As we try to sort through the situations of life we are going to encounter tension. Tension is produced by a variety of competing principles, and it takes wisdom to decide how to resolve a matter in the most godly and consistent way.
Influencer, or influenced? Jesus intends for His people to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). Jesus, Himself, had social interaction with sinful classes to the point that He was criticized by others (Mt 9:10-11). “‘Those who are well,’ He said, ‘have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’” (9:12). We have a clear responsibility to openly display our convictions in order to model a better life among unbelievers. Conversely, we are not to “light [our] lamp and put it under a bushel” (Mt 5:15).
But what if a Christian gets in over his head? What about a younger believer who feels an obligation to influence his/her friends for the Lord but who is neither strong nor wise enough to stand strong against sin? Scripture also says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Cor 15:33).
We must be honest about our motives and recognize when the main objective has been compromised. We must learn when to say “no,” when to pull back and remove ourselves from a relationship or situation that is now influencing us for evil. What can make this more difficult is that the person influencing us is our friend, and we don’t want to hurt them or to lose whatever benefit we may receive from that friendship. Which leads to …
Feeling vs. fact. Tension is also produced when our feelings collide with the facts. For example, when someone says they have found their “soul mate” and then reveal they have been married multiple times before – making their current marriage adulterous – it produces great sadness and sympathy for them. Yet those feelings don’t alter God’s design for permanency in marriage or the stringent requirement for divorce and remarriage (Mt 19:4-6, 9).
Similarly, a well-known preacher has spoken openly about a conundrum he faced in the wake of a vow of celibacy he had taken following an earlier divorce. Some years later he met a Christian woman whose chemistry blended with his, and the tension was set. So far as God’s law was concerned, they had a right to marry. But the brother had made a vow, and he could not get around it without sin. What a sad parting that had to be, what powerful feelings of attraction, fulfillment, oneness of spirit in a violent clash with what he had promised God.
Our judgment vs. God’s judgment. Another manifestation of tension is when God’s word directs some action but our feelings tell us that it “won’t work.” One example of this is the removal of fellowship which the Lord directs in Mt 18:17 and Paul reinforces in 1 Cor 5:5, 11-13. Many churches avoid taking this step because it is unpleasant or they just feel that coddling and appeasing are better ways to change errant behavior.
In a similar vein, Christian parents seem to be more and more reluctant to discipline their children in a firm yet loving way. Decades of psychological disapproval, negative media reinforcement, threat of governmental intrusion, misplaced warnings against harming a child’s self-esteem, horror stories of abuse, reactions to their own upbringing, general weakness of character, etc. have all taken their toll. Passages such as Pr 29:15, 17 seem backward, out of touch: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother … Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul.” And Pr 23:13-14 sounds absolutely felonious: “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” This is an area where the educational and psychological elites have persuaded many believers to cave in to humanistic ideology.
This tension is also in play when churches feel society has a greater pull on people’s minds than scripture and worship. Their solution is to buy into the “social gospel” philosophy, either to entice people with carnality in the effort to evangelize them or simply focus their energy on humanitarianism (third world aid; soup kitchens; medical facilities; support for unwed mothers, etc.). While such things may be worthy of our personal time, energy and money, they are not the work God assigned to His people as a collective body. The result: modern churches are a poor source of doctrinal purity and unadulterated worship. They are distracted by their schools, gyms, businesses, restaurants, book stores and the funding, facilities, administration and public relations that come with it.
So, how do we handle such tension when it arises? First, we must diagnose it properly. Accurate self-analysis is an outgrowth of honest interaction with God’s word. Second, we must respect God’s authority. In the absence of immediate negative feedback, it is easy to think God approves or is indifferent when we play fast and loose with scripture. Third, we must trust God’s word to accomplish His intentions.
Finally, we must have the courage to follow through on our convictions. Do you think Daniel felt tension when his enemies succeeded in passing the law that prayer could only be made to Darius for a month? “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Dan 6:10).