[Sept 16]-- Disputable Matters, Part Four

            Today we’re wrapping up Paul’s discussion on “disputable matters.” When the Bible is silent or more ambiguous on an issue, we need to recognize that fact. If another Christian disagrees with us on something like this, we need to respond with love, accommodation, patience, and humility. If you’re on the “abstain from X” side, you need to avoid judging your brother. If you’re on the “X is OK” side, then you need to avoid looking down on your brother who disagrees with you. There’s an aphorism I’d like to introduce: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Apparently this was introduced by Archbishop Marco Antonio de Dominis, and popularized by the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter. Whatever the source, it’s a great summarization of Paul’s teaching here.
            Let’s take a moment to bring this into the modern world. The once-important controversy about whether or not Christians should or shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols is pretty moot at this point, right? So what might be modern equivalents? Well, off the top of my head, I’d submit A) Going to ‘R’-rated movies, and B) Drinking alcohol.
            I’ve had really dear siblings in Christ who were adamant that going to any R-rated movie is sinful, and I really respect their desire to be holy and pleasing to our Lord. They’ve had me really reexamine my commitment to my Savior. Here’s my response: You might make a case that it’s not a good idea, but unless you can find the words “R-rated” or “movie” in your exhaustive concordance, you can’t say that it’s categorically sinful like adultery or theft. Now, if watching any movie leads you to think sinful thoughts or speak sinful words, then obviously that’s more than enough reason to abstain. If it leads you closer to Christ, then it’s good. If not, then it’s not. For myself, I really avoid movies with nudity or anything that will lead me into lust or sexual desire for anyone besides my wife, no matter what their rating. 
            Regarding alcohol, let me quote C. S. Lewis: “Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who use them, he has taken the wrong turning.” I think that sums it up beautifully.
            However. . . in American society, which commonly sees alcohol not as a beverage you drink with your meal but as source of a "buzz," I take that "tipping the scale" consideration as the main reason not to drink in public. 
            I’d like to wrap up this discussion with the last reason why Paul’s calling for charity on both sides of issues like this: Christ. Christ, the Son who took on human flesh and died in our place, gave up his rights and privileges for our benefit. Yes, we have beautiful freedom in Christ, but our freedom is not the most important consideration here. Glorifying the Father and a love for people will lead us to lay aside our “rights” if necessity dictates.
            What’s Paul’s point in vss. 8-13? He starts out by telling us to accept one another and strive for harmony and unity as much as possible, and then launches into a series of O.T. quotations. What do these latter verses have to do with the earlier ones, the discussion about disputable matters?
            Think of it this way: Jesus laid down his rights and privileges—“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”—and what was the result? His first generation of followers were all Jewish, but that quickly changed. Paul quotes from the Torah (Deuteronomy), the Psalms, and the Prophets in order to show the result of this submission to the Father’s will: A worldwide movement of Gentiles of every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, and tribe worshiping and praising and submitting to the Lord alongside their Jewish siblings.
            That’s why in vs. 7 he tells us to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” When we’re willing to lay aside our “rights,” there’s no telling how the Lord will use that to bring others to him and increase his praise. I once heard that evangelists and missionaries are “worship recruiters,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me, it’s about him. Please remember that.

Lord Jesus, it is all about you, and I tend to forget that at times. I cling to my “rights” so tightly they burn me. If you clung to your rights like I cling to mine, I’d be lost forever. I want you not just as my Savior, but as my example. I’m your follower, and I need to demonstrate that better. By your grace, I will. 

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