Liberty, Love & Life
Liberty, Love and the Christian Life
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: Romans 14
This is Memorial Day weekend, and other than being known as the official beginning of the summer vacation, few of the younger generation even know the meaning of the day. More people associate Memorial Day with sales promotions than with honoring fallen heroes.
Originally called Decoration Day, it was established as a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. The holiday was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 by General John Logan and was first observed on May 30th of that same year as flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Soon afterward, several states adopted the day as a state holiday, until it eventually became a national observance.
Unfortunately, recent generations have not been very diligent in remembering the fallen soldiers whose lives were given in defense of the freedom and liberty that we Americans enjoy. Graves go without decorations and the stories of the fallen fade into the unread pages of history. So, we live with the liberties that others paid for and yet too often we fail to take the time to thank them, to memorialize their sacrifice, or honor their memory. To the extent that we fail to remember the price that was paid, we diminish the cost and therefore the value of liberty.
In our text, Paul addresses the nature of Christian liberty, what we could refer to as the law of liberty. This is a liberty that was bought and paid for by the sacrifice of Christ, who died on a cross so that we could be free from the law of sin and death. The Son has come to set us free, and he whom the Son sets free is free indeed. As believers, we are to walk in the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. However, we are warned never to use our liberty as a cloak of maliciousness (1 Pet. 2:16), which is to say that even our liberty comes with Christian boundaries that are framed by love. Look at the text with me.
I) The Law of Liberty
In verses 1 through 13 Paul addresses a situation in the church of Rome that had apparently become a point of contention. Some of the believers practiced a vegetarian diet and saw it as the preferred diet for all Christians. Other believers felt that because of their new liberty in Christ, old taboos regarding food no longer applied. They ate meat with little regard to kosher laws, nor were they concerned that some of the meat purchased in the markets of Rome may have been offered to idols. More mature believers understood that the idols were nothing, they were not spirits and they were not gods. Therefore, the meat was just meat that they could purchase at a cheaper price.
what was the problem? The problem was that the believers with more mature faith insisted on eating meat and they were engaging in disputes with the believers who were weak in faith. Paul concedes that meat is not the issue. In Christian liberty, he said that it was acceptable to eat meat. It was just meat. But there is more to the story than just what our rights are. We not only have rights, we also have responsibilities. We are our brother’s keeper and it would be better to have a millstone hung around our neck and be cast into the sea, than to offend one of these new believers.
Paul’s instruction is:
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
We are not to engage in disputes with believers of weak faith, and the believers with weak faith should not be judging others. Instead, we are to attend to our own conscience, and to do all we can to encourage the spiritual growth of one another. Berating a person of weak faith does not build them up, and judging one another over issues of conscience is a sin.
I know women who refuse to wear slacks or to cut their hair because they believe that is what God’s word tells them to do. Paul says that we are to receive them and to encourage them, but not to try to get them to conform to our preferences. Likewise, these women should not sit in judgment of other women who do not have the same conviction on the issue as they do.
In addition to the issue of meat, there were those who still wanted to honor certain holy days. Some believers wanted to worship on the Sabbath, or Saturday, and others wanted to worship on the Lord’s Day, or what we call Sunday. Paul says that in our Christian liberty we are not bound by such rigid restrictions or to special holy days or feasts. Paul says:
5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
The point being that whatever you do, do it to honor God and not to glorify self.
Paul tells us in verses 7 through 9 that Jesus died and rose again to give us the liberty to make some choices that are between God and ourselves. He said in verse 5, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Then in verse 10, he writes:
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Paul tells us that in the end everyone will confess that the Lord, He is God. We will all give an account of ourselves to God. We will all answer to Him for how we lived our lives. I am not your judge and you are not my judge, but we all have a Judge, and we will all stand before that Judge one day and give an account. In light of that truth, Paul says in verse 13:
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.
We must decide that we will not judge one another, and neither will we do or say anything that would hinder another believer. We may have liberties that we choose not to exercise because the spiritual welfare of other believers takes precedence over my liberty.
II) The Law of Love
In verse 14 Paul admits that he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with eating meat. Yet, if I feel it is wrong for me, if I feel that it would be an issue of moral compromise to eat meat, then if I eat meat, for me it would be wrong. I would be violating my own conscience. Paul says that believers like this are “weak in faith.” They have not yet experience the full measure of the liberty that they have in Christ. Implicit is the hope that their faith will grow stronger through the love and patience of mature believers.
Paul tells us in verse 15 that if we are offending, grieving, or causing others to stumble because we choose to exercise our liberty without regard to others, then we are not walking in love. We must not compromise our testimony simply because we insist on doing what we want, and everybody else can just deal with it. That’s not love, and without love our relationship is just a show, a façade that is meant to make us look good, but has no substance. God looks behind the façade and sees our heart.
We need to remember that the people we offend are people for whom Jesus died. Therefore, instead of insisting on getting our way and pushing others around, we should be pursuing “the things that make for peace and things by which one may edify another” (v. 19).
Do we have liberty in Christ? Is there liberty in the Spirit? Yes, there is, but that liberty is always secondary to the law of love in Christ. We should not destroy what God is trying to do in someone’s life simply because we insist on exercising the full extent of our liberty with no regard to whom we hurt in the process. Paul says in verse 21:
21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Love is willing to voluntarily sacrifice individual liberties to insure that they whose faith is still fragile, is not wounded. However, let me also say that God expects every babe in Christ to go from milk to meat. God expects our faith to mature and to grow. There is nothing sadder than someone who has been going to church for many years, and yet their faith is still so fragile that a good puff of wind would blow them over.
I’ve seen too many people try to use Paul’s instructions here as a tool to get their way in church. They want everything to go their way, and they want everyone to acquiesce to their preferences and their whims. Paul is not telling the church that we have to be spiritual hostages to weak Christians who should have grown up by now.
I can tell you as a pastor that I am worried about Christians who have been in the way for 10 or 20 years and yet they have not progressed spiritually. They don’t get their way so they cry and throw a temper tantrum. They don’t like the style of music, so they pout and lay out of church. They don’t get the position they wanted, so they hold their breath and turn blue, or withhold their tithes until they do.
On any given day, I deal with people who are literally standing at death’s door, whose days are measured in weeks instead of years. I deal with marriages that are on the brink of breaking. I deal with people who have lost their jobs and they are about to lose their homes. I deal with children who have been abused, and people who are mourning the death of a spouse, a child, or a parent. So pardon me if I don’t have the patience I should when someone doesn’t get their way in the music, or sing the special, or stand in the spotlight, or get a visit from the pastor every time they get a runny nose. As the writer Hebrews says, they should be on the meat by now, but they’re still nursing on the milk. We all need to be growing in grace.
III) The Life of the Christian
Look at how this chapter ends:
22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. NKJV
If you have faith, then you will live out that faith before God. If you are convinced, and your conscience is clear in light of Scripture, and if your actions will not cause the one whose faith is weak to stumble, then enjoy the liberty that God has given you in Christ. The Christian life is not some humdrum existence where we cannot do anything that brings joy. It is unfortunate that somewhere along the line, holiness became defined by all the things we could not do as a Christian. This is far from the truth. We are liberated to live an abundant life. Jesus gave us His word so that our joy may be full. When our heart is where it should be with God, and when we delight ourselves in Him, then we will never be condemned in what we approve.
However, if we think it is wrong, if our conscience condemns us, if the Holy Spirit sends up those red flags and warns us, but we press ahead in the name of liberty, then we are walking in condemnation. When we do that, when we ignore our conscience, or the warning of the Holy Spirit, or the guidelines of the Word, and persist in pressing on doing those things, then we are setting in motion actions that will have consequences. God has given us a conscience; He has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth; and He has given us His Word as our roadmap. If we cannot engage in those activities that exemplify love, and which conform to the faith, then it is sin and the wages of sin is death.
In Christ, we have been given liberty that operates within the boundaries of love, and this is what it means to have a Christian life. It is not about demanding and commanding. It is not about judging others or engaging in endless arguments about things that are of no real importance. It is about being free in Christ to be a blessing to others and to honor Him by enjoying the abundant live, full of joy that He paid for on the cross.
Let me ask you today if you enjoying your Christian liberty within the boundaries of Christian love. This is the Christian life. Paul said
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost . 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. KJV
In addition to being Memorial Day weekend, this is also Pentecost Sunday. I want to invite you to know Christian liberty, Christian love, and a Christian life of joy in the Holy Spirit. If you have never been filled with the awesome power of the Holy Spirit, then there is an element of joy in your relationship with God that is missing. Today I invite you to come and let us pray that the fullness of the Spirit will come upon you and fill you with joy unspeakable and full of glory. If it’s been awhile since you have felt the power of the Spirit move up and down the avenues of your soul, I invite you to come and let God anoint you with fresh oil. On this Decoration Day weekend, let God decorate your life with His Holy Spirit so that you may enter into a whole new realm of Christian liberty, Christian love and an abundant Christian life.