Not to please ourselves...
The Missing Element
One of the hardest tasks, yea impossible without Divine grace, is to give up our liberties to another. Especially so if we deem the other unworthy of such an humbling on our part. For a Romeo wooing a Juliet; sure, nothing is of too great a value to lay aside. For an employee seeking a bonus; only if the boss is watching. For an world-loving eighteen year-old son to be home before curfew; maybe so, but only with much complaining.
What is so hard about submission is that it strikes at the very core of our beastly nature. The old "me, myself, and I" screams bloody murder, or whimpers and whines like an undisciplined four year-old, at the suggestion to "do something you really do not have to do". And since the lack of submission springs from within the old Adam, to let it spring forth immediately makes us "unclean".
The opposite of submission is rebellion: a "you are not telling me what to do" attitude that wants to do just the opposite. What I want to focus on at this time is not the rebellion of, say, a 16 year old daughter fighting against her mother's wishes to not smoke pot. But rather a more subtle form of this. It is still rebellion, although many times not looked upon as such. And this is the unwillingness to give up liberties (genuine liberties) for the sake of another man's conscience. In other words, not the rebellion that will not give up evil, but the unwillingness to let loose of what is perfectly legal.
If you noticed the subtitle you will see "The Missing Element". Missing, not only in the homes, schools, governments, and work-places, but alas, from most churches also . Some churches have tried to enforce submission one to another with church-wide regulations. But what is submission, forced upon someone, but a form of slavery to them? This is the grudging submission that never builds confidence and relationships, and is always looking for an escape. Other churches have tried to let every man fend for himself with a strong emphasis on "not pushing your convictions on others". This form of "liberty" fails to build confidence and relationships as well, with some simply trampling over the consciences of others with a "free in Christ" attitude.
Thankfully, there is another path. It is narrow, hard, and anointed. You cannot tread it without a cross. It is the path of charity: and looking closely you will find the footprints of Jesus and men like Paul.
While walking this path we can find the Apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian church, "Submitting one to another in the fear of God." Submission in the kingdom of God is not always a one-way street as is so common in the kingdoms of this world. How many kings and presidents will give up their will to please some common "Joe"? "I mean, who is he to think I should obey him!" But the kingdom of God does not operate on the principles of this world. If submitting to someone lower on the ladder than I will be a blessing for them then, "I will do all I can!". This is the heart of Jesus.
Part of the problem for us American citizens may be that we have been trained from childhood to be independent. Not that other peoples have no problem with submission; it is part of our inheritance from Adam. It is just that we have been born in a country that cherishes personal liberties. We are told in most of our history books that the Revolutionary War was a fight for freedoms. In reality, I think God would view it as rebellion. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are to be considered as "unalienable Rights", "endowed by their Creator". Thus reads the Declaration of Independence. Following these opening phrases, 18 reasons are given as justification "to dissolve the political bands" with the King of England.
And so we are encouraged in this "land of freedom" to "stand up for our rights". Should the pursuit of my happiness be infringed upon, Woe to the man that does so! I will say no more on this aspect (this is not a political message) except to repeat that the kingdoms of this world do not encourage us to Christian submission, but rather to stand up for our personal liberties. The person lower on the scale than I needs to learn the truth, we usually think, rather than me submit to his ignorance.
There are several passages of scripture I would like to comment upon. For the sake of time, I will not write out the verses. Let us begin with Romans chapter 14.
One of the first things to take note of here is that Paul is referring to areas in life that are above and beyond what God expects of us. The 1960 Reina-Valera Spanish translation says "not to contend over opinions" where the KJV uses "not to doubtful disputations". Since Christianity is supposed to be a life springing from within, guided by God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament does not lay out all the particulars for us. This is partly because what is good and right at one time, may be inappropriate at another. One man may partake of something without the least defilement, while the next would drastically contaminate his relationship with the Father to simply touch the same thing. So we have a myriad of "opinions" to wade through. At the same time there are some things spelled out in black and white . Fornication is sin. Liars will not enter the City of God.
I have seen these verses in Romans 14 terribly twisted out of context to justify what other verses clearly condemn. I sat in a Bible Study once where the teacher declared that the wearing of jewelry "is an opinion", and if some wanted to refrain fine, but if others wanted to wear and sell them, (as was the case in this instance) fine also. The same Paul and Peter that warn us against adultery and stealing also teach us to not adorn ourselves with gold and pearls. The point is that Romans 14 is not speaking of areas clearly spelled out in other scriptures as wrong. Here he is speaking of the areas that depending on motive and circumstances could be good or bad.
Since these verses in RO. 14 speak of areas whose uprightness depend on motive, we are called to not judge them without knowing the motive and circumstance. Judging is another subject that gets mangled up. Today, the apostate churches are crying out that we are not to "judge" sodomites. The same Paul that tells us in verse 13 "not therefore to judge one another any more" wrote to the church at Corinth concerning a fornicator, "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him who hath so done this deed..." 1 CO 5:3
What! Judging someone when not even present? Did he not first interview the man to seek his motive? So we see the difference between judging sin and judging liberties. One is always wrong. The other depends on motive and circumstance. Here in Romans 14 Paul is speaking of liberties, not sin.
Verse 13 mentions a "stumbling block". As an example of this I will use a personal illustration. I once worked for a brother that had a conviction about drinking soda pop. I personally do not make a habit of it, considering it unhealthy to take in such large volumes of sugar etc. None the less if offered one, or if I am thirsty, I will drink some. This particular day was a hot one and we stopped by a convenience store. Without thinking I asked if he would like a pop. In doing so, I was setting a stumbling block before him. Should he drink one, it would give him a guilty conscience. I was placing something in his path that would make him trip up spiritually. In this situation I had two choices. Give up my liberty so as not to tempt my brother, or stand up for my rights. Paul tells us that charity will give up liberty rather than demand it. This brings us to verse 17.
I confess that I have completely misused this verse in the past, and most people that I have heard use it have done the same. The whole context of the chapter is of giving up our liberties for the sake of our brother. And then somehow this verse gets used in most cases to uphold our "rights".
Paul is not saying that, since the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, we should stand up strongly to anyone that wants to make a limitation in this area. But rather, he is saying since the kingdom is not in these things, if your brother is offended THEN GIVE IT UP!
This is such an important precept that I am going to repeat it. SINCE THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOT PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH WHAT WE EAT OR DRINK, IF YOUR BROTHER IS GRIEVED ABOUT WHAT YOU EAT OR DRINK, GIVE IT UP!
Oh, how often I have used this verse for just the opposite, saying that since the kingdom of God is not in eating or drinking, you can not tell me that I should not eat or drink certain things. When others began to impose upon us ideas that are directly contrary to the kingdom of Christ, then we are to withstand. For example, if my brother tells me that I should join the army and kill people, I have to tell him I cannot do so as this violates the kingdom principles of peace and love. However, if he feels offended that I occasionally drink a root beer, I ought to lay it aside since it does not violate a kingdom principle to refrain.
The first two verses of the following chapter contain the key. "...and not to please ourselves..." but rather, "Let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." So, we have a choice. Our liberty, or God's charity.
TRUE CHRISTIAN LIBERTY
One of a Christianís most cherished treasures should be his liberty. Having been redeemed from the miry clay, in whence he was hopelessly stuck and sinking deeper, God forbid we tell him to jump back in. But alas, alas, we so often misunderstand what it means to be free in Christ.
Again, looking within us we find someone who opposes and exalts himself against anything that be called God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither is he able to be. Since he is a man of sin and opposes any anointing of God he is anti-anointed, that is anti-christ. Yes, I am talking of old Adam again. This fellow gets screaming mad when his right to enslave us is taken away, and screams and whines and fights tooth and nail to be in control of every man and woman, be they rich or poor, slave or master, small or great. From him, we as believers, have been purchased back from the bondage of sin by our kinsman-redeemer Jesus.
To be set free from the carnal nature is the true Christian liberty. Humanity has been trying for millenniums to achieve this monumental task with philosophies, religions, and self-efforts. Only divine grace can achieve it. And this is the good news we have to take to a sin-imprisoned world: Jesus can set you free from Satan, self, and the flesh! I repeat, this is the true Christian liberty.
Sadly, many think that liberty consist in not having any laws to abide by. Rather than overcoming the law by power of the Spirit of God enabling us to live up to it, false liberty says freedom consists in doing away with any law that might stand before us to hinder or condemn us. And old Adam just loves this false liberty. In fact he is one of the chief propagators of it. Because he can still live in the temple of God as head honcho. And any law that comes along to show him for who he really is (which is one of the chief purposes of law), one of the first scriptures he likes to quote is "we are not under the law, but under grace." And hence, "Away with the law!" (Of course at this time he will never quote Paul from 1 CO 9:21, "being not without law to God, but under the law of Christ.)
As a natural illustration of how this works, let us suppose we have an 18 year-old that has a carnal heart and likes to drive fast. The 55 mph speed-limit signs and the police give him constant irritation. One day he realizes that since he lives in the USA, and has the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", he is going to set things the way they should be in a free land. He is going to declare his freedom! So he goes along the routes he uses to go to his work and pulls up all the speed-limit signs. Now he is free!
So it is with the false Christian liberty also. Instead of humbling himself and letting God give him a new heart that has no desire to race along in life, the "liberated" man throws out any law that might hinder his "liberties". So, you can clearly see why old Adam is the chief proponent of this perverted grace. He can still be king of the heart!
This false liberty hates submission. Many times it justifies itself by saying it does not want to be put under the law again, since it is the time of grace. And anytime a man under the influence of false liberty is asked to give up his liberties, you will usually hear a howl. We will turn now to 1 CO. chapter 8 and read of the true Christian liberty. As well as the liberty to stop sinning, this is the liberty to lay down our "liberties".
Beginning in the first verse we find the same theme: charity. Going through the rest of the chapter we find more "opinions" to wade through. Here it touches eating again, specifically those things offered to the abominable idols. Some of the brothers had a deeper understanding of God's heart and could eat a pork chop offered unto Jupiter, enjoying every juicy bite for what it was: a good piece of meat. The next brother was a bit ignorant and felt that if handled by the pagans, it kept it's defilement when sold to him. According to Paul, if ate as unto the Lord, it was nothing more than a good pork chop. And those brothers who had this knowledge were in the right. And they had the liberty to continue eating such meat. But, he told them to give up their liberty, not straighten out their mis-informed brethren...
"What? Putting us under the law again! Are not we free in Christ? Who are you to tell me I can not eat this meat?" And so the false Christian liberty stands up for it's rights. And the true liberty? Well, it has the liberty to let his liberties go for the sake of his brother. And this without begrudgment, back-stabbing, or whining on his part!
Notice verse 8. If eating makes us neither better nor worse, why cause a fuss? Why not let it go?! And notice the warning in verse 9. This is not to the person "under the bondage of ignorance", but is rather to the more spiritually enlightened ones. Paul goes as far as to call it SIN to push our liberties when it hinders another brother (verse 12). Sin to stand up for the truth? Yes, sin! And the liberated Paul lays down his liberty as long as the "world standeth" for the sake of his brother. This is the true Christian liberty. The freedom to bow myself under my brother with joy.
RULED BY MY BROTHER'S CONSCIENCE
We have one more portion of scriptures to look at. Turn to 1 CO 10, starting at verse 23. We find the liberated Paul declaring that everything is lawful for him, if it is expedient and edifying. Ah, but to speak of "edifying" brings another aspect into the picture. Now we have to consider our neighbor in "everything is lawful"! And not only consider him, but consider him first! In verse 24 we are admonished to seek not our own (well-being, comforts, liberties, rights) "but every man another's" well-being (KJV-wealth).
As we continue reading we come to verse 29 at which we will pause a little. Here Paul is asking a question: "why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" For years I never quite understood this question because of not understanding the word "judged". If a man stands before a judge that is making a decision about him, he is under the control of that judge. That judge will make a ruling that will tell the man "this is the decision". In short he has authority over him. And so, Paul is asking here, "why is my liberty under the authority and control of another man's conscience"?
Before we answer this question, let us consider the importance of this. Paul, an apostle, endowed with gifts from the Holy Spirit, a man of deep understanding in things spiritual, is letting his liberties (of course not his kingdom principles) be ruled by other men's consciences. Oh how opposite than the kingdoms of this world! How contrary to the spirit of many in the church saying, "That is your opinion, keep it to yourself!".
And now we come to the answer as to why Paul would let other men less spiritual and more ignorant have authority over his liberties. He gives it in verse 33, "not seeking my own profit": in short, the true Christian liberty-CHARITY.
In closing I desire to make a few practical comments. One is concerning the verses in 1 CO 9.19-23 where Paul makes his famous statement about becoming a Jew to the Jew, and a Gentile to the Gentile. As with other portions of the word, the preachers of false liberty have this one out of context also.
I once heard one woman being reprehended by another woman for her modest apparel. "If you are going to win these people you need to dress like they do, not like a nun", she scolded. 'These people' she was referring to were unconverted heathen, with bared legs and, at times, breasts. "Did not Paul say he became a Roman to the Romans?", she continued.
As stated above, when Paul speaks of submitting to others it is always in the context of liberties, not kingdom principles. Would Paul have told the sisters of his day to pull their dresses up, cut their hair, and put on some earrings so as to win the Romans? Would he have encouraged the brothers to get themselves wrapped up in a large business so as to win their money-loving neighbors? God forbid!
What he might have told the sisters is, that since the Arabian women by custom cover their faces in public as well as the back part of the head, then while in their midst the Christian women should wear such a veil also. To cover the face is not sin, so to win them they should go as far as they could. The same Arabian women that cover their faces often wear lots of jewelry. But to put on jewelry violates a kingdom principle. So to win ornamented women we do not ornament ourselves. We do what we can for the sake of others in going beyond what is required of us by God, without backing down on the word of God. The only liberty we need to desperately cling to is the liberty to stay nailed to the cross with Christ, denying ourselves of what the natural man wants. Should any man want to take this liberty away, we must deny him.
Another practical point concerns children. Not only should we respect our brother's convictions with him personally, but with all his family. Should a brother not desire his children listening to certain types of music, than when they visit at another brother's house he should have the confidence his desires will be respected. Sometimes it seems we feel the need to "liberate" others with deeper convictions than ourself. So we begin to push things on him or his children to show them their "bondage". Our time can be better spent, perhaps by reviewing 1 Co 8.12 where Paul calls it sin to wound a weak conscience.
I will now address some common objections:
1. Will not this make for a super-conservative church? Since conservative/liberal is a relative comparison it does not matter whether charity makes us liberal or conservative. If we are afraid of one term or the other our life will be one of reactions rather than charity. What giving up our liberties will often do is lead a body of believers to safer ground. Many of the convictions that are held by a few are often the safer path. In the example I used above about drinking soda pop, surely to abstain completely is a better path than to be encouraged to drink more.
2. You mean we should submit to those unconverted men that come around pushing nit-picky ideas? Charity is the answer, not submission. Charity may find it better to quietly submit, or it may find it better to explain to such an one that since he is not really a born-again brother, his unbalanced views cannot be valued. But, the question for us remains; are we doing all we can to even men of this sort?
3. What about dictators in the church? I do not have all the specific answers, but charity does. Are we willing to lay aside our liberties to win a church leader who pushes his convictions on others? Are we more concerned about his soul, or our liberties that he wants to take away from us?
The last point concerns our attitude towards one another as brethren in Christ. A brother once asked me what I would most like to see changed in his life. After a few moments considering, I told him that since he asked me I will tell him. The spirit of his answer was a common one, one that I have had to much of in myself. The spirit was not one of "Brother, I will do all I can in this area to please you, even though I do not feel that such is necessary", but rather, a spirit of self-defense manifested itself.
In conclusion, if we are going to show the world that we love one another, this attitude of "that is your opinion, keep it to yourself" has got to die. And in it's place should arise an attitude of "giving none offense", "not seeking my own profit", "and not to please ourselves". God help us everyone, and me in particular. -Mike Atnip