Fruit Inspectors – Part 2

[Editor’s note:  This is Part 2 of at least a 2-part series.  Therefore, if you have not read the original posting you should take the time to read it first, then come back and read this.  At the very least you should read and review Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8]

We discussed previously about the two limiting factors of our personal liberty and freedom in Christ.  This liberty and freedom are quite broad and expansive, but they are limited by at least two things Paul mentions in these two chapters.  One, we are limited in our personal liberty and freedom by how it might affect others, particularly those with ‘weak faith’.  We will come back to ‘weak faith’ later on in this post, but sufficient for now is the imperative to be careful in our liberty and freedom so as not to offend those with ‘weak faith’.

Secondly, we must not let our liberty and freedom be a cause for us to commit actions that go against our conscience or own faith.

Let’s take these one at a time.  Conscience is a complicated subject.  For lack of a better definition you might consider your conscience to be your guide to ethical behavior.  If you do something wrong your conscience should bother you.  Now, it’s pretty clear that everyone’s conscience is a very personal thing, and subject to great variation.  Yes, this is true.  But, there are a few guideposts to keep us from going completely off-track.  Your first guidepost to understanding your conscience and how it came to be is your parents, or those guardians or relatives who raised you.  By the time we are teenagers we have some sense of what is considered right behavior, and what is wrong behavior.  This is the beginning of your conscience, but there is a fly in the ointment.  Yes, the fly is simply this, your parents or guardians are not perfect, and, therefore, cannot instruct you with perfection.  Something else is required.  That something else is God.  But, how are we to know what God wants when it comes to right behavior?

It comes from only two sources:

  1. Holy Spirit
  2. God’s Word

From these two sources, when applied correctly, will further instruct our consciences as to what is correct behavior and incorrect behavior.

However, this is a bit more complicated than it first appears.  Not only can persons have widely varying ideas and concepts of what is right and wrong, but we also mature and gain knowledge and experience at different rates, and at different ages.  Some progress quickly, while other progress a bit more slowly, while still others remain infants, spiritually speaking, of course.

Now leaving conscience behind for a moment, consider the other item that may determine what liberty and freedom we have – the strength of our faith.

Why should the strength or weakness of our faith have anything to do with this?  Good question.  I didn’t create it, Paul mentions it several times.  In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 Paul makes it very clear that those with weak faith fall into the ‘limited’ category, whereas those with strong faith fall into the freedom or liberty category.  But, I’m not absolutely sure he is talking about faith here, in the normal definition of the word.  I think perhaps the underlying concept here is one of understanding or wisdom versus faith.  The individual who has matured and grown to the point of increased understanding and wisdom may experience greater liberty and freedom in Christ than those who only understand the basics.  This seems perfectly natural, but there is a warning for those with increased knowledge and wisdom (or faith), and that is your freedom cannot be had at the expense of those with weaker faith (less knowledge, less maturity, less wisdom).  The burden of maintaining fellowship falls on the stronger, not on the weaker.

One final comment on this subject.  Paul makes it clear that not only can we offend, but we could cause a weaker brother or sister to sin, by our liberty and freedom.  How could this happen?  It happens in this way.  Someone sees me doing something, that to them is a sin.  They feel emboldened to do the same thing, but their conscience is defiled.  In short, this becomes sin to them, but I have participated in the process.  Paul makes it pretty clear that this should be avoided.  Which is why he makes the famous, but often misunderstood remark, “If my eating meat offends my brother, I will eat no more meat while I am alive.”  The meaning here is not that you have to please everyone else, and live only for them.  No.  The true meaning is that as much as possible I need to curb my freedom and liberty in an effort to not offend or offer license to my brother or sister to sin against their own conscience.

Granted, this is a pretty complicated subject, and I’m sure there are as many opinions on this topic as their are individuals in the world.  I’ve struggled over the past few months with this, and did not want to write about it, because I felt it was too complicated to communicate clearly without causing additional confusion and harm.  However, I was unable to get away from it, and so, here we are.

My experience has been that Christians and Christian leaders have great difficulty with this topic.  I’ve come to realize this difficulty comes from having been brought up with certain pre-conceived ideas about sin, and right and wrong.  These ideas are not always wrong or incorrect.  However, they tend to restrict rather than liberate.  Consider this—  one of the primary areas where Christ had difficulty with the religious leaders of His day was in this very area of liberty and freedom.  He broke many of their rules and traditions and was considered by many to be a sinner.  Yet, He was righteous and unblemished before God the Father.  There was, therefore, a wide gap between what the religious leaders thought was right and wrong, and what God thought was right and wrong.

Rest assured, we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account.  But, in the meantime we don’t need to be self-appointed ‘fruit inspectors’ of our fellowman.  If you see someone who is doing wrong, pray for them.  That would probably be the best course of action.

One Response to “Fruit Inspectors – Part 2”

  1. Bea McGuire Says:

    This is probably one of the best blogs (part 1 & 2) that you have ever written and a much needed one at that. This article should be posted in the foyer of every church! Thank you for the blessing that you are through your writings! (PS “Rebar” is still my all time favorite!) 🙂

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