Of Fire Extinguishers and Temptation

Our sinful hearts want to figure out and "study arguments unduly" so that we can get as close to sin as we can without getting singed.

I have never started cooking with the thought, “How far can I go in burning my meal before I need to pull that fire extinguisher out?” Never, not even once, have I started sautéing my vegetables and thought, “I’m just going to leave these here on high, because if they go up in flames, I’ve got the fire extinguisher.” And yet, I frequently encounter this attitude when it comes to sin.

 

In the state of New Jersey, in order for a certificate of occupancy to be issued, a fire extinguisher is required to be placed within 10 feet of the kitchen in every single or two family dwelling. We have one mounted on the wall just around the corner from our stove and oven. I know where it is. I know it is charged. I know how to use it, though I’ve never used one. But if the need ever arose, it is there to stop a fire from getting out of control and destroying my home. I’m glad it is there.

While I am glad the fire extinguisher is there, I never actually think about using it. I have never started cooking with the thought, “How far can I go in burning my meal before I need to pull that fire extinguisher out?” Never, not even once, have I started sautéing my vegetables and thought, “I’m just going to leave these here on high, because if they go up in flames, I’ve got the fire extinguisher.” And yet, I frequently encounter this attitude when it comes to sin.

When I worked with college and high school students, the question I often got from guys in dating relationships was, “How far is too far?” How far, physically, could he go before it was sin? That is like asking, “How far can I burn my food before I need the fire extinguisher?” How many drinks can I have before it is too many? How much skin can I see on screen before it is too much? How flirtatious can I be with a co-worker before it is too far? How much can I take before it is considered stealing? How much can I say before it is gossip? We don’t want to outright sin. But we frequently want to toe the line as closely as possible.

In Mark 10, the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. “It is lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus responds by asking what Moses commanded. They reply with what Moses allowed. Did you catch the difference? Did you see how the Pharisees wanted to toe right up to the line? They answered by looking at a passage in Deuteronomy 24that allowed for divorce in particular circumstances in order to protect the woman. It was a provision in the law to account for man’s sin. It was not a license for sin. The Pharisees failed to understand this fundamental point, so their answer centered on what Moses allowed, not on what Moses commanded.

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