One of our most common logical reasoning mistakes is the fallacy of the false dilemma. Whether it is in the 24-hour news cycle or in our living rooms, we often fail to reason rightly by demanding that someone do either this or that, believe either this or that. But, sometimes, if we are not careful, we will miss the fact that people need to do or believe both things, that they are not mutually exclusive.
An example that comes to my mind is the person who decides that, because their heart is not in it today, they will not attend worship service. They will assume that God wants them to get their heart right before they go to church. They will know that God does not want them to be hypocritical when they attend worship. So, they decide, either God wants me to deal with my heart or to go to church. And they fail to consider that there is a better option.
When the Lord Jesus was putting the Jewish religious teachers of his day in their place, he showed us that God is not always about the either/or choices.
Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Jesus says that the religious folks of his day are hypocrites. They were willing to give God a tenth of everything they own. They would tithe from their spice rack, which would have been a bigger deal to them than it sounds like for us. Spices were valuable. But, the religious folks ignored what Jesus said are the weightier parts of God’s law. They treated people badly, with injustice and cruelty, which violates the heart of all the laws of God relating to others, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
A person from the either/or false dilemma school of thought would say to the scribes and Pharisees that they need to stop tithing their spices and start loving others. Jesus does not do so. Jesus tells them that they did what they should have done with their tithes. But, they should have added love of neighbor to their lives if they really wanted to please God. Failure in one area did not give the religious teachers the right to disobey in another.
Now, go back to my illustration of the person who isn’t going to church today because his heart is not right. He is a fool. Why add to the guilt of a dark heart the disobedience of separating himself from the commanded gathering of God’s people. And, make no mistake, God’s people are supposed to gather and not give that up (cf. Heb 10:24-25). The solution for this man is not to hide until his heart is better. The man should do what he knows is biblically right, go and gather with God’s people, and he should ask the people of god to help him battle against the darkness of his heart. The man should both go to church and fight his sinful heart, not either one or the other and definitely not neither.
What about the false battle that some wage between living under grace or living lives of obedience? Some Christians pretend that grace almost excludes a call to righteousness and obedience. Others assume that a battle to obey the commands of God must make them less gracious toward themselves or others. What would God say? There is no false choice to be made here. God commands both of us. We obey his word. We live under his grace. There is no conflict.
Where else in your life do you put yourself into the either/or mentality when it is not merited? Where do you say to God that you will either obey him here or there? Where might the Savior say to you to keep up the right behavior in one area while adding to it proper and weightier behavior in another?