“Don’t frustrate, appreciate!!” is what I tell my kids often in our home. Wisdom, understanding and discernment go a long way in the body of Christ. We are going to learn what makes us weak and what makes us strong when it comes to interpersonal relationships within a body of believers. I also want to unpack the leading instincts of the soul in helping us move from a point of frustration to appreciation of others. Often, our greatest hindrance to harmony is our lack of recognition of how God has hard wired each one of us to respond to Him. Time and time again the greatest downfall in churches is centering around uniformity instead of being distinct and seeing how beautiful diversity can be in making us a ‘whole church’!
Christian freedom is a privilege not a right.
Paul is dealing with the highly sensitive matter of Christian freedom. It is a crucial area because it is often in these areas that one can easily have hang ups and make decisions on who and who not to associate with. There is a lot to be said here about the health and peace of believers when it comes to dealing with areas that are morally neutral or areas that are non essential. The problem of course is that not everyone sees it this way and new denominations and more extreme, cults get started out of a desire to be the ‘pure’ or more ‘holy’ people.
Christian freedom begins with acceptance v1-4
The first matter that Paul deals with is learning to accept people who are ‘weak in their faith’. It is important to help new believers especially work through difficult areas especially in relation to where God has brought them out of.
Only vegetables vs all food.
Somewhere along the line these are people who got the idea that they are not allowed to do certain things. It has either come from their culture, their parents, their upbringing. Someone along the line at some point told them that this is not something that Christians don’t do.
Here’s another way of looking at it. We all have a system in our minds of what we have determined appropriate and inappropriate for ourselves. We have our own moral code and we do our best to try to understand and follow those beliefs as we listen to God. Now we bring our own baggage into our decisions as it relates to past experience and this is precisely where God has allowed us to be free.
Now these verses do not allow us to create our own determination of what is sin. However they do allow us to make the decision to determine what is ‘sin for me’.
An example would be if a Christian community decided that for them, adultery was perfectly normal behaviour and not sin. However, we know that is not true because God clearly shows us in His Word that it is. So the Bible sets us straight in a lot of areas so when someone tells you that God told them to leave their spouse for another woman, you know that clearly contradicts Scripture. At that point it is incumbent upon you to challenge them to the fact that it is not God’s voice they are hearing. Why? God will never go against what He has clearly told us in His Word.
Here is a more sensitive area. The NT nowhere prohibits the use of wine yet there are many believers who believe that one sip of it is a sin. They will do lengthy ‘textual gymnastics’ to try to prove this. They will even go as far to say that the wine Jesus made at the wedding feast wasn’t real wine or that the disciples didn’t have real wine in the upper room. I know because that is what I was taught in my first Bible College.
However the Bible is very clear on the issue of drunkenness and there is no question that it is sin. But the use of wine is not forbidden. Now there are some believers who do take a position of voluntary abstinence because we live in a culture of excess and abuse. We can respect that, but we must not make this a rule to be imposed or a sign of Christian godliness.
In the first century there was a real hang up amongst the early believers as to whether they should eat meat that was offered to idols in pagan religious ceremonies. This was meat that was sold in the market after one of these services would happen. Some Christians thought it was desecrated and would want nothing to do with it. So Paul states that you are fine if you eat the meat and fine if you don’t. It comes back to the matter of the heart. If I believe it is sinful, then go ahead and eat it, it is sin for me. However if I don’t believe it is sinful and eat it, it is not sin for me.
We are brought back to our conscience and this is where the matter gets difficult because often we can be misinformed.
What is clear is this. It is a sign of immaturity or weak faith if one believes that they are more spiritual or mature because they only eat vegetables. In the same way, I do not look at myself as strong in the faith because I eat meat. We also are not supposed to get irritated because someone does not take my own personal position or act the way that I do even though deep down that is what we all want. We want to find someone or others who act and ‘look just like me’. It really is the simple solution to spirituality in a community but it is a sad representation of His body.
Christian freedom means that I learn to accept others because God has accepted us both, we are both in Christ.
Christian Freedom Happens In Community v5-8
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.
The problem that Paul is specifically dealing with here is the inherent differences between Jewish believers who still wanted to keep their Jewish festivals and Gentile believers who really had no interest in doing the same. There were some Jews who insisted that all believers should recognize these special occasions and once again teaching is needed to help us understand that we don’t live or believe in a vacuum. We are not to stand in judgment of other believers on areas of neutrality. We need to give our fellow believers the benefit of the doubt especially when they are trying to do what they believe is honouring to Christ.
Remember it was Jesus who was accused of being a winebibber, a glutton, a Sabbath breaker and a friend of sinners because He broke from man made traditions.
Christian Freedom on My Account v9-12
We will also answer to God for the decisions that we have or have not made
Christian Freedom and the Stumblingblock v13-18
How do I sin if I have a brother who is convinced that drinking wine is a sin for him? I sin when every time he comes over I insist that he has a glass with me and do everything in my power to encourage him to drink. Now does this mean that I am not allowed to have a discussion with him on this matter and share my thoughts on the matter? Of course not; however you must be willing to hear them out as well.
Paul is not also saying here that the stronger person must forever be held bound by their weaker brother or we could easily digress is to having no freedom at all because if we look hard enough, we will find someone who struggles with everything.
Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil v16
One writer and speaker gave the illustration of how he went out to a restaurant with a group of Christians during a conference and one woman kindly invited them out to a meal to a nice restaurant. At the beginning of the meal, the waitress come around with a wine list and asked if anyone wanted wine. The hostess then spoke up for the whole group and said, ‘No thank you, none of wants wine because we are Christians.’ The writer remarked how he was so embarrassed by the situation and wanted to make sure the waitress knew that this was not a universal law for Christians. He then went on to say that he wished he had said in that moment, ‘Wait, I’ll have a glass of wine.’ because that is what Paul probably would have done in that situation.
The bottom line is that we are not to get wrapped up in the externals of our faith as if that is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. What sets us apart is v17... righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
It is our right standing before God, the incredible joy that God gives us because we are set free from sin and guilt the peace that passes all understanding, peace because we are reconciled to God! Not only this but also it is the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit that sets us apart. God is moving in this place because we are listening to Him and here is what I did in response to His voice. These are the marks of one who is pleasing to God, not because of our strict diet or what we eat and drink or what we don’t eat and drink. In the grand scheme of things, there has been way too much time spent on the non essentials of our faith.
Encouraging others to be FREE v19-22
Don’t be trying to create issues with others when there is clearly not an issue. Give your fellow believers the opportunity to explore their own harmony and instinctive response to God. So, if you believe something and it is clearly an open area with God then follow through and enjoy your freedom to the glory of God. However don’t use you freedom as a way to put others down or injure them because they didn’t come to the same conclusions as you did. Christian freedom is never used to hurt people’s feelings.
I want to take time to move to another area of freedom and that is how we understanding that the different spiritual instincts of the soul. Spiritual instincts are basically the way that we send and receive ‘signals’ to God that we use when we are engaged in spiritual activity.
The AESTHETIC instinct
This person comes most alive when worship is done in an environment of beauty, order, tradition and and artistic integrity. The key word for them is majesty. They think that the way things look and how they sound are very, very important. They really can appreciate architecture that is designed specifically for worship. They love symbolism, color, art, poetry and great music. They are most at ease when there is dignity and order in all that takes place. They are uncomfortable with a lot of repetition or songs that might seem fluffy. Their prayer is beautiful expressions of faith, the worst insult to them would be to say this is ugly and the warning for this instinct is to become rigid and inflexible.
The EXERIENTIAL instinct.
This person wants to ‘feel’ the presence of God and to respond with the full range of emotion and physical expression. The key word for this person is joy. They love spontaneity, emotion and conversational prayer. They would like to have very little leadership in worship and let God lead worship and everyone participate. It is the most responsive instinct to the Holy Spirit and the energy that He gives. This person is also best suited to cross cultural contexts. They are big hearted and generous and very nice to be around. Their prayer is praise and the worst insult they could hear is ‘This is boring.’ The warning for this person is possibly lacking in doctrinal grounding.
The ACTIVIST instinct
This person sees all of Christ following as an activity of service. Their key word is involved. They love to take action with God and commune with Him about what is so needed in our world. They have great compassion for the disadvantaged and poor. They are angry about oppression and have a sense of urgency to introduce Christ to others. They are committed to changing His world and love to connect with other activists, to plan, to think globally. Prayer for this person is a tool or weapon to advance the kingdom of God. The worst insult they could hear is ‘you are lazy or a hypocrite’. They feel best when they are engaged and really don’t like to take time off. The warning for this person is that they rarely relax and can experience burnout. They are also susceptible to becoming shallow with others, being disillusioned and their own marriage could easily be in trouble. It is a real balancing act.
The CONTEMPLATIVE instinct
This person love to meet God in the quiet of their inner life. The key word for them is listening and they love to meditate and listen to the whispers of God who meets people in solitude..His still small voice. They wish that worship would be more quiet than noise and the appreciate the importance of the spiritual disciplines like fasting, meditation and prayer. They wish that others would understand this and often are guilty and critical of others when they don’t join them right away. Where is everybody? they ask and this is probably the greatest weakness of our Western culture, we don’t like silence. Prayer for them is a two way conversation and often it is more listening than speaking. The worst insult to them is ‘you talk too much and never listen’. The warning to this person is the danger of withdrawing so much that they do not become useful in their community.
The STUDENT instinct
This person is the deep thinker and the key word for them is truth. They are the ones who ask the question, but why and prove it from Scripture. Their greatest quest is truth and they want to see it on paper! To them beauty is a carefully crafted document that states beliefs, doctrines, you name it. They see great theology coming from the study of creeds and doctrines. They feel that those who have their theology most correct are the closest to God. They would love to be in endless Bible studies and prayer to them is an expression of correct theology. They are easily given to analyzing worship songs to make sure they are saying the ‘right things’ about God. The worst insult to them would be to hear, ‘that’s heresy!’ The warning to them is the danger of becoming arrogant and unloving and being more concerned with being right than giving honor to others.
The RELATIONAL instinct
Finally, this person feels that God is most present when people experience bonding together for fellowship or worship or encouraged through mutual support. They are heartbroken when there is conflict. They love meeting in small groups where people honestly share their personal stories and don’t mind tears, hugs or late night prayer meetings. They appreciate how Christ was so people conscious. They feel that people are the business and introduce people to others and build them up as well. They feel that when interaction is happening, God is present and the heavens are rejoicing. Their prayer is that a small group would really care and pray more for each other. The worst insult to them is to hear ‘you just don’t care’. The warning for them is losing their focus on Christ and valuing more their own relationship with God.
We all possess a natural inclination for two or three spiritual instincts, we might have a curiosity about a few and what’s left over...well, we have a hard time believing that they have any value at all. However, maturity in faith comes as we become conversant in all the languages of worship as Christ was!
Christian Freedom is a beautiful expression of our diversity but our cornerstone is Jesus and how he has given us joy, peace and the Holy Spirit!
1. Around what issues do you have the greatest challenges in your discussions with other believers? Are they essential or non essential?
2. How does God speak to you?
3. Where do you see yourself being most transformed in right now – peace, joy or being led by the Holy Spirit?
4. What instincts do you see expressed in Southside?
5. What instinct would you like to more appreciate in your own life?