Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Pitfalls of a Mature Believer
Paul the Apostle wrote these words: (1 Corinthians 13:11) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
What was it like for you when you realized you were no longer a child? My revelation came when I was about 13 years old, I think. When I was younger I was a huge G.I. Joe fan. I had all the figures and the accessories and the costumes. I used to spend every waking hour playing with my G.I. Joes - but gradually over time I played with them less and less until finally my mom put my abandoned G.I. Joe stuff up in the attic.
I didn't think much about my G.I. Joes until one day I asked my mom - "where did that stuff go?" So I went up in the attic, took down my stuff and started what I thought was going to be a renewal of my playing with G.I. Joe. It didn't work out that way.
I found that I had changed - I was no longer a child, and I literally put away my childish things, they no longer held the same appeal as before.
Life is like that - as we grow up we have to continually put away childish things - or at least we hope we do - or we'll have problems having enough to live on.
But just because I stopped playing with G.I. Joes didn't mean that I made fun of my other friends who continued to play with them. And so too spiritually - as we mature in Christ we have a deeper understanding, a deeper relationship - and we change, we do things differently. Hopefully we've learned from trials and time spent worshiping and praying and living in Christ.
One of the things we get is an increased sense of freedom. Jesus said "If the Son sets you free you are free indeed (John 8:36). Later Paul wrote: "It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1). "Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)
The question is, what do I do with that freedom - what does it mean? It means that I can do anything I want - anything. There are no more requirements to be met, no more laws to follow, no more trying to be anything - Jesus did it all for me.
I can do anything at all - as long as my life is subjugated to my Lord Jesus. Ah - there's the rub. As I mature in Christ I realize how much freedom I have, but I also realize how much responsibility I have to do as Jesus told us: "to make disciples," to help others discover and then also become like Jesus.
Last week we looked at how that responsibility teaches us to obey the civil authorities - today we see how that responsibility extends to those who are not as mature as we are - calling us to reign in our freedom, if it means harm to another.
14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
Paul sums up the whole chapter in this one verse. The idea, simply put, is that we shouldn't judge another person as "less than" in the kingdom of God just because they don't understand what true freedom in Christ is all about - when it comes to "disputable matters" - basically, things over which sincere Christians debate - and Paul uses a prime example:
2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Some Christians have very narrow convictions - you shouldn't go to movies, you shouldn't eat meat, you shouldn't dance, you shouldn't watch TV, you mustn't wear make-up if you are a woman - lots and lots of little rules that are very important to them - but are disputable.
Of course - when it comes to things central to the faith, we should defend our stand with everything we've got - the deity of Christ, His death and resurrection - our salvation through faith alone.
Paul says - don't look down on someone just because they are caught up in this kind of stuff. Their faith is weak. Our judgment on whether something is okay or not should be based on whether or not it reflects the character of Christ, encourages our becoming like Him, and furthers His kingdom.
I know that usually it is the other way around - people with narrow convictions about some things look down on those who don't follow them - but its important as we mature not to dismiss them. And, notice that it cuts both ways - but that's not the focus of the chapter.
4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
This applies not only to disputable things - but also to ministries. You might look at someone else's ministry for the Lord and think - "boy that guy's really weird and his style is almost laughable." Don't do that - let everyone stand or fall before the Lord - and the Lord can use anyone. He uses you, doesn't He?
First Paul uses the example of being a vegetarian - then he moves on to the observance of one day over another.
5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
See? What's the focus - not on whether Saturday is more special than Sunday, but on the Lord of all days and all foods. Look what Paul adds - "each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." I like that - we should search the Scriptures, search our hearts, pray - don't just accept something that someone says carte blanche - but investigate. Then, once you are sure, go for it - making sure it squares with God's Word, of course.
Paul told the Corinthians that when he was with the Jews he would be like a Jew, when he was with the gentiles he would be like a gentile - not in sinning, or in gaining salvation by obeying the law - but culturally - and his point was to win people to Christ.
That's so key - we should be willing to let cultural and non-important doctrinal things fall by the wayside in order to let people see Jesus in us - not some external trappings we've put on.
If you wear leathers and ride a Harley you'll be more accepted by the biker group. If you know computer game lingo and dress appropriately you'll be more accepted that that group - with the idea that they will be more open to what you have experienced with Jesus because they aren't drawn off by your strange customs or clothing.
7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
You see - you are not your own, you've been bought with a price. As a Christian you are now an ambassador of a new kingdom - ambassadors spend a great deal of time learning how to fit in to a culture. When I traveled to Iceland one time I was amazed at how rude everyone was - pushing to the front of the line, taking "cuts". Later I learned that it is perfectly accepted in their culture and no one takes offense - except me - and I got over it.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11 It is written:
"'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
See - don't get so caught up on what other people are or aren't doing - instead pay attention to what you are or are not doing for the Lord.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
This is why we shouldn't look down on others - because it causes them to stumble. If you force your freedom down someone else's throat it could keep them from fully serving the Lord.
It doesn't mean you have to stop going to movies - but if your brother is really bothered by any movies at all, then don't brag about the latest blockbuster you saw. If your sister is a vegetarian because they believe it is of the Lord, then don't take them to Stuart Anderson's Steak House for a juicy ribeye.
This could also apply to those who believe war is wrong at all costs. There are very sincere Christians who believe this is from the Lord. We can discuss and even debate - but we shouldn't judge - either side.
Paul reveals a little of his own thought here:
14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
Paul I'm sure remembers when the Lord appeared to Peter and told him that all foods were clean, and so were all people - but the idea is not what you do, but the reaction from others.
The word "distressed" there means "to be sad." If we flaunt our freedom in front of someone who is weak in the faith it will distress and worry them - that is no longer acting in love.
For some, their faith is so weak that it could actually cause them to stop serving the Lord - they just can't wrap their arms around the concept - they aren't mature enough yet.
16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
We react and say "I'm free to do whatever I am fully convinced of in Christ no matter what anyone else thinks." But those whose faith is weak can actually think what you have done is evil - and its all because the focus is wrong - its on the exterior behavior, instead of the Lord and the inner workings of His Spirit.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
In other words - don't sweat the small stuff. It's not the rules or the absence of rules that matters - but the effect of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children. When we have an active relationship with God and His Spirit is working out His rightness in our lives, it will result in peace with our brothers which results in a shared joy. We need to focus on the kingdom, not its subjects - that's the way to please God and man. So Paul says it slightly differently next:
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
I wish we all had that tattooed on our brains - don't you? "make every effort" comes from the Greek word "to pursue" but its not just that but a prolonged form of the verb - so the idea is to keep at it - don't just make a half hearted attempt and give up.
Ask yourself - is what I am doing or saying going to lead to peace and the building up of each of us? It's a great short verse for living a life in the Christian community.
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
Just how important is your freedom to you? Important enough to cause your brother to stumble? I don't think so. I don't mean that we should walk on eggs all the time, afraid to do anything for fear of causing someone to stumble accidentally. Use common sense.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
In other words - don't go blabbing and bragging about your maturity and freedom in Christ and don't force your opinions on other, less mature Christians. We are free but we should also be sensitive.
23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
If you have doubts about something then you should search your heart and pray - and follow what your conscience tells you. The idea here isn't that a person goes to hell if they eat something they weren't sure was okay for them to eat - but its how it makes you feel if, in your gut, your just not convinced that its okay - that feeling of wrong, of condemnation.
So let's conclude by talking about some general principals that come out of this chapter:
1. Freedom is not a mask, nor is it a club - it is a mirror & a warm blanket
13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Freedom doesn't mean you can just go out and do anything - freedom means you have the ability to do what you couldn't before - allow God to change you. Its not a mask - in fact it makes you a mirror. Your life is being reflected to others - is it the reflection of you or of God that they will see?
It also isn't a club - "I'm free and I'm going to beat you over the head with it." Instead it is a warm blanket - you make others less mature comfortable in your presence - be a nurturer, not a stumbling block.
2. Freedom means you become a servant
Odd, isn't it? Use freedom to be "other focused" - be aware of those around you, their level of spiritual maturity - then frame your life with them in such a way that they can grow, and not feel intimidated or "put off" by you.
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant