Pastor David B. Curtis

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Liberty & Unity - Part 3

Romans 14:13-15

Delivered 12/02/2001

We are studying Romans 14:1 - 15:13, a section that deals with the subject of unity between strong and weak believers. We have been looking at the subject of Christian liberty, and we have seen that Christ has granted us great liberty in the New Covenant. We are free from the encumbrances of the Old Testament law. We are free from dietary restrictions, we are free to enjoy all of the good things that God has created for us. There are really no limits on what we might enjoy of God's good gifts. That, of course, does not include the freedom to sin; sin is bondage, but freedom to enjoy all the good things that God has provided for us.

Martin Luther begins his treatise, "On the liberty of a Christian man" with these words, "A Christian is a most free lord of all, subject to none." We have liberty, but there are some people who would tell us that we're not free to eat certain kinds of food. The Seventh Day Adventist tells us we're not free to eat pork, and some say we're not free to eat meat of any kind - they say we're all to be vegetarians. Some people would tell us that what we are to drink is limited. The Mormons say we shouldn't drink coffee or any caffeine. Some Christians say that alcohol is forbidden. Others would tell us that we're limited as to our: recreation, movies, tv, doing anything on Sunday, tobacco, playing cards, beards, make up, jewelry, and so on, add infinitum, add nauseum. These things have nothing to do with morality or biblical issues, these kind of things are the elements of which Christian liberty is made.

In the church there will be strong believers who fully understand their freedoms and can enjoy all the good gifts that God has given them as long as they don't abuse them in a sinful way. On the other hand, there are some believers who, because of background, traditions, and experience, are bringing into their Christian experience a whole lot of taboo's and scruples that cause them to believe that these things are not permissible, and therefore, there is potential for great conflict in the Church between those who want to exercise their freedom to the fullest and those who want to confine themselves to a very limited perspective of freedom.

Now, Paul's concern is that this kind of conflict in the church can disrupt the unity of the church. So he deals with that in this passage. Paul has taught us that the weak are not to judge the strong and the strong are not to despise the weak:

Romans 14:3 (NKJV) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

In verse 5 he asserts as plainly as possible the freedom of a believer:

Romans 14:5 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

Now he goes on to show how on occasion that freedom may and should be limited but limited voluntarily. Is it necessary to use your liberty to the limit so you can prove that you are strong? Is that necessary? No! The strong don't have to exercise their liberty to prove their strength. In fact, he will demonstrate a greater amount of maturity if he doesn't exercise that liberty for the sake of the weaker brother.

This issue is not whether we exercise our liberty, the issue is whether we possess that liberty. When a person abstains from the liberty that he has it may be reflective of a weak believer who abstains, because he doesn't understand his freedom. Or it may be a strong believer who abstains, because he doesn't want to offend a weak believer.

The strong are to limit their liberty for the weak. As they do this, they can build a relationship with the weak that will eventually strengthen them and widen the scope of their liberty. Our freedom and liberty are before God. Whether we exercise it or not is another matter. We may have many freedoms that we don't exercise because of love.

Paul's concern as we come to verse 13 is not to make sure that the strong really use their liberty to the limit, but to teach the strong to restrict their liberty for love's sake.

Romans 14:13 (NKJV) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.

John Brown said, "There is a great difference between Christian liberty and the use of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is an internal thing, it belongs to the mind and conscience and has direct reference to God. Christian liberty is an external thing when it belongs to conduct and has reference to man. No consideration should prevail on us for a moment to give up our liberty. Since our liberty grows out of the teaching of the word of God and the God who is alone Lord of the conscience. We should be willing to die for the maintenance of our liberty. But many a consideration should induce us to for- go the practical assertion or display of our liberty."

We have liberty in Christ, but it is to be controlled for love's sake. Luther in, On the Liberty of a Christian said, "A Christian is a most free Lord of all, subject to none." He goes on immediately to say, "A Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all."

Even though our liberty in Christ may permit us to engage in a certain activity, we, nevertheless, may not be wise in doing so. The Bible places a lot of restraint on our liberty. Paul deals with a couple of restraints here, but there are others in other passages:

Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
1 Peter 2:16 (NKJV) as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

Peter tells us that we are not to use our liberty for a cloak of vice. What does this mean? You can use your liberty to cover your sin. You may have a drinking problem, and you may get drunk from time to time; and maybe even drive drunk. That is not liberty, that is sin.

Ephesians 5:18 (NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,

Permit me to say a little bit about driving under the influence of alcohol. According to Virginia law, a BAC (blood alcohol Content) of .08 is considered drunk driving. DWI is a class 1 misdemeanor in the Commonwealth of Virginia. A first time offense is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or up to $2500 in fines. Additionally, Section 18.2-270 of the Code of Virginia mandates entry into ASAP (Alcohol Safety Action Program) and a one-year revocation of the defendant's driver's license upon conviction for a first time offense.

The risk of a driver being killed in a crash at .08 BAC is at least 11 times that of drivers without alcohol in their system. At .10 BAC the risk is at least 29 times higher (Zador).

Even at blood alcohol content levels as low as .02, alcohol affects driving abilities and crash likelihood. The probability of a crash begins to increase significantly at 0.05 BAC and climbs rapidly after about .08 percent. (IIHS, 1995)

Number of Drinks and BAC in One Hour of Drinking:

170 lb. Male 137 lb. Female
2 drinks = .03 2 drinks = .05
3 drinks = .05 3 drinks = .08
4 drinks = .07
5 drinks = .10
One drink = .54 ounces of alcohol
BAC and Impairment:
.01 - Divided attention, choice reaction time, visual function.
.02 - Tracking and steering.
.03 - Eye movement control, standing steadiness, emergency response.
.04 - Coordination.
.05 - Information processing, judgment.
.07 - Concentration attention, speed control.

In order to cloak your drinking problem, you may flaunt the fact that you are free in Christ, because alcohol in of itself is not evil. This is true, but to drink while impaired by alcohol is a sin.

Or you may be a TV addict and you sit and look at the TV all your free time. And you say I have liberty to watch TV! But if TV is destroying your family life and Christian growth, it is not liberty, it is sin. You can use your liberty to cloak your sin:

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV) All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

All non-moral things are lawful, sin is not included in the "all things". You can use your liberty to the point of self destruction. Is smoking a sin? There is noting inherently evil about a tobacco plant. And if you want to cut it down, dry it out, cut it up, roll it up, light it, and suck the smoke into your lungs, you have the freedom to do that. But you can develop an addiction to where the cigarettes control you and, if abused enough, will harm you physically.

Now, someone is bound to ask, "What about 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; doesn't that teach that we shouldn't smoke?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NKJV) Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

The first thing you need to understand is that each "you" in these two verses is plural; corporately these Christians form one temple. "In you" at the end of verse 17 would be better translated "among you." The word "defiles" and "destroy" are the same Greek word, phtheiro, which means: "to spoil by any process or to ruin, corrupt, defile, or destroy." So these verses are not talking about our bodies being God's temple, but that believers corporately are God's temple. I believe that the church is damaged through strife and divisions. I think that this is a reference to all believers; anyone who damages God's church will pay for it. Jesus taught this same truth in:

Matthew 18:6 (NKJV) "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

The Corinthians were God's temple, and God dwelt within them. And any man who would seek to destroy that temple shall be destroyed by God.

That said, if these verses were saying that we shouldn't smoke, they would also be saying we shouldn't do a lot of other things that are unhealthy. Being over weight is destructive to your body, it puts a tremendous strain on your heart. A diet high in fat is just as destructive as smoking. But have you ever heard someone say, "I don't think he's really a Christian, I saw him eating french fries."? Have you ever heard someone say that of a person who smoked? I have. What about drinking sodas? Do you know that carbonated drinks contain fosforic acid which is added to keep in the CO2? The fosforic acid depletes the body of calcium. Believers, please listen, I'm not saying that smoking is okay, I think it is destructive, but I don't think it is a sin. I do believe that it is an area of Christian liberty.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV) All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

Your freedoms can become destructive. The word "helpful" is from the Greek word sumphero, which means: "to help, to be profitable." Not all things are helpful to your Christian life. Paul says, "...not all things edify" - our freedom is not to do things that tear us down or retard our growth. TV, hobbies, or recreations may keep us away from the Word of God or the assembly of the saints. We have liberty, but we must be careful how we use it. These are all personal - how our exercise of liberty can affect "us".

In Romans 14:13-23 Paul talks about Christian liberty and how it affects my brother and sister in Christ. Paul's concern in this section is for other believers and how we can build them up. He's calling for limiting the exercise of our liberty. The key to this section is in verse:

Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

Paul says, "...you are no longer walking in love" - be sure that your conduct in the exercise of your liberty is not unloving or insensitive to other believers.

Romans 14:13 (NKJV) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve [krino] this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.

"Therefore let us not judge one another anymore" - this new paragraph begins by summing up the exhortation of the preceding one. It's addressed to the strong and weak alike. Both classes were presuming to take upon themselves the prerogative that belongs only to God; namely, that of judgment.

"Therefore" - since Jesus Christ is Lord and they're his servants, and since he is the judge - you stop judging each other! There is a word play here in the Greek. The word "judge" is from the Greek word krino. It is used for censorious judgment and then of a determination. Judge literally means: "to come to a decision". Don't come to a decision in reference to one another anymore but come to this decision, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

The second half of this verse is directed to the strong and the effect that their conduct may have on the weak. "... resolve [krino] this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way." "Stumbling block" is from the Greek word proskomma, which means: "an object in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls." "Cause to fall" is from the Greek word skandalon, which means: "the moveable stick or trigger of a trap." When we put the two words together, we get the full meaning of the verse: we are to order our lives in such a way that they will be neither a hindrance nor a snare to a weak believer. A weak believer stumbles if, imitating the action of a more liberated believer, he does something of which his own conscience does not approve.

Exercising our liberty can hurt other believers. Let's say a weak believer sees a strong believer go into a bar (is that sin? No!). So the weak believer says, "If he can do it, so can I." And the weak believer ends up getting drunk and is devastated. When you cause a believer to sin, you have acted in less than love.

Romans 14:14 (NKJV) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

This verse seems to be a parenthesis. Paul is giving us the principle of Christian freedom. "I know" - this is the Greek word eido, which speaks of absolute, positive knowledge. He also said he was "convinced". He could not be budged from his conviction, so sure was he of the truth of the matter. No form of words could express more fully the certitude of his conviction. This certainty and conviction comes "by the Lord Jesus" - his conviction is consistent with his union and communion with Jesus Christ.

Here is the principle of this verse: "Nothing is unclean of itself." Paul says this same thing in:

1 Timothy 4:4 (NKJV) For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;

The strong are right in principle - nothing is unclean of itself. Is it wrong or sinful to wear a costume? No! Is it wrong or sinful to go to your neighbors house and say, "Trick or treat"? Is October 31 an evil day? Is carving out a pumpkin sinful? No! Do you get the point? Halloween is not evil. Nothing in and of itself is unclean. The word "unclean" is from the Greek koinos, which means: "impure or defiled, profane." But not everybody can handle that:

1 Corinthians 8:7 (NKJV) However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

Paul goes on to say in verse 14 of Romans 14, "...but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." He is not teaching that sin is a subjective thing - sin is defined in the Scriptures. These things are not objectively unclean, but they are subjectively. The defilement is located in people's minds, not in the thing itself. If someone thinks something is wrong, then for him it is wrong because to do it would be to violate conscience and bring guilt.

"...there is nothing unclean of itself.." - this proposition is absolutely true and universally true, and there is not exception. But it is also true that not all have sufficient faith to know this.

Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

This verse is connected with verse 13. The word "food" is used here for liberty. If your brother is grieved with your liberty you are not walking in love. The word "grieved" is from the Greek word lupeo, which means: "to make sorrowful, to affect with sadness." This same word is used in:

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV) But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow [lupeo] as others who have no hope.
1 Peter 1:6 (NKJV) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved [lupeo] by various trials,

How would you grieve your brother? By doing what he thought was wrong. If you're convinced that something is wrong, you'd be grieved if you saw another believe doing it. We are to live in such a way as to not grieve others. Which says that we have to get close enough to each other so that we can know how to walk in love:

Romans 13:9-10 (NKJV) For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Notice what Paul says at the end of Romans 14:15, "Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died." - the word "destroy" is the Greek word apollumi, which means: "to ruin". It is a very strong word. Paul is saying that the exercise of your liberty can destroy another believer.

What exactly does he mean by the word destroy? The word destroy can mean: "Eternal damnation" when used in reference to unbelievers:

Matthew 10:28 (NKJV) "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy [apollumi] both soul and body in hell.
John 3:15-16 (NKJV) "that whoever believes in Him should not perish [apollumi] but have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish [apollumi] but have everlasting life.

Arminians use Romans 15:15 to teach that a believer could lose his salvation. But look at what John says:

John 10:28 (NKJV) "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; [apollumi] neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

This word apollumi can also be used as a general term for death or the elimination of something:

Matthew 8:25 (NKJV) Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing [apollumi]!"
1 Corinthians 1:19 (NKJV) For it is written: "I will destroy [apollumi] the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
1 Corinthians 10:9 (NKJV) nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed [apollumi] by serpents;
James 1:11 (NKJV) For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes [apollumi]. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

Apollumi is also used in scripture to speak of believers:

Matthew 18:14 (NKJV) "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish [apollumi].
1 Corinthians 8:11 (NKJV) And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish [apollumi], for whom Christ died?

You can't cause a believer to go to hell, it's talking about some kind of spiritual loss. Apollumi is used to speak of loss of reward:

Matthew 10:42 (NKJV) "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose [apollumi] his reward."
2 John 1:8 (NKJV) Look to yourselves, that we do not lose [apollumi] those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.

It seems like Paul is using apollumi in Romans 15:15 to speak of loss of spiritual blessedness. How could you destroy a brother? He sees you doing something he feels is wrong, but because you did it he tries it and his conscience condemns him, and he is devastated and destroyed.

Paul says that the person we destroy is "...one for whom Christ died." How can we treat in a loveless way one for whom Christ died? Christ loved them enough to die for them, can't we love them enough to restrict our liberty? To refuse to indulge a freedom that you have for the sake of someone else is surely one of the clearest and truest exercises of Christian love.

It's incumbent upon us who are strong to discern the spirit of those in our assembly who are weak and to restrain our liberty in line with their weakness so that we, in gaining their love, may move them toward a greater understanding of liberty.

We have liberty, but we are to be lovingly cautious not to use it in a way that will hurt another believer. Paul sums it up this way:

Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

The Christian's life is all about love - loving God and loving others!

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