Freedom: To Love

So far, we’ve learned about a freedom that Jesus has offered to us – a true freedom that nothing and no one can steal away.  Even bound in chains and imprisoned, still we can be free.  This freedom was given to us not for our own selfish selves, but was given to us for the purpose of  enabling us to serve others.  We now continue where we left off last week learning that we are free to serve.

Galatians 5:6b;13-15

6 …The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

The Bible contains standards that apply to everyone that we are all held accountable for.  These are doctrines that guide our lives.  Romans 14 then teaches us about arguable matters.  Most issues that we face in life are not black and white doctrines, but arguable matters.  These are topics for which each one of us are held accountable for our own conviction from God who enables us to take a stand in those convictions.

This means that one person can be fully convinced that they should only eat vegetables, and have the scriptures to back that stand up, and be completely right about it before Jesus.  This also means that another person can be fully convinced that they can eat anything, and have the scriptures to back that stand up, and be completely right about it before Jesus.  Two radically different stands and yet each one is right.

However, for the veggie lover to feed the meat lover only veggies or for the meat lover to feed the veggie lover a steak would be wrong.  To do this would be sin and to try to win over the veggie lover to begin eating meats would also be sin for the meat lover.  We are not to treat one another with contempt, but to humbly love and serve one another.

Romans 14:15-19

15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

These arguable matters give an opportunity for us to either bite and devour and destroy work that Jesus accomplished on the cross or to show our faith expressed through love continuing to build His work.

How do we practically live this out, though?  How can a republican and democrat discuss current events in peace?  How can a vegan and hunter feed the hungry together?  How can a boomer and gen-x’er mentor youth together?  How can a mime and preacher reach the lost together?

To make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification requires us to go back to Christianity 101: love your neighbor as yourself.  We have been given the freedom to serve and to love and no one and nothing can stop us from doing either and no law can ever be written against them. 

The love that we are commanded to express and free to express, the love which fulfills the law, is the love that comes only from God poured out into our lives through the Holy Spirit.  This love is agape love, a selfless, sacrificial love.  It is a love that requires us to sacrifice our selves in order to allow God’s love to flow in and through us.  The choice to act in this love is a choice.

In many of our lives, we have been filled with the Spirit of God, but we don’t know how to practically follow His lead.  We might look a little like this. (guy carrying wheel barrow video)  This doesn’t have to be the case, though!  We can choose to live full lives truly empowered and lead by the Spirit!

Paul went on to teach a bit about how to respond when arguable matters arise and our conviction before God differs from another’s:

Romans 15:1-7

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

One of the keys to responding to those with different convictions is to realize that as a Christian, we have the freedom to accept others as they are, just as Christ accepted us.  Jesus did not agree with our lifestyles when He first accepted us.  Our lives were bound by sin when He first accepted us.  To be completely honest, we were not even all that easy-to-love.

The point is, we can accept people without agreeing with them on any single issue just like Jesus.  We can serve people that we totally disagree with just like Jesus.  We can love people who have no love for us just like Jesus.  The freedom that Jesus has given us enables and equips us to do exactly this.  Accept one another just as Christ accepted us in order to bring praise to God.

Have the same attitude of mind toward people as Jesus had.  This is where it all begins, in our mind expressed through our attitudes.  If Jesus held the attitude that we often do consisting of, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” well, we’d all be heading straight to hell with no possible way of salvation. 

Jesus became wrong and took on the punishment for our wrong to make our relationship right.  Jesus values relationship more than righteousness and so should we.  Jesus values a right attitude over being right and so should we.

The God of all of the universe left Heaven, wrapped Himself in flesh, lived with our weaknesses and temptations yet lived a sinless life, willingly gave it up to take on the punishment that we deserve, not to prove that He is right, but to do everything that He could to make a way for our relationship to be right.  He chose the attitude of a servant according to Philippians 2.

Jesus was willing to sacrifice His righteous standing to right our relationship.  Jesus endured in service to people who lived completely contradictory to His righteous lifestyle.  Jesus endured in love toward people who mistreated Him. 

Consider the way that Jesus lived.  He never lowered His standard of righteousness and never sinned.  Yet the lifestyle that He lived was labelled sinful and even demonic by many of the Jewish leaders.  He hung out with people that He totally disagreed with. 

Here on the earth, He built relationships with them and as a result, they willingly changed their lives.  He accepted them as they were and they were transformed into a different person because of it!

Jesus didn’t reach the lost by trapping them with gotcha give aways or leaving tracts laying around that looked like money.  Jesus was honest and transparent and direct.  He reached the lost by personally and directly accepting them as they were and loving and serving their needs.  This is how lives were genuinely transformed and salvation received.

If that is how Jesus successfully reached the lost, then why should we try to do it any differently?  He never invited people to attend a service with Him at the temple.  The gentiles that He saved would not even be allowed to do so. 

He never organized a big outreach with bouncy houses, food, and music.  It’s not that there is anything wrong with these things in and of themselves.  However, if the motive is just to attract people in like a mosquito to a bug light, we’ve missed the point and our motive is wrong.  Jesus simply loved and served people genuinely and it changed the world!

Jesus lived out an example for us so that we might know what it looks like to use His freedom to serve and to love, especially those we do not agree with.  He then said, follow me!

When you find yourself at odds with someone who is firmly taking a stand that you do not agree with, but it’s an arguable matter, picture this.  (finger trap)

The more that you try to pull them over to your side to see things the way that you do, the more that they pull away from it.

It’s a trap set by the enemy!

The harder that you push the issue, the tighter the trap gets.

The tighter that the trap gets the more uncomfortable that you are around that person.

No one can be themselves or live in peace or joy when the other person is always waiting for the right moment to pounce on them to prove their point.  No one enjoys being around someone who is always looking to prove them wrong.  No one enjoys getting an email or message from someone when they know that it just going to be yet another article or video about an arguable matter. 

People are smart enough to see those things for what they are: IT’S A TRAP!  So, instead of laying out traps to try and win people over to see the world as we see it, how should we respond?  How can we stick to our convictions, express them clearly in a loving way, and allow others to be free to stick to their opposing convictions on arguable matters?

The principles that enable us to do this with a brother or sister in Christ are the same principles that can help us be far more effective with reaching the lost.  When we encounter “those who oppose”:

1. Stop!

Proverbs 18:19 (CSB)

An offended brother is [harder to reach] than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress.

You’re only going to tighten the trap by arguing more about an arguable matter.  The first step out of this trap is to stop trying to “reach” them by throwing more information and arguments at them.  It is only making them harder to reach! 

How many can “Amen!” that this morning, too?  The more you try to win over someone on an arguable matter, the more arguable you both become?  Lots of fruits of the flesh are produced and very few fruits of the Holy Spirit, right?  That ought to be a red flag indicator to us that we’re handling this wrong.

This finger trap will only tighten its grip and stance the more that you struggle and fight with it!

2. Come together!

Jesus found common ground with people.  He literally went to where they were at both physically travelling to them as well as intellectually through parables.  He ate with them, laughed with them, accepted them, defended them, encouraged them, He lived life together with them.

Focus less to the arguable matters that you disagree on and more on the common ground that you do have.  If Jesus can do it with non-arguable matters, then surely we can follow His example in arguable ones, right? 

Intentionally spend more time with others participating in activities or discussing subjects that you share in common.  Build relationship with them by genuinely caring about them.  The saying is true that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Sacrifice your need to be right to make the relationship right.  You’ll find the walls beginning to come down and the awkwardness being replaced by peace and joy in your relationship.

This finger trap will loosen the moment you bring your two fingers together.

3. Ask!

Jesus often asked questions.  When you’ve done well at building a relationship with someone, you will eventually come around to discussing the things that you don’t see eye-to-eye on. 

To approach those subjects, just ask!  Ask them if it would be OK to discuss that subject and respect their response.  Ask if you can ask them some questions, not to argue, but to learn.  Ask them questions with the goal of better understanding them and where they are coming from.  This is if they don’t begin asking you questions about the subject first, which often will happen when a healthy relationship has been built.

This approach further builds relationships where an argumentative approach only tears them down.  That’s how Jesus responded to those who opposed Him.  This is also the approach that God’s word teaches us to use even in the worst possible case scenario!

2 Timothy 2:22-26

22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

These are three practical and simple steps that we can take to escape the trap of the enemy and use that situation instead to do the only thing that matters, having our faith express itself through love.  We instead can use our freedom as a Christian to serve and to love people that we do not agree with.

Let this finger trap be a reminder of how we are called to respond when arguable matters arise. 

1. Stop

2. Come Together

3. Ask

Keep first things first.  We will be judged by God for living out our own personal convictions that He has given us in arguable matters.  However more so, we will be judged by how to treat others, especially those who we don’t agree with.  Remember, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  Love others as you love yourself and you’ll live a full and successful life!