Author: Ron Graham

Bush Grave

The Taboos You Observe
—And the exercise of wisdom

Paul tells us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise" (Ephesians 5:15). The word "circumspectly" comes from the Latin circum around, and specere to look. To be circumspect means simply to look around you cautiously. We all understand that if we are walking across a busy highway, we need to be circumspect. In our Christian "walk" there are ever-present dangers, and in this walk we need to be circumspect too.

1 Principle

Let us first look at the principle that we should avoid all evil. Paul says, "Abstain from every form of evil" (lTh 5:22). The word "form" here is also translated "occasion" or "appearance". Paul has in mind here that "Satan transforms himself into an angel of light" (2Corinthians 11:14-15). We must avoid all kinds of evil, even the evil which has been made to appear as something right.

Walking Wisely

The devil is not slow in "taking advantage of us". If we choose to remain "ignorant of his schemes" (2Corinthians 2:ll), then we will find ourselves inadvertently involved in occasions of evil. We ought to be wiser than that, and "not give the devil an opportunity" (Ephesians 4:27).

So in walking circumspectly, we observe this principle carefully, that we will avoid every opportunity and occasion for evil to assert itself in any form. Now let us think about how we can best accomplish this...

2 Precaution

We need to design a set of precautions for ourselves. These are taboos that we observe so as to avoid any occasion of evil. As a wise Christian, one will make various rules for self that take into account one's individual circumstances and vulnerabilities.

Now let us be clear that these rules and taboos are of our own making to apply to our own walk. We do not make taboos for others, nor allow others to make them for us. These personal precautions must be distinguished from commandments of the Lord which do apply to everyone.

A rule such as "Do not touch" has no value in itself. There is no virtue in observing taboos for their own sake, and in fact it is a digression to do so (Colossians 2:20-23). However taboos as a hedge against avoiding evil are of great value.

Example of Precaution

For example, the Lord says, "Flee fornication" (1Corinthians 6:18). This is the Lord's command. The taboo against fornication applies to every man and woman under the heavens. However you might think about how you personally can flee from fornication and not flirt with it. You might make a rule that you will never allow yourself to be found alone with someone in such an arrangement that you could be tempted, or someone could reasonably infer that you were up to no good. When the Lord tells you to "flee" something then you might take the attitude that you cannot be too careful about that thing. Hence, you make certain appropriate precautionary rules or taboos for yourself. You would realise that to break one of those taboos would not be to commit fornication or to act immoraly. However you observe the taboo because it distances you from committing sin or being accused of it.

Precaution Is Not Precept

Again, we must emphasise that these taboos are for yourself only, and they are not your religion. They are not commands of the Lord. Rather, they are sensible precautions that you personally take to ensure that you keep the commandments of the Lord. We should not regard the taboos we practice as righteousness. They are not. Setting an alarm clock is not getting up early. It is merely a precaution to help us do so. In the same way, the rules we make for ourselves are not our religion or our righteousness. The taboos are merely precautions that help us to remain in righteousness and to maintain the real requirements of our religion, namely our obedience by faith to the Lord’s commandments.

So in walking circumspectly, we observe personal taboos that help us to keep well away from evil. But there is something else we need in order to keep these taboos effective...

3 Presentiment

Presentiment is an awareness, even a foreboding, that something evil is just around the corner. We should not think that our precautions remove the danger. It is like a man who took out insurance on his home, mounted a fire extinguisher on the wall and smoke alarms on the ceiling. So he said, "Now there is no danger of fire." That's not right, is it? Likewise, we take sensible precautions against sin, but know the danger of sin is still there. We need to be constantly aware of that danger.

Along with all our taboos and precautions against sin, we need to maintain a lively presentiment. Satan lies in ambush everywhere. He is always scheming, and we need to ensure, as we mentioned earlier, that we are "not ignorant of his schemes" (2Corinthians 2:11).

Beware These Traps

It's worth noting that after we make a set of taboos, as precautions addressing a set of personal circumstances, Satan will contrive to change the circumstances hoping that we won't notice. He hopes that we will continue blindly following our taboos without realising that they may be no longer appropriate in the new circumstances.

It's also worth noting that this matter of taboos has to be considered within the principle of liberty. We touched on the principle of liberty when we cautioned against imposing our own personal taboos on others or permitting others to impose theirs on us. The Christian should have at once a keen sense of liberty in Christ and a keen sense of the power of the prince of this world to entrap the unwary. The Lord warns of "the sin which so easily entangles us" (Hebrews 12:1). Our liberty in Christ is not meant to make us complacent about iniquity. You might like to read more on our Liberty in Christ