The Bible is filled with warnings about what is and is not acceptable behavior for Christians. Some of the statements are no-brainers and the sort of thing that anyone with even the slightest semblance of moral fiber would obey. The commandment of “thou shalt no murder,” after all, is arguably the most basic law in any sort of civil society. Society itself cannot exist if people can simply go around slaughtering each other in the streets. Similarly, “thou shalt not commit adultery” is another commandment that is extremely basic. Cheating is a massive betrayal of the person that you have sworn to love, protect and honor for the rest of your life. It is also a health risk for everyone involved.
While some of the Bible’s warnings are easy to follow and the sort of thing that no one with any sense would excuse, there are others that Christians tend to treat more like guidelines than actual commandments. You probably do the same thing. You either think you are avoiding these things when you are actually practicing them, or worse, you avoid the most flagrant violations of these commandments but break them in secret. Here are seven biblical warnings Christians need to stop ignoring.
“Thou shalt not steal.”
No one wants to think of themselves as a thief, and most people would be deeply indignant if someone implied that they had a habit of stealing from others. In truth, however, most people do quite a bit of stealing each day and are masters at justifying or rationalizing it. That, of course, is assuming that they even recognize what they are doing as theft.
How many times have you helped yourself to office supplies at work and taken them home? You are running low on pens at home or your child needs some new pencils for school. You could go buy them, but you take a fistful from the supply cabinet in the office instead. You have just stolen those supplies from your employer. You are also stealing from your employer if you make it a habit to look busy when your boss walks by, but you actually spend a large chunk of the workday clicking through Facebook or shopping online. You are paid to work so many hours. Unless you are paid to be a secret shopper, that Amazon order does not count as working.
Perhaps the biggest and most commonly justified theft today is that of pirating. Many people, especially young people, have thousands of songs on their phones. Very few of them, however, have actually spent over $1,000 on music. Instead, they have ripped the songs off YouTube or otherwise pirated them. This is stealing. If you really want to live out a Christian life, pay for what you use. At the very least, stop acting like you are virtuous and admit you are a thief.
“Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
The idea of bearing false witness usually makes people think of dramatic moments on shows such as “Law and Order” when a witness is caught in a shocking lie during a high stakes court battle. Most people know better than to commit perjury, but the vast majority of Christians will never be put in a situation where they would consider or even be in the position to lie on the witness stand. That does not mean you are not bearing false witness. Every time you stand in front of your boss and exaggerate how much of a problem your infuriating or lazy coworker is causing, you are bearing false witness. When you use social media to spread rumors or smear that person who did you wrong in the past, you are bearing false witness. A keyboard does not mean that you are suddenly exempt from God’s commandments. Lying about another person, even if it is meant to make them look good, is giving false witness. Cut the lying out of your life and begin speaking truth instead.
“You shall not covet… anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Avoiding coveting is a tricky commandment for many Christians simply because no one can answer the question “what does covet mean” when it comes to the Old Testament. Does the word deal with envious thoughts or unethical actions? If the commandment is actually prohibiting jealousy, then every human being on Earth ignores this biblical warning on a daily basis. Envy is simply part of the human condition. Even if covet refers to actions, you are likely still flouting this biblical warning. When you say something nasty about a friend’s significant other because you are jealous of their relationship, you are working to undermine that bond out of jealousy. If you support wealth redistribution policies out of anger that you or others are not also rich, you are trying to steal from the wealthy. If you agree with removing flexible hours for some coworkers since you cannot have their schedule, you are trying to hurt them. Coveting something does not happen only when you get what you desire. You are still coveting what others have if you work to undermine their success because you cannot achieve your own. Be wary of couching this in a warped idea of fairness. “If I can’t have it, you can’t either” is about as flagrant a statement of covetous thoughts as exists. An ancient Israelite, after all, may not have been able to actually take his neighbor’s house. That did not mean he was not coveting it if he burned it down out of envy.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”
Almost every line and phrase in the Bible has been debated. One of the few unanimous agreements that exist among scholars, theologians, Christian laymen and anyone who has ever read more than three lines of the New Testament is that Jesus was not very fond of the Pharisees. Some versions of the Bible favor the word “scribes” or “elders,” but the fact remains that Christ had a lot to say about hypocrisy and none of it was good. He probably railed more against self-righteousness than any other single sin. Given that, why on earth would you think it was an idea to emulate the Pharisees when Jesus literally called them out by name? Self-righteousness and hypocrisy were probably the fastest way to get under Jesus’ skin and that likely has not changed in the last 2,000 years. So, stop showing off. Stop hunting for ways to signal on social media that you are enlightened or to prove to your church that you are deeply devout. Christ loathed false piousness. He much preferred to speak with those who would look Him in the eye and say, “Lord, I don’t get it” than those who pretended to be perfect. God sees through every illusion. Make sure the image you project for others is the same one He sees. The deception might fool other humans, but Jesus will not be impressed.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other…that you may be healed.”
“I was wrong” is perhaps the hardest phrase in the English language for people to say. A close second is likely “I apologize.” No one likes to admit that they were wrong or that they screwed up. The laundry list of idioms used to describe the situation, such as “eating crow,” is filled with phrases as unpleasant as the act of swallowing your pride and admitting to a mistake verbally. As such, plenty of people, Christians included, find ways to squirm out of admitting to a mistake. They might quietly switch tactics after their idea failed or make it a point to be extra nice to someone after they said something cruel in an argument. Nothing, however, takes as much strength or helps both you and the person you wronged heal as much as an honest apology. If you want to live up to the title of Christ follower, you need to get used to eating humble pie. No matter what your ego might whisper in your ear, you are not going to keel over and die as a result of admitting that you did something stupid. In fact, you will feel lighter and happier as a result of not carrying around your guilt. You will also be viewed more positively by those around you. Everyone knows that apologizing and admitting to mistakes is difficult. As such, they recognize the strength and character of someone who is willing to do it.
“No one can serve two masters.”Most Christians are intimately familiar with the Bible’s many warnings against putting too high of a value on money. There are numerous verses that state the incredible danger of putting money ahead of God. Some people continue to ignore those warnings and worry more about money than anything else. They will lie, cheat, steal and backstab if that is what it takes to become wealthier than their neighbor. That does not mean, however, that money is the only other master you might be serving. Plenty of Christians have a healthy relationship with money but obsess over achieving power, prestige or earning recognition. Stabbing your coworker in the back so you look impressive in front of your boss is no better than cheating someone out of a promotion so you can make more money. In the social media age, perhaps the most dangerous second master, especially among young people, is popularity. People are willing to do or say almost anything in order to get more likes and shares. God, however, could care less about your number of Facebook followers. He is concerned about what is in your heart.
“But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces?”
It would be quite the understatement to say that Paul was less than pleased with the Galatian church when he wrote his famous Epistle to the Galatians. The letter is essentially a six chapter smackdown. As such, finding that Paul’s fiery condemnations could apply to your life is not a pleasant feeling. That does not mean, however, that you should ignore Paul’s words.
The Bible makes it repeatedly clear that when a person changes their life, it is supposed to be a lasting change. They cannot become a God-fearing person for a few months or a few years and then go right back to living a terrible life. Any changes you make should be lasting changes. You should not go back to gossiping after being good for several months or slide back into smearing people on social media as soon as Lent ends. You are called to be holy and righteous at all times, not just when it feels good or looks impressive. If you do end up backsliding, make sure you are taking two steps forward and one step backward not the other way around.
You may not like following them, but the warnings in the Bible are there for a reason. They are not fuzzy guidelines that you can follow when you feel like it or suggestions you can ignore. Selfishness leads many people to prefer to ask forgiveness rather than permission, but what are you going to do if, when your eternal soul is on the line, that expected forgiveness is not extended? It is much better to simply live your life in a way that is pleasing to God. If you are not sure whether or not you are doing that, here is a hint. If you feel the need to hide your behavior or justify it with rationalizations, you probably are not doing what you are supposed to do. After all, it is not holiness people try to hide but sin.