Every preacher worth his salt, and probably many who aren’t, get asked questions frequently. One common question is in the form: Is it wrong to do X? People are not usually asking this in contemplation of murdering their neighbor or stealing his car. They ask, Is it wrong to play the lottery? Is it wrong to watch that movie? Is it wrong to listen to this music?
The questions are seldom of some theological import or about some passage they have been wrestling with to understand. They are usually not all that serious. The older I get, the more I esteem the wisdom of George Washington. He was not highly educated and had a keen sense of it. However, he was continually sought after for advice. Though he wrote some seventeen thousand letters in his lifetime, he seldom gave advice. He said that he had come to see that those who most sought advice least wanted it. Insightful.
I have found that many who ask the is-it-wrong questions are those who are going to do or continue to do what they’re doing regardless of anything you might have to say or show them from God’s Word. They just want a quick justification or affirmation. At best, they wait for your mouth to stop moving so they can say, “Yeah, but…”
A Better Question
Perhaps there is a better approach when dealing with more difficult questions. There is something to be said about circumstances. There is something to be said about strong and weak consciences. There is certainly something to be said about moderation, but maybe we should consider something else first.
One of the results of maturing in Christ is growing in discernment between things that are good and things that are evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). If you want to ask if something is wrong to do, let me first ask you some questions about your growth in wisdom.
- How committed are you to the regular reading and studying of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 119:9; Acts 17:11)?
- Are you in a sound church under the sound preaching and teaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:25)?
- Are you praying regularly for wisdom and seeking it tenaciously (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:1-5)?
- Do you have wise, godly companions who edify and encourage you in a good way (Hebrews 10:25; Proverbs 13:20)?
- Do you receive correction and instruction when it is given (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9)?
If you answer, No, to any of those questions, then asking if it’s wrong to wear a certain article of clothing or go to some event is the wrong question. You’re starting at the wrong place. If you’re not using any of the means of growing in wisdom that God has instructed and provided for us, then you’re probably not going to receive good counsel when it is given. You’re also ill-equipped to discern between good and bad counsel.
A better question to ask in this regard is the question of expediency. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Expedient means helpful or beneficial. He wrote this in the context of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. As he reasons through it, you can see it’s more complicated than yes or no. If you are interested in this verse in more depth, you can go to a past article I wrote about it here.
Rather than asking if something is wrong, you should ask if it’s expedient. Is it helpful, beneficial? How is doing this going to affect my closeness to God? There are things that stir our thoughts and affections for God and there are things that stunt them or kill them cold. How something affects you is a question that others can’t really answer for you, unless you’re walking with wise friends who know you and see you over time. Then they can help, but they still don’t know fully what is going on within.
Solomon taught that the relentless pursuit of entertainment is folly (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Everything in life doesn’t have to be a sermon to be beneficial but you do have to have wisdom to have the good kind of enjoyment of the things of earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7; Proverbs 5:15-19).
Since expulsion from the Garden of Eden man has pondered the question: Who am I? Of course it is the result of being made a living soul, which distinguishes man from the rest of creation, that even enables him to think such a thing. So, who are we really?
Certain Objective Biological and Physical Realities
God created the first human being during the creation week (Genesis 1:26-28). He was a human male named Adam and he was distinct from all the rest of creation and its plant and animal life. God’s design and command to the man was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with other human beings. However, throughout the entire creation there was nothing compatible or complementary to the man with which he could fulfill his purpose so God made a woman, a female counterpart to the male, and brought her to the man that the two could be joined together and bring forth children (Genesis 2:7, 15-25).
The most basic aspect of our human identity is being made male or female after the image of God. More personally, God is at work in forming each one of us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). We are conceived either male or female according to the purpose of God and formed with other physical and genetic traits to be born into the world.
All these are objective realities and not something anyone can choose. We’ve all probably thought at one time or another that we would like to be taller, older, or younger but these things cannot be changed by thoughts or actions (Matthew 6:27). The prophet Jeremiah asked if the Ethiopian could change his skin (Jeremiah 13:23). The answer is no, he cannot. One might suggest that he could undergo medical procedures to perhaps lighten his skin over time, but he hasn’t really changed it, only deformed and disfigured it.
Other Aspects of Identity
Being made male or female is the most fundamental human identity but there are other aspects that contribute to our identity as well. We have a nationality or ethnicity, a birthplace, a native tongue (Acts 2:5-11). All these things contribute to our identity and are objective realities no one can choose.
Beyond this we can add some things to our identity by pursuing education or training or being accomplished in some skill. While those things can contribute to our identity, they cannot fundamentally alter it. Whether we ourselves or others view our identity as good or bad, it is not something we should put any hope in.
The discussion of identity today revolves mostly around someone unhappy with their identity and wanting to change it. Paul gives us a different perspective in Philippians 3:3-11. He was born with a stellar identity and rejoiced in it for part of his life. He was born a male of Israel into the tribe of Benjamin. He was circumcised on the eighth day and brought up in observation of the law. He later added to his identity through training to become a Pharisee. He considered himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews. If anyone should have reason to have confidence in their identity, Saul of Tarsus had reason.
Though Paul was very proud and happy with his human identity, he learned it was not enough. He considered his identity as rubbish that he might have a new identity in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). When it comes to eternal life in Christ, neither a good human identity nor a bad human identity can avail us anything. We must be made a new creation in Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:15). Nothing in our identity commends us or gives advantage with God (Galatians 3:28). In fact, all who come to Christ are given a new identity in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).
What is Our Human Identity?
We are human beings made in the image of God, male or female according His eternal purpose and will. We are broken through sin that comes to us by nature through our forefather Adam and our mother Eve. That brokenness is manifested within us and without us in thousands of ways and often making us uncomfortable in our own skin. Whether we are discontent or unhappy with some fact of our identity, we cannot change it. We can only deform it. What we need is not surgical, chemical, or psychiatric modification, but rather to be made a new creation in Christ destined for full glorification and everlasting life in wholeness with our Creator and Savior. That identity, that life, is only had through repentance and faith in God’s Son.
BUSY-BODY, n. biz’zy-body. [busy and body.]
A meddling person; one who officiously concerns himself with the affairs of others. 1
Busybody is an old-fashioned word. It sounds as though it could easily be featured in a grandmotherly scolding along with words like snooping and pilfering. Excepting matronly tongue lashings, we probably don’t think about it with much precision. What is a busybody exactly? More importantly, what does the Holy Spirit mean when He warns us in the Bible against being a busybody?
Busybody in the New Testament
The English word busybody appears three times in the New Testament. If we look at each one briefly in its context, we form a good description of the word.
- “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). The Greek word, περιεργαζομενους (periergazomenous), is here translated busybodies. It is a verb, so Paul wrote that some Thessalonians were not working but rather they were busybodying. The word literally means to work around and conveys the thought of busying oneself with business other than one’s own. This verse pairs with 1 Thessalonians 4:11 where Paul instructed the Thessalonians to do their own business. So in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul is complaining that they had not followed the admonition.
- “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Busybody here is translated from a different form of the Greek word from 2 Thessalonians 3:11, περιεργοι (periergoi). The word denotes being busy with trifles and refers to dabbling in magical arts in Acts 19:19. In the context of the verse, it is paired with idleness, wandering from house to house, babbling about inane things, and speaking things they ought not. Paul is here describing a woman whose husband has died and she doesn’t have any children and otherwise is not set to any useful employment. She has become an idle gadabout and gossip.
- “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). The underlying word here is different from the other two we looked at. Here it is αλλοτριοεπισκοπος (allotriepiskopos) and means overseeing others’ affairs or meddling in others’ affairs. It is a compound word formed by joining allotrios, “belonging to another,” and episkopos, “an overseer.” Allotrios is the opposite of idios, which is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 when Paul says to “do your own business.” The word in 1 Peter 4:15 does also have a legal connotation in the form of a charge brought against the early Christians as being insurrectionists.
From this we have a good picture of the term. A busybody is one who meddles in the affairs of others. It can include such things as gossip and slander or go more maliciously to inciting discontent and rebellion in families, churches, businesses, or even against governments. Inherent in all those definitions is the understanding that there are things that belong to us and things that do not. There are things that are our business and things that are not. A busybody is a person busy in the things that are not their business. The Bible has plenty to say about the kind of damage that busybodies do (Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:13; 16:27-28; 17:9; 18:8; 20:19; 25:9-10, 23; 26:20).
What are we to do about busybodiness?
The sin was similar in the three instances we referenced above and the solution was also similar. The sin has to do with meddling in business that doesn’t belong to us. The solution was to avoid it and give attention to our own affairs.
- The answer for the Thessalonians was to busy themselves with their own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
- The answer for the widows was to get married, have children, and take care of their own house (1 Timothy 5:14).
- The answer for the Christians was to ensure that whatever suffering came on them was because they were busy doing what belonged to them and what they ought to do (1 Peter 4:16).
If we return to our wizened matriarchs, we need a good dose of, “Mind your own business!” Be busy doing good and taking care of your own affairs. We have ways of rationalizing meddling. We call it “concern” or consider it “spiritual” to meddle in the business of others. Jesus had just told Peter what Peter should do and he immediately asked about John, “What shall this man do?” Jesus responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:21-22). Get it? Take care of your own business and let others take care of their own business.
You said something about Facebook?
Now we get to that sharp thingummy that justifies the needle’s existence—the point. Social media gives us a facility to pry into the affairs of others that would have made long-tongue Lucy of bygone days win a blue ribbon for proper impression of a mastiff on hot, summer days.
I’m afraid that along with the capability we have accepted the perfidy that anything posted publicly is the right business of the public. I realize the mint-tithers could chop and dice this up into impressively precise cuts, but I think we’re better off to heed the biblical admonition to mind our own business and not go wandering about in things we ought not. And I think the Bible said something about creeping things, but maybe that was about something else.
So, has Facebook made us all busybodies? The answer is: No. I must also admit it is a trick question. Facebook doesn’t make anyone a busybody or a sinner in any other way. Facebook is like any tool—it can be used for good or bad. It can be a strong temptation to people with a penchant for gossip and too much time on their hands. What are we to do? I believe the Good Book somewhere says that if Facebook causes you to sin, you should logoff and unsubscribe, for it is better to be disconnected from social media and have actual friends you know than it is to know what your “friends,” whom you don’t know, were wearing on Wednesday, March 30th and what they were eating for lunch. And cat pictures.
- Webster, Noah. (1828). American Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved June 2. 2015. http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Home?word=Busy-body ↩