Drastic changes were seen in America immediately after 9/11. Where there was once division, there was unity; being American was again something regarding which to be proud. Many have spoken about the need to defend our liberties in America as they have come under attack by those who know nothing of them.
It is good for our country to be unified and to wish to preserve the liberties which have so richly blessed us. This is good and acceptable in the sight of our God, who wishes for His people to live under tranquility (1 Timothy 2:2). It is good for us as Christians to enjoy the liberties preserved under the Constitution of the United States.
Unfortunately, however, this desire to hold fast to liberties extends to the spiritual lives of Christians living in America all too often. Many Christians, when confronted when situations wherein they would have to give up a practice because a brother does not believe that it is a valid practice, will enact their American feelings and proclaim their ability to have their liberties, and that their brother can find another church more acceptable to him. We shall see from the Scriptures that this attitude is condemned.
We must first recognize that God has given us many liberties in our spiritual walk, yet not all of our liberties are beneficial, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23:
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
We must therefore be very careful with our liberties, to make sure that we do not cause offense by them. We must never have the feeling that our liberties are absolute, for only the love that we share between ourselves as Christians should be absolute, as we see in 1 John 3:23:
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
Since we are to love one another, we should consider it a small thing to have to sacrifice for one another, seen in 1 Corinthians 6:7:
Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
It is better to be defrauded by a brother than to take him to an earthly court. Is this what we hear about American liberties? By no means! Yet it must be a part of the Christian’s character.
There are two main ways that we have to take care with our liberty. Let us examine them now.
Number One: Not Causing Offense
The first responsibility we hold is to not cause offense to a brother by our liberties. This is explained by Paul in Romans 14, where we are told that those who feel that a liberty exist must not judge the one who does not, and the one who does not feel that the liberty exists must not regard with contempt the one that does (Romans 14:3). This is all done so that none may be given cause to stumble, as seen in Romans 14:13:
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.
Why should we need to do this? Why should we have to sacrifice liberties? The reason given by Paul is in Romans 14:15-16:
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.
It does not matter what the liberty is, how much sense it may make, or how good it is– if it causes a brother to stumble, it is an evil thing. We should take every caution, therefore, to make sure that our liberty does not cause another to stumble.
Number Two: Violating Conscience
Our other responsibility is to make sure that our use of liberty does not cause one who is not as well-versed in Christ to stumble. This is discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8, concerning the eating of meats sacrificed to idols. Paul has this to say concerning how we cause a weaker brother to violate their conscience in 1 Corinthians 8:7-12:
However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For 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? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Did the Corinthians have a valid liberty to eat the meat sacrificed to idols, knowing that there is no such thing as an idol (verse 5)? Certainly. Would it lead to sin? Unfortunately, yes, since one with a weaker faith could be led to stumble because of the inaccurate understanding of the example of the stronger. This is a part of the responsibility that those more advanced in the faith must have in order to foster the growth of newer Christians in the light of Christ.
It is good to be American and to have the liberties we share. This attitude concerning liberty, however, must not enter the spiritual realm, for our obligation to love our brethren is much stronger than our ability to exercise liberty. We must always strive to work toward the bonds of peace and love, willing to sacrifice any liberty that may lie in the path. Finally, we must heed the words of Paul in Philippians 2:5-8, to be as Christ:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Let us always empty ourselves for Christ and our brethren, that we may obtain the promise laid up for us in Heaven.