Some can indeed be engaging in the process of “majoring in the minors.” Before we address the practical application of some areas, we need to stress that in God’s eyes, a sin is a sin, whether we consider it as “major” or “minor.”
In our Q&A, “Are there sins which are more serious than others? Are all of God’s Laws equal in importance?”, we state the following:
“We need to understand that Christ died for our sins, and sin is defined as the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4, Authorized Version). In that sense, all of God’s spiritual commandments are of equal importance, as Christ died for each and every one of our sins… The wages for each and every sin is the second death (Romans 6:23). At the same time, each sin, which is truly repented of, will be forgiven (1 John 1:7, 9)…
“This does not mean that in God’s eyes, some sins are not more serious than others… Certain sins could more easily than others lead to an attitude of defiance of God and perhaps even to a complete rejection of God and His way of life… There are sins–although they will be forgiven upon true repentance–which are more grievous and weigh more heavily in God’s eyes than other sins…
“It is true that we must strive to obey ALL of God’s laws, but the Bible makes it clear that we must not try to ‘major in the minors,’ while neglecting the majors. For instance, even though tithing is clearly still a commandment that must be obeyed by true Christians today, Christ emphasized that there are ‘weightier matters of the law,’ namely justice, mercy, faith, and the love of God (compare Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). He said that while we must tithe, we must not leave undone the weightier matters of the law.
“Christ made it very clear that He did not come to do away with even ‘the least’ of the commandments of God (Matthew 5:17-19), and that the one who teaches contrariwise will be called the ‘least’ in the Kingdom of God. But He also explained that there is no commandment ‘greater’ than the injunction to love God and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:28-31).
“We read that this IS the love of God that we keep His commandments (1 John 5:3). It IS important to be ‘faithful in what is least,’ because this shows God that such a person will also be faithful ‘in much’–and vice versa (Luke 16:10). But we are also told that godly love is the greatest of all of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:13), and that no one has ‘greater love’ than he who lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
“All these passages show that in God’s eyes, there are commandments within the law which are greater than others…
“No sin and no commandment of God is unimportant. Christ died for our sins–whether small or big. But we must realize that in God’s eyes, there are distinctions regarding the weight of our sins and His laws. Let us strive, foremost, to attain to the weightier matters of the law, desiring the greater spiritual gifts (compare 1 Corinthians 12:31). We must especially concentrate on avoiding to sin against those weightier matters, and it would be extremely dangerous to do so defiantly and presumptuously.”
That then leads us to the question as to whether a certain conduct or action is sinful. Many have created a catalog of “sins,” referring to actions which might not be sinful at all in God’s eyes. They are quite literally trying to major in the minors, as the Pharisees were guilty of doing.
The right kind of Sabbath keeping is a good example. It is clear that we must observe the Sabbath by “resting”; that is, by refraining from our usual labor and from carrying heavy burdens and, instead, by worshipping God and attending worship services on that day. It is also clear that we are not to engage in buying or selling, but how is this to be applied in certain circumstances?
We state this in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days”:
“The Pharisees totally misinterpreted the prohibition against carrying burdens on the Sabbath. They decreed that a person was guilty of breaking the Sabbath if he carried a sheet of paper, or any food that weighed as much as a dried fig, or if he carried more than one swallow of milk, or enough oil to anoint a small part of the body. If a fire broke out in a person’s home on the Sabbath, he could carry out only the necessary food to be consumed on the Sabbath. This meant that if the fire broke out at the beginning of the Sabbath—right after sunset—the person could take out enough food for three meals; but if the fire broke out on the afternoon of the Sabbath, he could only take out enough food for one meal. The rest could not be carried out and had to be left behind, to burn with the building. Further, only necessary clothes could be taken out of a burning house on the Sabbath.”
We might not have these kinds of rules for correct Sabbath keeping, but we might have enacted other rules, which are quite contrary to the official teaching of the Church of the Eternal God. One of these self-made rules might be that it is sinful to eat in a restaurant or in a hotel on the Sabbath—something that the Church does NOT teach, and which it has never taught. In a letter from the Letter Answering Department of the Worldwide Church of God, dated October 1988, this understanding was correctly explained, as follows:
“The Church has long taught that it is not wrong to eat out on the weekly Sabbath occasionally or on the annual Holy Days, depending upon one’s circumstances and preferences. Those waiters, waitresses, chefs, and the like, who may serve in a restaurant, are not our ‘servants’ in the way described in the Fourth Commandment. They are the employees of the owner of the restaurant. They would be working regardless of whether or not we ate there. God does not hold us responsible for their working on the Sabbath just because we use their services — unless we are the only ones who ever ate in that restaurant on the Sabbath. Obviously, we make up a very small portion of the customers served in restaurants on the Sabbath or Holy Days. Further, eating out occasionally on the Sabbath can enhance spiritual fellowship with brethren and allow family members more time to be with one another.”
The Church of God in Germany published a booklet in the early 70’s, titled “Gottes Sabbat–ein Tag der Freude” (“God’s Sabbath — A Day of Joy”). It reflected the Church’s understanding on the issue, and stated: “In Matthew 12:1-5, Christ shows clearly that it is not prohibited to acquire food on the Sabbath, when one is hungry and has nothing to eat. If one is not at home, it is not wrong to go to a restaurant on the Sabbath. There are people who do not have the means of cooking at home. In such cases it is permissible to buy food on the Sabbath.”
Another conclusion would lead to ridiculous consequences. We could not stay at a hotel during the Sabbath, as we would pay for the hotel’s services during that time (including eating complimentary breakfasts, room cleaning, using electricity), and we could never use public transportation to get to services.
Some have said that we can eat out on an annual Holy Day, or on a weekly Sabbath, when we are traveling, but that we cannot eat out on a weekly Sabbath, when we are “within our gates.” However, there is no Scriptural evidence supporting this claim.
The concept of majoring in the minors can also apply in other ways, when considering proper Sabbath keeping. In our free booklet, “How to Keep the Sabbath,” we state:
“Some have no problem with going to a restaurant on the Sabbath to be with Church members, but reject the concept that when they get together for a picnic after Church services, some participating members, who have been traveling from a distance, go to a shop to buy some beer or some sandwiches for the picnic. Some may object to others stopping at a coffee shop on their way to Church services to drink coffee there or eat a sandwich, but they have no problem with buying coffee at the hotel where they are meeting, or at a restaurant where they might meet after services. We must not have double standards. If one set of actions is accepted, why not the other set? In addition, we do not know why the member would stop at a coffee shop on his way to services. Maybe, his family situation is such that he would rather enjoy peace at the coffee shop than having coffee at home, where he might be facing antagonism and rejection because of the Sabbath. As mentioned before, these are questions which must be answered pursuant to personal choices and convictions. It is not for us to condemn or criticize those who might not act in a way which we might approve or disapprove.”
Another example of majoring in the minors might be in relationship to deleavening our homes before the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Again, it is clear that we have to physically deleaven our belongings before the Days of Unleavened Bread, and that we have to refrain from eating leavened products during that time [however, this does not apply to beverages or items which are not meant for human consumption].
As we explain in our free booklet, “The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days,” “[w]hen used in connection with the Days of Unleavened bread, leaven symbolizes sin. Christ spoke of the ‘leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6, 11), which He described as their wrong and sinful ‘doctrine’ (verse 12). He also equated the ‘leaven of the Pharisees’ with the sin of ‘hypocrisy’ (Luke 12:1). As sin may begin small and spreads, so does leaven. Paul warns us twice that ‘a little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). During the seven Days of Unleavened Bread, we are reminded that we are to overcome sin and leave it behind, pictured by removing and not eating leavened food. We are then to replace sin with righteousness, pictured by the consumption of unleavened products…
“Paul told the Corinthians to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread with the ‘unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Corinthians 5:7–8). He admonished them that, even though they were physically ‘unleavened’ (verse 7)—keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread and removing all leavened products from their houses—they also had to behave with a spiritually unleavened mind, by removing not just physical leaven, but also the spiritual leaven of sin from their lives.”
Considering this, we might ask ourselves the question, what is more important? Is it more important in God’s eyes to do away with the physical leaven in our houses, or the spiritual leaven in our hearts and lives? The answer should be obvious, and Christ’s admonition regarding tithing applies as well in this context. We are to do the one, while not neglecting the weightier matters of the law. When we just take great effort to find every single last crumb of leavened bread in the hidden corners of our homes or cars, while forgetting the spiritual meaning, we have missed the point and majoring in the minors.
Another good example of wrong priorities can be seen when considering eating unclean food. No doubt, God prohibits us to consume unclean meat; it is an abomination in His eyes to do so. But again, we can lose proper balance if we go too far in establishing self-made rules.
In our Q&A, “Can we consume food that contains unclean insects?”, we say the following:
“We feel that, generally, food that is labeled with unclean ingredients, which do not go through an ‘alteration’ process, unlike gelatin products, should be avoided. That is, when we can, we should avoid them—looking at labels when available and asking when possible, just as we inquire at Mexican restaurants whether the beans are made with lard (pig fat); or as we inquire in Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants whether their dishes are made with oyster sauce.
“However, to really know exactly what is in the food we eat is hard to tell. When it comes to foods and drinks that say ‘may contain’ certain ingredients, it isn’t very clear and again poses the question, how do we really know what’s in there and how far do we want to go asking for an ingredient list wherever we eat? We need to take a balanced approach… and ultimately, the decision is up to us individually whether, and in what circumstances, to partake of the products, keeping in mind that we must never eat or drink or do anything that violates our conscience if we feel that we would be compromising with the Word of God. However, having done our part, we leave the rest to God who can also protect us if we eat something inadvertently which happens to be unclean.
“We should also understand that in such a case, we do not sin or become ‘unclean’ in the eyes of God (compare Mark 7:15-19; note that the last clause in verse 19 should be translated: ‘…it is eliminated into the sewer which purifies all foods.’ Compare also Matthew 15:17-20).”
Spending hours on the Internet or in a grocery store to study labels “ad infinitum” is most certainly not what God has in mind for us.
We should remember that Paul tells us in Romans 14:17 that the Kingdom of God “is not a matter of eating or drinking” (New International Version); this is not the major focus of God’s teaching.
Christ warns us in Matthew 23:24 not to become “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”
Another example where we can easily lose balance and try to major in the minors is the question about what kind of sports a Christian can practice. In our Q&A, we discuss the difference between violent sports and games and those which are not. Addressing the issue of chess, we said:
“… some say that playing chess is wrong since it is a game of war. We have never taught this in the Church, and many Church members are or were very good chess players. Even though world chess champion Bobby Fisher was never a member of the Worldwide Church of God, he showed some interest at one time and volunteered to play chess with many Ambassador College students. (He was an extremely talented chess player, and he played simultaneously numerous games with different students. At the same time, his fascination with chess caused him to be unbalanced.).”
In that series of Q&As on sports, we give several examples as to what is clearly appropriate, and what might not be. But again, proper balance and avoiding majoring in the minors are all-important.
Actually, the list of examples in all kinds of areas of life could be endless. For some, physical exercise might be THE priority in their lives, and even though it says that physical exercise profits a little (note our Q&A on 1 Timothy 4:8) it also says that godliness—the spiritual aspect—is profitable for all things. As the Living Bible puts it: “Bodily exercise is alright, but spiritual exercise is much more important.”
Some may think and advocate that buying a lottery ticket or spending a few dollars at a slot machine are terrible sins, while they may see nothing wrong with gambling with thousands upon thousands of dollars at the stock market.
Some may advocate refusing to watch Television and they may even advocate removing a TV set from their homes, but they may have no problem with surfing on the internet for countless hours. Some may advocate their own rules of “healthy living” by concluding that coffee, alcohol, clean meat, cheese, butter and salt are unhealthy and must be avoided, while the Bible says nothing of the kind. Some may advocate refusing to consult medical doctors while advocating and propagating the effectiveness of homeopathy. Some may recommend spending endless hours to devise prophetic charts and timelines to figure out when Christ will return, even though Christ told us that no one knows the time, and that He will return when we do NOT expect it.
And we could list many more examples.
Some say, members must follow their conscience, and they must never violate it, as this would be sin (compare Romans 14:23). This is true, but here is an important caveat, as we explain in our Q&A, “How do we address the objections and convictions of individual church members?”
“It is clear from Scripture that we must not violate our conscience IF it is NOT in contradiction to what the Bible prohibits or demands. At the same time, we are NOT to follow our conscience if this would violate biblical injunctions. For instance, we must never follow our conscience when it ‘commands’ us to kill (such as, defeating our enemy in war); or to vote in governmental elections (to ‘improve’ the situation in our country); or to commit adultery with our neighbor’s wife (because she feels unloved by her husband); or to violate the Sabbath (as we ‘must’ work to feed our family); or to attend Christmas celebrations (so as not to offend our relatives and friends). Likewise, we must never follow our conscience by not doing what we are commanded to do…
“It would be advisable… to review the Scriptures to see whether your conscience is based on the Bible or merely on man-made traditions… Two principles are to be emphasized in this context.
“First, it is not wrong or against Church teaching, which is based on the Bible, to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath. This has been a very contentious issue for some who have tried to enforce their personal contrary opinion on the entire Church.
“Second, the individual member must evaluate his or her stance to see whether he or she is in line with Church teaching. As God’s true Church has been given the authority from God to bind and to loose, which includes decisions pertaining to biblical principles in ‘gray’ areas, the individual member is to review his conscientious position to see whether it should be maintained.
“We need to address a third principle. That is, the Church is not to forego a certain practice, which is based on the Bible, just because an individual member has a different ‘conviction.’ In other words, the Church is under NO obligation to cater to such opinions by individual members. We have seen over the years that some Christians have developed their own personal opinions, calling them conviction and arguing that the Church must follow and adopt them for the individual’s benefit…
“Some may like certain types of music, while others may not care for them. But the mere fact that one Christian might not like or object to a certain type of music is not a compelling reason for other Christians to refrain from listening to or playing such music… But this does not mean… that the Church would need to forego an entire musical presentation during a social event because one member might be offended by some of the music which might be played or performed at that event… if the Church concludes that such an event is appropriate, then the member would be well advised to critically evaluate his or her contrary ‘conviction.’
“When addressing Sabbath activities, the Church is under no obligation to forego eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath… only because one member would have a problem of conscience with such activity. A big problem ensues if the Church decides to meet in a restaurant for the Night to Be Much Observed (which always falls on an annual Sabbath—the First Day of Unleavened Bread). In that case, the member will have to make a decision as to whether to follow the Church’s directive or his or her own conscience. Again, in this case, the member would need to carefully evaluate whether his or her ‘conscience’ is in accordance with Scriptural injunctions and teachings (which it would not be); and whether he or she might become guilty of causing division by his or her disagreement.
“Some new members, especially because of their religious background, might reject dancing or playing cards, chess or video games. Again, it would be important for the members to review their conscience (since it is based on erroneous thinking, as the Bible does not prohibit such activities), but it most certainly would not be the duty of the Church to cancel a dance activity or a fun and game night because of the ‘conscience’ of that particular member…
“Especially when addressing… movies, the scale of potential ‘offenses’ could be huge. Some might only watch movies which are rated G, and some have refused watching cartoons in which animals ‘speak.’ These ‘convictions’ can never be the basis for other members as to what to watch or not to watch; nor for the Church to decide as to what movies to watch or show during a social Church gathering…’
The conclusion of the matter is this: Let us not attempt to major in the minors. Let us not establish rules in our minds which we elevate to unjustified importance, even though they are not established by God. And finally, let us not judge others for their behavior which may not be in agreement with our ideas of proper conduct. Rather, let us concentrate on what is most important in the eyes of God, by majoring in the majors.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link