When the Cost Exceeds God's Intent

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense (Romans 14:13-20).

In warfare, there is a modern term often heard—collateral damage. My Webster’s New (though quite old) Collegiate Dictionary defines collateral as indirect or parallel (along with some other concepts). In warfare, collateral damage concerns innocent [civilian] people who suffer fatal or destructive wounds as a result of the actions of military forces. It is the common way to refer to civilians who are killed or maimed as the result of a military confrontation.

A man, woman, or child who dies or is maimed as a result of collateral damage is just as dead, suffers just as much pain, or causes just as much grief to his/her family as the man/woman in the military who dies or is maimed in the same hostile action. Dead is dead. Maimed is maimed. Pain is pain. Grief is grief. The end result: the grieving survivors have zero confidence in the nation whose personnel caused the collateral damage.

Christians need to give great care to avoid collateral damage. At times Christians become so emotional about their personal cause that they ignore the effect of their actions on the souls and spirits of others. How awful it would be to be surrounded in judgment by a great cloud of witnesses who were the collateral damage of our words and deeds! How wonderful it would be in judgment to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who came to or remained in Christ because our words and deeds prevented collateral damage!

With God, there is no collateral damage. His people are committed to a “no collateral damage” policy. Consider Matthew 5:43-48. Godless people know how to be nice to those who are nice to them. Godly people know how to be nice to enemies.

Christian Jews had a lot to tolerate in Christian gentiles, and vice versa. The uncleanness, food (sacrifices), and kept days to which Paul referred involved spiritual acts. Those two sets of Christians reached totally different conclusions about those acts. Paul did not say, “Decide a winner, decide a loser, and become identical.” He said that God’s kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, not winners and losers.

As we commit to a policy of no collateral damage, let’s invest as much in the salvation of others as God did. May our actions and words never negate Jesus’ death in their lives!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 13 December 2007

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