There was no point denying it, I really wanted a coffee. It was in the afternoon and the drowsies were beginning to set in. A pretty fair latte was easily obtainable, simply requiring a trip over to the coffee shop across the road before my art class began.
The only problem was that I was going to be meeting my friend who was of a Latter Day Saints’ persuasion in class. We had talked openly and honestly about our beliefs, and she believed that drinking coffee was wrong.
I thought about it for a moment, and decided to go and get the coffee anyway. After all, why shouldn’t I? It’s not wrong to drink a cup of coffee. I made the trip and walked into class holding the paper coffee cup. I saw my friend’s gaze linger over the cup briefly, but she chose to ignore it, just as I chose to ignore the glance and become wrapped in the joy of my latte. We started on our work, and after chatting for a while I absent-mindedly observed, “This coffee is so good!”
I saw her fight back all the urge to fight back. She looked unhappy, like she didn’t know what to say or how to react. Signs of an inward struggle were clearly displayed across her face.
Feeling ashamed, I realized I had failed. I had missed an opportunity to put someone else before myself. I felt foolish for deciding to gratify my desire for coffee at the expense of my friend’s conscience and my own influence. I had been selfish. I had forgotten about the need to give in and choose love over liberty.
Why was it such a big deal whether I bought a coffee or not on this occasion? Why does this subject matter at all? Why do we need to give in to other’s needs, even if it imposes upon our liberty?
I need to be willing to give in because my liberties are not worth the souls of others.
Paul had an amazing attitude in regards to his liberty.
“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. […] Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no [meat] while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:9, 13 KJV).
Paul realised that if he exercised his freedom in Christ irregardless of what anyone else felt, he could cause others to stumble (v.9), and cared about others so much that he was willing to give up what he was rightfully entitled to in order to save another man’s conscience (v.13).
Paul said that if it would cause one brother to stumble or falter, he would choose not to eat meat for the rest of his life. I don’t know about you, but that would be a tough statement to make. I love me a good steak. Obviously Paul was a carnivore like myself (Romans 14:14), but while Paul understood that eating meat was a part of his liberty under the law of Christ, he understood that his liberty was not worth another man’s soul. He understood of the value of a soul.
“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 KJV).
Think about it, if gaining the whole world is not equal to your soul, and if nothing you can give is worth the price of a soul; how can we think that an expression of our liberty is worth more than the chance of saving a soul? We just can’t even begin to think that way.
The world will lie to you and tell you that your rights are worth treading over others for, saying that no-one—God, the church or family—has the right to cause you to do anything that doesn’t make you “happy.”
Paul had a totally different attitude, and one that we all need to emulate. I wish I had remembered the words of Paul on that occassion where I chose my want for coffee over the conscience of a friend:
“What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:18-23 KJV).
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV).
I have seen a misunderstanding of this liberty to wreak havock in the church and ruin opportunities for souls to be saved more than any other. I have seen people get angry at people for having a conscience about something and try to force them to bend their conscience in the other direction. Is this really loving? If someone really genuinely believes something to be wrong, do we have a right to be angry? Would Paul be angry? Do you realise that if you force someone to go against their conscience and do something with doubting, you are forcing them to sin? It is that serious.
“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV).
Unfortunately I at times have not been careful in the way I have expressed my liberty and have ruined my influence, but we can learn a better way.
Don’t let your liberty destroy another’s soul, but instead love their soul enough to hold yourself back.
“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15 ESV).
“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (vv.20, 21, ESV)
- Even if you know something is right for you to do and you understand it is a matter of opinion, be careful if and when you exercise that liberty. What does this look like? If I meet someone who is adamant that the King James Version is all that we should listen to, I’m not going to delve into an argument. If I meet with a group of people that believes that women have to cover their heads, I’m going to cover my head. If I meet an avid vegetarian that is offended by the sight of meat, I’m not going to eat my ba kut teh or fat juicy steak while I sit next to them. Why? Because my liberties are not worth their conscience. I would not be doing anything wrong by complying, but I would be doing everything wrong by causing their consciences to be offended.
- Be careful what you say around others and be sensitive to their sensitivities. Like with my friend and the coffee, saying how much I love coffee in front of her was not being sensitive. It was being downright inconsiderate. When somebody genuinely thinks that something that is a matter of opinion is wrong, it is my responsibility to protect their conscience.
- Remember that a little bit of fun, entertainment, enjoyment, or convenience is not worth hurting your brother or sister’s conscience.
I need to be willing to give in because my liberties ought to instead be used to save others.
Not only is our liberty to be withheld because it can tear down, but at times it must be withheld because we must instead choose that which builds up.
Many have the attitude that they can do whatever is in their liberty to do—regardless of whether it builds others up or not.
Again, Paul’s attitude was different.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor […] So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV).
Notice that not only was he willing to give up things not to offend, but he was constantly seeking to edify (v.23) and to do what was best for others rather than himself (v.24). He sought to please God first, then others—seeking to please men in all things wherein he could compromise (v.33).
Paul thought of himself and his needs as being less important than those of his brethren. He imitated Christ’s example, one that we all should imitate:
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:2-5 ESV).
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV).
If we took on the mind that Jesus and Paul had, then we would be so much more effective in the kingdom. If only we thought more about how we could build each other up, and less about what we are entitled to, the church—and indeed, the world—would be a much brighter place, and more people would be drawn to the kingdom.
- Yield out of selflessness—your liberties are a gift, not a right. If someone is offended by something unimportant, does it really hurt us to simply give it up? If you have to shave your beard, cut your hair, leave your hair long, or decide not to get/cover up a tattoo in order to save someone’s conscience, what does it really matter? We aren’t rebels and revolutionaries, we are soul-winners. Your liberties are a gift, not a right to be exercised at all costs.
- Seek to adapt wherever you can—that is, where what others think is important does not conflict with God’s will. This is especially true if you are living in a culture that is not your own. Wherever culture does not conflict with Christ, seek to comply.
- Give in on the things that don’t matter. This may seem obvious, but when I have seen people leave the church over things like the colour of the walls in the nursery, I can see that this point needs to be expounded upon. Even if you are right, if you are going to cause someone to be upset, you need to be the strong one that says, “You know what, insisting on my way is not worth this other person’s soul.” Having to have your way in things that do not matter shows immaturity and selfishness.
- Be willing rather to be offended or be at a loss than cause another to offend or go without. Other people’s welfare should be more important to us than our own. It is better to have our own selves hurt than to hurt another, and it is better to be a little uncomfortable ourselves than to cause another to be at discomfort. “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7). Always seek edification.
– – – – – – – –
Our willingness to give something up could be the difference between winning and losing a soul.
Though we may be able to say “I’ve done nothing wrong!” we need to realize that it is possible to be wrong while being right (cf. Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11).
It all boils down to how much other’s souls matter to me, and how much I am willing to give up in order to save them. Perhaps it would do us all good to remember what was given up for our soul, and realize that nothing we give up in terms of our liberty amounts to it.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
– – – – – – – –In the next part of the series, we will be looking at how we sometimes must be willing to give up to some things in order to save souls.
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