Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone?
In Divisions Over Debatables we looked at gray areas of the Christian life. The discussion was about how we are to treat other Christians who see things differently than we do. We are a diverse bunch, each with our own convictions. We aren't trying to make cookie cutter Christians. [clones] But it is my desire that in spite of our differences, we love and support each other, encourage and lift up one another.
We can have unity without uniformity.
v. 13 YOU are not the Holy Spirit. [conviction Gestapo]
Imagine two people standing here. One is born again, sincere, dedicated, loving Jesus. The other is lost, has no concern for God, has never been exposed to the Bible, and lives for himself a worldly lifestyle.
When you look at each, what is the primary difference? Behavior? Looks? Their talk? All these things SHOULD be different, but that's not the primary difference. The main difference is the way they think.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your [wardrobe? vocabulary? hairstyle? music?] mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Our entire thought process should be diametrically opposed to that of the world. A radical change happened on the inside and it should work its way out.
ill.--When lost, we believed that we are to get all we can, can all we get, and then sit on the can. Now we are taught that it is better to give than to receive.
"Don't get mad, get even" is different than "Turn the other cheek."
The world says, don't let anyone take advantage of you, but Jesus said to go the second mile [Roman soldier illustration] for the sake of winning them to Christ.
The ultimate indignity/insult one can suffer in our society today is to be considered somebody's stepping stone. Somebody uses you in some way to springboard their step up the ladder.
And yet for the Christian, it's a privilege if we can be used to advance a brother to the next level in their growth in grace.
Don't miss this: Jesus has given us marvelous freedom and liberty in His new covenant. "Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." The old covenant, the law, is far behind us. Aren't you glad we don't have to live under the encumbrances of those dietary restrictions, for instance?
"God has given us all things richly to enjoy." What freedom! But listen, we are PERMITTED to enjoy that freedom, not COMMANDED to enjoy it. In fact, the greater our spiritual maturity, the less important our 'rights' should be to us. More important to us than the exercising of our freedoms should be the consideration of how doing so might affect the lives of other believers around us.
Just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD.
This passage is talking about debatables, gray areas. Not talking about things that are clearly forbidden or commanded in the Word.
Today's issues include modest dress, styles of music, places you go, things you say, how you look, how you do your hair, whether you pierce or engrave your body, etc.
Paul had to deal with similar issues in his day: Eating meat offered to idols. And the sabbath day debate.
v. 2 meat
v. 5a sabbath
Paul already knew he had freedom in Christ to eat the meat, no matter where it had been. But he also decided there was something more important than his right to meat.
Paul didn't say, "I'm free in Christ, so I don't care what anybody thinks."
v. 13 He said, "My life is to be a help, not a hindrance...a stepping stone, not a stumbling block."
With that in mind, consider 3 principles:
1. Things are neutral.
2. Christianity is internal.
3. Christian liberty is influential.
v. 14 'thing'
Objects are not moral or immoral, but what you do with those objects...and what they do to you.
Meat is not sinful, it is amoral.
Here's some other things people label as sinful today:
Pool tables--because of their association with the pool hall, and what goes on in there. But it is just marble and wood. It is not sinful. It is what you do with that table, or what it does to you that can be sinful...but not necessarily. If a man wants to abstain from it, that is his right, but it would be wrong for him to assert that it is therefore wrong for everyone else.
Deck of cards--unless they have nude pictures on them, they are not sinful things. But because of their association with gambling, many preach against them. But they are just pieces of paper, and you can have fun with them, without selling your house and heading to Vegas.
Motorcycles--it's just metal. It doesn't mean you are a Hell's Angel if you have one.
Guitar--it can be played right or wrong. They are forbidden on some church platforms, because they are most often played in a worldly way. But we have proven it doesn't have to be that way.
Internet/Facebook--because many use it for evil, does that mean we shouldn't try to use it for good?
ill.--Dr. Donald Barnhouse preached in the early 20th C. at many conferences, and some of the ladies began to object that other ladies were coming to church without stockings on. They wanted Barnhouse to make a public rebuke of those women. He replied, "Did you know that the Virgin Mary never wore stockings? They actually first appeared in the 15th C. in Italy, and were worn by prostitutes!"
Our perception of things can change over the years, but THINGS are neutral. The sin is not in the things, but in our hearts.
v. 14-15 'esteemeth any thing' = it violates your conscience.
Convictions are not only personal, but they are influential.
15b 'for whom Christ died' means that if Jesus died for them, I should be willing to give something up for them.
ill.--during WWII, our merchant ships traveled the oceans in convoys for safety purposes. Some were capable of traveling much faster than others, but the fastest ship in the convoy always adjusted its speed to the slowest ship. It never completely exercised its freedom for the sake of unity.
ill.--some sheep could move faster than others, but the shepherd keeps them together.
We should be willing to adjust, and if necessary, forfeit our liberties/rights, in order to be a stepping stone, and not a stumblingblock.
ill.--your Facebook. It is yours, right? So, it has no impact on others then? You have no obligation or responsibility? Is the answer really, "If you don't like it, then don't look?
ill.--can a Christian smoke? Sure. You may not see anything wrong with this, and it is difficult to find direct Scriptural evidence against it. [body is the temple?] Do all Christians agree on this? No. Does the lost world think a Christian should? Largely, no. So the question is, are you willing to give it up for the sake of others, if not for yourself?
Those around us are affected by our 'second hand' habits. No man is an island.
ill.--sure, not all dancing is sinful, and you have the right to do it if you want. But can it pass the stumbling block test?
ill.--the issue is not whether you think Country or Rock is wrong. The question is, would you be willing to give it up if it were a stumbling block to others?
1 Corinthians 8:8-13
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. Things are neutral.
2. Christianity is internal.
v. 17 I wish I could take that verse and put it on the sign of a lot of churches in our very circles...those who try to reduce Christianity to a list of rules. Legalists need to learn this truth. Spirituality is not about externals, but internals. It's not rules, but relationship.
In Paul's day there were these two groups, and each said the other wasn't spiritual because of their stand on meat offered to idols. In v. 17 Paul says, "Time out!"
Christianity begins as an inside job, but should work its way out naturally.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
When Jesus was transfigured, all His glory on the inside was manifested on the outside. And our light should shine before men. His workmanship is conforming us to His image.
We shouldn't just paste on convictions. It's like putting make up on a really ugly face. True beauty if found underneath!
Write out your list of don'ts: I don't gamble, drink, smoke, dance, dip snuff, sleep around, etc. Now, which of those things save you? None! But are you any more spiritual because you don't do those things? I hope you say no, because real spirituality is internal!
A huge host in the lost world around us are so turned off at the notion that Christianity is just a bunch of rules that will ruin their fun. It's not rules, it's a relationship, and we need to get back to sending that message. Giving something up is not a drag if it is your choice, but you will rebel if it is mandated to you. I've given up a lot of things, and it was my choice, and a happy one!
What do righteousness, peace, and joy have in common? They are all internal qualities, and all are more valuable than any amount of money.
How many here have righteousness? How did you get it? Was it by abstaining from evil? No! You received it from your new friend, Jesus!
What does peace look like? I have no idea, but I sure know how it feels. And I didn't get it by myself...by myself I sink under the waves, which just so happen to be under His feet!
How about joy? It's something the world can't steal, because the world didn't give it me...and the world can't reach it if they tried! Did my joy come thru rules? No, rules are the opposite of joy, they are drudgery.
I like the fact that we have fun around here. You don't have to be a stick in the mud to be holy. I don't feel inhibited by rules. I'm inhabited by my ruler, and He convinces me of right and wrong and makes me want to make good choices.
3. Christian liberty is influential
vv. 20-21 It's not, "I'm free to do what I want", but "I'm free to do what's right, considering my brothers and sisters around me. Every day I affect others around me. God affects our family to the third and fourth generation! The world is watching closely, and none more closely than other Christians.
"There are other people!" Don't put that Jesus fish on your car if you are prone to road rage! How many times have I got lippy w/ some fool in public and then realized I was wearing my FBC sweatshirt?!
The 21st century way of doing things is to only think about yourself. And if you don't like it, don't look! Delete me from your Facebook! I have no responsibilities to anyone but myself.
That's a good way to destroy your life and the lives of those around you!
v. 20 We need some standards, and they should be high! God is worthy. Just don't raise your standards for the sake of feeling righteous.
"For meat destroy not the work of God." It's not worth harming a weaker brother just because you have the right to exercise your Christian liberty. Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD.
Now, just as we can influence others to the negative just by being insensitive, we can influence others to the positive by showing them that the kingdom of God is not things, not externals, it's rather a real, deep down relationship that changes you from the inside out.
Peace and joy do show up outwardly in the form of righteousness, and then you don't come across as holier than thou, but as genuinely Christlike, and there's only one way that can be interpreted by others...as a good thing. You can't fake that. The only way to seem to be genuine is to be genuine, focusing on what you are in Christ, not what you do for show.
Again, the issue is not whether you think something is wrong. The question is, would you be willing to give it up if it were a stumbling block to others?
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