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Limited by Love

Please read Romans chapter 14.

Have you ever used the right thing in the wrong way? Think of perfume or cologne. If you use it in the right way, a small amount actually makes you somewhat appealing to most people. But use it in the wrong way—use too much—and you will be appalling to people.

The apostle Paul, likewise, argues that it’s possible to use Christian Liberty in the wrong way. In Romans 14:1-12, he stated that we are absolutely free to decide for ourselves on non-essential issues (like eating, drinking, dancing, music, movies, etc.).

Now in 14:13-23, Paul presents the “other side of the coin” in our Christian liberty. Those who are free to enjoy their liberty are responsible for not having an adverse effect on other people. Rights bring responsibility. Liberty must be limited by love. Paul provides three warnings against abusing your Christian liberty.

Don’t Harm Your Fellow Believers

Paul commands you to limit your Christian liberty because not all believers have the same freedoms in non-essential issues. In 14:13 he writes, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Paul is concerned that those who have liberty protect those who don’t.

Paul is confident that nothing is unclean of itself, “but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14). This verse leads to a shocking truth: some things are wrong for you that are right for others, and some things are right for you that are wrong for others. This statement means that you can’t always know in advance what will be “right” or “wrong” for another Christian. It is a matter of one’s conscience. 

In 14:15 Paul explains that it is possible to “grieve” and “destroy” a fellow believer. When another Christian sees you doing what his own conscience condemns, it causes him pain. When he then proceeds to do himself what his conscience condemns, he commits sin. If we are believers we ought to love one another. Remember, liberty must be limited by love.

Don’t Harm Your Testimony

Since the world is always observing Christians, we ought to be wise in our use of freedom. Paul writes in 14:16: “Let not then your good be evil spoken of.” However much we wish it were not so, the world watches what we do. When we use our liberty indiscriminately, the world watches and shakes its head. Many unbelievers’ biggest reason for ignoring God is what they have seen a Christian do. Now certainly, sometimes they have a wrong perspective on what it means to be a Christian, but many times our liberty can harm our ability to tell the world about the Lord.

In 14:17 Paul explains where true life is for the Christian: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” We are prone to think that God’s kingdom primarily involves what a person does or does not do. But the kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals but of eternals. “Righteousness” refers to behavior pleasing to God. “Peace” refers to the horizontal harmony that believers should manifest. The result of these blessings is “joy.”

When we embrace kingdom priorities, our service to Jesus is pleasing to God and vindicated in the sight of people, even people who disagree with us. Our self-control may also open the door of ministry and witness to the unbelieving community.

Don’t Harm the Church

Your highest priority is the building up of the church. In 14:19 Paul states: “Follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” What are some steps we can take that will help keep other believers from stumbling over us? Paul gives two practical steps.

Be considerate. In 14:21 Paul writes, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth.” We willingly alter our pace of walking while leading a small child by the hand so he or she will not stumble. How much more should we be willing to alter our Christian walk for the benefit of a weaker brother or sister in Christ whom we are leading? We must learn the sensitivities of other believers and we must respect differing convictions.

Be convinced. In 14:22 Paul states, “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” If we are engaged in certain activities that are not clearly prohibited by the teaching of Scripture, then we should be confident in our thinking that they are right. If we entertain any doubts about the goodness of these activities, then we should give them up, because whatever is done without the conviction that God has approved it is by definition sin.

What Christian liberty is God calling you to give up either indefinitely or at appropriate occasions? God wants you to prioritize other believers and follow Christ’s sacrificial example. Liberty must be limited by love. 

—Condensed from Romans, Copyright © 2011 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved.