christian-liberty

Romans 15

Today we’re reading Romans 15.

This chapter began by wrapping up the teaching we read yesterday on Christian liberty. The Bible does not address every choice that believers make in life so we have to apply biblical principles, godly wisdom, and personal preferences when making those choices. If your choice does not lead another person to sin, does not violate your own conscience, and you are comfortable about this choice when facing the Lord at the judgement seat of Christ, you have the freedom to choose.

I mentioned in the previous paragraph that we have to apply “biblical principles” in these situations. The opening paragraph of today’s reading emphasized that principle which is, “not to please ourselves... [rather] each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (vv. 1b-2a). When we read 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul mentioned more than once that this was his guiding principle for how he ate and for not taking money from the people of a city when he was starting a new church there. Here in Romans 15, Paul points us to the example of Christ in verses 3-13. Because Christ did not put himself first, the insults of sinners fell on him (v. 3) so that the Jews might receive God’s promises to them (v. 8) and the Gentiles might glorify God as well (vv. 9-13). This reminds us of the importance of considering others when we make choices that we don’t believe to be sinful but others might. We should accept other believers without casting doubt on the sincerity of their faith (v. 8) and we should make choices that won’t cause division in the body of Christ.

In verses 14-32 Paul expressed his confidence in the believers at Rome and described his plans to come visit them in the future. He asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (v. 30) because he was confident about their faith and maturity in Christ (v. 14). Despite his confidence in them spiritually, he conceded that he had “written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again.” This reminds us that strong Christians need to hear direct, even confrontational application of God’s word to our lives. No matter how much we grow in grace, we will still have points of ignorance, personal blindspots, and areas where obedience is a struggle. Our faith in Christ should give us the humility to receive correction in these areas and to use them to help us grow stronger for the glory of God.

Have you received some uncomfortably direct teaching recently, maybe in the form of a message or in a personal conversation from another believer? Our tendency in those moments is self-defense and maybe that was your initial reaction. On further reflection, however, if you see the wisdom and truth of the words that were spoken to you, have the humility to receive them and put them into practice in your life.

Romans 14

Today’s reading is Romans chapter 14.

Earlier in these devotionals on Romans, I mentioned that scholars have speculated that there might have been two churches in Rome--one Jewish and one Gentile. If that’s the case--and it is just speculation--then Paul did not see them as two churches but as one church divided about some important issues. The chapters on law and grace were designed to set a foundation for healing that division; this chapter, Romans 14, addresses that division as well.

The command that opens this chapter is, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (v. 1). Verses 2-3, 5-6 raise two examples of these “disputable matters.” One has to do with diet (vv. 2-3) and the other has to do with the Sabbath (vv. 5-6). The person “whose faith is weak” is the person who wants to stay kosher (v. 2b: “another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables”) and the person who wants to observe the Sabbath--whether on Saturday or Sunday (v. 6).

Jewish believers and some Gentiles who were steeped in the Old Testament would probably have a hard time being known as the “weaker brother or sister.” because their position is based on scripture. However, they are the weaker believers because they cannot accept the later revelation that declared all foods to be clean and that Christ is the end of the law for those who believe. It would seem that Paul could have justifiably rebuked those who wanted to live a stricter life in these areas because they were not believing and applying God’s word as delivered to the Apostles. Paul did not, however, condemn them; in fact, he commanded believers on all sides not to condemn each other (v. 10). Instead of judging and quarreling, he commanded us to accept each other and believe the best about the other--that he or she is acting that way for the Lord (vv. 3c-8).

Instead of judging each other, God’s word encourages us to work out our own convictions for ourselves (v. 5b) and, if we have a more tolerant position than some Christians, to keep that to ourselves (v. 22) because we love other believers and want them to stand not stumble (vv. 13-21).

Our own choices should be measured not by other people but by two things:

  1. Knowledge that we will answer to God for how we’ve lived this life (vv. 10-12)
  2. Our own conscience (v. 23).

Is there anything you do as a Christian that other Christians might think is wrong? Do you refuse to do something as a Christian that other Christians think is acceptable? Both of those things are OK, provided they are not directly contradictory to scripture, that you do them in faith and that you are prepared to answer to God for them. In the meantime, though, act in love toward those who disagree with you. This will unify us in Christ on many issues that divide the church which will strengthen our witness to the world and help us all glorify God together.

1 Corinthians 10

Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 10.

This chapter concluded Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians on the matter of eating meat offered to idols. The chapter began by pointing to Israel’s history (vv. 1-5), showing that God did so much for the entire nation (vv. 1-4) yet many in that nation fell under the judgment of God due to their unbelief (v. 5). This survey of Israel’s exodus was addressed to the Corinthian believers who believed they were strong in Christ and could exercise much Christian liberty. Yes, God has done much in your life and in your church but his powerful acts in Israel did not prevent people from worshipping idols (vv. 6-7), committing sexual sins (v. 8), testing Christ (v. 9), and being complainers (v. 10). We too have received much from Christ but that should never lead us to believe that we are immune from sin (vv. 11-12).

Although idols aren’t real and there is no spiritual or moral damage done by eating meat offered to idols, there is temptation associated with idol meat. That temptation is idolatry (v. 14). True, the idols are not real gods or representatives of real gods, nevertheless idolatry is demonic (v. 20). If the Corinthian Christians participate in Christ through communion (vv. 16-17) then go to the idol’s temple and are involved there (vv. 18-22), they are participating in the demonic and will face the Lord’s discipline (vv. 21-22).

It is important, then, whenever a Christian exercises Christian liberty not to focus on themselves but on others around them (vv. 23-30). The guiding questions for a Christian’s life are (a) am I playing with temptation to sin but calling it Christian liberty (vv. 12-13) and (b) is God glorified by this (v. 31)--meaning does it help or create obstacles to the spread of the gospel in the lives of others (vv. 32-33)?

Christians may answer these questions differently on the same subject. Here’s an example: One issue that Christians debate is whether it is acceptable to drink alcohol. The Bible condemns and warns against drunkenness but not against all consumption of alcohol. Christ himself drank wine and most Christians have throughout the century until very recently. But alcoholism is a serious problem in our world and many Christians were saved from a sinful life where alcohol was part of their sinful lifestyle. Many of these stopped drinking completely in order to live an orderly, obedient life to Christ. Personally, I don’t drink at all for several reasons, but if I did, I would be exposing myself to temptation--the temptation to drink too much and the possible reckless things I might do while drunk. So, if I were to choose to exercise my Christian liberty by having a beer, my faith in Christ and desire to please him should lead me to be careful about having more than one or two, lest I give into temptation (vv. 12-13).

Also, it may not be wrong for me to drink a glass of wine, but if I knowingly drink when I’m with another believer who doesn’t drink because he has less self-control, then I am sinning by putting him into a position where he may be tempted. So the limits of Christian liberty are about avoiding temptation myself and not leading another believer or unbeliever to sin (v. 32).

Is there an area of your life where you’re living in Christian liberty but you’re tempted to go further into something that is sinful? Are you considerate of the affect of your life on others--either leading them closer to Christ or misleading them from following Christ? Let these chapters from 1 Corinthians help you to guide your thinking as you make choices in everyday life.

1 Corinthians 9

Today’s reading is from 1 Corinthians 9.

A new chapter greets us here in 1 Corinthians 9 but the topic of this chapter continued from chapter 8. Remember from yesterday that the topic, generally, is Christian liberty and specifically meat offered to idols. Paul continued discussing that topic in this chapter.

Christian liberty is a right. Nobody has the right to forbid a believer from doing something that is not sinful. But you don’t have to exercise any of your rights to Christian liberty and, here in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul holds up his own example to illustrate the point.

As a believer, Paul was free (v. 9a). As an apostle, he had the right to be supported financially so that he could eat and drink and even bring a family along with him, if he had one (vv. 3-5a). Other apostles traveled with their families (v. 5b) and did not work to support themselves financially like Paul and Barnabas did (v. 6), so their .

In verses 7-14 Paul explained why he had these rights as an apostle using everyday examples and biblical examples. Then, in verses 15-23 he told the Corinthians that he did not insist on exercising all these rights because the gospel is the most important thing. It is through the gospel that people are liberated from sin and its penalties. Liberating people from sin is more important than exercising the liberties we have in Christ. So, if giving up a few rights is beneficial to the gospel, Paul was eager to do that (v. 19).

Now consider again the topic of idol meat. Is that tasty meat and it’s delicious low price worth compromising the weak faith of another brother or sister in Christ? Is any act of Christian liberty worth that?

Yes, we are free in Christ but we are also servants of Christ for his gospel which he called us to spread anywhere and everywhere. Does the effect of our decisions on the spread of the gospel ever cross our minds? Our words and actions in this life can point others to Christ or they can cause others to recoil from Christ. As we grow in the Lord, the maturity he develops in us should help us to think about our lives and evaluate our decisions this way.

1 Corinthians 8

Today’s chapter to read is 1 Corinthians 8.

This chapter takes up the next item in the list of things in the Corinthians’ letter to Paul. That item was whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to eat meat that had been offered to idols.

The world in which the New Testament was written was a world full of idolatry. Everywhere the gospel went, except for Israel, there were already established patterns of idol worship. In Corinth, people would bring animals to the pagan temples to offer as sacrifices. Whatever the altar did not burn up, the priests could eat, but whatever they did not eat was sold in the marketplace. The idol meat was cheaper than the non-idol meat, so many people would buy it to save some money. The Corinthian believers were divided on the morality of that. Some said it was acceptable for Christians to eat the idol meat; others’ could not eat that meat in good conscience. So the Corinthian church included this question in their letter to Paul.

One side of the issue argued that (a) idols represent false, non-existent gods (v. 4a) and (b) there is only one real God (v. 4b-6), so what’s the harm in enjoying some Apollo sirloin?

Paul actually agreed with that argument (see 1 Cor 10:25-26) but not with the hardhearted believer who made it. Yes, it is true that idols are not real so meat offered to them has no special powers or curses attached to it. Likewise, someone who ate idol meat that was sold in the open market was not engaging in a worship feast or entering spiritually into idolatry. All of this was true and logic dictated that eating idol meat was totally acceptable for Christians based on these theological conclusions. But what about someone whose theology was not yet developed? If someone was heavily involved in idolatry, eating idol meat could create a temptation that led that person back into idolatry.

This chapter is one of several in the Bible that discussed the topic of “Christian liberty.” The first thing Paul wanted every Christian to know about Christian liberty is that Christian liberty should never be used in a way that causes another Christian to be tempted to sin. That’s what verse 9 is saying when it says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9). While the topic of Christian liberty is too large to tackle in a devotional, it is important to understand the heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage. The heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage is to consider how your actions affect the walk of another believer in Christ. The stronger you are as a believer, the more you should consider how your example affects other believers. And, if you have reason to believe that your actions could cause another believer to sin, you should avoid those actions (vv. 12-13) for the good of that other believer.

How often do we think about our influence on others? Are there things you do as a believer which may not be sins but might be harmful to the spiritual life of another believer by causing that person to sin? Remember that if your children are believers they are watching you more closely than anyone. Let’s be wise in the choices we make in life by considering how they might affect the faith of other believers who look to us as an example of spiritual leadership.