Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

In my previous post on the Self-Help gospel, I made the point that we should not let anyone judge us regarding what we eat or drink. It’s true that we shouldn’t do that. The point is that all things are clean and the reality is found in Christ, not man-made regulations. But today I would like to look at this from another angle, namely how our freedom affects others.

What if someone with a weak conscience is offended by my freedom? What am I to do? Do I flaunt my freedom? Do I allow myself to come under the legalistic regulations of man? Or can I avoid both of those options and seek to live another way? Let’s see what the Scriptures teach us.

Accept the Weaker One
The apostle Paul taught that we should accept the one whose conscience is weak. He wrote to the Romans: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” (Rom 14:1-3)

So there are two basic kinds of people in this passage. One is the person whose faith allows him to eat all things. This person has great freedom in Christ, and should not let anyone take that from him. The other is the one whose faith is weak and feels he cannot eat certain things without sinning. In Paul’s day, when the Gentiles would buy meat in the market place, sometimes the meat had been offered up in sacrifice to idols in a pagan temple before it was sold. A person with strong faith would just not ask any questions about that before buying it, then give thanks for the meat and eat it. But one with weak faith would feel like he was sinning to eat such meat, due to the likelihood that it was offered to idols.

Another example is regarding observance of days. Paul wrote, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” (Rom 14:5-6). Paul shows here that those with weak faith, who observe certain days, do so for the Lord. And those who regard every day alike do so for the Lord.

So if you are the one with a strong faith that allows you greater freedom, you need to accept the brother or sister in Christ whose faith is weak. As Paul said, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Rom 15:7). Try to avoid passing judgment on his or her opinions. Don’t regard your brother with contempt over these things. Ultimately, the most important thing is that we all live for the Lord. Jesus Christ makes us stand. And we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10). I will not need to give an account for my weaker brother’s actions, and he will not need to give an account for my actions. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12). We will all need to give an account of our own self to God.

Stop judging and making others stumble
Knowing this, what are we to do? Paul tells us, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.” (Rom 14:13). First, we’ve got to stop judging one another. Doing so is focused on whether my brother is right or wrong.

Instead, we need to start with our own life and walk in love. We need to determine in our own heart not to put an obstacle in our brother’s way. This is a loving attitude. It acknowledges my brother’s weakness and avoids making him stumble.

Do we avoid making one another stumble because we believe certain foods are unclean? Certainly not! As Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; (Rom 14:14-16). All things may be clean, but to the one who thinks anything is unclean, to him it is unclean. Once we understand that, then we come to realize the connection between our faith and our practice. The one whose faith is weak would be sinning if he did the things he considers unclean. So I must be careful not to make him stumble. If I have freedom in an area where he is not free, I should be careful how I exercise my freedom. Flaunting it in front of him would cause him to stumble. It would hurt him.

There are some practical ways we can put this into practice. If you have freedom to drink wine and your brother does not, then when you are together, don’t drink wine. It’s that simple. This is a loving attitude. It seeks to help the weaker brother.

But how could my drinking wine cause another to stumble? He may be tempted to join you, but due to his weak conscience, he would be sinning. In his own heart, he would be doing something he regards as unclean. Remember that as long as he thinks it’s unclean, to him it is so. Paul wrote, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23). This is key. If your brother doubts when he drinks, then his drinking is not from faith. If he doubts when he eats, then his eating is not from faith. It’s a good thing if you have faith that gives you freedom, but don’t let that good thing become something others speak of as evil. Your weaker brother would be condemned to do what you do, because anything we do that is not of faith is sin.

Love avoids tearing down the work of God, and your weaker brother is the work of God. Paul continued, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” (Rom 14:20-21). Paul determined that he would not eat meat or drink wine in front of anyone who was offended in his walk with Christ as a result of it. Even though he was free to eat or drink, he did not want to make a brother stumble. That would tear down the work of God.

Pursue peace and edification
This is a refreshing way to live, isn’t it! Rather than demanding my rights, I willingly give up my rights for the sake of others. That’s how Paul lived, and I want to do the same.

He wrote, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Rom 14:17-19). Of course, you are free to eat and drink. But when you understand that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, then you are truly free! The kingdom of God is all about righteous, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you determine to live in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, then God will accept you and you’ll find that men approve of you also. Therefore, let’s pursue the things that make for peace and building up one another.

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”
(Rom 15:1-2)

It’s wonderful that you have faith. But have it before God and exercise your freedom before Him. “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” (Rom 14:22). Let your convictions about food, drink, and other things be subject to your love for others. Seek to please your neighbor for his good and to his edification. If you can avoid condemning yourself by the things you approve, you’ll be happy and blessed! That's righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit -- joy unspeakable and full of glory!

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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