Christian Liberty and Occasions to Fall

“For none of us liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living. For it is written, ‘As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Rom. 14:7-9, 11-13).

Christian liberty is not freedom to live exactly and always as we please, even in matters adiaphora, under the plea that we individually stand on our own before the Lord, have no judge but Him, that what we do affects only ourselves. It cannot legitimately be said that exercise of our rights cannot hurt anyone else. For the flaunting of a right which is plainly ours may “put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in our brother’s way.” Living to himself is the selfish practice of a man who disregards the interests of his brother. Neither our liberty nor our rights are the standard according to which nor the end for which we live. Living to himself the Christian would lose sight of his Lord, would cease living coram Deo, before God’s face, and would integrate his life with a purpose other than God’s glory and his neighbor’s good. If we live to the Lord, we shall seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; we shall seek not our own, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s (Phil. 2:21); we shall look not on our own things, but every man on the things of others (2:4); seeking every man the other’s interests (I Cor. 10:24).

Every Christian is living or dying unto the Lord. He alone is our absolute Lord. We are not lords to one another. Some may think so, as one Arminian I met who in the interest of maintaining his precious dream of Free Will (capitalized because it is conceived of as a god, a power over against God) contended that “we are all sovereigns — men are all little sovereigns.” It seemed a comfort to him that in the Lord’s army we are all generals. This generalship is founded upon the confession, “I believe in Almighty Man” (capitalized because he is a sovereign over against the sovereign God). Against God man says, “We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee!” (Jer. 2:31). Or as the margin has it, “We have dominion!” Or as the ASV, “We are broken loose,” i.e., from subjection or submission to any power or authority. Man makes himself a lord, so rejecting the sovereignty of God. This is man’s boastful confidence. But the alone sovereign God rejects such confidences and no man shall prosper in them (2:37).

“For to this end Christ died and lived, that He might rule as Lord both the dead and living.” Through death and resurrection Jesus became “both Lord and Christ.” He alone has the power of life and death, claiming “all souls are Mine,” “I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and make alive . . . neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand,” “I am He that liveth and became dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of Hades and of death.” We are not our own, but belong to Him that we may be His own, to live under Him and unto Him, to die in Him and unto Him, so that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Living to the Lord the Christian is aware that the Lord Who has the power of life and death calls us to live unto Him and to die unto Him. The Christian must be willing to live unto Him for as long as He decides. He must be willing to die unto Him, and willingly relinquish the lawful delights of this world. For the Christian prepared by God’s grace, it is not difficult to leave the rain barrel for the Fountain of living waters. The adiaphora perish with the using and are to be held lightly (I Cor. 7:30f.), are good gifts in the kingdom, but are not the determining elements in the kingdom.

Whether we observe or not observe a day, it is to the Lord. Whether we eat or not eat things formerly forbidden, it is to Him. Whether we drive a car or horse and buggy (c.f. the Amish), it is to the Lord. Whether we wear that which was once regarded as worldly (neckties, coat buttons), or not, it is to Him. We do not live according to our own whims, nor for our own personal interests. Mind, soul, spirit and body are presented to Him, and all material things may be used for and unto Him. The use of material things, of any material thing is not necessarily harmful if used in harmony with the Lord’s statutes and the dictates of love to one another. Then living unto Him is no deprivation, but the greatest freedom. Dying unto Him is no loss for He, the Resurrection and the Life, is the Possessor of heaven and earth and our Father. Then living and dying is all in God’s service, and in God’s sight a good work.

There are times when we may freely assert our liberty. At other times we are to forego it, rather than to use it in opposition to a weak brother. When necessary our liberty must be defended against false prophets who would endanger it. Never is it to be relinquished to self-righteous Pharisees. Use it when it will prove to be to your good and your brother’s advantage. Refrain from it when it would not prove beneficial to all concerned. When it comes to matters neither commanded nor forbidden by the Word of God, but matters left to the decisions of love led by faith, do not be judging one another anymore. Don’t be censorious and don’t condemn others who differ with you in such matters. There is room for judging, then, you see, but it is really judging not our brother, but ourselves. Make a judgment in this sense, that you count it proper that no man put a stumbling-block or occasion of falling in the brother’s way. The Christian who does not judge others, but who judges himself must be mature and fruitful.

A “stumbling-block” is a figure of speech which refers to the action of stumbling against a block which upsets, brings a fall and causes hurt. But the “occasion to fall” is much worse. This expression is often translated “offence” (cf. Gal. 5:11), which is a word from which we get our word “scandal.” It contains the idea of luring and enticing to sin so as to cause one’s fall and destruction. The occasion to fall is therefore a trap which kills its prisoners, a death-trap, a fatal, deadly thing. For the word means trap-trigger, a “tricker” or bait-stick in a death-trap. From such a fall one does not rise, but falls against the trap-trigger, springing the trap to become fatally ensnared. It is a death-dealing fall. Then exercise no liberty or stand on no right which may hurt spiritually or kill spiritually.

You have the right to eat and drink what you please, to enjoy every creature of God, but don’t let your participation in these things become an occasion for causing a weak brother to sin. The stronger and better informed Christian should avoid inducing the weaker brother by influence and example to do anything contrary to conscience. To stumble a brother is to lead him to sin against his own judgment and so weigh his conscience down with grief and guilt. We sin against a brother when we wound his weak conscience (I Cor. 8: 12). Wounding a man’s spirit is about the worst evil we could do to him, worse than wounding his body. “For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou art no longer walking according to love. Do not with thy meat destroy that one for whom Christ died” (8:15, ASV). Not that one for whom Christ died would or can actually perish, but the conduct of the strong may tend to his ruin: the love of Christ for the weak is evidenced in His dying for him; whereas the lack of love in the stronger is evident in his failure to abridge the exercise of his liberties, which proves an occasion of sin to one he ought to hope is a believer. Do nothing to hinder a brother’s Christian progress. “It is noble not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor (to do) anything whereby thy brother is made to stumble, or is ensnared, or is (made) weak” (v. 21, ASV). In matters adiaphora let your aim always be, not self-indulgence, but mutual edification. Then use not your liberty in such a way as to destroy. Contend for the faith, but neglect not to build up in the faith. A strong Christian is a reformer, and a real reformer is also a builder. A reformer not only roots out, pulls down and destroys, but after he has done that he then plants and builds (Jer. 1:10).

It is no putting of a stumbling-block in another’s way, nor lack of love or faith when I refuse to live according to his rules. We once lived near a “holiness” sect which regarded our mutual wearing of wedding rings as “worldly,” which considered only the woman wearing black stockings as truly spiritually minded, and use of lip stick immediately classified a woman with Delilah, Jezebel and Salome. They had standing rules, for example, against “cosmetics,” and although it would seem that we could just as well do without the shocking effects of rouge, eyebrow pencil and mascara, it would also seem that the use of toothpaste, soap, mouth-wash and deodorant are absolute necessities. Use of cosmetics may be carried to such an extreme that one wonders where the deceit ends and the woman begins. But often criticism of moderate use of powder and perfume comes from those who have that wrong with them that “even their best friends won’t tell them.” Certainly, we want to profit our brother in preference to pleasing ourselves. But this does not mean we must put up with the whims of more narrow-minded brethren. It is not possible to please everybody. To attempt it would mean the depriving of ourselves of every privilege down to the drinking of tea and coffee. “Touch not, taste not, handle not” are no rules for the Lord’s freemen, but are “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col 2:2ff.).

“It is true that food will not bring us near to God; we neither lose if we abstain, nor gain if we eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours should prove any obstacle to the weak. For if any one sees you, who have that knowledge, reclining at table in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience (supposing him to be weak) be emboldened to eat the food which has been sacrificed to the idol? Why, your knowledge is the ruin of the weak believer — your brother for whom Christ died! Besides, when you thus sin against the brethren and wound their weak consciences, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food trips up my brother, I will eat no flesh as long as I live, for fear I should trip up my brother” (I Cor. 8:8-13, Weymouth).

To be continued

“Home should be something more than a filling station.”

“He never rises high who knows not how to kneel.”

“When men speak ill of thee, so live that nobody will believe it.”