Often, when one does something for a good purpose, one’s actions have some side effect incidental to one’s purpose. In this lesson we look at three kinds of incidentals and how we should regard them.
This kind of incidental is God's doing. So Christians must accept it. For example...
In looking for some definite purpose in his imprisonment, Paul perceived that it had "turned out for the furtherance of the gospel". God had a purpose in Paul's chains, namely to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12-21).
There was however an incidental effect. Unfortunately, certain preachers took advantage of Paul’s chains to further their own ambitions. They were the more emboldened in their envy and strife (Philippians 1:15-17).
Paul, however, did not regard this incidental effect as invalidating the noble purpose of his chains. He was even able to see this incidental as lending advantage to God’s purpose (Philippians 1:16,18).
So Paul was able to embrace his imprisonment notwithstanding its incidental effect.
When God acts according to his purpose, there can be undesirable side effects. But God can use even those dark incidentals to his advantage. He can make "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28)
Jesus preached the gospel and brought eternal life to mankind. This led to him being crucified. That killing was an incidental most evil, but God used it to accomplish his purpose, counting his Son’s death by wicked men a sacrifice by which the sins of mankind could be forgiven (Acts 2:23-24)
This kind of incidental is an unintended consequence of something that we do. We must try to be aware of these consequences and take them into account For example...
James says, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27 NKJV).
On his way home a man might turn aside to do some good deed for someone in need. This makes him late home for dinner. Being late for dinner wasn't his purpose. It was incidental to that purpose.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, it was the intention of the sower to broadcast seed over good ground. Nevertheless, some seed fell on other places (Luke 8:5-8).
Some seed fell by the wayside and was eaten by birds. It was not the sower’s purpose to feed the birds. That was an incidental.
This kind of incidental is an intended measure to facilitate a purpose. We are responsible, and we need to be careful, regarding incidentals of this sort. For example...
A congregation of Christians might make it their purpose to meet regularly and frequently Hebrews 10:25)
However the congregation has difficulty in finding a meeting place suitable to that purpose. So they decide to build or purchase a meeting house that will serve their purpose of assembling for worship and fellowship. The building is incidental to that purpose.
A concern among some Christians is the matter of "entertainments" in the church. They believe, quite correctly, that it is not the purpose of the church to provide entertainment. To do so would be to go beyond what is written (1Corinthians 4:6, 2John 1:9)
On this basis they might object if the preacher is witty and uses a little humour to advantage in his sermons. Or they might object to puppets, puzzles, or coloured crayons in children's Bible school.
These "entertainments" however, can play a secondary facilitating role which is incidental to the primary purpose of effectively communicating God’s word (Matthew 28:18-20).
I suppose that even reading Bible stories can be entertaining. But that element of entertainment is not the number one desired effect of reading the Bible stories. The same could be said for singing of spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19).
Yes, things can get side-tracked away from their original purpose into incidentals which take the place of the first and foremost aim. But the way to stop that drift, is not to focus on the incidental effect but to keep pointing to the primary and original purpose.
I gave this lesson the title "Incidentals in Their Place - Maintaining a Good Purpose". If people keep their hearts centered on their true purpose, they will indeed keep the incidentals in their proper place (John 4:23-24).