Friday, May 1, 2015

Freedom and Responsibility - a sermon from 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

23 “All things are lawful,” but NOT ALL things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but NOT ALL things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 BUT … if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then DO NOT eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean YOUR conscience, but HIS. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do ALL to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my OWN advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Freedom ISN’T free. Think back over the history of this great nation – all the men and women who have died for our freedom. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands – most had no idea what they were getting into – but all loved freedom. Each left families and dreams, hoping to return – but didn’t. A few are well-known, leaving celebrity to serve – most had no notoriety – a sea of nameless faces just as important – their sacrifice just as great.

The next time you consider YOUR freedom, I want you to think of that broken mother clutching that folded-flag as her son’s body is lowered into the earth. Or that grieving widow forced to raise 3 children on her own because her husband died to secure OUR freedom.

ONE of those nameless faces belonged to Richard Stockton. Ever heard of him? I didn’t think so. Only the most ardent student of history would recognize the name. Stockton was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. A prominent lawyer and wealthy landowner. But - because he supported America’s fight for freedom, his home was sacked and burned by the British. Imprisoned for years and subjected to extreme torture, Stockton died a pauper at the age of 51. Yet few Americans remember this fallen hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

Freedom isn’t free.

It costs… there are responsibilities that come with freedom. That’s why we punish those who abuse it. That’s why criminals are confined behind barbed wire, steel bars, and concrete barriers. They were irresponsible with their freedom – so their freedom must be taken away.

Or consider a campfire that is free to spread in a dry forest. How quickly it becomes a blazing inferno… how great the loss. You get the point - Uncontrolled freedom can wreak LASTING, CRIPPLING havoc.

And nowhere is this MORE evident than in the Christian life.

We who have benefited so greatly from the sacrifice of Christ – are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. We are asked to love others so much that we willingly restrict our freedoms to prevent DAMAGING our testimony or disparaging the Church.

When we fail to be mindful of OTHERS, our freedom becomes… dangerous.

That is Paul's point in our text. The Corinthians were well aware of the great blessings of salvation through faith in Christ. They were free from sin – free from the LAW. No longer must they adhere to the errant belief that man-made tradition somehow made them right with God. Only CHRIST can make us right – only HIS Sacrifice is sufficient payment for sin – only HIS righteousness makes us acceptable to God. The Pharisees had created unbearable burdens for those who would follow God.

How sad… since Church should be a place where burdens are LIFTED – not CREATED!

This was not the problem at Corinth - those believers loved their Freedom in Christ. No they were guilty of the OTHER extreme - of becoming reckless with their liberty - having NO CONCERN for how their behavior reflected upon the gospel or their testimony for Christ.

Are YOU THERE, dear Christian? Have you imagined that grace somehow frees you to do whatever you like without regard to others? Have you developed an attitude where you feel entitled to indulge in questionable activities – or that no one has the right to require accountability or expect righteous conduct? Have you wrongly assumed that freedom in Christ exempts you from responsibility?

Paul will help us with this. Whenever contemplating an action that might be questionable, we should filter our decision through 3 questions according to Paul:

1. First “Is it permissible for me?” Is this thing that I want to do RIGHT or is it something God has deemed ‘off-limits’ for His children? Will it hinder my testimony? Notice his statement in verse 23, Paul says “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.”

Not everything in the Christian life is black or white. There are going to be decisions that have to be made that aren’t clearly spelled out in the Bible as sin – so in my quest to find if an action is PERMISSIBLE - I must ask myself a couple of questions.

Is it wrong for me to do this? As Christians, we are bound by covenant to obey the Lord. Jesus said, “If you love me – KEEP my commandments!” Our decision to follow the Lord is NOT merely a fire insurance policy that keeps us from going to hell - Christianity is a personal relationship with an ALL-HOLY God. And since HE is holy, the Bible says I must be holy - I should never find myself debating God about my right to do questionable things.

Don’t let this era of “cheap grace” convince you to live in disobedience. When you are contemplating an action that is questionable, ask, “Is it wrong for me to do this?” If it IS wrong - avoid it.

Sadly, that’s where most Christians STOP asking questions. Once they determine that what they want to do isn’t clearly forbidden, then they plunge head-first into the thing without giving it another thought. But that’s not ALL matters. The second question you should ask to determine if an action is permissible – IS, “Is it wise?”

Maybe an illustration would be helpful. Someone once asked me “Is it OK for a Christian to go to a bar or pool hall?” The reasoning was, “You don’t have to drink just because you go to a bar.” You might even plan to witness once you get there - your intent might be to build a relationship with a lost friend, and since you aren’t going to drink, maybe you think it would be ok.

But instead of asking “is it wrong?” the better question is – is it WISE? There may not be a specific scripture that forbids you going – but there are principles in God’s Word that would help you see it isn’t a good idea. The Bible cautions us about hurting our influence – about doing anything that would reflect negatively on the Gospel or the church... about putting yourself in a position of compromise. So Paul asks – ‘is it wise?’ “Will it help me or hinder me - will I be tempted to behave in a way that hurts my ability to share Christ with my lost friends?? Might this decision offend my brother - PARTICULARLY a brother who might honestly struggle with alcohol addiction?”

These are the questions the conscientious Christian must ask himself.

We shouldn’t stop with ‘is it wrong?’ We should ask, ‘is it wise?’ THAT is how you can know if the thing is permissible. It's not because we think that being hyper-sensitive to the judgments of others makes us more spiritual than the next guy – but we must be vigilant because we shouldn’t do anything that might hurt our ability to influence people for Christ!

Christian, I want you to look back over some of the decisions you’ve made recently – the things you’ve said, stuff you've done, posts you’ve made on Facebook - and ask yourself was it wise? Those actions we think are just innocent fun, blowing off steam, no big deal - MIGHT BE preventing another person from believing in Jesus.

How DEVASTATING would it be to reach the judgment and see friends who rejected Christ because of OUR example?

2. Secondly, whenever considering an action, not only should you ask ‘Is it Permissible for me?’ but also, ‘Is it Beneficial for Others?’ In verse 24, Paul says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” In vv. 32 and 33 he adds, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but THAT of many, that THEY may be saved.”

When I am considering an action, I don’t simply need to think about how I feel or the benefit I might receive – I’ve got to think about the impact my decision is going to have on YOU. You see, I care about you. I love you. And because I love you, I never want to do anything that would hurt you.

Too many Christians have ‘I’ trouble – they are only concerned about self! While I can drive myself crazy worrying ONLY about what others think of me, I SHOULD ask, ‘Will my testimony be hurt if that lost man knows I do certain things?’ ‘Will my Christian friend, who is struggling to remain faithful, be strengthened or weakened if I do this thing?’ ‘If people knew that I was a member of Stonebridge, would their opinion of our church take a hit if they saw me doing this?’

Roland Hill used to say that he wouldn’t believe a person was a TRUE BELIEVER unless his wife, children and even his pets weren’t the better for it.

There comes a time when we must move beyond questions of right and wrong.

In the early stages of Christianity, that might be ALL that matters to some. But as I grow in the Lord, I need to be concerned about the consciences of those watching my life. Don’t make a decision based solely on the question ‘Is it sin?’ For, in your freedom, you may damage someone else spiritually.

I have known a lot of Christians in my lifetime – thousands. And without exception, they all fall into one of two categories. There are those who challenge me to greater love, devotion, and growth in my walk with God. AND, there are those who have the opposite effect and pull me down. There are Christians, that, by the way they live inspire me to be BETTER. And there are those who are HINDRANCES in my devotion to the Lord.

Paul teaches us to pattern our lives after those who challenge us to live BETTER and NOT those only focused on themselves.

3. But, not only should I ask myself “Is it permissible for me?” and “Is it beneficial for others?” if I do this thing, I must ALSO ask “Will it glorify God?” Notice verse 31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” As a Christian, the highest ambition of your life – your calling – your purpose for living – is to glorify God. The word “glorify” means – “to communicate the value of God above all others” – to worship Him and reflect His character in all I do. Literally - “to make heavy.” In other words, my life should demonstrate that ‘God is a BIG DEAL’ to me.

My children are a reflection of me. Though they are free moral agents, though they CAN and DO make mistakes, because they love me, they want to honor me. EVEN WHEN I’m NOT standing over them, watching them, it is their desire to honor me that motivates their choices, because they don’t want to disappoint me. Should they act selfishly and choose a life of sin, that decision reflects on me.

OUR behavior reflects on the Lord Jesus. Should I pursue a life of sin, should I only seek to please myself at the expense of others – I am casting a poor reflection on Him. Else WHY would lost people avoid Church because of “all the hypocrites there?” But if I center my life on Him and His will, if I obey Him, love Him, live for Him – THAT brings Him glory!

In my church life – I must bring Him glory. In my work life – I must bring Him glory. In my marriage, my finances, in my business and in all aspects of my dealings with others – I must ALWAYS be mindful of my reflection on God. You cannot live a spiritual dichotomy – separating what you do from what you believe! Our Sunday worship means nothing if our actions betray Him the rest of the week. My acts of sacrifice today are worthless if I focus on myself the REST of the time.

HOW can we bring God glory?? According to the Bible, I bring glory to the Lord when I confess my sin – Joshua 7:19…when I TRUST the Lord, Romans 4:20….when I bear spiritual fruit – John 15:8…when I am thankful Psalm 50:23 ….when I suffer for Him, He gets glory 1 Peter 4:14-16…

When I am content, Philippians 4:10-20, when I PRAY and when I witness of the gospel John 14:13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1. When I give and when I forgive, when I am patient, when I am merciful, when I am positive, and encouraging, when I am accepting, and when I am faithful – in everything we do, the chief ambition of our lives should be to bring Him glory!

Think of your life for just a moment – the words you have said in the company of others, the thoughts that you allow to occupy your mind, the places you go - the things you do – have you brought Him glory? This week - have you? This is not a some suggestion Paul is making or one of those optional items on the 'spiritual buffet' that we can accept or reject – it is our calling.

Whenever I am faced with a question I don’t know how to answer – I must run it through those 3 questions – Is it permissible for me? Is it beneficial for others? And will it glorify God? Everything – from the most mundane to the most serious - MUST pass those tests if I am to please God.

How about it friend? Though free in Christ – freedom isn’t free. Not only did it cost Jesus His life, you have a responsibility to live in such a way that points people to Christ. Are you selfish and reckless, as though grace entitles you to do whatever you want? OR, are you striving to bring honor to the Lord in all you do? Today, why not make a commitment to live for God’s glory?