“Three verses Jeff hates, yes, four he despises…”
It’s true that I was aiming for a little sensationalism in the title. But it’s also true that I hate the following three verses, and later I’ll explain why:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 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. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
1 Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Those out of the way, let me tell you what this entry is not meant to do, before you get any ideas.
This entry is not meant to make it sound like I am disagreeing with the Bible. The reality is, the Bible is full of sometimes-harsh truth. I’m increasingly convinced that it is one of the most difficult if not impossible tasks for a man with a flesh and a beating heart to fully embrace every single page of scripture. Sometimes we hear what we don’t want to hear.
That leads me to why I am writing this. It’s because I hate hearing this. It’s because I wish that I were right and the Bible were wrong, not because that is the actual case. Men (and I can’t tell if women do this too,) do you know that sinking feeling when you know you’re wrong, and the last step is for you to admit you’re wrong? It sucks. It requires your pride dying and for a lot of us, that essentially means we die, because our pride can be all we have.
I write this today because these are hard for me to hear. Hard for me to deal with. They force me to evaluate how I’m relating to others and how I’m coming off, mostly for people within the church, but also some outside of it. Let’s get into this.
The reality is this: these verses are, in large part, saying the same thing. We are free to do what we want, but at the same time, we are obligated in Christ to serve one another, love one another, and not cause one another to stumble. The 1 Timothy verse is, in this case, just a little out of context, as Paul didn’t really reference this idea of a stumbling block, but the idea is sort of the same. He was saying this: “Timothy, as you go, so your church goes. So watch where you’re going.”
I wanted to find the translation of the Galatians verse that phrased it this way: “do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice.” (I couldn’t, but I swear I’ve read that somewhere.) What that really means is what Paul alludes to in Romans 6 when he says that the Christian is dead to sin and alive to God. It means that your freedom does not exist for you to sit there doing whatever you want, because if it’s sinful, it defeats the purpose. But Paul adds this bit that instead of doing what we want, we should be serving one another through love. In other words, “you’re free. But don’t use that freedom to do whatever you want, but because you’re free, you’re free to love and serve one another.”
I hate these verses because I find myself a lot of times saying (perhaps pridefully) that I can do things or handle things that other people can’t. And when I’m alone, it’s one thing.
When I’m alone, I have no problem enjoying a beer, especially to help me sleep.
When I’m alone, and when I’m frustrated and praying, I don’t have much of a problem using more taboo words that I wouldn’t use around other people.
When I’m alone or with really close friends, I don’t have a problem saying “what the hell” instead of “what the heck.” (semantically speaking, I defend this simply because sometimes the cleaner words don’t properly express the full extent of one’s frustration or perplexion.)
But these verses in Romans raise a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig yellow flag.
Thursday afternoon, I came home from Lexington and ran to the store to grab some beer I’d been meaning to try. Again, my conscience was perfectly clear in this respect. I don’t have a problem with it. But in my social-media-obsessed mind, I took a picture of it so that everybody knew I was shopping local, living local, and drinking local (it was a Lexington brewery.) But as I was going to post it on Instagram, I decided it’d be a better idea not to share it on Facebook and Twitter too, simply because of the fact that maybe, just maybe, some of the people I’d be leading in a life group just a few hours from then would be put off by their “leader” having a beer, especially before life group.
That thought, I believe, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But it made me mad. “Why,” I wondered, “can’t I enjoy this bit of life without worrying what other people think of it? Why do I have to be restricted because there are other people in life who don’t agree that it’s okay to enjoy a beer? Why should I feel bad about enjoying one because there are people in life who may not possess the self-control to stop at one? Lord, that’s [cultural taboo.]”
And then I remembered 1 Timothy 4:16, which Pop and I had talked about in passing the day before while we were meeting to outline our sermon series in 1 Timothy. I remembered that pastors are held to a high standard. I remembered that as you go, your people go. And yes, maybe I can “handle” things that other people can’t. But the reality is also two-fold: other people can “handle” things that I can’t.
What if, for example (and I’m not going to worry about the validity or morality of this argument as much) my pastor [heads up, he doesn’t, and if he does, I don’t know about it, which is probably best] watched movies that involved nudity, but he didn’t think twice about it? I’m not saying porn, I’m saying those movies with “artistic nudity.” But let’s say, hypothetically, he enjoys the movie for the movie, and is far too enraptured with Jesus and with his own wife to acknowledge the woman on screen.
I use that example because that’s my vice. I can’t handle all that well nudity in movies, because it gets my mind going in a million different directions. (and I realize the absurdity of my example, as there is not one specific genre of movies [outside of porn] that uses artistic nudity, so there’s not one genre to seek out, if that makes sense.) But if my pastor can, maybe that makes me think I can do it too, so I try it and fall into a vicious cycle of pornography, masturbation, and incessant guilt.
Vice is a weird thing. It’s a really weird idea to think that some people are more vulnerable to certain things, but I think it holds at least some degree of weight. I can use a four letter word in private and not feel guilty about it, but in public, I can’t do that without it affecting someone. In large part, the same is true with alcohol (I’m running out of time, so I can’t argue the whole issue of whether or not it’s okay for Christians to enjoy a drink. My stance in short: if it’s not excessive, and if it’s not causing someone else to sin, it’s fine.)
And to be honest, it frustrates me to think that there are things I can’t do because it would cause someone else to stumble. But as Paul writes – the Kingdom of God isn’t about the things we can eat or drink (I would add the things we can say or watch) but it’s about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those things come first. And my freedom in Jesus, according to Galatians 5:13, is to serve that purpose and serve the joy and growth of others.