14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.” (1 Corinthians 9:14–15, NKJV)
A mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to see and assess a situation beyond oneself, to see the broader implications and outcomes of one’s actions, legitimate though they may be. And then, to forego one’s right for the sake of others. Here, Paul showed such maturity, acknowledging the right to be materially supported for preaching the gospel. Yet, in the case of the Corinthian church, he chose to forego his right for the sake of their spiritual development (see 1 Cor. 9:16-18). Too many times we say, “I have a right” (liberty) to do something, then press our freedom regardless of how our action impacts others. Such a decision is evidence of spiritual immaturity that can contributes to sin. For instance, Paul also said he would not eat meat if, by doing so, a brother who was weak in conscience was led to sin by violating his conscience (1 Cor. 8:10-13). Would you give up eating meat for the sake of your brother’s soul? Or would you proudly profess, “I have a right to eat meat, and I will, regardless of the circumstances.” Having a liberty does not make using it mandatory. At times, it is wiser to forego a liberty, and by so doing “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV)
Having the liberty to do something does not automatically mean it is the right thing to do. Paul had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but under certain circumstances, he refused to exercise his liberty (1 Cor. 8:4, 13). If the use of Paul’s liberty led a Christian (whose conscience was weak concerning eating such meat) to violate his conscience (sin) by eating such meat, then Paul would forego his right to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:10-13; 10:28). He choose not to be a stumbling block instead of use his liberty (1 Cor. 10:32). The demands of love, not the selfish desire for a personal liberty, define and decide whether one uses a liberty (1 Cor. 8:1). Just because you have a liberty does not mean you must exercise it. Will your use of a liberty influence another Christian who conscience is weak toward that liberty to go ahead and violate his or her conscience? If so, then do let your liberty to become a stumbling block to another. Forego your liberty for the sake of your fellow-Christian. Such is the decision of brotherly love. The apostle reminds us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).
13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:13–15)
Liberty in Christ is not freedom to sin without eternal consequences. The apostle had just warned Christians against falling from grace (Gal. 5:4). Now, imagine if it were impossible to fall from grace as many believe and teach. Christians could then “bite and devour one another” and claim liberty in Christ as their exemption from eternal punishment. Even though such conduct is the sinful fulfilling of the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). What a harmful and deceptive view of sin! Backbiting, gossip and maligning others consumes brotherly relations while destroying the loving service that adorns our relationship in the family of God. Such works of the flesh condemn the soul (Gal. 5:16-21). Love your neighbor as yourself. Your liberty in Christ frees you to serve others in love, not to be a bondservant of sin.