Making Big Decisions audio (5MB)
We’ve all had to do it in the past and we’ll all have to do it again. Every one of us, no matter how old we are or how clever we are will have to make a big decision sooner or later. Most of us will have to make several big decisions in our life. Some have already made some of these.
Let me give you some examples: Should I marry? If so, who should I marry?
Should we have a child? Or another child?
Should I join this Church or that one?
Which profession should I go into? Which job should I apply for/accept?
Should I consider full-time Christian Ministry? If so should it be in a local church or a missions organisation?
How much should I give to God’s work? How should I divide it up?
These are all decisions that people have to make at one point or another in their life. But how do you make sure you mak
e the right decision?
What makes many of these big decisions hard for the Christian is that the Bible doesn’t always address the issue. Some of the issues we face didn’t exist in Bible times. So how do we decide?
Well, let me suggest that one way forward is to see how the Bible addresses some of these big questions and then use them as a model for making decisions on other issues.
So let me begin by looking at two test cases.
Test Case 1: Marriage
Should a person marry or not? Well, what do we know about the Bible’s teaching on marriage?
1 Marriage is a GOOD THING: Part of God’s creation plan.
In Genesis 2 we read that God saw that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone so he created a partner for him - bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh. - in every way his equal. And then we’re told “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” So marriage is a good thing, ordained for men & women as part of his creation act.
2 God’s moral will makes a difference
But of course we then have the fall. As a result men & women find it hard to get on with each other yet at the same time are attracted to each other - and not always in a helpful way. As Erasmus is quoted as saying: “Women! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
Paul’s take on this question is made very clear in 1 Cor 7. There he answers a question about marriage: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ 2But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” The Corinthians were suggesting that celibacy was preferable to marriage, presumably because it would help you maintain your purity of life. Paul’s answer is basically that remaining single won’t solve your problem. If sexual purity is a problem for you, you’d do better to marry, if you can; to enter into the relationship, of a man and woman joined together for life, that God ordained from the beginning.
However he goes on “8To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.” If they can manage it, that is. Being single he says frees you up to serve God without hindrance in a way that a husband or wife, a mother or father can’t do.
3 One’s own personality
So what we find here is that God’s moral will regulates but doesn’t determine marriage. Paul’s preference - for ministry reasons - is singleness, but not everyone has that gift. So part of the decision making process is to think about your own personality.
4. Only marry a believer
In 2 Cor 6:14 Paul gives the general advice: “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?” At the end of the passage in 1 Cor 7 he says that widows are free to remarry but “only in the Lord.” So if you’re looking for a marriage partner be careful. Make sure that he or she is a Christian.
Of course if you’re already married to an unbeliever don’t despair. Paul addresses that possibility as well. In 1 Cor 7:13-14 he says: “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
5. Seek the best
One of the considerations in deciding whether to marry a particular person is whether they’re good enough for you. I know that parents are renowned for asking that question. But it’s not actually a question for them. It is a question for you though. Have you thought about the sorts of characteristics that make up the ideal spouse? Not that there is such a creature in reality. But how does this person shape up? Have you thought about the sort of personality that will fit with yours? Will you be able to deal with the differences in your temperaments? Are you both pulling in the same direction as far as your hopes and dreams are concerned?
6. Check the facts
One of the dangers for people considering marriage is that they get carried away with the romance of it all and don’t stop and think about the realities of their situation. The divorce rate in Australia is around 40%. And part of the reason for that is that couples have been carried away by the romance of the relationship without thinking about the long term responsibilities that go with it. Couples who are realistic about marriage have a much better chance of staying married for the rest of their life.
7 Get a second opinion
We’ll speak more about this next week, but it’s always good to ask for advice from wise counsellors, from Christian friends who know you well and have the maturity to be able to advise you.
Test Case 2: Finding a profession or a job
Well what about work? How do you decide what profession or trade to go into? You won’t find much in the Bible about accountancy or engineering or pharmacy or media studies, or most of the other professions available to people today. So how do you decide?
1. Work is a good thing
Well the first thing to note is that work, like marriage is a good thing. When God put Adam in the garden he immediately gave him work to do. He was to tend the garden and name the animals.
Paul is very strict on those who don’t work: (2 Thess 3:10-11) “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”
In 1 Tim 5:8 he says that those who fail to provide for their family have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers.
2. It must be lawful.
I think Prison Fellowship must have been started in the first century because Paul needs to say: “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” (Eph 4:28) He goes on later in the letter to the Ephesians to suggest that Christian slaves should work as though they’re working for Christ. The result will be that they’ll be sincere and enthusiastic in their service, showing integrity, good will and diligence
3 What work?
But what profession or trade or career should you choose? Here there are no clear guidelines. You’re free to choose. But again you might want to think about what gifts you possess - both secular and spiritual. Will your chosen field enable you to exercise those gifts?
1. Ministry and Mission - another Good Thing.
If you’re thinking of offering for full-time Christian ministry the first thing to know is that you desire a good thing. But you’d better make sure your life meets God’s standard. You also need to make sure that others agree, particularly those to whom you’re ministering already. Don’t assume because you think it’s a good idea that it is. This is one area where you need to seek God’s guidance even more than others because if you go into full time Christian ministry you can expect to be opposed by Satan at every turn. You need to ask wise Christian friends do they think you’ve got what it takes to be a parish minister or a missionary?
And if you do decide to take that path be prepared for a hard life. As I said, you will meet opposition. If you’re proclaiming the gospel clearly there’ll be people who won’t like it. If you’re leading people to change their lives to be more aligned with God’s will there’ll be some who’ll object. If you’re trying to make the church more relevant to younger generations there will be some in the older generation who’ll resist.
At first glance the question of how much to give seems simple - the OT says we should give a tithe. i.e. 10% of our income. But when you look closer there appear to be in fact 2 or possibly 3 tithes required. So some years you might be giving 30% of your income if that’s the standard you’re working from.
In any case the New Testament provides a different standard. Now the principal is generosity in response to God’s generosity to us. So those of us who are on incomes that are well above the poverty line (i.e. most of us) should be thinking about just how generous God wants us to be in the way we give. But even there the principal in the New Testament is that you’re free to decide. The whole point of generosity is that it comes from the heart not from a sense of duty. The incident in Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira pretend to give the whole proceeds of sale from their property to the church is a good example. Peter says to Ananias: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?” He was free to give a part of the proceeds. There was no compulsion. It was only that he lied about it that led to him being judged by God. So too we’re free to decide how much to give.
The same goes for how you distribute your giving. The only instruction we find in the New Testament is to make sure that we give what we decided to give. But again we need to be wise in choosing the causes we support. Here at St Thomas’ we have a list of mission organisations that we support and we’ve come up with that list by looking at the work they do, at the way they handle the money they’re given, at the effectiveness of their work and the areas of ministry that they focus on.
Let me finish by reminding you of something that Adam said last week. He suggested that we need to pray and listen to what God might be saying to us. Sometimes this might be supernatural as in a word of knowledge. Sometimes God speaks to us through wise counsellors. But at other times it can be very practical, like making a pros and cons list, then working out, with the help of the Holy Spirit, which are consistent with scripture, which are good paths to take and which come out of our own fears or selfish desires.
The passage we read just before the sermon is a prayer by Paul. He prays: “9that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
God has given us freedom to make our big decisions but he wants us to make sure that whatever we do it should lead to lives that are worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and it should help us to grow in the knowledge of God.