Part 1 described the Law of Liberty. The next two principles put some restrictions on Christian freedom.
THE LAW OF LORDSHIP.
The Lord is the believer’s ultimate reason for doing or not doing something. Instead of asking, “What am I free to do?” or “Is there anything wrong with it?” I ask, “How can I best please the Lord?” We are accountable finally not to the pastor or to our best friend but to God. On that basis, Paul says, “He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord…while he who abstains abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Notice that the abstainer is giving thanks rather than bad-mouthing the eaters. “So each of us shall give account of himself to God” (12), not of his brother or sister.
I consider myself a recovering Pharisee. I learned early how to “assist” my younger sister with her religious life. I have since relinquished my right to control her, and she is doing quite well without my help.
THE LAW OF LOVE
To answer Cain’s question about responsibility for our brother, “We are our brother’s keep.” Paul cautions us against putting “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13). Those who claim “to each his own” do not fully understand Christian liberty. We have been set free from sin and the law so that we can serve others, not please ourselves. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (19). Pressing for personal liberty can place too much importance on peripheral matters. Paul says that he will gladly give up eating meat or drinking wine if it will help a brother. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (17).
The Pharisees’ preoccupation with rules misled them to major in minors. Love urges us to refrain from judging those who decide differently from us on matters not bearing on doctrine or morals. Remaining flexible about the gray areas keeps the love from shutting down. One mark of maturity is the ability to sort out truth from opinion, rights from responsibilities, necessity from preference, and knowledge from love (one can puff up while the other builds up).
It can also free us from pressing for our own way because we have the right to do so. Servants do not have rights; they have responsibilities. It is freeing to go low like Jesus who took the form of a servant, giving up His rights to fulfill His Father’s will. Freedom goes beyond claiming our right to do something because “there’s nothing that says I can’t” and brings us into the humble service of the King (and not judging those who serve differently from us).
Paul applied the law of love in Romans 14 to the Christian brother or sister. When writing to the Corinthians, he focused on people in the world. He said, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:21,22). His desire to be used by God was central; personal freedom was not. (Next blog: So What About Drinking Alcohol?)