4. The stronger church members limit their liberty.
“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It’s better not to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”(Romans 14:20)
When my liberty limits the work of God, then I’ve got a problem. I have to be sensitive to how my liberty potentially causes a weaker brother to stumble.
When God called me into the ministry, I was basically a hippie. I had really long hair. But then I was asked to go to Bakersfield – a rather conservative area of California – to do a city-wide crusade. Guess what? When I sent them a picture, the steering committee wanted to cancel the crusade. They were concerned that my hair would encourage the young people to grow their own hair long, in direct contradiction to what the adults had been teaching.
What did I do? It didn’t take me but a moment to decide. I cut my hair. Even though I had every right to wear my hair any length, I limited my liberty in order to minister to others. Paul’s point in Romans is, if I need to limit the way that I dress, fine, I’ll limit the way I dress. I’m not limiting myself out of legalism. I’m limiting myself because I want to minister to people who may not be mature enough to accept a different form of dress. Other people’s souls are far more important than my liberty.
5. The church does not insist everyone agree.
As long as I am the senior pastor of Saddleback, we will not make disputable issues a test of fellowship. We will not say, regarding disputable matters, “Believe as I believe, think as I think, drink as I drink, do as I do. Be like me! Only then can I fellowship with you.” Don’t force your opinion on others.
Romans 14:22 – “So whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
Paul says, on these disputable matters, keep them between you and the Lord. Go ahead and enjoy your freedom, but don’t flaunt it. Enjoy your freedom, but enjoy it in privacy. You can practice your freedom without parading it.
Romans 12:18 offers a good balance for this, suggesting that while you need to look out for people who might be offended by a legitimate “stumbling block” issue, there are some legalists who will be upset no matter what you do. You’ll never be able to please them.
In that event, Paul says, “As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all men.”
God even admits there are some people you can’t get along with! In that case, it’s not so much your problem as it is theirs. Their nitpicking says more about them than you. What you need to do is allow the Holy Spirit to help you determine when you’re dealing with a legitimate stumbling block, and when you’re dealing with another believer who is simply unpleaseable. But DON’T jump to the conclusion that it’s their problem. Take it to God and see what He has to say.
6. The church accepts one another.
In Romans 15:7, Paul says, “Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God.”
How did Christ accept us? Unconditionally. Non-judgmentally. No one’s acceptance is based on performance!
Paul then goes on in verse 13, to say there are four marks of a unified church: joy, peace, hope and power. Now, that’s the kind of church I want to be a part of, and I’m sure you do too!
No church will ever be perfect, but it can be healthy. Saddleback certainly is not a perfect church, but it is healthy, just like my kids aren’t perfect, but they’re healthy. May your church grow in joy and peace and hope and power.
Let me pray for you: Heavenly Father, I thank You for these pastors whom You love and whom You died for. Father, it is my prayer their churches will be so committed to building each other up that the world will take notice. I pray their churches and ministries will be unified in love and that they will bring glory to You. I pray that their churches will be filled with joy, peace, hope and power.
Teach us to recognize the value of every individual. Teach us to keep our focus on what’s really important. Help us to willingly limit our liberty out of love for others. Help us refrain from forcing our opinions on each other, particularly in areas that aren’t clearly stated in Your word. Help us to live by faith and help us, “like Christ,” to be interested in doing what’s good for others and not just seek what’s best for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.