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AM Bible Study Archives
"Our Freedom Has Limits"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
March 9, 2005
We've been looking at a larger section of Romans that deals with the theme
of "doubtful things" (Romans 14:1-15:13). The focus of attention hasn't
been on what is or isn't "okay" for us to do; but rather on how we are to
love and accept one another when it comes to differences in these matters.
The first section has dealt largely with some basic truths that we need to
know about one another in these matters. Verses 1-3 teach us that, because
God has accepted us in Christ over and above these matters, we should accept
one another in them. Verses 4-6 teach us that we can trust God's work in
the individual lives of one another in these matters. And verses 7-12
remind us that God Himself is the ultimate Judge of each one of us in these
matters. This all teaches us what we should believe toward one another when
it comes to "disputable matters". Now we come to a section that naturally
follows from having the right beliefs about one another (see the phrase "So
then . . ." at the beginning of verse 13). Verses 13-23 teach us, as a
natural consequence, how we should in actual practice "behave" toward one
another when it comes to these matters.
Paul would have very easily gained the attention of those who would have
considered themselves "strong" believers' - that is, those who have a more
mature sense of their liberties in Christ, and are not hung up on fears of
what may make them ceremonially "unclean". In this section, he still has in
mind those who believe themselves to have a "mature" attitude toward their
liberties' - but now, he teaches them why they should be willing to put limits
on their liberties. It can be summed up in five principles we draw from
PRINCIPLE #1: THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOESN'T DEPEND ON PHYSICAL THINGS, BUT ON
SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS (v. 17).
A. The kingdom of God is not in eating or drinking. That is, our
relationship with God through Christ is not dependent upon external things
(Colossians 2:16-23; Matthew 15:16-20). The kingdom does not consists in
"does" and "don'ts".
B. Rather, the kingdom of God is found in Gospel realities (see Romans
5:1-7; Heb. 9:9-10):
1. Righteousness, because it is by faith in Christ that we are justified in
2. Peace, because having been justified by faith we have peace with God.
3. Joy in the Holy Spirit, because the Father has caused His Spirit to take
up permanent residence in us who have believed.
PRINCIPLE #2: PHYSICAL THINGS ARE NOT INHERENTLY 'UNCLEAN'; BUT THEY CAN BE
MADE 'UNCLEAN' BY THE WAY THEY'RE USED.
A. They become unclean when used by a believer with a weak and troubled
conscience (vv. 14, 23).
1. Paul considers himself among the "stronger" believers. He knows that
nothing is unclean in and of itself (v. 14a.). This would be true both of
the stronger or the weaker brother.
2. But he also knows that anything becomes "unclean" to him who considers
it to be unclean' - and then partakes of it in violation of his conscience
(vv. 14b, 23).
B. They also become unclean when insensitively used by a stronger believer
to the harm of a weaker brother (vv. 20b-21).
1. Again, it may be clean in and of itself (v. 20b).
2. But it becomes unclean when it is eaten "with offense" (v. 20b), or "not
from faith" (v. 23).
3. Therefore, it would be good to not do anything that may cause a weaker
brother to stumble (v. 21).
C. We should ask three questions of any practice; and if we can say 'no' to
all three questions, then we may enjoy it:
1. Does the Bible clearly condemn it or forbid it? (This concerns God's
call to holiness.)
2. Would I find it hard to say "thank you" to God for it (1 Tim. 4:3-4)?
(This concerns our own conscience before God.)
3. Does it hurt my brother's conscience in any way? (This concerns our
obligation to our brother.)
PRINCIPLE #3: WHOEVER USES PHYSICAL THINGS TO THE HARM OF A FELLOW
BELIEVER'S CONSCIENCE IS SINNING IN WHAT HE ENJOYS.
A. He is sinning because he is failing to walk according to love with
respect to his fellow believer (v. 15s).
1. This involves the third question from above: "Does it hurt my brother's
conscience in any way?" The standard is not whether or not we see it as
right or wrong, but whether or not it grieves my brother.
2. If it grieves my brother, and I do it anyway, I am no longer walking in
love (Eph. 5:1-2).
B. He is also sinning because he is destroying what Christ is doing in a
fellow believer's life (vv. 15b, 20a).
1. The tense of the verb refers to an ongoing action: Do not go on
destroying him for whom Christ died.
2. We do not cause them to lose their salvation; but rather we hurt their
maturity and, in some sense, hinder the gentle progress of growth that
Christ is seeking to bring about in their lives. We are not to "tear" this
"down" (v. 20a).
PRINCIPLE #4: WE ARE NOT TO LET THE GOOD THINGS WE FREELY ENJOY IN CHRIST
BECOME EVIL BY THE WAY THEY HURT A WEAKER BELIEVER (v. 16).
A. We are to keep the practice of our freedoms in "doubtful things" to
ourselves as much as we can (v. 22; see also 1 Cor. 10:23-33).
B. And when we can't, we're to place a higher priority on care for our
brother than on the enjoyment of our freedoms (vv. 13, 19).
1. We are to not only not judge one another anymore in these matters, but
we are to be careful that we don't put a stumbling block in front of each
other in these matters either (v. 13).
2. In fact, we are to actively pursue the things which make for two things
in one another's lives:
a. Peace, that there be no conflicts in the body.
b. Edification, that there be a building up of the body.
PRINCIPLE #5: THE ONE WHO REFRAINS FROM MAKING USE OF HIS FREEDOMS, OUT OF
CARE FOR A FELLOW BELIEVER'S CONSCIENCE, IS DOING WHAT IS RIGHT (v. 18).
A. They are "serving Christ" when they behave in this way.
B. The results of their efforts are twofold:
1. They are doing what is acceptable to God, who sees our hearts and
2. They are doing what is approved in the sight of men, who see our genuine
act of love and willingness to sacrifice for one another.
* * * * * * * * * *
May God help us to enjoy the things He sets us free to enjoy in Christ; and
at the same time, help us to set aside those freedoms for each other when
love demands that we do so.