The Nature of Christian Freedom — Part Two
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The Nature of Christian Freedom — Part Two

1 Corinthians 8:4–13  (ID: 1662)

We know that many things are within our Christian liberty to do. But what if doing these things creates a stumbling block for a brother or sister who may have a weak conscience? Alistair Begg teaches that as mature Christians, we should be guided by love to voluntarily restrict our liberty for the good of those who are weak.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 4

Christian Freedom 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 Series ID: 14604

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now I invite you to take your Bibles, and let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 8. We come back for a second time to examine this question of Christian freedom. This subject is “The Nature of Christian Freedom,” and it is the second study in this. It’s our second study in 1 Corinthians 8.

Those of us who were present last time may recall that we found that there are two extremes which recur within the church of Christ and which are to be avoided. The first extreme is legalism. We defined legalism—at least loosely defined it—as that approach to Christian living which turns everything into rules, the kind of Christianity which exists on the basis of elaborate lists of dos and don’ts, and it is to those lists that men and women look to determine whether they’re making a success of their Christian lives or otherwise. Such legalistic living stifles freedom. It is such that it confuses conscience, it limits the Word of Christ, it diminishes the power and the place of the Holy Spirit. And yet it is with a legalistic approach to Christian freedom, ironically, that some of us have been brought up, and anything that doesn’t possess those rules and regulations we feel very, very uncomfortable with.

The other extreme is what we refer to as license. And this opposite extreme sees freedom as being absolute and unqualified. Conscience or feelings or personal preference in this scheme of thinking become the final arbiter in determining what is right or wrong. And so, in seeking to distance oneself from any kind of list of rules and dos and don’ts and regulations and schemes made up by man, the problem is that the church falls down on the other side and into a different kind of abyss and into another form of chaos altogether.

It should be reassuring for us, then, to understand that the Bible offers to us neither legalism nor license as the way in which we would understand Christian freedom. But the verses before us, as with the rest of Scripture, provide for us the key to living within the framework of freedom. That key, says Paul, lies in learning to apply principles to specific issues of life. It means that the Christian needs to realize that there are rules. There are rules which have been laid down, and they are to be obeyed. The Ten Commandments, for example, have not been rescinded. So there are rules, but there aren’t rules for everything. And it is the area in which we don’t have specific, set rules that most of us are most tempted to fall into one of these two pits: either to say, “Since we have no rules, we better make rules,” or “Since we have no rules, then we can just go ahead and please ourselves.” It’s therefore imperative that as believers, we learn how to think—which is a challenge to some of us—and, in thinking, that we learn how to apply Scripture to the issues that we face.

Now, in seeking to expound these verses, what I’d like to do is focus first of all on the facts which he provides. I’m not suggesting that these four facts are all the facts, but they’re the four facts that I want to bring before us tonight. I’m sure we could delineate more, but I don’t think these leave out anything that is central to coming to an understanding of the passage.

“An Idol Is Nothing at All”

Fact number one you’ll find in verse 4: “An idol is nothing at all in the world.” Now, the reason that that is significant is because in verses 1–3, he has introduced the subject, which is “food sacrificed to idols.” And we saw that within the context of the Corinthian church, this was causing absolute chaos. Some people who were knowledgeable and mature were saying, “Hey, listen, this is not a problem. You can buy food in any store. You can go to anybody’s house. You can eat anything you want. There’s no such thing to be worried about.” On the other hand, scrupulous individuals who were not as knowledgeable, who were not as mature, did not find themselves able to distance themselves from the issues of food offered to idols, and so Paul is now returning to the subject and says, “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols, fact number one, we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world.” Or as J. B. Phillips puts it, “Knowledge tells us that [an] idol has [no] real existence.”

Now, this was something very close to the heart of Paul, because when he had gone to Ephesus, which is recorded in Acts 19:24 and following, he had been the basis of a riot. And the reason the riot had broken out was because a fellow called Demetrius was making a bunch of money selling little silver shrines. You may remember the story. And when Paul comes into town and proclaims the gospel, the lucrative business of Demetrius and his cronies begins to dry up. And so they endeavor to deal with this man and his strange preaching, and Demetrius gets his fellow craftsmen together, and he explains to them in these words: “Paul has convinced,” he says, “and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus …. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.”[1] So in other words, in his public proclamation, he was in accord with what he was prepared to instruct the Corinthians in in responding to the questions which had come to him by means of his letter.

He was also in accord with what we just read in Isaiah 44. A classic passage, is it not? Isn’t it a humorous passage? I tried to read it with a measure of feeling to point out just how ridiculous it is: people chopping down trees, building a little fire with some of the wood, having a little bit of chicken or whatever it is off the coals of the fire, then saving a little bit of the wood, turning that into an idol, and then bowing down in front of it and saying, “I worship you, oh my god.”[2] And Isaiah the prophet says, “This is totally ridiculous.”

The psalmist says the same thing. Psalm 115. You may like to turn to it just to ensure that it’s there—Psalm 115:4–7. The psalmist is making the exact same point: “Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” He says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”[3] You see, the nations surrounding the people of God were saying, “Hey, where are their gods? They don’t have a god.” They would come in and they’d say, “There’s no shrines here. And if there are no shrines here and no symbols and no effigies and no statues and no altars, presumably they don’t have a god at all.” So the psalmist says, “Oh yeah, we’ve got a god. Our God is in heaven.” In contrast, he said, “But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths but can’t speak, eyes but can’t see, ears but can’t hear, noses but can’t smell, hands but can’t feel, feet but can’t walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.”[4] Then look at this, verse 8: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

I’ll tell you this, I’m feeling another Table Talk series coming on right out of this. This is tremendous stuff for the people who are living in the mainstream of our cities, surrounded by these idols that can neither see or hear or walk or talk or feel or make sounds, and yet myriad people bowing down before them.

Now, we’re going to see when we come to chapter 10 that Paul recognizes that these lifeless lumps of idols are the focus of demonic activity. We’ll leave that as an aside and come to it in 10, but for now he’s establishing this basic fact. These things, he says in verse 5, “are so-called gods,” with a small g and with a small l. The heathen world of his day worshipped a multitude of deities. They really believed in their power both to influence and to direct. But that power, says Paul, was and is bogus.

Now, I don’t want to camp on this, but I can’t resist the opportunity to point out to you that here in these verses—4 and following, at least through to verse 7 or so—we actually have one of the key passages in the New Testament for rebutting the whole New Age phenomenon. Because this approach to deity and to cosmic consciousness which has reached its great apex at the moment, at least for a while, is firmly refuted in the pages of Scripture.

And those of us who have lived long enough to remember the ’60s will recall that what was sung in the ’60s has been baptized into orthodoxy in the ’90s in more ways than one. For example, do you remember the song from Hair?

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then peace will guide the planets,
And love will steer the stars.

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. …

Harmony and understanding,
Sympathy and trust abounding,
No more falsehoods or [derision],
Golden living dreams of visions,
Mystic crystal revelation,
And the mind’s true liberation.
Aquarius, Aquarius, [Aquarius].[5]

And in the ’60s, barefoot hippies sang it, and in the ’90s, now wearing wingtips and smart suits, they live it out.

Does the Bible speak to our day? Yes, it definitely does. Fact number one: “An idol is nothing at all.”

“There Is No God but One”

In the New Age phenomenon, God is conceived of as an impersonal force or as a creative energy. That, you will see, is in direct contrast to what Paul now enunciates, which is the second fact I want you to notice. Number one: “An idol is nothing … in [all] the world.” Number two: “There is no God but one.” He says it in verse 4. He comes back to it at the beginning of verse 6: “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things [come] and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord,” capital L, “Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” This is one of the first things that Paul would ever have learned in all of his life. Brought up in a devout Jewish home, as I said a moment or two earlier in the service, he would have learned immediately the Shema. And his father would have taken him at his knee, and he said, “Now listen, Saul, this is what I want you to learn: ‘The Lord our God is one.’[6] Say that after me, Saul.” And Saul would have repeated it at his father’s knee, and that truth would have been burned into his life. And now as he has come to faith in Jesus Christ, he understands that his monotheistic understanding of God the Lord is embraced in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit too.

And that is what he affirms here in verse 6 as he ties together the deity of both the Father and the Son. The fact that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the verse should not be a concern to us. It is not within the framework of his purpose. But he is here affirming this truth: that the Father and the Son are equal in status and in authority while they differ in function. Notice: everything is “from” the Father, and we exist “for” the Father. While all things originated from the Father, notice, they came “through” the Son, and it is “through” the Son that we live.

Now, this is very, very important. We may want to skip over it. But people say, “Well, I just know God, you know. I mean, I was out on a mountainside, and I know God.” Or “I like to think of God in my own way. I like to think of him as a cosmic genie.” Or “I know that God is an impersonal force.” Or, within the framework of the New Age, “We are God. God is us. We are all God. We are absorbed up in divinity.”

Now, what does the Bible say to that? The Bible says, “Not on your life, Charlie.” Well, I mean, not literally it doesn’t say that, but that’s basically the message that it proclaims: “No way, Jose! It’s not true!” I mean, you may affirm it if you want, but it is not true. That is a downright lie! It is a lie that comes from the Evil One. For what we have… And there is only one God; he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is through Christ that we come to the Father, and it is through Christ that we live in him. “He who has the Son has life”—1 John 5, we quoted it this morning—and “he who [has] not … the Son of God does not have life.”[7] This life is in his Son, and by believing, we have life in his name. Okay?

Our acceptance before God is in the person of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ, which is a finished work.

The Matter Concerning Food

Fact one: “An idol is nothing at all.” Fact two: “There is no God but one.” Fact three, verse 8—we’re getting now to the heart of the matter concerning food: “Food does not bring us near to God.” “Food does not bring us near to God.”

Now, we may immediately say to this, we look at this and say, “Well, of course, we knew that. I mean, that’s a ridiculous idea.” Okay, but that’s fine. So you want to feel kind of snotty towards the Corinthians, do you? Like you know a lot more? There are a ton of people sitting out in an auditorium like this, and we’ve got all sorts of crazy notions about what brings us near to God. Some of us think that because we’ve had a good week, it brings us near to God. I want to ask you a question: Do you think you’re nearer to God when you’ve had a good week than when you had a bad week? Do you think you’ll ever be more acceptable to God than you are tonight? You may be more useful, but you’ll never be more acceptable, because our acceptance before God is in the person of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ, which is a finished work, and all of our acceptance is right there—so that on the day we stand before God, we’ll still only have the same answer, no matter if we live to a hundred and fifty, and the answer is this: “Jesus died for my sin. I’m a sinner. He died for me. That’s all I’ve got to say, Father.” And the Father’ll say, “That’s all you need to say. Let’s go.”

These people were all messed up. They thought if they didn’t eat the food, they were better; if they ate the food, they were better, or they were worse, or whatever it was. They were horribly confused. So Paul says, “Well, let’s just lay it down as a basic axiom: food doesn’t bring you near to God. And actually, the absence of food does not keep you from God.” Phillips again: “Now our acceptance [by] God,” says J. B. Phillips, “is not a matter of meat. If we eat it, that does not make us better men, nor are we the worse if we do not eat it.” So that ought to put the issue in its place. But, of course, it didn’t put the issue in its place; it was a major issue. Because it had become, for these folks, absolutely central to their Christian thinking. And so, consequently, what was central had become peripheral. And that, of course, is the framework that happens so often amongst the family of God when it loses sight of the main issues.

Don’t Hinder the Weak

Fourth fact—because that one needs no further explanation: food doesn’t bring you near to God. The tiniest child that’s here tonight can understand that. The fourth fact, in verse 12, is that when we sin against our brothers or our sisters, we sin against Christ: “When you sin against your brothers in this way”—which we’ll come to in a moment—“and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”

What Paul is affirming here and what we’re about to understand is that the issue of freedom is not simply a personal matter. Both our attitudes and our actions have an impact upon our brothers and sisters. I wonder when Paul wrote this verse or maybe dictated it to his amanuensis, his scribe, I wonder if he wasn’t actually thinking of how this had become real in his own experience. “The fact is,” he says, “when you sin against your brothers in this way, you’re sinning against Jesus.” What was the discovery that he made on the Damascus Road? He was going down the road, and he was very devout. He thought that he was doing the best thing for God, stamping out these unruly Christians and these crazy people that were roaming the streets of Jerusalem and beyond. If anyone had interviewed him, he would have said, “I am devout, I am religious, I am committed, and I’m going to put to death once and for all this spurious notion about Jesus of Nazareth.” And a great light shines from the heaven, and he looks up, and the word of God comes to him from the heavens, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute …?”[8] Now, he doesn’t say, “Why do you persecute the church?” he says, “Why do you persecute me?”

And in that moment, Paul realized the nature of what it is to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be in Christ. Therefore, when we offend against our brothers and sisters, who are in Christ, we offend against Christ. You see, none of us have any right to look down on each other. Oh, we may have personal preferences. We may have people that we like better or our personalities fit better than other, but we have got no mandate anywhere in Scripture to look down on a brother or a sister in Christ, because they are one for whom Jesus died.

And Jesus says—in a different context, but essentially the same truth—in Matthew 25, he takes his disciples aside, and he says to them, “Listen, insofar as you did these things to one of the least of my brethren, you did them to me. And insofar as you didn’t do them to one of the least of these my brethren, you didn’t do them to me.”[9] And that’s the point which Paul is making here. Believers are united with Christ. There is a high dignity in Christian calling. My brother or my sister tonight is someone for whom Jesus died. There are no unimportant members of the body of Christ. We must remind ourselves that Jesus lives in all of them. And therefore, when we say, “Oh, we’ve got freedom to do whatever we like,” we need to recognize, “Well, no, we don’t.” We have got freedom to do what Jesus likes, and what Jesus likes is when we treat one another the way that we would like to be treated by each other.[10] So there is no place for the vicious blow, for the vigorous strike, which would wound the conscience of those who have not matured to the understanding of the knowledge concerning which Paul is affirming truth here.

Now, the whole issue—you need to go up to verse 7—is simply this: Paul says not every Christian has come to a mature understanding of the subject of idols. Isn’t that what he’s saying in verse 7? Some people, he says, are still so accustomed to idols, their pre-Christian days were so marked by idol worship, that when they come to this issue of food that may have come from the temple of an idol, they still think of idols as being real. They can’t completely shake off the thoughts and the associations. Their consciences are not yet strong enough to allow them to eat idol food without the possibility of it pulling them back to their former idolatrous activity.

There are no unimportant members of the body of Christ. We must remind ourselves that Jesus lives in all of them.

Now, the danger in applying this, in just launching into a twentieth-century application, is that you may assume that this is the only application or that this is the best application. It’s not. But let me illustrate this how this hits me.

As you know, I have not been shy about quoting lyrics from popular music. Okay? Popular music for me has no association with drugs or sex or loose living. Therefore, for me, it’s not a problem—certainly not quoting lyrics which are in themselves wholesome or are not disrespectful or whatever. But I recognize that some who have come to faith in Christ came out of a background where those same lyrics remind them of sex and drugs and loose living, and they can’t handle them. And that therefore puts a restraint on my freedom to use them.

We could apply this on many levels. I’m just trying to tell you how it hits me. Because the idea of someone having problem with the food from Kressies or Tescos or Revco or whatever you call the place around here, I mean, it just doesn’t cut it, does it? I mean, there’s no application. But what about the problem of alcohol? Okay? Think it through, loved ones. Just think it through.

Their consciences, you see, weren’t strong enough to allow them this activity. And consequently, he says in verse 10, if these people, then, with a weak conscience and a limited level of maturity see those who have come to a measure of maturity eating in an idol’s temple, won’t, he says, they be tempted to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? Won’t they be tempted to say, “Oh, well, if he goes in the idol’s temple, there’s no reason why I can’t”?

But, says Paul, there may be a reason why they can’t. And the reason that they can’t is because they can’t handle it. And for them then to go and act in this mature way will only reveal the fact that their consciences are still so sensitized to what marked their past that it is impossible for them to go through that process, to eat in that temple, to attend that concert, to share in that meal without that it brings them back to sinful thoughts connected with their previous sinful practices and may even be a temptation to draw them right back into that previous lifestyle.

That’s why, you see, verse 5 and the fact that it contains is both a corrective to the mature as well as being a comfort to the weak. We are no worse if we don’t eat; that’s a comfort to those who feel that they can’t. And we are no better if we do; that’s a corrective to those who can.

Now, are you still with me? A few of you, could you nod your heads? I mean, just one or two. I mean, not to please me. I need to know there’s just a measure of involvement in this. Are we progressing along a linear line of thought here? ’Cause I feel like I’m talking in a telephone box at the moment. All right? Okay, fine. Let’s go then. We’ll go one more. We’ll try it.

Let me go from the facts that are given to the application—not my application; the application of the text. Here it is in verse 9. It’s a straightforward application. We probably have been expecting it if we haven’t noticed it by reading it. “Be careful,” he says, “that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” That’s the application of this whole thing. It is, if you like, a word of warning: “You must be careful that your freedom to eat meat does not in any way hinder anyone whose faith is not as robust as yours.” That’s his word of warning to the church.

Remember again, in the first three verses he says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He says, “I don’t want you to get fat heads with your knowledge of what you can and cannot do. I want you to grow, as it were, in your awareness of love, recognizing that love changes everything.” And love circumscribes freedom. And Christian freedom is exercised within the framework of loving one another. And loving each other demands care that what we are realistically, truthfully, biblically free to do and will not be held accountable for doing, we may find that we are forced to restrict that freedom in order to apply the principle of 1 Corinthians 8:9, so as not to be a stumbling block.

Now, let me quote from somebody, see if this guy’s a little clearer than me: “The ‘weak’ man in this discussion is the man who is hypersensitive on such matters; he is the over-legalistic, rigorist Christian who tends to cut out anything and everything doubtful, just in case it might harm his relationship with God.” In other words, he hasn’t understood that he’s not making himself more acceptable to God. He hasn’t understood the doctrine of justification by faith. And so he’s constantly on tenterhooks, lest there’s something that he’s doing that is knocking sideways his whole Christian experience. “Paul,” says the writer, “clearly wants such a ‘weak’ person to grow into a ‘strong’ position. Yet [you will notice that] he does not here attempt to persuade him into such a position of strength.”[11]

In other words, Paul is not looking at weak believers here and saying, “Now, we expect these people to be weak forever.” He wants them to grow into strength. But he doesn’t persuade them, say to them, “Now, I want to write to those of you who are weak: cut this weak nonsense out! Get yourself eating the food. Get into the temple of the idols. Come on now! Get up with the mature. Stop your nonsense.” He doesn’t do that. “His own stress falls on the ‘strong’ man who has been freed from human conventions and shibboleths”; and to the strong man he says, “‘You must voluntarily restrict your freedom.’ Thus the strong must readjust to help the weak, [and] not vice versa.”[12] Now, you’re sensible people, and you have to read this passage and see if that’s what Paul’s saying. The strong, out of love, must readjust to bring on the weak, and not the other way around.

So we understand that things that might not otherwise be wrong for us become wrong if it is a stumbling block to the weak. And that could mean all kinds of things. It could mean science fiction books. I mean, it’s difficult for me to start to apply it. If we had a question-and-answer time, we could talk it out. Let the principle be the principle, and ask the Spirit of God to speak to you in your own life tonight about what it might mean.

Now, this begs a question which I know is in the minds of those who are still awake. And it is the question “Well, how in the world are we going to make progress at all towards maturity if every time anybody with the least jolly little scruple about anything puts up their hand, says, ‘Excuse me, I can’t do that,’ does that mean that we’ve got to shut down the whole thing till this little guy finally gets with the program?” Maybe. But let me quote you Calvin.

Calvin discriminates between the weak, who have a genuine concern—you know, a real, genuine conscience issue in their lives—he discriminates between the genuinely weak individual and those whom he calls “tough giants,” who want to play the tyrant, and put our freedom under their control.” These individuals, he says, “are not being led into sin by weakness”; they are simply eager to find fault with others.[13] Okay?

So there is a difference—and this calls for great spiritual wisdom, especially in relationship to the leadership of a church, just in the same way as the leadership within a home; you’ve got to know whether your child has got a genuine concern or whether they’re trying to manipulate the family. And that’s where you need spiritual discernment, and that’s why God gives discernment to leadership in the church. Because there will be some people who have a genuine conscience issue, but there will be other people who have never got off dead center ever in their lives. They’re rigorists, they’re legalists, they’re a pain in the neck, and all they ever want to do is find fault with everything that goes on that is different from whatever fifteen rules they got the day after they came to faith in Jesus Christ. And so, in other words, if you’re going to go with that, you will eventually end up with a completely legalistic framework of life. If you let the pendulum swing all the other way, you’re going to be involved in antinomianism and license and chaos.

So we have the principle right here. Straightforwardly, in a sentence, we see this: the actions of the strong must not be such as to afford a hindrance to the progress of those who are genuinely weak.

Paul’s Testimony

Finally, from the facts to the application to Paul’s testimony. Verse 13, Paul’s conclusion, maybe has a little bit of hyperbole in it; maybe not. What does he say? He says, “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” In other words, he’s so concerned that he will present every man mature in Jesus Christ,[14] he wants to make sure that he doesn’t hinder the weaker brother. He sees how important it is that it is not his own rights but the wider responsibilities of the brotherhood which frame his activities.

Love, he says, will restrict its liberty for the good of others. Love will restrict its liberty for the good of others. If this was a different context, a seminar, we could discuss it at this point. There are many points of application, many questions. This is when I’d like the tape recorder turned off so that I can just talk off the top of my head for a little while. But I can always edit it.

Let me just share with you one personal application. This’ll get me in trouble from some quarters, but hey, that’s life.

It is this principle which has constrained my life in relationship to the question of whether I will or will not drink alcohol. I do not believe that the Bible possesses a categorical statement which means “You shall not drink alcohol.” I do not believe that by drinking alcohol you’re nearer to God or by not drinking alcohol you’re nearer to God. But I do recognize that having been born in the capital of alcoholism in the whole of the Western world, it’s surely probably not a great idea for me to exercise my Christian freedom in the context where so many lives are divided, destroyed by alcohol. So what I believe I’m free to do I don’t do, the reason being that I don’t want ever anybody in this church to say, “Well, he’s our pastor, and I just followed his example.”

Now, that may be an easy one; that may be a difficult one. You ought not even to feel intimidated by my sharing it with you. That’s why I hesitate to share it and cast it in stone and put it on tape, because I don’t want you to then extrapolate from that and say, “Aha! But did you hear what he said at the end? You know what he really means by that? What he’s saying is, you know… I mean, he’s not really saying it, but he’s saying, you know, if you do that, you’re not, you know…” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just giving you my testimony.

For some people, in relationship to secular literature, they’ve decided they’re not going to read anymore garbage secular literature, not because they’re not free to read it but because they don’t want that to be an influence on those who are around them. And some people have quit reading novels that they really enjoyed because they recognize its impact on another’s life.

Love changes everything, frames freedom, and introduces us to the reality of what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so many of the questionable things that have in some churches been listed with the ten regulations or in other churches are just completely ignored and people say, “Oh, we don’t know, and who in the world cares?” the Bible says are going to have to be addressed on the basis of biblical principle. And that’s always a lot harder. Because people come in and they say, “Tell me what to do.” And our answer ought to be, “Well, there’s principles in here for you to apply. If there’s a rule, we’ll enforce it. If there’s no rule, there’ll be a principle. And if there’s a principle, you’re going to have to learn how to apply it.” And none of us lives to ourself, none of us dies to ourself, and one day we will stand before God, and we will give an account.

So don’t fall into the trap of the ten things that you cannot say or do. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and become a walking contradiction. Recognize that it is not true to suggest that the energetic Christianity of the New Testament envisages that the strong will be permanently shackled by the weak. Nevertheless, it does envisage that the strong will always act towards the weak with consideration and Christian love. Thereby, love changes everything, frames freedom, and introduces us to the reality of what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray together:

Our God and our Father, we thank you for your Word. We want to be students of it, we want to understand it, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We want the application to which we respond to be the application of the Bible. We can certainly learn from one another, but we want the Spirit of God to be our teacher. We don’t want to be trapped by man-made regulations. We don’t want to be lost in a sea of our own rebellious foolishness. We want, Lord, you to write biblical principles into our hearts and to give us grace in working them out. We pray to this end for each other, that we will be a help and not a hindrance to one another, and for our congregation, that it, too, may manifest the love of Christ. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Acts 19:26 (NIV 1984).

[2] See Isaiah 44:14–17.

[3] Psalm 115:2–3 (NIV 1984).

[4] Psalm 115:4–7 (paraphrased).

[5] Gerome Ragni and James Rado, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (1969).

[6] Deuteronomy 6:4 (paraphrased).

[7] 1 John 5:12 (NIV 1984).

[8] Acts 9:4 (NIV 1984).

[9] Matthew 25:40, 45 (paraphrased).

[10] See Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31.

[11] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1985), 147.

[12] Prior, 147.

[13] John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John W. Fraser, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 178.

[14] See Colossians 1:28.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.