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A Study in Values and "Conflicting" Obligations and
Application of These Principles to the Bible's Use of the Words "Love" and "Hate"


Suggestions and Final Comments for Dealing With Obligations and Conflicts Between Them

Some Suggestions

The following are some suggestions for making decisions about moral obligations. They may be helpful when there is a need to deal with obligations that appear to conflict. However, some of these suggestions may also be helpful in general decision-making, when there is no conflict, and we simply don't know how to respond.


The devil often uses "secondary" issues to distract us from more important issues. When there appears to be a conflict between two moral obligations (both being on the same "obligation level"), we should look to see if there is a different issue present, one related to a higher level of obligation. If this is the case, the "conflict" is actually of secondary importance, compared to the greater obligation. If we change our focus to the real issue, the apparent conflict may even vanish!

A good principle to remember is this: Quite often, when we see only two alternatives, there is a third one - or even more - just out of sight.


There are times that Scripture gives us complementary principles to help us determine how we should respond in certain situations. These principles may sometimes look like "opposites," and if we misunderstand their complementary nature, we could very easily mistake them for "contradictions." Actually, these "opposites" are like boundaries, which define the limits of our acceptable responses. In such cases, our obligation is to avoid going outside these boundaries. In such situations, the circumstances (as well as additional principles or clarifications in God's Word) would determine which response is the best choice, or if we should choose a response that exists somewhere between these two "extremes."

An example of two complementary principles (or boundaries) is the advice given in Proverbs 26:4-5, about answering a fool. Sometimes we should answer a fool... and sometimes we shouldn't. (The last half of each verse shows what we want to avoid.)


Sometimes our natural reaction to a situation will give us a clue as to the best choice of action. Even sinful inclinations may be instructive - if we don't give-in to them! If we know what our "flesh" (our old, corrupt sinful nature) would want to do, then we should consider doing the opposite! (One caution, however: There times in which the flesh may want to do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. Paul gives an example of this in Philippians 1:15-17.)


On the other hand, the contrasting principle is also true. If we can determine which course of action is the most compatible with the character and nature of God, this may help us in deciding our course of action. This principle may be especially important when we have to decide between various options that are not sinful. (Sometimes the options might not be actually sinful, but may range from a passive "neutral" to an active "bringing honor and glory to God.")


Sometimes we may be in a situation in which we have two or more good options, with one of the options being the best of all. Choosing the best of the options would be preferable, but circumstances or personal weaknesses may limit our ability to do this. In this case, we are not doing wrong by choosing one of the other options.

An example of two good choices, with one being the better of the two, is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. The preferred choice it so remain single. But since many people do not have the "gift" that is necessary for remaining single (v. 7), marriage is also a good choice.


Sometimes there may actually be no good solution. The sins we commit have consequences. If a conflict between obligations is due to sin that has already been committed, it is possible that there may be no satisfactory answers to the dilemma. The only good response would have been to not sin in the first place, for sin has horrible, and often inescapable, consequences - both on the guilty person, as well as on others. After the sin has been committed, we may find ourselves with only one option left: to minimize the resulting damage that we have caused. "Damage control" can be a very unpleasant job! (Note: We should be careful that we don't "blame" God, when there are no good solutions for the problems that we, or others, have created.)


Final Comments

Ultimately, regardless of what happens, whether our choices result in good or bad consequences, we must focus on the God who saved us. We must remember that we were all born as sinners with corrupt minds (Ephesians 4:17-19). We were in a hopeless situation, but the God of hope came to change that. When we turned to God, he started working in our lives, to change the way we think. When we pay attention to the Bible and allow it to influence our lives, God uses it to "renew" our minds. As this happens, we will grow in our ability to make right choices.

Growth takes time, so we may find ourselves making wrong choices or not being sure how to respond. We must remember that the perfection we desire is not yet here; it will arrive at the resurrection, when we see Jesus face to face. In the meantime, while we are still growing (and making mistakes), we still have many reasons to rejoice. After all, God is, even now, accomplishing many good things in our lives - and there is so much more to come!

As we look forward to the day we will see Jesus, it is our duty to use the Word of God to transform the way we think, with the goal of being able to know God's good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). We must continue striving for that goal, realizing that we are not there yet, and there will be times that we have to make decisions in which we don't know the best choice. Even when we fail, we can take courage in the fact that we are not alone: God is still with us. We serve a God who has promised to use all that happens - both the good and the bad - to accomplish good in our lives! (Romans 8:28) And so we can commit the situation to God, regardless of the consequences, and allow him cover it with his grace.

Dennis Hinks © 2001