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Navigating Christian Liberty - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Romans 14:1-15:13

  • 2020-11-08 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Let me remind you that the foundation for understanding Romans 14 is the reality that every single moral decision you will ever make falls into one of three categories. Either the Bible explicitly commands it, the Bible explicitly forbids it, or it is an issue of conscience or Christian liberty. Those are the only three categories when it comes to moral decisions. What that means is if a passage of Scripture doesn't clearly forbid or command that decision that you're considering, it falls within the category of Christian liberty or of conscience.

However, what we're learning, from Romans 14, is the fact that we can make a decision does not mean we should make that decision. Although we have real liberty, there are also real dangers that accompany that liberty. I've summarized this section of Romans in this way, Christian liberty is a liberty to be wisely used, not a license to be abused; Christian liberty is a liberty to be wisely used, not a license to be abused. In Romans 14 and into chapter 15, Paul provides, for us, several foundational principles concerning the wise and biblical use of Christian liberty.

We've looked at these, but let me just remind you, the first principle we discovered is expect legitimate differences on issues of conscience. In the early verses of this chapter, there are two first century examples cited. The specific issues here had to do with the Old Testament ceremonial law and the disagreements settled on two issues.

The first one was eating unclean foods. The Jewish Christians, in the Roman churches, were convinced that they still needed to obey the Mosaic Law including the dietary restrictions. Now, this was a problem when they went to the meat markets there in Rome because they were faced with the question when they saw that wonderful looking slab of a meat is, in fact, this part of an animal that's considered clean? Is it permissible under the Old Testament law? Has it been slaughtered in the proper way, has all the blood been drained from it, and has it been offered to idols? Unable to answer those questions satisfactorily, the Jewish Christians were left with fruit and vegetables.

The second challenging issue there in Rome had to do with the observation of the Old Testament holy days. The Jewish Christians in the churches were also convinced that all Christians, Jew and Gentile, should keep the weekly Sabbaths, the new moon festivals, and the annual feasts. On both of these issues, however, their Gentile brothers, sitting next to them in the house churches there in Rome, disagreed. And that makes sense because when it comes to conscience issues, there are always, as we learned, two categories of Christians. There are those who are weak and those who are strong. I noted for you those words are used, not of the person's love for Christ, but rather the level of their understanding, believing, and applying the sufficiency of Scripture. They're weak or strong in that way.

The Christian, with a weak conscience, is convinced that Scripture forbids or commands something that Scripture, in fact, does not forbid or command. In Rome, the weak Christians refused to eat meat and felt they had to keep the Old Testament holy days. The strong brothers, in the churches in Rome, understood that wasn't true, that they were free to make the opposite choices. There will always be in every church, there is in this church, legitimate difference over these issues of conscience. Expect it; don't be surprised by that.

A second principle of Christian liberty we learned is accept those differences in a spirit of unity. Expect there to be differences on these issues and accept those differences in a spirit of unity; that's the message of the first 12 verses of Romans 14. The principle factors in this unity are when those legitimate differences settle into sinful conflict, initiated either by the weaker brother condemning the stronger brother who does this thing they think is forbidden, or initiated by the stronger brother, looking with contempt on, despising, thinking, how in the world could they not see this, how ridiculous, how silly of them. That creates disunity.

What's the biblical cure for disunity? Well, verses 1 to 12 say the cure is to correct our thinking. We must remember that we do not decide our brother's acceptance, Christ does; that we are not our brother's Lord, Christ is; that we are not our brother's judge, but Christ will be. That's the message then of the first 12 verses.

Now today, we come to the next section of this chapter and to a third principle of Christian liberty; it's this, never allow your liberty to cause others to sin; never allow your liberty to cause others to sin. We see this in verses 13 to 21. You follow along as I read them.

Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, (let us) pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.

Now the first verse, in this passage, is a transition verse. The first half of the verse summarizes the previous 12 verses. Notice what he writes in verse 13, "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore." That's a summary of all that we've learned so far. The second half of verse 13 introduces us to the next major idea, "…but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way."

Now as he makes this transition, Paul does so with an intentional wordplay. He uses the same Greek word in two different senses. The same Greek word translated 'judge' in the first half of verse 13, is translated 'to determine' in the last half of the verse. The first use really means 'to judge in the sense of condemn;' the second use means 'to judge in the sense of make a wise decision.' So, we could translate it like this, look at verse 13, "Therefore let us not condemn one another anymore. On the other hand, let us judge (or make a wise decision) in this way, how not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way."

Now with that, Paul begins then his next major concern and the third principle of Christian liberty. We must never allow our liberty to cause others to sin. In verse 13, there are two really powerful word pictures that describe what it's like to cause others to sin. The first one is translated, "Don't put an obstacle in a brother's way." The word for 'obstacle' refers literally to 'a rock that causes somebody to trip.' We've all experience that; you're walking along, even down the sidewalk and maybe the sidewalk is slightly raised and you trip, and you look back and have this accusing look at the sidewalk like, "How dare you? What were you thinking?" We've had that experience of a stone or rock that trips us; that's this word 'obstacle.' Metaphorically, it describes anything that trips you up or causes you to sin. Paul says, "Don't use your Christian liberty if your actions are going to be like a rock that you put in front of your brother that causes him to trip and to fall into sin.

The second word picture in verse 13, is 'stumbling block,' "Don't put a stumbling block in your brother's way." This word is really a fascinating Greek word, it's 'skandalon,' from which we get the English word 'scandal.' Literally, this Greek word referred to 'the movable stick or trigger in an animal trap.'

When I was growing up in South Alabama, we would occasionally get the bright idea to catch a squirrel, and we would take this box and you'd set it up where there was a stick, holding up the box, and then there was a string tied to that stick, and the bait was back there laid further in the trap, and your hope was that the squirrel would grab that piece of bait; in so doing, pull the string, pull the bait stick, and the box would fall and capture the squirrel. That's this word; but eventually it was used not only of the bait stick, but of the entire trap. And so, metaphorically then, it came to speak to speak of a moral trap, something that causes a person to be ruined, it brings about their downfall. Paul says we must never use our liberty if it's going to cause a trap for our brother or something over which he stumbles and falls into sin.

Now, you should be asking a question at this point and that is, "How does that even happen? How can using my liberty cause someone else to sin?" Well, Paul anticipates that question and he answers it in verse 14. Verse 14 is almost an aside, I'll show you a minute. He skips back in verse 15 to his main argument, but verse 14, he explains how your liberty can cause someone else to sin. He says, "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

Now, Paul obviously is not saying that every moral choice is in fact amoral, that there's no morality, you can do whatever you want. That belies the rest of the book of Romans and the rest of his writings and the rest of the Scripture. He's talking here in context about the Old Testament kosher laws; what foods were clean or not clean by that standard. And he says, "Nothing, no food or drink is inherently unclean in itself." Paul knew biblically and was persuaded personally that that was true. How did he come to that decision?

Well notice he says, "in the Lord Jesus." I think what Paul means there is he was convinced of this by the statements of our Lord Himself. You remember in Mark, chapter 7, verse 18-20, Jesus says it's not that which "goes into the man (which) defile(s) him…(it's) that which (comes) out of his heart…(that) defiles him." And then Mark adds this little parenthesis in Mark 7:19, "Thus (Jesus) declared all foods (to be) clean."

And then you have Christ's interaction with Peter in Acts, chapter 10. You remember where he sees this vision and three times he's told to "Arise, kill and eat." And he says he can't because the animals on that sheet are not clean, to which the Lord says, "Don't call what I have cleansed, unclean." Again, making it clear that those dietary restrictions were no longer in place. Paul knew that pork is no less clean before God than beef.

By the way, let me just hit the pause button here for a moment and warn you about something. Don't listen to those who argue on whatever grounds that Christians must follow the Old Testament dietary guidelines and must keep the Jewish feasts. Don't listen to them, don't follow them. At best, they are the misled weaker brother; at worst, they may be dangerously close to becoming the Judaizers who compromise the gospel as recorded in Galatians. Christ's coming and His work ended the Old Testament ceremonial law.

Now in verse 14, Paul's point is that, when it comes to those things the Bible doesn't clearly address, listen carefully, as long as you think a choice is sinful, it's sinful. When you don't think it's sinful, then it's not sinful. Let me say it a different way. As long as you don't think a choice is sinful, then it's not sinful. But if you're convinced it's sinful, to you, it is.

Now, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute, Tom. How does that even work? If a moral choice is an issue of conscience, that means the Bible doesn't clearly address it. So, how does something like that end up being sinful?" Well, Paul explains down in verse 23; we'll, Lord willing, get to this next week. But notice what he writes, he says, "…he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." In other words, if you're not convinced that it's right for you to do before the Lord, then it's wrong for you to do it.

Let's say, for example, let's say that you're convinced that even apart from the lyrics, a certain style of music is sinful. Now, you'd be wrong because there's no biblical warrant for that; it's not inherently sinful. The Bible doesn't address it; it is an issue of conscience or Christian liberty. However, as long as you believe it's morally wrong, it would be sinful for you to listen to that music. Why? Because you would be deliberately choosing to do something that you believe God forbids.

Now, we understand this even at a human level. What if you told a child that she could have as many cookies from a particular cookie jar in your kitchen as she wanted; no restraint! Eat to your heart's content! Now, I'd loved to have grown up in that home; that wasn't true in my house. But let's just say for whatever reason, you decide to do that. There it is, you can have as many as you want; I'll keep it filled with fresh chocolate chip cookies, "Eat up!" Now suppose a few weeks later you happen to come around the corner into the kitchen and you see that same child obviously being sneaky, like trying to get away with something, hoping to hide something from you, and all this child does is go to that cookie jar that you said she can have as many as many as she wants, and she gets a cookie. Now, you'd be concerned about that. Why? Because of what she did? No! You told her she could have many cookies as you want. You'd be concerned about why, because clearly, she's doing it with a desire to get away with something, to disobey you. In the same way, even if something isn't inherently sinful, it is sinful for the weaker brother if he thinks it's sinful and chooses to do it, because essentially, he's saying at that point, "I don't think God wants me to do this, but I'm going to do it anyway." That shows a sinful heart.

Now, we don't want, then, to lead our Christian brothers and sisters into sin; we don't want to cause them to sin in the exercise of our liberty. The rest of this paragraph explains the three ways that we can keep that from happening. There are three ways we can keep our liberty from causing our brothers to sin.

First of all, we can do so if we genuinely love our fellow Christians, if we genuinely love our fellow Christians. Verse 15, now verse 15 as I've said, continues the thought that began in verse 13. Verse 14 is kind of an aside where Paul explains how this could even happen. But now he comes back to where he was in verse 13. Verse 15, "For (Here's why not to put a rock or a trap in your brother's way.) if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking (or living habitually) according to love." You see what Paul is saying? Here's the real issue; if you genuinely love others, you're not going to let your food choice trip him up or be a spiritual trap to him. You're not going to make your decisions on issues of conscience based solely on what you want if you love your brother. If you truly love others, you don't want to hurt them. Notice he goes on in verse 15, "Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died." Don't let your decision about something that's your Christian liberty ruin someone Christ died for.

And by the way, this statement, just in passing, underscores the destructive power of sin in our lives. Do you hear what he just said? He just said that if your Christian brother chooses to sin against his conscience and do something that the Scripture doesn't even forbid, it's going to be destructive in his life. How destructive sin is!

In fact, let me just say that left to ourselves, our sin, all of our sin would destroy every single one of us. That's why we need the gospel, that's why you need the gospel. Left to yourself, me left to myself, we would destroy our lives. And there's only one that can rescue us. We need the gospel that says, Christ, God's eternal Son, the Father loved us so much He sent the Son into the world as one of us, to live among us, to be one of us, and to live the perfect life of obedience to God, the life you were supposed to have lived, and then to die on the cross, not for His own sins, he had none, but to die to satisfy God's justice so that He could forgive the sins of those who trusted in Jesus. And then God raised Him from the dead and He ascended, and He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and one day He's coming back for His own, and He will establish His kingdom forever. That's the gospel and we needed the gospel because left to ourselves, we would destroy ourselves with sin. Instead, there's the gospel offered, and to receive it, we have to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ.

In verse 15, Paul says, I want you to just think about this for a moment, "Is a bite of meat worth the value of your brother's soul?" Do you follow Paul's logic? He says, "Christ sacrificed everything to save your brother. Are you really unwilling to sacrifice whatever it is that you think is your Christian liberty? Christ died to save him. Do you really not care if your decisions in Christian liberty destroy him? Think about it." I really want to think about this for a moment. Is there any Christian liberty that you would be unwilling to give up to protect another Christian from sin? If you love them, there shouldn't be.

Paul's already commanded us to love. Go back to Romans 13, verse 8, we studied this together. He says:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; (Here is the debt you never pay off.) for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it's summed up in the saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

In other words, the way you fulfill God's law, the way you obey God is by loving.

Now, in chapter 14, verse 15, he say, "If you insist on exercising your liberty even if it hurts your brother, then you are not loving, and if you're not loving (You're what?) you're sinning." (Paraphased) You're sinning because you don't love the one for whom Christ died.

The point Paul is making here is that if you and I will work at genuinely loving others, then we will gladly limit our freedom to protect them from sin. We're not going to live selfishly saying, "This is what I want and I'm going to do it, and it doesn't really matter how it hurts anyone else."

There's a second way to ensure we don't let our Christian liberty cause others to sin and that is intentionally live for kingdom priorities. That's the message of verses 16 to 18, intentionally live for kingdom priorities. Look at verse 16, "Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil." Now what does Paul mean, "what is for you a good thing?" Some commentators believe he's talking about the gospel. He's saying, "Listen, if you abuse your Christian liberty, you're going to cause people to speak evil of the gospel. That's possible, but I don't think that's what Paul is saying here. He's talking in context to the stronger brother, and he is saying to the stronger brother in essence, "Listen, okay you've got an accurate, precise understanding of saving faith; you understand what that's all about, and you have a biblical understanding that it's not necessary for you to continue to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law. That's good! But it's not good if your liberty destroys your weak brother. If that happens, your Christian liberty will be rightly spoken of as evil." Literally, it will be blasphemed is the word that's used. It could mean that the weaker brother will speak evil of your liberty, that happens. Or he might mean that unbelievers, watching this whole thing unfold from the community, will speak evil of your Christian liberty, and therefore of your faith. Either way, Paul says, "Don't let that happen."

Verse 17, "…for (because, here's why you cannot let that happen; because) the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Now, that verse deserves a sermon in and of itself, but I don't want to lose the flow of Paul's thoughts, so I'm not going to do that. Let me just remind you, though, of the theology that lies behind this verse. In Colossians, chapter 1, verse 13, Paul says that at the very moment of your salvation, Christian, you were transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's beloved Son, into the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules. Right now, Christian, you are part of Jesus's spiritual, He is your King, He rules over you; you follow Him as King and Lord? The priorities of that spiritual kingdom to which you belong, Paul says, are not physical things like what you eat and drink. Instead, the priorities are spiritual, and he encapsulates those spiritual qualities in the three qualities that he mentions here: righteousness, peace, and joy.

Now, there are two ways to understand those three qualities. They could be referring to the relationship we have with God because of the gospel; in which case, Paul would be saying this, "The priorities of the spiritual kingdom to which you belong are righteousness, that is the righteousness that God gives us in justification; peace, the peace that we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord; and joy, the joy that God gives because we enjoy salvation and the hope of glory."

Or, these three qualities in verse 17 could be referring to the relationship we have with others because of the gospel. If that's what he's saying, then it would read like this, "The Kingdom of God is righteousness, that is living a righteous life in which we treat others as we should treat them; and peace, peace and tranquility that we should have with one another in the community of believers; and joy in living for the joy of others and not for ourselves.

So, which does Paul intend? Our relationship with God because the gospel, or our relationship with others because of the gospel? I have to agree with those scholars and commentators who land and say, "Paul intends both here." I think he does. I think he's intentionally stated in a way that both are involved. And notice, all of these spiritual blessings are ours, verse 17 says, "…in the Holy Spirit." That is, through the work of the Spirit.

Now, what's the point of verse 17? Paul's main point in this verse is the most important thing about belonging to Christ's kingdom is not your Christian liberty; keep your liberty in perspective; it's not the most important thing in the world. Instead of living for your liberties, grow up and live for kingdom priorities, for God, and for others. Verse 18, "For he who in this way (That is, who's pursuing these kingdom priorities.) serves (And the word 'serves' there is the verb form of 'doulos,' the word which means slaves, the Greek word for the service of the slave. So he who is pursuing these kingdom priorities is serving, is being a proper slave of Christ that) is acceptable to God and approved by men." In other words, if you keep this kingdom perspective as you deal with your Christian liberty, then you're serving Christ in a way that is both acceptable to God and approved by men. In other words, your master will approve of your decisions and your fellow slaves, your fellow Christians will approve of your decisions as well. We must never allow our Christian liberty to cause others to sin, and we can accomplish that, one, if we genuinely love our brothers, and two, if we intentionally live for kingdom priorities.

And thirdly, if we voluntarily limit our Christian liberty, if we voluntarily limit our Christian liberty. Notice verse 19, "So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." Notice, first of all, the word 'pursue.' What he's urging here is not something that happens passively; it's not something that just sort of happens. No, this is a whole-hearted effort, pursue. Since kingdom priorities are primarily about God and others, even as we use our Christian liberty, we pursue, actively, those decisions that will do two things; that will make for peace between us and other believers, and that will build other believers up in their faith.

Let me ask you honestly, when you contemplate your Christian liberty and exercising it, is that how you think? Do you think, "I'm going to make the decision that's going to best promote peace between me and fellow Christians, and I'm going to make the decision in my Christian liberty that's going to build others up. That's what Paul says.

Now, in verse 20, he makes the same point negatively, "Do not tear down (In Greek, the word 'tear down' is the opposite of the Greek word 'buildup.') Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food." By the way, there's a major emphasis here in the Greek Testament. Listen to how it's worded; this is the exact word order in Greek, he says, "Not for the sake of food tear down the work of God." You see, he's emphasizing, he's saying, "Really, for the sake of whatever it is, you want to exercise your liberty for; you're going to tear down the work of God?"

And by the way, I love that expression, "The work of God," because he's talking about you, Christian, he's talking about me. You are the work of God! I love Philippians 1:6, right, "…He who began a good work in you (That's God. He began the work; oh, and He's doing work, and oh, by the way, He's going to complete the) work…until the day of Jesus Christ." You are the work of God and guess what; so are your Christian brothers seated next to you. Your Christian brothers and sisters, they're the work of God. And the work of God is the church in its entirety according to Ephesians 2, we're a temple collectively being built up by God. So don't tear down what God is building by something as inconsequential as whatever it is you think is your Christian liberty.

Then Paul makes a very direct and shocking comment, verse 20. "All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense." Now the word 'but' here is a strong adversative in Greek. We have one word 'but' in English; but in Greek, there several words that mean 'but.' This is a very strong one; we could translate it like this, "But on the other hand, they (That is, those issues of conscience.) are evil (That is, clearly sinful.) for the man who eats and gives offense." The strong, you see, can get a little cocky and they can think like this, "Look, all those things not spelled out in Scripture, they are clean, and I can do whatever I want." If that's your attitude, Paul says, "Not so fast! It's true all those things that aren't spelled out in Scripture are clean, but listen to this, "They are sinful for you if you eat and give offense."

Now, let me make an important clarification here. Those words, 'gives offense' and the King James Translation, 'to offend,' those words have caused a lot of confusion, because how do we normally use that word? When we say, "That offended me," what do we mean? We usually mean it upset us emotionally. And sometimes a brother with a sensitive conscience will say to a stronger brother, "What you're doing offends me, it upsets me!" That is not what Paul means. No matter what you do or no matter what you don't do, you're going to probably upset somebody. We do not have to be held captive by others emotional reaction to our decisions; that's not what he's saying. Rather, Paul is warning against those things which cause our brother to fall into sin, and that's what he means by give offense. So, back up and look at the second half of verse 20 again. He's saying, think about this, "That what God normally allows you to do becomes sin if in doing it you cause someone else to trip up and fall into sin. It doesn't matter what the issue is, it doesn't matter how insignificant the issue is, it's sin for you even if it's not inherently sinful.

Turn over to 1 Corinthians, chapter 8. Paul couldn't put it any clearer than he does here. 1 Corinthians 8, he says, "…if someone (Verse 10, this is 1 Corinthians 8, verse 10.) If someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?" By the way, Paul's later, in chapter 10 of this letter, going to say, "It's not okay to eat in and idol's temple. It's okay to go to the back where the meat market is, and buy the meat, but it's not okay to go have dinner in the idol temple." But for right now, he's saying, "Okay, even if that is your liberty, if you do that and the one who is weak eats something sacrificed to idols, here's what happens, verse 11, "…through your knowledge he who is weak his ruined, (the brother for whose sake Christ died)." Now, watch verse 12:

And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

Now, go back to Romans 14. Here's the only perspective we can have, verse 21, "It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles." Now here Paul summarizes everything he's taught from verse 13. But notice Paul adds to the issues in Rome; he goes beyond the specific issues in Rome; issues of conscience are not just about Old Testament ceremonial law. Here he says, notice what he writes, "It is good not to (Do what? What is it? It is good not) to do anything (that will cause) your brother (to stumble)." In other words, folks, be willing to limit your Christian liberty, whatever the issue is.

Now let me ask you honestly, what is the one issue that falls into this realm of Christian liberty that you are most grateful for, what is the thing you enjoy, what is the thing that you kind of become known for because you enjoy doing that, and it's a liberty that you have?" Let me ask you, "Are you willing not to exercise that liberty when your weaker brothers are around? And are you willing to give it up entirely if that weaker brother lives in your home?" The bottom line is you can't use your liberty like a bull in a china shop. You better stop, you'd better think carefully about who's around you and who's going to be affected by that decision because not causing your brother to sin, this is a huge issue to Jesus Christ.

Turn to Matthew; Matthew, chapter 18. In Matthew 18, Jesus puts it very bluntly, really shockingly, Matthew 18: 6, "…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble. . ." Now back up, He's not talking about children here. In context, He's talking about, He uses a child as an example of what childlike faith is like. And so we're not talking about children in verse 6, we're talking about spiritual children, those who believe in Him. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, (That is, to fall into sin.) it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." The word, the Greek word Jesus uses for millstone here, for heavy millstone, is a word that literally means 'a millstone pulled by a donkey,' a very specific word, a very specific expression. In other words, we're talking about a massive stone that it took a very strong animal to turn. Jesus said, "If you're going to cause one of your brothers or sisters to sin, it would be better for you to have one of those hung around your neck and to be thrown into the sea."

Verse 7, "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!" Listen, we expect there to be temptations to sin that come from the world, "For its inevitable that something blocks come, but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes." Listen, you better think long and hard before you cause one of His little ones to stumble into sin. He takes it very, very seriously.

Now, where do you start putting this passage into practice in your life? Well, you start by considering the Christians in your life and the main areas of conscience on which you disagree. How should you respond to your Christian brothers and sisters? Let me give you, very quickly, just some practical things to consider. Number one, don't use your liberty around a fellow Christian if you might cause him to sin. When you're about to make a decision to do something, you better ask yourself, "Is the decision I'm about to make going to cause another person to sin?" If so, then don't do it.

Just as one illustration and this is one of many different illustrations. You're sitting in a restaurant with a group of Christian friends, and you have no problem having a glass of alcohol with your meal, neither does the Bible. But you better think before you make that decision, is that decision going to cause someone around this table to sin? Is there somebody here who comes from a family of alcoholics who's going to be tempted by this, and they're going to make a decision to do it because they see me doing it, and they are ruined as a result. That's just one example of countless ones. The point is, think before you act on your Christian liberty.

That's especially true, by the way, if you're in spiritual leadership of any kind. I take that very seriously in the choices I make when I'm around town because I don't want my liberty to, in any way, affect someone else.

Number two, don't try to persuade a fellow Christian to do something if his conscience is telling him it may be wrong, even if you know it's not. Why? Because what you're really telling him is, "Ah, come on and do it." You're saying, "You believe this is sin against Christ, don't worry about that, just go ahead," and for him to do it will be sin and for you to lead him into doing it will be sin.

Number three, don't argue with a fellow Christian about issues of conscience but gently, graciously try to educate his conscience with the Scripture. Don't get into arguments, don't belittle. Just say, "Hey have you ever considered this passage, or have you ever studied this issue?" Maybe direct them to a message that's been helpful to you and then leave it alone. Don't argue; give the Holy Spirit time and space to educate their conscience.

Martin Luther was a great defender of Christian liberty; liberties that had been diminished by the Catholic Church of the 16th century. So, it's not a surprise that when Luther begins his treatise called, "On the Freedom of a Christian Man," he begins it with these words, "A Christian man is a most free Lord of all, subject to none. (There's a man relishing his Christian liberty; but listen to the next sentence.) But he is also a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all." Do you hear what Luther's saying? He's saying, "Listen, you're a free to do everything the Bible allows, but you're, first and foremost, a servant of Jesus Christ and of your brothers and sisters in Christ, so think before you act." That's what lies behind this third principle, never allow your liberty to cause others to sin.

Now there are three more principles but those are for another day.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for how directly your Word speaks to the issues of our lives. Lord, these are times where divisiveness is on everyone's mind and is prevalent in every part of society. Our world is literally divided over everything because Satan himself is divisive by nature and he's having a field day.

Father, help us who are part of the church not to follow along in those steps; help us instead to be loving, to be loving of our Christian brothers and sisters, to be accepting of them, to be concerned about them. Lord, I pray that you'd give us such a heart. I pray for this body of believers that you would not allow us to be judging one another, condemning one another, for things that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. And Father, help us to be thinking about others when we make decisions about those matters.

Lord, I pray for the person here today, maybe many here today, who don't know you, help them to see, even through this message, the destructive power of sin in their lives. And, Lord, may they run to the gospel, the only solution, there is no other way but Christ, and may they find forgiveness in His life and in His death and His resurrection today as they repent and believe in Him. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.