by Lee Anderson Jr. —
Hobbies, like many aspects of the Christian life, invite questions about Christian liberty. In Christ, we, as believers, have been freed from the power of sin and its eternal consequences (Romans 6:18, 22; 8:2). We also have been freed from requirements of outward conformity to the old Law and are called to serve the Lord “in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:1–6; cf. Galatians 5:1–6).1 That freedom, however, is not freedom to live in the way to which our sinful natures are inclined, so turning “freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Rather, we are free to live as we ought, in conformity to the will of God, walking “by the Spirit” and bearing the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16–25).
The believer’s liberty experienced in Christ means there are countless possibilities in life for glorifying God through the enjoyment of what He given us, provided that such is not used as a license for sinful behavior. It is in this spirit of freedom that we are to pursue our hobbies. But there is one other factor that needs to be considered when it comes to the exercise of our liberty, and that is how the use of our liberty affects fellow Christians.
Paul wrote about this to the Corinthian church, saying, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9; cf. Romans 14:21). Those he calls “weak” are believers whose consciences are easily afflicted by behavior that, although not inherently sinful, they associate with sinful things (and, thus, to participate in them would be, for them specifically, sin; see Romans 14:23; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11). Paul goes on to say that whoever causes a Christian brother to stumble by flaunting their liberty is actually sinning against their brother and against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12).
Thus, it is our Christian responsibility, in pursuing our hobbies, to avoid causing fellow believers to stumble in their walks with Christ by participating in things that they, for reasons of conscience, associate with sin. One caveat: We must be careful to discern a difference between behaviors that genuinely afflict the weak consciences of other Christians and things that simply violate the arbitrary standards of those who seek to impose legalistic rules on the church. Aiming to avoid the former is an act of love toward fellow believers. Going out of our way to avoid the latter is a wearisome encumbrance that benefits no one in their walk with Christ (and that risks reinforcing patterns of outward conformity to legalistic ideals which may be counterproductive to growth in authentic, biblical godliness; cf. Colossians 2:20–23).
What does this mean for our hobbies, practically speaking? For some of us, it may mean very little. Certain hobbies are so innocuous that it is highly unlikely that any Christian would be troubled by them. (I have never, for example, encountered a believer who found my enjoyment of calligraphy to be objectionable.) Some of us, though, may need to assess our hobbies in light of the backgrounds and convictions of the Christians we spend time with (and, possibly, those with whom we may likely come into contact). For instance, a hobby of performing stage magic might not be good for a Christian that is friends with those who have converted to Christianity from occult religions and who may not distinguish between illusion (i.e., sleight of hand) and occult “magic” arts. In principle, there is nothing wrong with such a hobby; but if it really risks doing spiritual harm to a brother in Christ, then it is certainly better to forego the hobby.2
Years ago, an older Christian friend told me about his decision to give up listening to country western music. We may not think of that as a hobby, but when we consider things like collecting albums (in a pre-digital world) and attending concerts, it really can be. My friend had begun listening to country western music when standards concerning content were very different. The melodious cowboys of yesteryear, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers, showed a lot more discretion in their lyrics and themes than do the vast majority of country western artists today. Realizing just how much country western music had changed, and recognizing just how much of it had come to be dominated by provocative lyrics and negative themes (revenge, divorce, etc.), my friend chose to forego listening to it altogether rather than let his enjoyment of the genre potentially become a stumbling block to another believer. Could he have gone on listening to the older songs he liked that were not morally questionable in their content? In principle, yes. But he was concerned enough about other believers (including, especially, younger ones who would not understand the distinction between the gunslinger ballads of the 1950s and 1960s, and the much more objectionable music that has dominated the country music scene in recent decades), that he decided to draw a proverbial line in the sand. He made a purposeful change in his lifestyle out of love for other believers. He understood what Paul meant about Christian liberty in 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”
Hopefully, each one of us likewise desires to cultivate that same kind of concern for our Christian brethren. May our choices—including the choices we make about our hobbies and our personal interests—constantly convey a message of love to those who are in Christ.
1All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
2Globalization has increased the need for Christians to be sensitive toward fellow believers with different backgrounds. Consider, for example, the retired Christian couple who, as a shared hobby, are traveling through Asia and collecting souvenirs at every stop. While in India, they visit with some members of a local church, one of whom is acting as their tour guide. As he leads them through one of the local marketplaces, the couple stops to purchase a small figurine as a souvenir. To them, it is nothing more than a fascinating memento of their time spent in India. To their guide who understands the culture, though, it is something more. The figurine, he knows, is a representation of one of the lesser-known Hindu deities. “That is not something a Christian ought to buy,” he says to himself. This is an instance of an honest mistake (and is in fact a contrived example); but it is illustrative of the care that Christians need to take in their hobbies to look out for the spiritual wellbeing of other believers.