Explain the chart
This chart contains four priority levels. The first two levels represent mandatory obligations, the third represents things that are optional (though that may change, depending on various circumstances), and the fourth represents things that are forbidden.
Levels 1 and 2
The first level represents our highest obligations: those toward God. These must always be given the highest place in our lives. The second level also includes mandatory obligations, but these represent obligations such as those we have toward other people. We must remember that these are second in priority and must not be exalted above our obligations toward God. In most circumstances, there will be no conflict between these two levels. But if a situation ever arose in which there was such a conflict, the first level would take precedence over the second.
Level 3 (See also additional comments below.)
The third level represents optional matters. By themselves, Scripture neither commands nor forbids these things. This does not mean, however, that we are free to indiscriminately live as we please. We must remember that all we do occurs within the context of the rest of our lives. (Things do not really exist "by themselves.") Normally, things in this "free" category will be associated with a higher priority value, which we must first examine. Sometimes (because of the association with a higher value) participation in a "free" matter may be sinful for one person, and perfectly acceptable and good (or even mandatory) for another. At other times, a failure to do something may be sinful for one person, though perfectly acceptable to another. (At the day of judgment, our deeds will be evaluated as "good" or "bad." There will be no "neutral" category.)
Many of the religious practices of the Old Testament belong to "Level 3." They had become mandatory for the Jews, because of the covenant (promise or agreement) made between them and God, but they were optional (not mandatory) for non-Jews.
As listed in the chart, this category has been broken-down into three sub-categories, reflecting whether or not the the matter has become mandatory or prohibited in a specific given context (specific circumstances and values), or if it remains optional (something that is good but not mandatory).
Perhaps we could call the fourth priority level a "non-priority," for it includes those things which must never, under any circumstances, be done. Participation in these is always sinful.
Though these may have become mandatory, the obligations of Levels 1 and 2 still take precedence.
Be careful about making unnecessary promises and commitments! Sometimes it may be necessary or good for you to do so. But if you make careless commitments, you may find yourself obligated to do something you don't want to do. You may have to keep your undesired commitment, just because breaking it could be a violation of an even greater obligation - the requirements to be faithful (to your promises) and to speak the truth (and not lie).
Also, if you make a commitment you can't fulfill (which is different from merely not wanting to fulfill it), you could create for yourself a situation that causes unnecessary irresolvable conflicts between a Level 3A value and a higher one. In such a case, there might be unpleasant consequences no matter what you do.
If, through commitments or circumstances, something becomes forbidden to you, you can no longer consider it "optional and good." However, if the commitments are fulfilled or the circumstances change, what is forbidden might once again become "optional and good" for you.
As you further study the Scriptures, you may find that you need to make slight revisions in the way you classify various values. For instance, you may discover that something you thought was a "Level 2" value is actually described elsewhere as not mandatory in certain other circumstances. In such cases, you would need to refine your chart - in this instance moving the specific value down to "Level 3A." (One example would be religious practices, which, though given as obligations in one context, might be condemned in another context. A person who mistakenly thought that religious practices belonged to "Level 1" would run into a problem with verses that condemned them - until he lowered them to "Level 3A.")
Dennis Hinks © 1996, 2004