Summary: As we grow in Christ we realize just how much freedom we have in Him. But what about the immature believer - what do we do with our freedom if it causes our brother or sister to stumble or be distressed?
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Paul the Apostle wrote these words: (1 Corinthians 13:11) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
What was it like for you when you realized you were no longer a child? My revelation came when I was about 13 years old, I think. When I was younger I was a huge G.I. Joe fan. I had all the figures and the accessories and the costumes. I used to spend every waking hour playing with my G.I. Joes – but gradually over time I played with them less and less until finally my mom put my abandoned G.I. Joe stuff up in the attic.
I didn’t think much about my G.I. Joes until one day I asked my mom – “where did that stuff go?” So I went up in the attic, took down my stuff and started what I thought was going to be a renewal of my playing with G.I. Joe. It didn’t work out that way.
I found that I had changed – I was no longer a child, and I literally put away my childish things, they no longer held the same appeal as before.
Life is like that – as we grow up we have to continually put away childish things – or at least we hope we do – or we’ll have problems having enough to live on.
But just because I stopped playing with G.I. Joes didn’t mean that I made fun of my other friends who continued to play with them. And so too spiritually – as we mature in Christ we have a deeper understanding, a deeper relationship – and we change, we do things differently. Hopefully we’ve learned from trials and time spent worshiping and praying and living in Christ.
One of the things we get is an increased sense of freedom. Jesus said “If the Son sets you free you are free indeed (John 8:36). Later Paul wrote: “It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1). “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
The question is, what do I do with that freedom – what does it mean? It means that I can do anything I want – anything. There are no more requirements to be met, no more laws to follow, no more trying to be anything – Jesus did it all for me.
I can do anything at all - as long as my life is subjugated to my Lord Jesus. Ah – there’s the rub. As I mature in Christ I realize how much freedom I have, but I also realize how much responsibility I have to do as Jesus told us: “to make disciples,” to help others discover and then also become like Jesus.
Last week we looked at how that responsibility teaches us to obey the civil authorities – today we see how that responsibility extends to those who are not as mature as we are – calling us to reign in our freedom, if it means harm to another.
14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
Paul sums up the whole chapter in this one verse. The idea, simply put, is that we shouldn’t judge another person as “less than” in the kingdom of God just because they don’t understand what true freedom in Christ is all about – when it comes to “disputable matters” - basically, things over which sincere Christians debate – and Paul uses a prime example:
2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Some Christians have very narrow convictions – you shouldn’t go to movies, you shouldn’t eat meat, you shouldn’t dance, you shouldn’t watch TV, you mustn’t wear make-up if you are a woman – lots and lots of little rules that are very important to them – but are disputable.
Of course – when it comes to things central to the faith, we should defend our stand with everything we’ve got – the deity of Christ, His death and resurrection – our salvation through faith alone.
Paul says – don’t look down on someone just because they are caught up in this kind of stuff. Their faith is weak. Our judgment on whether something is okay or not should be based on whether or not it reflects the character of Christ, encourages our becoming like Him, and furthers His kingdom.