Friday, August 24, 2018

Principles and Customs

"But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it” (Mark 12:15b).

Today we will discuss some ways to determine whether something in the Bible is a custom, which we do not necessarily need to observe, or whether it involves a principle we are commanded to follow. Here are four guidelines to help in determining what is principle and what is custom.

First, be aware of some obvious areas of custom. One area of pure custom is styles of dress. This clearly varies from culture to culture, but the unvarying biblical principle is modesty. Another difference in custom is monetary systems. Jesus said to pay denarii to Caesar. We don’t pay denarii to Caesar today, but we are to pay the tax-collecting agencies of our governments.

Second, don’t jump to conclusions about customs. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says women are to have their heads covered in church. Many commentators state this is because the prostitutes in Corinth went around with their heads uncovered. Paul, however, does not give this reason. He, in fact, gives an altogether different reason for his command. We must not let information about local customs contradict what the text itself says.

Third, be aware of creation principles. God lays down eternal principles in the creation, such as the relationship between men and women, the need for a weekly day of rest, the importance of worship, and so forth. These are reinforced in His moral law throughout Scripture. By knowing the categories of moral law and creation principles, we can sift passages to see what is permanent and what is merely local and temporary.

Finally, when in doubt, do not violate what may be a principle. The Bible tells us whatever is not of faith is sin. If you think God commands you to do something, even if you are misinterpreting a custom as a principle, it is important for conscience sake to obey.

Read Matthew 5:21–42. Find at least three places in these verses where Jesus expresses an abiding principle in terms of temporary customs. Rephrase these commands to reflect the customs of your own society today.