The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Co-Exist (but not like the bumper-sticker)



As a person grows in the gospel they grow in their appreciation for freedom. They breathe the air of grace in fresh ways. Their eyes are opened to see the beauty of God, their ears to hear the music of God and their tongue sensitized to taste the goodness of God. They increasingly appreciate the breath of God in a fall breeze, and experience the pleasure of God in the laughter of a child and the kiss of their spouse. They become a dancing Puritan, rooted in God-centered theology that overflows in the joy of the Lord. They are free to love the Lord and to delight in his law.

Christian freedom impacts even the mundane things of life like eating and drinking. In fact, the grace of God makes the mundane sacred. Normal duties are holy. Work, homemaking, recreation and dating one's spouse are sacred. Growth in grace is growth in understanding of how to play basketball, wash dishes, mow lawns, play with children and build houses to the glory of God. It is growth in learning that anything, (that is not sin), is an arena for the worship of God. As a Christian grows the wall between the sacred and the secular (not the sacred and the sinful) falls down and his vision is clarified so that all of life is seen as an arena for worship.

Most of the time when we speak of Christian freedom or liberty we are referring to, matters indifferent. Those are things that the Bible does not prohibit and Christians are free to enjoy.  In Romans 14  indifferent matters included eating meat and drinking wine (2,21). Paul said, the kingdom of God is not focused on such things--but on righteousness, peace and joy (17).  So if your focus is on what you think a person should or should not eat or drink and you are connecting their spirituality to either engaging or abstaining then you are way off base. On matters indifferent we have one compelling responsibility and that is to love without judgment (10).

Meat and wine (and a thousand other things) are not matters to divide the church over. Meat eaters, vegetarians, wine drinkers and tee-totalers should be able to co-exist with deep affection and love for one another. Pork and chardonnay are not real issues like the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the hypostatic union, the substitutionary death of Christ and his bodily resurrection. Food and drink become sin issues when one's god is their belly (Philippians 3:19) and they become gluttons or drunkards (Proverbs 23:20-21). Eating and drinking are issues in the positive sense that Christians are to eat and drink to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).

CO-EXIST

The strong believer wants to enjoy his freedom to eat and drink, sing and dance, work and play to the delight and honor of the God who has set him free from oppression. The weak believer (meaning that he does not have the assurance of faith to engage in some of activities the strong believer enjoys) also wants to honor God (Romans 14:5-7). He believes that he does so by abstaining from certain activities that he associates (on some level) with sin. The association is probably connected to his pre-conversion life. His conscience tells him that to drink wine would be sinful. If he pops the cork in opposition to his conscience then he sins. The weaker believer, interestingly, is the Christian with the most scruples about such things. He needs to learn that nothing is unclean in itself (14). However, until he becomes strong in such assurance he needs to heed the voice of his conscience.

The strong believer must be careful not to provoke the weak believer to violate his conscience. He must be willing to restrict his liberties (in the presence of the weak believer), if by engaging in them his weaker brother is tempted to sin. The reason that he is willing to do so is because he is driven by a desire to honor God via loving his weaker brother. The weaker brother must be careful not to judge the stronger brother as wicked for enjoying certain foods and drinks. The weaker brother, out of desire to honor God loves his brother. Therefore he will not demand the restraint of liberty by his stronger brother. Paul's desire in Romans 14, is for both the weaker brother and the stronger brother to love one another and for the weaker brother to become a stronger brother. There should be no walls of division in their fellowship with one another.

Keep in mind that the weaker brother is a true Christian. He loves the Lord and is having genuine struggles of the conscience. He is not a self-righteous professing believer that  has a haughty and holier than thou attitude. The stronger brother must make a decision that he will not willingly or thoughtlessly put anything in the pathway of the weaker brother that might provoke him to violate his conscience. The weaker and the stronger brothers must be willing to have their consciences informed by the word of God.

At the end of the day, it is all about love!  Engaging in or abstaining from matters indifferent  are not about the violation of God's law, it is all about loving one's brother enough to give them preference in such matters. Don't make a big deal if they engage and don't make it a big deal if they abstain.  God's kingdom is about much more substantive matters.

If you don't eat and drink then let it be because your single passion is to honor God. If you do eat and drink then make sure you do so to the glory of God.  Love God and love your brothers and sisters and you will do your duty. Join hands (around the campfire of sound doctrine and love for God) and co-exist (but not like the message of the bumper-sticker).