Giving up (a hard teaching)

The previous blog spoke about the wonderful liberty we possess in Christ. I cited verses of how the Scripture warns us that people will come to enslave us again, and we need to fight that. We need to know our position in Christ. We need to rejoice in the liberty we have.

There is a second thing worth noting about our liberty. That is that mature Christians are willing to give it up for the body of Christ. Our liberty is immense. But we are to voluntarily bend our will and our liberty for the sake of the Bride of Christ, the church. Two rather lengthy passages that are worth reading. 1 Cor. 8:

1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him. 4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. 7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

1 Cor. 10:23-33

23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. 25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: 33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

This is a hard teaching. We as Christians who are aware and loving our freedom have a hard time with this. Those that have come out of a law-keeping, works-based background have a very hard time with this. When preached or taught this is almost the same as those who would tell them to follow a law. From one view, it is someone telling them something to do or not, that the Bible does not speak to. It smacks of works based teaching, and it can scare believers.

This is Bible though. This isn’t man teaching. This is Paul telling believers that they need to not do things that are perfectly fine for the sake of their brothers in Christ. This is what the mature believer does. The mature believer is willing to give up meat if it makes his brother offend. The mature believer seeks the other “person’s wealth.” Paul states a plain principle that all things are lawful, but they do not all edify. So, sure eating that meat is lawful – that is, it is fine before God – but it does not edify your brother. You should not eat the meat.

I don’t know the application that this should make in each person’s life. I can make application to my life. I can tell myself where the line is. I know that even now, before I write an example, people are inclined to already be justifying themselves. We don’t want to be the weak brother. We also don’t want to apply whatever particular case we are dealing with under this category. We want to pretend that it doesn’t apply.

I’ve been a part of large discussions on what exactly is the weak or strong brother and what exactly is the proper response in specific instances. But that, oftentimes, avoids a very simple teaching. Seek the other person’s wealth [what is best for them, not necessarily riches]. Look not on your own things, but every man on the things of others. In honor, preferring one another above ourselves. This is hard teaching.

Growing up, certain members of my family believed that girls/women should not wear pants (Let’s call them the weaker sisters for this example). Other members of the family did not believe that (Let’s call them the stronger sisters). Within that scope of those who did wear pants, there were two more subsets. When everyone got together for a family reunion, the weaker of course, wore skirts/dresses. The stronger were divided however. One group wore pants, as was their liberty in Christ. The other group wore dresses/skirts (Let’s call them the mature sisters). They did not believe they were required to. It was not their conscience on the line before God. But because of their sisters in the Lord, they did not exercise a freedom they believed they had. Regardless of who was right in the whole pants debate, one subset demonstrated seeking the wealth of the others. One subset demonstrated honoring and preferring the other above themselves.

This is HARD. At this point many people have planted their feet firmly in their habits and lives, and are saying they aren’t moving. It isn’t anyone’s place to judge. Paul goes into that in great depth in Romans 14 – the parallel passage. It is not the place of someone else to judge. So what that the “stronger” sisters wore pants? There shouldn’t be judgment by the “weaker” sisters. There shouldn’t be judgment by the “mature” sisters. Judgment is not condoned within any of these passages. Judgment is spoken against strongly in all these issues. But maturity is uplifted.

The question then becomes “Do I let others run my life? Should I be covered head-to-toe and only listen to Gregorian chants because a brother or sister around me believes that way?” I can’t answer it. You answer it, before the Lord. Are you seeking another’s wealth? I think we over-complicate this to a point of dread. “If I live this way I will look like a bag, and never get to do anything fun.” Some insult the weaker brothers rather than changing. They laugh, or call it childish. These things are the exact opposite of being mature. So, what do you do? You seek the Lord. You seek other’s wealth, and prefer them in honor above yourself. You seek God’s glory.

The “mature” sisters from my story wore pants often in their normal life. What many saw and might still see as weakness – changing for others – God upholds as the model. They wore pants, but changed for the people around them. Pauls says that he became all things to all men. This is what happened. Consider, did it affect the “weaker” sisters? Yes, I imagine most in the area of their children. They were bringing up their children as they believed God wanted them to, and the “mature” sisters helped in that simple way.

Romans 14:21 “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” The passage here is very similar but in this Paul gives three distinct responses that we are not to elicit in our brothers. “Stumbleth” conveys the meaning just how it sounds. It is not a fall, but a trip, or a stubbing of the toe. It is something that causes a loss of balance. We don’t want to do this to our brothers or sisters in their lives spiritually. The next though, “offended” actually means causing to sin. Causing to offend against God and thereby offend against themselves. We can cause our brothers and sisters to sin through our liberty; this is past the stumbling into a fall. We do not want to do that. Finally, the last word used is “made weak.” This conveys a weakness in faith. This is just a simple doubting of what is right or wrong. This isn’t sin. This isn’t you even causing someone to trip up a little. This is simply making their belief weak. Causing them to question their discernment of right and wrong and to question. This is also something that Paul says is not worth eating meat. It isn’t worth the freedom that we have to do this to another.

Finally, it is impossible to convince someone else in some instance of what is the mature thing. Parent, you have the responsibility to train your children. When they get older, you will want them to be mature, but you will not be able to do what God does in their heart. Spouses, don’t try to be the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to convince your wife she needs to be mature. Don’t try to convince your husband he needs to be mature. In these issues, growth in Christ happens as each individual seeks the others wealth, and prefers them in honor above themselves. It is something for spouses to be supportive of and encourage each other in. Don’t discourage your spouse when he/she decides to give up something for someone else. Support that. Encourage that. Pray that God will show you where you need to do that.

In the end, it is a simple statement and a hard worldview to live. Be willing to give up your liberty, not for the works of the law, but for the Bride of Christ. Give it up for your brother and your sister. Give it up for Christ.

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