A time to embrace and a time to refrain…
I live with a packrat who holds on to everything. This evening, we had one of “those” discussions—over a Pyrex measuring cup, of all things. We live in a high-rise flat with a galley kitchen and finite cabinet space. Given the paraphernalia we’ve collected over the years, every inch is precious. So when I found a collapsible cup that tucks into a drawer, I snapped it up. My partner came in tonight just as I trashed the old cup. With not a word, his look said it all. We’ll never use both at the same time, I told him. He suggested someone might want it. “Of course,” I said. “The next time somebody says, ‘Boy, I wish I had a measuring cup’ we’ll have one.” He wandered off, muttering about how I love to throw out perfectly good stuff. As I saw it, though, I replaced one cup with another to free up space the old one required. Keeping both cancelled the new one’s advantages. The Pyrex cup was history.
Growing in knowledge of Christ, we pick up better tools to replace old ones used for the same purpose. No finer example of this exists than love. Younger, less experienced followers of Jesus love out of obligation; it’s what He asked us to do. But as we mature, we learn love is an opportunity to introduce God’s presence to people and situations that need it. If we hang on to love as what we’re supposed to do, we negate advantages gained by approaching it as a privilege. Obligatory love is history, replaced by love no less obedient to Christ, yet far superior in effectiveness. This is why, transitioning from spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 to love in chapter 13, Paul writes, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
Experience urges us to hold on to most excellent mindsets and habits in lieu of previously held, less effective ones. It also teaches when holding off is best. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.12 (KJV). Later, he repeats this, affixing a fresh conclusion: “not everything is constructive.” (10.23; NIV) Contrary to the legalistic bent of religiously (rather than spiritually) minded Christians, Paul places believers above the law. Codes and statutes are useless to him; they eliminate assessing how closely we conform to Jesus’s example on a case-by-case basis. The issue shifts from what’s right to what’s best, opening all options to consideration. Yet blanket permission doesn’t excuse us to do as we please. It forces us to choose between holding on to what’s constructive and holding off compromising influences.
Green Light, Red Light
“There’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain,” says Solomon. Knowing what we need tells us when to hold on; knowing what we don’t need tells us when to hold off. During early stages of walking with Christ, discerning what’s best in every situation—choosing excellence over expedience—isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like. Tools we’ve collected so far may prove inadequate and skills we've acquired may need fine-tuning. For example, it takes seasoning to embrace people unconditionally and still refrain from indulging their unhealthy pursuits. The art of simultaneously holding on and holding off comes with experience.
Regardless how often we fail to choose what’s best, however, we stay at it, applying today’s lessons to tomorrow’s challenges. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” James 1.4 explains. It’s a trial-and-error process. As one songwriter said, “We fall down, but we get up.” With every stumble, our sight improves. Experience helps us differentiate green lights signaling times to embrace from red ones that say “Refrain! Refrain!”
Experience teaches us to see when it's time to embrace and time to refrain.
(Tomorrow: Searching and Surrendering)