Removing the Yolk of Other’s Ideals

I’ve never really thought of myself as a people-pleaser. Though I don’t like to disappoint others and I have often felt burdened by what I think others think – especially when it comes to how I’ve behaved. I desire to be a good friend, competent employee, help to a stranger, a consistent parent, and a devoted wife. When life spins beyond my control I get frustrated and analyze my choices thinking if I’d just done something different, had more self-control or thought through a single moment before acting – then maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t be facing the trouble I have.

I want to believe there is a reason for everything. I do believe God has a purpose for my life and that He will work all things for good because I love Him.

A recurring theme has surfaced the past from various sources – the idol of other’s expectations. And it’s beckoned the question that I must ask when feeling condemned by my choices.

Is this conviction from the Holy Spirit and based on God’s Word, or is it someone else’s idea of how I should act because I’m a Christian?

Am I really so intent on fulfilling the ideals of what a Christian should do or say, that I’m losing focus of the greatest commandment of all?

Jesus died and rose again above all else for his LOVE for us! Yes, he died for our sins because he knew we would never be perfect – even if our deepest heart’s desire  was to live up to that ideal. But he also spoke of loving others, forgiving them, and set an example of looking beyond behavior and to the heart.

I wonder if somewhere in between the lines of scripture, the real reason behind encouraging godly behavior is that ungodly behavior leads to selfishness.

Honestly, how many of us become self-focused when we are eyeball deep in sin? We lose our confidence and in turn reach out less to others. Now, there are those who will go to the other extreme and attempt to take the attention away from them. Or try to make up for their wrong by doing good. But it all comes down to a heart issue. Are we isolating ourselves because we are ashamed? Are we serving others as penance?

Bottom line is that sin hurts us and hurts those around us. It affects our relationships and makes it more difficult to love ourselves and others as God intended. It’s not about what others think at all. And it’s not about their ideals (funny how close that word is to idols).

What I am coming to realize is that even when I fall short, I have to ask myself if that choice has prevented me from loving and serving others. Is it keeping me from fulfilling God’s purpose or having a desire to do so? For each of us, the choice will be different. And the answer will be too.

So, let’s be careful not to push our ideals on to others to the point of creating a yolk of burden. For that can be just as harmful as habitual, or more obvious sin.

Many of us have heard the instruction on not letting a brother stumble.

The true stumbling block here isn’t so much the specific behavior, but the perception of that behavior that can cause a problem. If that perception causes another to be weighed down with condemnation, then we are just as guilty as the person participating in that behavior. Yet, we can also ignore other behaviors that don’t bring us personal conviction, even if that behavior may cause someone around us to stumble.

I want to use an example here to make my point, but by no means want it to create a problem in either direction. It’s an example, yet an issue I will probably address through fiction at one point, instead of a blog post.

Alcohol vs Food

Although scripture uses the example of certain foods, people (teachers) in my experience tend to use alcohol as theirs.

Many Christians are taught that any consumption of alcohol is not okay. It sets a poor example and can cause another person who may have a problem to justify drinking. It can lead to drunkenness which can also lead to personal harm, harm to others, and sinful behavior one may otherwise abstain from.

All these things are true. Yet, not everyone who consumes alcohol gets drunk, has an addiction, or practices sinful behavior.

Stay with me here.

Now, on the topic of food. We live in a nation addicted to food – carbohydrates mostly. Food packed with flour and sugar that interestingly also gives people the same sense of euphoria that drinking alcohol does! Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more are all food-related. Diet is a huge factor in prevention or management of these diseases that kill far more people and Christians every year than alcohol does.

Yet, from the pulpit time and again I’ve heard the announcement of church events along with the emphasis of the unhealthy food that will be there. Food that for many is their stumbling block.

Imagine the person sitting there struggling with the need to socialize with other Christians, yet when they hear:

“…and there will be plenty of pie for everyone!”

They cringe as if the pastor just said:

“…and there will be plenty of wine for everyone!”

Because they are trying to lose weight or suffer from a food-related illness that makes consuming pie just as harmful if not more so than consuming alcohol.

Yet, not everyone who consumes pie is overweight, gets diabetes, or dies from cancer.

I would guess there are more people with food addiction sitting in church on any given Sunday than there are alcoholics.

Yet, due to ideals, it’s easier to focus on sins like drunkenness. We seem to forget that at one point in history, the “7 deadly sins” included gluttony. But we’ve swept that under the rug because we like to eat!

Back to the general topic at hand, my point here is simple. We each have our vices. And we can seek out others to hold us accountable and to ensure we don’t get stuck in a rut of sin. However, we need not allow other’s ideals of specific behavior dictate our daily lives. Yes, there are certain behaviors that scripture speaks against – and for good reason. Let’s not be so focused on one or two that we overlook the other ones that can be just as damaging to ourselves or others.

But above all else –

Let’s not allow our ideals to become a yolk of slavery to others who may be struggling with another issue entirely.

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let’s aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble.

Romans 14:17-21 (emphasis mine)

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