(7) For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
(8) 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.
When our girls were little, they used to play this game they called “pretty buttons.” When one had a bruise, the other would say, “Oh! Pretty button!” and then poke the bruise really hard. It was funny, but not very nice. It was also hard for me as a dad to keep a straight face while telling them not to do that. When it comes to my personal liberties as a believer, and my duty to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not my right to play “pretty buttons” with those things that are sore spots in the life of my Christian brother or sister. As a mature believer, I have the liberty to love my Christian brothers and sisters enough not to provoke them.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses the thorny question of liberty versus love. There are many things in Scripture that are black and white, but in life there are many things that are not. In addressing those gray areas of life, Paul refers to the Lord some ten times in these fourteen verses of Romans 14. Why? Because the Lord is the One Who can help us from muddying what is intended to be pure fellowship amongst all believers. So then, when it comes to my personal liberties as a child of God and my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, where’s the point of balance?
In many of Paul’s congregations there was a mix of Jews and Gentiles. Because of their varying backgrounds they had differences of opinion regarding how best to honor Christ in those areas where Scripture is not specific. One of them was the observation of certain days on the calendar:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
For some converted Jews, there were days on the Jewish calendar that even as a Christian, a Jew would consider sacred and would treat as such. A Gentile believer would not see it that way. Other than the Lord’s Day, he would see every day alike. Paul teaches us that both are right. If one believer wants to consider certain days as sacred based on the Jewish calendar, what difference does that make as long as they are both in God’s house on the Lord’s day? For example, if a converted Jew wants to celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas, and a converted Gentile wants to celebrate Christmas rather than Hanukkah, while yet another believer chooses not celebrate either, they can all observe (or not observe) those holidays without needing to be at odds with one another. (I know there are other more controversial hot button issues out there. I am purposely staying with “safe ones.”) Paul admonishes us to be clear in our own minds about those issues. He then exhorts us not to judge one another regarding those matters that fall into gray areas:
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10)
He reminds us that one day we will all stand before God to give an account and God is not going to ask me my opinion regarding brother so-and-so’s life. He’s going to hold me accountable for how I honored Him.
But what happens when worlds collide? What if I and another believer have strong differences of opinion on a matter? Long story short, there are some topics that are best left politely avoided. For example, let’s say brother Joe owns a pool table. Bother Bob, however, despises pool tables because they remind him of his old drinking and gambling days. Joe did not come from such a background and sees playing pool as just an entertaining game. For Bob it’s a “stumblingblock.” The concept of the “stumblingblock” goes back to the OT when God was giving His people practical instruction on how to be compassionate toward others: “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:14). It means not to take advantage of another’s weaknesses, or to exploit areas that are a “sore spot” for others. If brother Joe invites brother Bob to his house, Joe would be showing great love for Bob by taking the liberty to keep the pool table covered. When brother Bob comes over, if he sees the covered pool table, he would be showing love for Joe by taking the liberty of not bringing the pool table up in conversation, other than perhaps to quietly thanking Joe for his consideration.
In my walk with God, I do have the liberty of holding to certain personal convictions regarding the gray areas of life. But I also have a responsibility to exercise my liberties in a way that do not cause my brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.