Friday, February 25, 2011

My Liberty and Your Conscience

“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12) “[F]or why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b)

Care to try your hand at reconciling these two verses? Don’t feel bad; I’ve had a hard time finding anybody else who is up for it either. It is especially hard for someone like me, who is not comfortable diluting one biblical doctrine or principle to accommodate another, just as biblical, but seemingly contradictory one (predestination and free will, etc.). The same man who cautioned the Corinthian believers against wounding a weak brother’s conscience also questioned the reasonableness of getting my own convictions from another man or woman’s conscience. There it is.

Our liberty in Christ was bought and paid for at Calvary. Our freedom to talk to God, and be led by His Spirit into the understanding of His Word, without the imposition of another believer’s interpretation, should not be taken lightly. If, as Paul says, we will all give account of ourselves personally to God (Rom.14:12), we cannot afford to succumb to the temptation to let someone else design our spiritual life for us.

On the other hand, Paul also reminds us that none of us lives or dies to himself (Rom.14:7). This new life of freedom must be lived out in company with fellow believers who are in varying stages of the spiritual growth, as well. For this and other reasons, all things lawful for me may not be “expedient” or helpful (1Cor.10:23). So it goes without question, there will always be legitimate limitations to our liberty that cannot be enforced but should be encouraged. To this end, I offer three such limitations. Our liberty should be:


“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Cor. 8:13)

In chapter eight of First Corinthians, Paul addresses the friction in this particular church between those who are spiritually mature enough to know that meat once offered to idols carried no significance one way or the other to Christian believers. You’re no better or worse before God, he said, if you do or don’t eat it (v. 8). But, at the same time, there were “weak” believers in their midst who just could not bring themselves to eat it, and watching another believer do so, unashamedly, was frustrating to them. For their sakes, Paul, for one, was willing to even be a vegetarian for life, if need be. His love for the brethren was greater than his love for meat. Nothing wrong with the meat (and lots of other “questionable” things), but the truly mature Christian will never encourage another brother or sister to sin against his or her conscience.


“…all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor.6:12) “Now these things were ojr exampled, to the intent we should not lust after evil things…” (1Cor.10:6)

It is possible for my liberty to end up costing me my liberty. By this I mean something lawful may move from liberty to unlawful excess. There are things forbidden, or at least frowned upon, by some churches, which are only forbidden in the Bible if they are abused. These indulgences or activities may be permissible, even, in some cases, good and profitable, when kept within the boundary of moderation. It is only when they become excessive and/or obsessive that the blessing is turned into a curse. Once again, the truly mature believer will recognize this tendency in his or her own life, and willingly relinquish short-term liberty for long-term freedom.


“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1)

As Paul neared the closing of his life, he was able to say that he had lived his life according to the dictates of his God-directed conscience. You see, in the final analysis, a weak believer’s conscience may (even should) affect my liberty; but no one but God judges my conscience. Only He knows the sincerity of the heart. Jesus, who fulfilled all the Law, refused to be bound by man-made laws (Lk.11:37-39). Offending Pharisees is not the same as hurting a weak brother. For this reason, my liberty must be limited, first and foremost, by the Lord. In some cases, it may lead to abstinence in things that others enjoy; and in other cases, I may exercise moderation in something others’ consciences will not allow them to do. This is why Paul also wrote Romans fourteen.

You and I, as redeemed saints, should “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal.5:1); while at the same time never allowing that liberty to become a license to sin or a hindrance to the gospel or a stumbling block in the life of another believer. Liberty is a great responsibility, one that requires maturity. It should be limited by Christian love, the danger of obsessive lust, but most of all, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“Renunciation of what is lawful is legitimate only if the true motive is to please the Lord” — Unknown

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Too Long of a Stretch

“…but they measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule, which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure.” (2 Corinthians 10:12-14)

Anyone who has spent time in the Word of God knows that our immeasurable God is a stickler for accurate measure. (Lev.19:35; Job 28:25; Isa.40:12; Mark 4:24; Reb.11:1, etc.) And in the last twelve verses of the tenth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us God has a means for sizing up His children, as well. But, beyond the standard measurement for all, as laid down in His Word, Paul tells us in verse twelve that God uses a one-of-a-kind ruler when it comes to you and me personally. So to compare myself to any other Christian woman, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, singer, writer, etc., is like trying to compare apples to oranges. There is no comparison. I may as well stand on a box, or in a hole, to see how tall I am! It’s a false measure. Those who live their lives and make decisions based on these kinds of skewed evaluations are not wise, says Paul. And I can tell you from experience, it can be extremely frustrating.

Verse fourteen talks about stretching ourselves “beyond measure,” trying to do things beyond our capabilities. I am aware God can, and will, give us extraordinary abilities for unusual circumstances; but generally speaking, God has wisely “…distributed to us, a measure to reach [those He means for us to reach]” (v.13). So, to stretch myself beyond this place is to risk being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, when it comes to doing and being my best for Him.

Nor is it smart to boast of things beyond our measure (v.15). After all, says Paul, we’re working with borrowed capital here (“…other men’s labours…”) When it comes to the servants of God, there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Any success I may have had as a wife, mother, or grandmother comes from having the Bible for instruction and godly examples through the years. I sing for the Lord because He gave me a voice to praise Him, parents who saw that I received training, and the blessing of with a wonderful voice teacher. I write because God gave me a fairly nimble mind, I received a good basic education, and I have a perfect Book, the fellowship of the Spirit, and wonderful memories from which to glean inspiration. And, according to many of you, in God’s mercy, I am able say with Paul, “[G]od hath distributed to me, a measure to reach even unto you” (v.13), my dear readers. Bless His Name!

Finally, when it comes right down to it, no one’s approval—not even our own—is of any value compared with the commendation of God. (“For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”) You’ve heard it said, “A man needs to prove himself to himself.” But that’s not what Paul says. It’s all well and good for me to feel satisfaction in a job well done, but I am hardly an unbiased critic! I dare not set my own standards or mark my own goals.

I intend, by God’s grace, to stretch myself to the very limit of the measure God has set for me…but not an inch beyond. Anything else is too long of a stretch.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


“Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

My husband and I are incompatible. There…I’ve said it! Fortunately, it has not kept us from living and loving together for fifty years. To my way of thinking, incompatibility is a nice word for our inability to adjust to, or maneuver through, irritating situations we may find ourselves in. In fact, it can simply indicate my unease with anyone who is not like me. (Notice, the verse does not question the companionability of two who are not alike, but two who are not “agreed.”)

There is an entire industry of marital matchmaking built on the concept of compatibility; and incompatibility is now considered legal (but not Biblical) grounds for divorce. Frankly, as much as I like me, I would not care to spend hours on end with someone exactly like me. In the first place, it would be mentally unchallenging. (What am I saying?) It would also provide precious little opportunity for me to grow socially, intellectually, and spiritually (Prov.27:17). If I’m inept at dealing with personality differences in someone I love, think how limited I will be in the rest of my inter-personal relationships.

Still, as the verse points out, there are individuals with whom I would be hard-pressed to spend a lifetime. Obviously, it wouldn’t be someone I merely disagreed with on incidentals like what color to paint the living room or where to go on vacation; but, rather, important issues like what should be the standard for our life together: the Word of God or the criteria of our culture. I would not want the devil for my spiritual “father-in-law” (Jno.8:44), but neither could I come to terms with an individual whose Christianity is only brought to bear on a part of his life. If my husband’s primary goal in life is to glorify God and live by His Word, it makes little difference to me if his secondary ones are things like neat closets, symmetrically aligned bedspreads, empty hampers, and perfectly ironed shirts. These may grate at times, but they pale in importance next to his love for God. That’s the compatibility clincher for me.

Come to think of it, there was no one with whom you and I were less compatible than God Almighty. Apart from being our Creator, we had nothing in common. But He refused to leave it at that. He chose to become one of us (Heb.7:26), and His substitutionary death and resurrection bridged the gap between us. Now, what we as believers have in common with God the Father—His Son—makes us completely compatible, one with another. And nothing can change that. Guarded sin on our part may make us less than companionable at times, but we will always be compatible. We belong together.

By stooping to incarnate Himself in human flesh, God has given us an example, and a pattern, for how to achieve compatibility: humility. (You knew there was a catch, didn’t you?) Perhaps what we’re talking about here is not incompatibility, but pride.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We're in the Maintenance Business

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (Titus 3:8)

Don’t let anyone tell you works are not important in the Christian life. Just make sure they don’t try to tell you they have anything to do with making you a Christian. Anyone who pushes that line, says the Apostle, is looking for something to brag about (Eph.2:9). Works have nothing whatsoever to do with our own salvation, but they have a lot to do with influencing others in that direction. The verse says they make you “profitable unto men.” If you get more from your good works than others do (recognition, reward, gratification, etc.), you’re holding the wrong end of the stick. It’s possible, you know, to do the work of God, but not the will of God.

Assuming, though, that we’ve got our doctrine and our motives squared away, what should be our modus operandi when it comes to good works? Twice in this little book where good works are mentioned five times, the word “maintain” is the action verb used to tell us how to go about it. Something that is maintained is performed habitually, not spasmodically. It’s the default mode, if you please. Does this mean you never do anything bad? No, it just means that when you do, it’s a glitch, not a pattern. Big difference. As a matter of fact, Paul says earlier, in chapter two and verse seven, that good works should be our pattern. I’m aware that the Holy Spirit Who lives within us is the great Enabler in righteous living, but He’s much freer to do His work where good spiritual maintenance has been taking place. A car has to have fuel in order to run, but it runs better when it’s tuned up!

Good maintenance takes care. That’s why Paul says to be “careful to maintain good works.” Last minute efforts and so-called “repentance” that amounts to little more than damage control are marks of carelessness. If it were easy, Paul wouldn’t have said that we needed to be reminded of it constantly (“I will that thou affirm constantly”).

It’s good to get right; but it’s better to stay right. And that takes good maintenance. So you and I, fellow believer, are all in the maintenance business. Hmm…how’s business?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"God So Loved," But What About Me?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

God may love you the way you are, but do you love Him enough to allow Him to change you?

I realize “allow” is a misnomer as far as God is concerned, since God will do what He pleases, the way He pleases; but it’s the only term I can think of to describe our acquiescence to the will of God in our lives. Here’s the thing: Real, honest to goodness, Heaven-wrought salvation (as the old preachers used to say) is much more than an escape chute from hell and a reservation in Heaven; it’s a dead serious commitment that follows the work of grace in our hearts by the blessed Holy Spirit of God. If this was not made known to you when you accepted God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, you started off in your Christian life with a spiritual deficiency.

Fortunately, when God saves us, part of that new nature (Col.3:9-10) He puts within us is a new inclination to want to please Him, not to secure our relationship, but to show our gratitude and love. Sometimes we think this is best done by contemplating and reciting over and over all that He has saved us from. But it would seem to me that the Holy Spirit is saying to us, “Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but get on now with what I saved you to!”

Salvation is all about Him, and I give Him glory and show my gratitude to Him for loving me just the way I was—and am—when I submit to the precepts of His Word and the promptings of His Spirit within me. When I do this, I am saying to Him, “I love you, Lord,” in much plainer language than any heartfelt testimony I may give in church. When God bragged to Satan about Job, it was his conduct he praised, not his words (Job 1:8; cp. 1Jno.3:18).

Mark it down; God means to make something of us. Much more than we ever dreamed we could be, and much more than we could ever become by ourselves. Actually, we’re on our way toward perfection. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, and He means to see the job through (Phil.1:6). We won’t get there as long as we’re in these mortal bodies, but that’s still the goal. And if we love Him, we won’t be dragging our feet. So, again, I ask:

God may love you the way you are; but do you love Him enough to allow Him to change you?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Building Tabernacles

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” (Matthew 17:8)

Anyone who reads the New Testament will soon realize that the Jews’ regard for the Old Testament Patriarchs bordered on deification, especially in the case of Abraham (Matt.3:9) This story in Matthew seventeen would serve to bear this out, as well.

Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John with Him up into a high mountain. This would later become known as the “Mount of Transfiguration,” because, at one point while they were there, Jesus was “transfigured before them.” His face shone like the sun and his raiment became as white as pure light, the text says. Then, to add even more drama to the disciples’ experience, they were joined by Moses and Elijah, who had been gone from this earth for hundreds of years. As Jesus and the two visitors talked, Peter, overawed by all this splendor of personages, suddenly made a bold, if ill conceived, suggestion. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (v.4). Jesus may have been dismayed by Peter’s audacious remark, but it was God, the Father, Who thundered from a billowy cloud overhead, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (v.5).


Now, before you and I shake our heads in disgust at the always impetuous, often inappropriate, Simon Peter, I think now would be a good time to put forward a probing question: Who is it that you would be tempted to build a tabernacle for? And I’m not talking to New Age junkies who follow television icons and pagan gurus, either. I’m talking to people like you and me, Bible-believing Christians, whose approval rating of someone, living or dead, comes close to ranking with that of Jesus Christ. Someone whose exemplary life, Bible knowledge, or both, would lend their words nearly as much credence as Holy Writ, in our eyes. Oh, our admiration may not be quite as extreme as Peter’s, perhaps; but God’s admonition to us is still the same: “This is my beloved Son…hear ye him.”

Hero worship can be dangerous, even when they’re godly heroes. There is only one Super-Hero: the supernatural Son of God. When all is said and done, anyone else is just a figment of our imagination.