth is a long process that we will not see the end of until we stand before God (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). But if there was a golden age, then it would imply that there was some simple formula that, if done, would bring about a near-perfect state of the church. Now is there anything historically that supports such a thing? Church history has its ups and downs; sometimes it reminds me of the book of Judges. Things go bad, and then God brings in someone who turns people back to Himself. Then it goes downhill again. But there is nothing, even at the high points, that looks like a golden age.
What, then, about the time of the apostles? We have the Galatians, who were denying the gospel to adopt a life of keeping the law. The Corinthians were breaking off into factions and accepting immoral practices. The Thessalonians had decided the Second Coming was occurring and had quit their jobs and were living off others. The Colossians dabbled in some strange philosophy based on harsh treatment of the body. Even the Philippians and Ephesians, who come off somewhat better, were marked by strife and division. The church in Jerusalem had problems with Gentiles receiving the gospel. Now they were marked by meeting every day in private houses and having a common fund to help the poor (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-37; 6:1). We need to ask if these things should be universal practices. But if they should, there are particular commandments of God we are not doing, and we need to start doing them. Now the church of the apostolic age was outwardly successful (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 17:6). But this was due, not to some perfection in the Christians of the time, but the power of God (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Matthew 16:18),
The problem with looking to recreate a golden age is that it distracts us from the real work of living for Christ even in difficult times. We start believing there is some panacea, which, if we can just find it, will solve most of our problems. But we should rather trust God to accomplish His will through us, even if it means alienating some people (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 46:10). For it is what God is doing through us that makes the difference, not the search for some hypothetical golden age (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:28,29).
Thus the 'decline of religion' becomes a very ambiguous phenomenon. One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the 'World', was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability.
C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, God in the Dock, Part II, 8 The Decline of Religion (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970, pp. 219-220)
Is the decline of religion in the United States of the same character? How should that affect our approach to it?
The city was covered with barbed wire. It divided every neighborhood from every other. Some neighborhoods were bigger and some were smaller, but all were enclosed. All the enclosures had gates, but most had people standing at the gates to examine you when you came in. Some looked tough, gimlet-eyed, ready to block any undesirables from entering. Others looked laid-back, amicable, ready to accept all comers. There were enclosures where the gate was practically so broken down anyone could walk in. But the fences remained.
The man made his way into the city by weaving his way around the fences. He noticed that all the enclosures had names and lists of rules on their fences. A lot of the names were complicated and seemed to convey little or nothing. And while there were considerable changes in the rules from one end of the city to the other, many nearby enclosures showed little or no difference.
The man went up to a guard by one of the gates and asked, "What's the difference between you and that enclosure over there? You seem to have almost the same set of rules."
He received in return a long story about how they came out of different groups that originally came from different parts of the old country.
"But why don't you just forget that and get together?" asked the man.
"We do things different," replied the guard.
The man came up to another enclosure which had the name "Just Christian." But they seemed to have as many rules as the other enclosures.
"We got tired of all the enclosures, so we decided to break off," explained the guard. "Anyone who wants to be just Christian the same way we are is welcome."
The man passed a number of enclosures with alert guards and signs on the fences that said, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors." (He seemed somehow to remember that this was out of context.) "Why are you so firm about keeping people out?" the man asked the guards on one fence.
"We have to keep out the riff-raff from the other side of town," they replied. "Besides, there are some people who have houses painted all sorts of fancy colors and there are others who have houses that are old-fashioned and elaborate. We prefer the simple, homey style."
"But couldn't you just let everyone build their house the way they want to?"
"Why would we want to do that?" they replied.
The man noticed there were others who seemed to be visiting with their neighbors across the fence. Some even got together for group hugs. But the fences still remained intact.
"Doesn't anyone ever try to tear down any of the fences?" the man asked one of the huggers.
"Some do. But they are generally over in the broad-minded part of the city," replied the hugger. "And there are always new fences being built."
The man wondered if there was a hardware store nearby where he could buy a pair of wire-cutters.
Self-control is good. It is one of the things God requires of us (Proverbs 25:28; 2 Peter 1:6; 2 Timothy 3:3). But it can become distorted. We cannot simply follow every impulse that presents itself to us (Colossians 3:8-10; Jude 4, James 1:14,15). And this is something something we need to remind ourselves of in a culture where pursuit of pleasure is fast becoming the central focus of life. But while self-control clearly is a Biblical virtue, it is not the chief or only virtue. However, there are some ethical systems that take self-control as the primary requirement. This can become self-control for the sake of self-control, which is not what God demands (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; Philippians 4:4). This results in a harsh, unfeeling morality, centered on the things we do not do. Rather, the chief Christian virtue is love (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3), which results in putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Galatians 5:13,14; Romans 12:9-21). Now if we are going put others first, we need to be willing to restrain our own impulses. But it is a restraint with the purpose to leave room for love. Self-control is sort of like bug spray. We need to use it to deal with some of the uglier aspects of our personality, so they do not get out and cause havoc. But if we make the focus of our life looking for more and smaller bugs to spray, we have lost perspective. So we need to have self-control, but we need to keep it in its appropriate place.