1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. (Galatians 5:1–2, NKJV)
Sinners are freed from sin by Jesus Christ (John 8:36). Christ frees us from sin when we believe and obey His gospel from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18). However, freedom in Christ does not mean freedom from living by the very gospel pattern (“form of doctrine,” Rom. 6:17) that frees us from sin. Liberty in Christ is not carte blanche to decide what is truth for ourselves (truth is not self-defined). Liberty in Christ freed Jews and Gentiles from the “yoke of bondage” produced by trying to be “justified by law,” as illustrated by demanding the circumcision of the flesh for salvation (Gal. 5:3-4). The plan of salvation, what is moral, what is sound doctrine, true worship, and everything else that “accords with godliness” must harmonize with the revealed gospel of Christ (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13). We are free from sin in Christ to live by the light of His truth and have fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:5-7). The liberty to which the gospel calls us is not “an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). Put plainly, liberty in Christ does not permit us to practice sin (see Gal. 5:16-26, where Paul explains this). Liberty in Christ compels us to live by “faith working through love” by “obeying the truth” of the gospel (Gal. 5:6-7; Jno. 8:31-32).
1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. (Acts 16:1–3, NKJV)
Are we willing to follow the example of Timothy? Some debate whether Jews would consider Timothy to be Jewish or Gentile (New American Commentary: Acts, Polhill, 343). Regardless of that, as the uncircumcised son of a Jewish mother, Timothy’s gospel influence among Jews would be diminished if not nullified (v. 3). His circumcision was not compulsory; it was voluntary for the progress of the gospel. Paul did not want uncircumcised Timothy to be a potential barrier to the spread of the gospel and the salvation of souls. Neither did Timothy. His willingness to become “all things to all men” and be circumcised is an example of not becoming a stumbling block by refusing a personal right or liberty (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Timothy did not have to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15). But, as a companion of Paul and Silas, it was expedient for him to do so. Are we willing to accept pain and forego our “rights” for the sake of the gospel? Or, are our personal liberties more precious to us than trying to save some? Timothy continues to be “an example to the believers” (1 Tim. 4:12).
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1, NKJV)
With these summary remarks, Paul brings into focus his earlier statement, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). We have the right to do many things, but given a certain set of circumstances, we are taught to forego our liberty for the sake of another’s conscience (1 Cor. 10:25-30). We cannot simply say, “I have the liberty, and therefore I will use my liberty regardless of how it affects others.” Or again, “I’m not going to be told what to do by someone else’s conscience.” These are the attitudes of a person who becomes a stumbling block to others (an “offense,” v. 32; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). Paul would seek the well-being of all men – even at the cost of foregoing his own liberty – so that he could help and not hinder their salvation (v. 31). This is what Jesus did when He sacrificed Himself, and Paul was imitating Him (v. 1; Rom. 15:2-3). Let us imitate Paul and seek the spiritual profit of others, and so imitate Christ, too.
“Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7, NKJV)
Disputes over personal liberties had strained relations between brethren in the church at Rome. The Holy Spirit guided Paul to write a lengthy explanation of the Lord’s will so they would “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The weakness of which he speaks describes personal scruples of conscience over matters indifferent to God (Rom. 14:3, 5). Such differences are not to become wedges of disruption among the saints. Since God receives Christians who hold different consciences in matters He treats as indifferent (like dietary choices), so must we (Rom. 14:2-6, 7-13). Far from endorsing unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (as many assert by misusing this passage), the apostle advocates unity of diverse consciences over liberties approved by God. (Morality and doctrine are not issues of indifference to God; therefore, they do not fit here, Galatians 1:6-10; 2 John 9.) The critical condemnation of personal liberties must cease (Rom. 14:13)! We avoid being stumbling blocks and we exemplify Christ’s acceptance of us by receiving (welcoming) one another with our different conscientious scruples over (non-sinful) liberties. Christ’s unselfish sacrifice and God’s “patience and comfort” toward us are landmarks to imitate so we may be “like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:1-3, 5). This glorifies God.
34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34–36, NKJV)
The Fourth of July. Across the land, parades, picnics and fireworks celebrate America’s Independence Day. How many will pause and ponder this paradox: While living in a free country, most are not free at all. By committing sin, millions and millions of Americans (and billions around the globe) are enslaved to sin (Jno. 8:34). Liberty from a tyrannical king’s domination is cherished and celebrated in America. Yet, sin’s tyranny over the soul is more brutal and more enduring than any oppression by an earthly dictator. Are you genuinely free today? The Son of God can free you from the bondage of your sin. How? Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jno. 8:31-32). The apostle added, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). Believe, obey, and abide in the word of Christ to be truly free (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-42). Freedom from sin is a victory we celebrate every day (Rom. 6:14, 17, 22-23; 1 Cor. 15:57). (Revision of Sword Tips #802)
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Romans 15:1–3, NKJV)
The apostle teaches us to defer to the Christian who holds a conscientious doubt toward a personal scruple (a liberty that allowed by the Lord and that is non-sinful in nature, Romans 14:1-5). We are not to “destroy” a Christian for the sake of clinging to our personal preferences (liberties which, by definition, are pure, but not compulsory, Romans 14:20). We put a stumbling block before the weak (doubtful) brother when we will not forego our liberty to help him keep from violating his conscience (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 22-23). When it comes to personal liberties we are not to please ourselves, but willingly decline to use our liberty to protect the doubtful (weak) brother. Jesus did not please Himself, but accepted our reproaches so we could be redeemed from sin. Similarly, we must not cling to non-sinful liberties when using them leads the weak (doubtful) Christian to violate his or her conscience (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). We must think more of others than we do ourselves. That would solve many problems, wouldn’t it?
12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:12–13, NKJV)
Paul has just described imperiling the soul of a Christian with a weak conscience. We have sinned against Christ if, by using our liberty, we embolden a brother with a weak conscience to violate his conscience. A liberty is not our excuse to use it regardless of whether it persuades another to violate his conscience. Paul applied this principle to eating food previously offered to an idol, but the principle continues to have application today. For example, a Jew who is converted to Christ may have a conscience against working on Saturday, not because it is forbidden by Christ, but because his conscience has been trained to be guilty for doing that. If I use my liberty to work on Saturday in a way that emboldens this brother to violate his conscience, then I have sinned against Christ. The solution is for me not to work on Saturday if, by doing so, the weak brother is prompted to violate his conscience. (Remember we are discussing liberties – the right to do something. We are not discussing things Christ has obligated us to do.) Paul would forego eating meat so that his brother would not stumble. Like Paul, we must use our personal liberties in ways so that we do not become stumbling blocks to others.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (1 Corinthians 8:9-11, NKJV)
A liberty granted us by the Lord does not mean we must always use it. Indeed, whether or not to use a liberty is regulated by how its use impacts the faith of others. Its use it regulated by love (v. 1). (Paul will apply this principle to himself in 1 Corinthians 8:13 and 9:14-23). Today’s passage warns us not to have a boastful approach to a liberty that diminishes another person’s conscience toward that liberty while elevating ourselves above him (because his conscience is weak toward the liberty). For example, we must not say, “I have this liberty and I am going to use it regardless of how it affects others.” We become a stumbling block (cause of offence) when using our liberty emboldens one with a weak conscience to participate in that liberty (in violation of his conscience). This is how our liberty contributes to another person’s sin. Such a display of arrogant knowledge disregards the soul of another, and is exactly what Paul warned against in verses 1-3 of this chapter. Beware, lest your knowledge (and the liberty it affords) causes a brother to perish.
1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3, NKJV)
The next subject about which the Corinthians questioned the apostle was “things offered to idols” (that is, eating things that had been offered to idols, 1 Cor. 8:4, 10). Paul will explain that while we all know an idol is nothing and that there is but one true God, the consciences of some Christians were weak, informing them that the idol was still somehow consequential (1 Cor. 8:7). Rather than arrogantly dismissed them, their weak consciences were to be considered when deciding whether to use one’s personal liberty and eat things that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:7-13). You see, knowledge, standing alone, invites arrogance (v. 1). Knowledge tends to inflate one’s opinion of himself. Humility, not pride, must inform and animate our knowledge (v. 2). We have not yet acquired the knowledge we ought to have if we view ourselves sufficient and superior in knowledge to others. Our goal is to be known by God, not to flaunt and force what we know upon others (v. 3). These principles inform our use of personal liberties. Paul’s call to combine knowledge with humility is needed whenever we are tempted to elevate ourselves above others (Romans 13:8-10).
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25, NKJV)
Apparently some believe that since Christians are under the “law of liberty” they are at liberty to adapt the law of liberty to current cultural norms and expectations. We are told that what worked in the first century to draw people to Christ for salvation is antiquated in the twenty-first century. Such a relativistic view of truth is ready made for this present age, but it is not the nature of the abiding truth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35; John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Others say the law of liberty frees us from the regulatory demands of law-keeping (as if the commands of God are burdensome, 1 John 5:3). Yet, James is very clear in saying there is a “law” that one must continue in as a “doer of the work” in order to be blessed. If today’s verse does not say we must keep God’s law, then I must confess ignorance as to what it means! Later, James made it clear that Christians will be judged by the law of liberty: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Beware if you use the law of liberty as a license to change and discard the commands of Christ. To do so is to rob yourself of eternal blessings. The law of liberty frees us from sin, not from the restrains of following the law of Christ.