Not too long ago I had a conversation with someone about what is and isn’t permissible for a Christian leader. It was the age-old question: Is it okay to drink alcohol? As our conversation went along, I heard a lot of “It is not wrong for me to do this or that,” and “The Bible doesn’t prohibit it,” and “I am within the bounds of the law so why not?” The Bible is only explicit about alcohol in saying that the sin is not in drinking but in getting drunk. So anything besides getting drunk is ok, right? I’m not so sure. Whether it’s in relation to drinking or any issue, I find the arguments for or against behavior in regard to Biblical permission too one-dimensional.
Perhaps what is needed most is not merely a consideration of the facts, but an embrace of a new perspective. The standard for leadership is higher. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” All leaders teach even if it is not from a platform. The responsibility and influence of a leader means there is more riding on their choices and lifestyle. Leaders don’t have the same luxuries afforded to those not in that position.
Our culture often touts that leadership opens the door to more rights, even at times placing individuals above the law. In the kingdom of God, though, to lead is not an invitation to gain more personal liberties but to lose them. Jesus, the most influential leader to ever live, said that to be the greatest you must become the least, laying your life down for others. In I Corinthians 10:23-24, Paul writes that “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”
To lead in God’s kingdom is to serve which means we don’t always get to do what we want. If we truly love those we are serving, we live for their best interests (I Corinthians 13) and we put our own interests aside. Paul addressed this idea of refraining from behavior as an act of service in I Corinthians 10:30-11:1. He writes to the Corinthians about eating food sacrificed to idols. Evidently there was some debate among believers as to what was best. When they became Christians, food lost its spiritual/ritualistic meaning and was reduced to a good meal. Some of them understood and embraced this idea. Eating food sacrificed to idols in no way weakened their faith or created questions in their hearts with regards to other religions. Others, though, were still new in their faith.
Paul is addressing the strong in faith with regards to those who were weak when he writes, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews or Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul is cautioning Christian leaders in Corinth to refrain from eating food sacrificed to idols so as to not cause someone else to stumble. If something gets in the way of someone understanding the kingdom of God, no matter how biblically justifiable, it is worth putting aside.
It is important to realize that the answer to “Can I do this?” might not be about what we have the “right” to do. We may be well within biblical limits and still the answer should be no. We can be totally right and totally wrong all at the same time. If you don’t want to give up your rights or live for someone else’s good then being a leader might not be for you!