I knew a man who was fired from his job at a Christian high school because one of the church elders saw him purchasing cigarettes at the local grocery store. They canned him, even though he was the best teacher they had. Now, first off, the Bible does not prohibit smoking. But this has become a favorite of the technical morality police in certain churches. What is even more diabolical about the story is the pleasure these Pharisees had in firing the young teacher. Their judgment was swift and severe; their self-righteous smugness was far sicker than this guy smoking a cigarette. Jesus calls this straining gnats but swallowing camels (Matthew 23:23-24).
The poison of technical rule-keeping is that it shifts the focus from serious issues to ridiculous peccadilloes, thus allowing the legalist to live what he believes is a “righteous life” when in fact he is failing at the very things God majors in. Take as an example a man who hates his wife; he resents her. But he has never committed adultery; he is “faithful” to her. He prides himself on his selective morality—keeping the letter of the law while ignoring massive problems in his heart. Is this holiness?
Ask yourself what it would take for a person to get fired from your church, your Christian school or ministry. What is your church’s understanding of holiness? What are the categories they are thinking in? It is a very revealing test. The scriptures say that the way you treat people is a little more important than whether you smoke, for heaven’s sake. Pride and arrogance are far more serious issues than swearing; idolatry and hatred are far more serious than how fast you drive.