Know Your Bible

VOL. 13                                                                                                                         January 3, 2016                                                                                                                            NO. 42



  One of the most prominent moral justifications heard today is that as long as the practice doesn’t harm anyone, then it is right and should be allowed. The primary argument this is being used for today is gay marriage, to no one’s surprise. However, it carries broader applications, and those applications aren’t just about politics.

“The practice is not harming anyone, so you need to let them do what they want. Doesn’t that just make sense? How can we not agree with that?”

First, the argument from “no harm” makes assumptions not only about what “harm” is or is not, but also about who should or should not perceive something as harmful.

We might notice that when people talk about what doesn’t “harm” anyone, they don’t really define what they mean. They assume that everyone’s on the same page, and proceed to argue from their assumption. Interestingly, some of the same people will argue against all religion on the basis that they believe religion “harms” people, showing that “harm” is often a matter of perspective.

What Does It Mean To “HARM”?

“Harm” means to injure or do damage to something. Something good can harm something bad, and something bad can harm something good. Truth will injure the false, and what’s false can damage the cause of truth. The issue shouldn’t be so much, “does it cause harm?” but rather, “is it right or wrong?” What we should always be concerned about is doing what is right, and “no harm” isn’t to be equated with “right.” “Harm” is too fluid of a concept to be anchored to “right” or “good.” If what’s good harms what’s bad, then that’s as it should be.

Is there such a thing as universal harmlessness? Is there really a practice that is totally and completely harmless to everyone and everything in all circumstances? When people say that a practice “doesn’t harm anyone,” are they making some universal statement of truth? Or are they focusing on a particular circumstance? Are there bigger issues that we ought to think about?

What of something considered harmful to one group or person, but not another? Do we ignore part of the equation in order to push an agenda? Who gets to decide that? Who is the authority on what harms people?

There are different kinds of harm, including physical, emotional, and moral harm. These seem most obvious, but let’s also consider the idea that something can be subtly harmful overall because it chips away at and destroys the structural foundation of a society. When it comes to matters like living together apart from marriage, having children apart from marriage, easy divorce, or gay marriage, we are looking at practices that challenge the infrastructure of the family, which in turn harms the structural foundation of our society.

By redefining marriage or family, against both God’s revealed will and all conventional wisdom of many thousands of years, we are naive if we think that there is no harm to the structural foundation.

Of course, the worst of all harms is spiritual in nature. Sin is always the real harm, so if something is sinful, as defined by God, then it is absolutely harmful to the ones who practice the sin as well as the surrounding society. We all ought to desire avoiding that. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34).

If we take something that is sinful, then argue that it is acceptable because it doesn’t cause anyone “harm,” then we have misunderstood the true nature both of what is harmful and the consequences of sin. We are no different from those who called good evil or evil good (Isa. 5:20).

Rather than asking whether something is harmful, we need to ask whether something is right. “Right” isn’t defined by our own selfish perspectives, but by a Creator who ultimately knows what is most beneficial or harmful to all of us.

Finally, the gospel addresses the situation in that it calls on us to repent of sin while offering forgiveness and reversing the eternal effects of what sin does to us (Acts 3:19). When we deny the harm that sin causes, then we deny the power of the gospel to overturn our sinful condition. This will result in irrevocable and permanent harm to us, and none of us can afford that. This is why we need to diligently teach the truth that will set us free from sin (John 8:31-32). This isn’t about taking a political position; it’s about reaching a lost world that needs to come home to God. 

—Doy Moyer

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People often hear the Word of God but are not willing to obey it. Some may intend to obey, but they never seem to get around to it.  It is not enough to simply hear or even know God's Word: we must be willing to obey it. 

Notice an interesting comparison made in James 1:22-25: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man hen I was younger, I had awesome dreams. In my “awakening” (a deeper sense of awareness I came to some years after I became a Christian), when I faced my first opportunities as a fledgling preacher, observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

Imagine a man looking into a mirror before he leaves the house every morning seeing things such as a crooked tie, messed up hair, food on his face, and his shirt unbuttoned. But all he does is looks; he never makes any changes.

Similarly, a lot of people are doing the same thing with the Word of God. They look into the mirror of God's Word, but when they see certain aspects of their life lacking, they make no changes. God's Word must be applied for it to do any good.

Consider the following story: It Must Be Applied

A gospel preacher met an acquaintance, a soap manufacturer, on the street. All around the two men were evidences of worldliness and sin, in the flashing signs advertising liquor, in the shadowy stairways leading to questionable places of amusement, and even in the language tossed into the air by a careless throng of pedestrians.

"Your religion hasn't done any good, otherwise there would be no sinful people like we see here," said the friend to the preacher.

As they walked on, they came near a little boy playing in the gutter, his hands muddy, his clothes filthy--and the preacher pointed him out:

"Your soap hasn't done any good, or else this child would not be so dirty."

"But, of course, the soap has to be applied before it will do any good," replied the man.

“How true," the preacher answered, "and so does religion have to be applied to the hearts and lives of sinners before it will do them any good!” 

(author unknown)

—Mike Johnson

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