There is a quote from the Apostle Paul I like very much and I am going to use it here, slightly out of context:
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
The Apostle Paul was writing in the context of believers' freedom and his argument was against what the Corinthians had written to him concerning this freedom. Paul taught that due to the love of Jesus we must be willing to limit our freedom for the sake of other people. The question then is, just because it may be permissible does it mean that it is beneficial, or constructive? He follows this with the statement:
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:24)
This is a key point to our understanding of what flows from the commandment to "love our neighbour as we love ourselves". In fact, this is a large part of what Jesus demonstrated with his life.
If we simply look at one of the most stressful moments of Jesus life we discover the golden moments of his character. If you want to know the true heart of a man watch him when he is under stress, or when he is facing a life and death situation. This is when the façade falls away and the true heart rises up. It is not always pretty but in Jesus' case it is absolutely beautiful. A crowd of thugs have come to arrest him in the middle of the night, led by the betrayer, Judas. In the scuffle that ensues Jesus' disciples try to protect him. One draws out a sword and cuts off someone's ear. Jesus stops them all and confuses them with these words:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52)
Twelve legions of angels at his disposal. Do not think for a moment that Jesus' disciples failed him. They probably would have died to the last man protecting him but Jesus stopped them. His words confused them and so they ran away in that confusion. Do not think for a moment that Jesus was defenceless. He knew what was available to him. He could have had 12 legions of angels at his disposal at any time, even while he was hanging on the cross. He could have walked through either of these open doors that were available to him, but would it have been constructive or beneficial? Jesus accepted the fact that he had to walk this path because this was the way that had been chosen for him. He trusted his Father. Do we?
Some of the hardest moments of my life have been a direct result of me walking through doors that should have remained closed. In fact, some doors were closed and locked and had to be busted open to get through. I took it to be the enemy resisting God's will for my life but in fact it was my Father trying to protect me from heartache and needless pain. What a terrible thing it is to go against the will of God. Just because something is permissible does not mean that it is God's will for you. Anything that is not constructive and beneficial to others is wrong in our Father's eyes. If Jesus had not walked that path it would have gone poorly for all of us but, because he did choose to walk it, the whole world has benefited:
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
I'm not going to pretend that it is easy. The beatings, torture, ridicule, bad treatment, humiliation, and then the pain of the cross and the experience of death was not exactly a walk in the park for Jesus. There was no benefit in it for him, other than a grateful Father for an obedient Son, however, there was great benefit for us. This is how we should measure the worth of the doors that open to us. We should never consider the doors that benefit us alone, perhaps at a cost to others, because that is not what we have been called to. We have been called as servants for the benefit of other people and these are the doors that bring glory to God, when we choose to live a life that benefits others.
Let me be honest with you, there is no glamour in such a life. The world is not going to be lifting you up as a hero. Most people are going to think you are crazy. People will look down on you for missing the opportunities to benefit yourself. Although it may have a certain romantic appeal, no one likes a servant. Your actions will be misunderstood, people will consider you weak, you may get verbally beat up, your reputation may be destroyed and some may even decide to crucify you. You won't be the first and you won't be the last but you will belong to a great host of servants who have suffered much for the benefit of others, even though others didn't have a clue. I recall this from Hebrews 10 taking note of the last line:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 10:32-38)
The world was not worthy of Jesus or of the thousands who followed in his suffering who laid down their lives so the world could hear the good news. I think of the many Christians in the persecuted Church of today. They could have chosen easier paths for themselves but they dared not walk through those doors because they were called to lay down their lives for others. And what about us? Have we been called to anything different? Are we specially blessed or something that we would be permitted to walk through doors that benefited us alone? Or are we living lives that are actually displeasing to our Lord Jesus who went to the cross for us? It is true that everything is permissible but ask yourself if it is beneficial for others. Yes, we have great freedom in the Spirit, everything is permissible but is it constructive in the lives of others?
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
You know, he could have called 12 legions of angels!