Christian Freedom: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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Christian Freedom: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

1Corinthians 8                                 April 6, 2003


Scripture Reading: Romans 14:19-23


“ To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  They answered him, "We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"  Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36 NIVUS)

“ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21 NIVUS)

This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4 NIVUS)

“ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NIVUS)

 “ You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13 NIVUS)

“ In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12 NIVUS)

 “ But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25 NIVUS)

 “ Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,” (James 2:12 NIVUS)

“ Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16 NIVUS)

Christianity is a war of liberation.

No, I am not making a political statement about the war in Iraq – although there are some parallels there.

I am talking about a more personal war of freedom since Christ sacrificed himself to set us free from sin – and indeed we are free by our faith in him.

But the question is, “How much freedom can you handle?”

Christ had all the knowledge of the universe at his disposal, of course, being God.

But was it his knowledge that won the victory on the cross, or was it his love?

His knowledge as God set him above the bounds of the world, but his love held him to the cross for our good at his expense.

Christ could handle his knowledge well because it was constrained by love.

Knowledge without love is selfish and even dangerous.

Just look at our knowledge of war that we have taken to Iraq.

If that knowledge be not constrained by love (or human responsibility) it accomplishes only destruction with no eventual restoration.

On a personal level, being saved and having the knowledge and freedom of Christ, mature Christians can either be consumed with pride – or constrained by responsibility.

The issue at hand in the Corinthian church was the matter of food sacrificed to idols and the level of participation, if any, Christians were to have – of course keeping in mind that pagan sacrifice was an integral part of the culture of the time.

Any number of parallels can be observed in our own culture with its invitation to partake of its practices.

But just like we have the right to vote and protest in a democracy, if we don’t make the right choices we can lose our freedom.

Christian freedom can be lost if we don’t exercise that freedom in such a way as to maintain that freedom.

This can happen (the threat of this) when we fail to be wise in protecting ourselves from our own weaknesses by over estimating the power of the flesh to resist, or underestimating the power of evil to defile.

The same can happen when we fail to participate in the protection of others since there is a “community effect”.

Government can and must legislate morality.

The church must uphold standards.

We all know (in Christ) about evil and the means to overcome it.

But its warfare against us is like the terrorist tactics of the Iraqi army: you cannot trust anything no matter how innocent it looks.

You will likely die from a suicide bomber if you blindly proceed without precaution.

You may be a Christian and trust God to protect you, but die in your prideful foolishness in failing to apply what you know in protecting yourself.

Wear your gas mask – you are not invincible.

If you love your fellow troops you won’t put them in danger by putting yourself in danger since they depend on you.

If you fall then you cannot help protect them.

Love takes in the big picture.

To be known by God is to have the blessing of God for considering and applying his truth beyond yourself.

You haven’t come into the fullness of knowing God unless you know love.

As in 1John 3:16-24, love is the test of godliness.

So we might dwell on defining it further.

Without love, you have no real relationship with God.

Christian knowledge can lead to arrogance which is selfishness and not love.

In fact, it is no knowledge at all.

Real Christian knowledge is love that puts others above self.

This means there are some things you don’t do because of how it might affect others.

The exercise of your freedom may enslave others who are not yet free.

The Christian life is one of advancing freedom.

We are all progressing in our victory over enslavement.

But if you have advanced further and faster than another, you don’t want to have a hand in triggering his enslavement by your freedom.

Illus.: Wheaton College issue

You are not free from your enslavement unless you can help liberate someone else.

It is love that liberates.

It is love that sets us free to truly know God and to be truly known by him.

So love is the true knowledge of God.

Anything else, anything less, is Christian arrogance which is sin.

So beware in your knowledge.

Don’t let what you know (which is really what you don’t know if not tempered by love) condemn you.

So if you don’t know love, you don’t know anything yet.

If true, then how many of us can say we know God? (1John 4:16-21)

This one thing I know – that there is victory in Jesus (from a previous message in 1Cor. 6), but this other thing I am also convinced of – that God is love.

What separates us is sin.

We need to get past it.

God did.

He loves us in spite of sin.

He loves sinners – not because we are sinners, but because we are made in his image and he sent his son to redeem us.

Can we not love others for the same reasons?

Do you have trouble loving sinners?

If so, you do not yet love God as you should.

We live for God.

We live through Christ.

Now back to the issue of your participation in the world (in it, but not of it).

Maybe you can but others can’t.

So don’t take them there.

Love sets them free – and if they are free, then you are free.

Have you been a Christian for a long time?

If you haven’t grown any closer to being able to love, you haven’t grown at all.

You may be more ignorant that when you started because yo know so much and yet so little.

What you know is useless knowledge if it in not love.

There are many so called gods, but only one God of love.

Do you know him?

To know God’s love for us in Christ is to know God “through and through” (v. 6).

Food laws are passe’ in Christ, but if that is where some people are at, then we must respect it.

How about alcohol? – but “everything is permissible but not all things are beneficial”.

Not everyone yet knows their total freedom in Christ, but you are more enslaved than they if you push your freedom on them prematurely – since that is not love.

We must be free in love not to exercise our freedom in the face of those who are not yet free (dancing, movies, etc.)

Love is not causing a brother to violate his conscience (perhaps I need to temper my movie illustrations in sermons).

Christian freedom is not so much a matter of what you know as who you know.

The key to Christian freedom is love.

So love is not a matter of what you know, but who you know.

“Freedom in Christ” is the exercise of his love – not so much knowledge as it is action (James 2:17-18).

“ In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:17-18 NIVUS)

What does love have to do with Christian freedom?

We don’t set up others to fail.

We are careful what we tell them.

We assess their maturity.

We protect them since they may still be not far removed from past sins.

We don’t violate their conscience.

Big Question:

What must we understand about our exercise of Christian freedom?

          We must understand the tension between knowledge and love.

          We must understand spiritual reality in the mature knowledge of God.

          We must understand others as they move toward a more mature understanding of spiritual reality in the knowledge of God.

          We must understand the responsible exercise of our Christian freedom

through love as the highest form of knowledge.

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (vv. 1-3)

          B.      Implication


We must understand the tension between knowledge and love.

          C.      Illustration

   The knowledge that the ungodly person hates is not practical, factual knowledge. On the contrary, he prides himself in how much he knows. Someone has estimated that, if all of man's accumulated knowledge from the beginning of recorded history to 1845 were represented by one inch, what he learned from 1845 until 1945 would amount to three inches and what he learned from 1945 until 1975 would represent the height of the Washington Monument! Since then it has probably doubled. Few people, however, would argue that the incredible leap in scientific, technological, and other such knowledge has been paralleled by a corresponding leap in the common sense wisdom, not to mention spiritual and moral wisdom. If anything, man's understanding of what he is doing and why he is doing it seems to decrease as his practical knowledge increases.  The more learned he becomes in that superficial kind of knowledge, the less need he sees for the knowledge that comes only from God.

   Socrates, in his day, made the statement that he was the wisest of the Athenians. That shocked everybody because he was a very humble man. So they asked him what he meant. And he said something like this, "Well, there are a great many of the Athenians who think they know, and I know I do not know, I am the wisest of the Athenians."

   It is not so important to be serious as it is to be serious about the important things. The monkey wears an expression of seriousness which would do credit to a scholar, but the monkey is serious because he itches.

   -- Robert M. Hutchins, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 2.

   A salty pagan, full of the juices of life, is a hundred times dearer to God, and also far more attractive to men, than a scribe who knows his Bible ... in whom none of this results in repentance, action, and above all, death of the self. A terrible curse hangs over the know-it-all who does nothing.

   -- Helmut Thielicke, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 1.

   I look upon myself as a dull person. I take more time than others in understanding some things. But I do not care. There is a limit to man's progress and intelligence; but the development of the qualities of the heart knows no bounds.

   -- Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi.  Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 7.

   The greatest mistake of education has been to assume that intelligent people are automatically good thinkers. High intelligence does not ensure effective thinking--it may actually make a person a poor thinker. For example, a highly intelligent person can take any view on a subject and then use his intelligence to defend that view. The more perfect the defense, the less chance the thinker has of actually exploring the subject. Other aspects of the intelligence trap include the need to be right, the need to show oneself to be more clever than others, critical rather than constructive thinking, and reactive thinking rather than projective thinking.

   -- Feedback. Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.

   Do you think to come to Jesus up the ladder of knowledge? Come down, sir; you will meet him at the foot.

   -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Christian History, no. 29.

   There are those who desire to acquire knowledge for its own value--and this is a base vanity.  But there are others who desire to have it to edify others--and this is charity.  And there are others who desire it so that they may be edified--and this is wisdom.

   -- Bernard of Clairvaux, The Song of Solomon.  Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 8.

   A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies.  Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper.  Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise.  From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies.  Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself.

   A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling.  He was helping himself to another cookie!  By this time, they had come to the end of the package, but she was so angry she didn't dare allow herself to say anything.  Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, and ate the other half and left.  Still fuming some time later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket.  To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her pack of unopened cookies!  How wrong our assumptions can be.

   -- John Ross Cranleigh, Surrey, England.  Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 2.

          D.      Application

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 4-6)

          B.      Implication

We must understand spiritual reality in the mature knowledge of God.

          C.      Illustration

   If only 1,000 people lived on planet Earth, 329 would call themselves Christians; 178 would be Muslims; 167 would be classified as nonreligious; there would be 132 Hindus, 60 Buddhists, 45 atheists, and three Jews. The other 86 would be divided among other religions.

          D.      Application

III.    Cycle Three

          A.      Narrative (vv. 7-8)

          B.      Implication

We must understand others as they move toward a more mature understanding of spiritual reality in the knowledge of God.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

IV.    Cycle Four


          A.      Narrative (vv. 9-13)

          B.      Implication

We must understand the responsible exercise of our Christian freedom

through love as the highest form of knowledge.

          C.      Illustration

   Lee Iacocca once asked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi what it took to make a winning team. The book Iacocca records Lombardi's answer:

   There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don't win the game. Then you come to the third ingredient: if you're going to play together as a team, you've got to care for one another. You've got to love each other. Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself "If I don't block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job well in order that he can do his."

   The difference between mediocrity and greatness, Lombardi said that night, is the feeling these guys have for each other.

   In the healthy church, each Christian learns to care for others. As we take seriously Jesus' command to "love one another," we contribute to a winning team.

   -- Christopher Stinnett, Leadership Magazine, Vol. 15:3,Walled Lake, Michigan, Summer 1994, p. 49.

   I love butter pecan ice cream. I had to tell my wife, "Don't buy any more butter pecan ice cream, because if you bring it home I'm going to eat it." I'm not going to let butter pecan ice cream go bad in my freezer. I'm going to eat it. I know. So if I know that's my weakness, I don't buy it. You can buy Rocky Road. I won't eat that. But don't buy what I like, put it in the freezer, and expect me not to eat it.

   If you make sin available and it's the sin you enjoy, you're going to be in trouble. We get into trouble because we go places we have no business going. The Holy Spirit warns us. He tries to keep us out of trouble, but we go anyway.

   -- D.Z. Cofield, "How to Triumph over Temptations," Preaching Today, Tape 181.

   Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline. It is to be bought with a high price, not merely claimed. ... The [professional] skater and [race] horse are free to perform as they do only because they have been subjected to countless hours of grueling work, rigidly prescribed, faithfully carried out. Men are free to soar into space because they have willingly confined themselves in a tiny capsule designed and produced by highly trained scientists and craftsmen, have meticulously followed instructions and submitted themselves to rules which others defined.

   -- Elisabeth Elliot in All That Was Ever Ours. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 16.

          D.      Application


Big Answer:

What must we understand about our exercise of Christian freedom?

          We must understand the tension between knowledge and love.

          We must understand spiritual reality in the mature knowledge of God.

          We must understand others as they move toward a more mature understanding of spiritual reality in the knowledge of God.

          We must understand the responsible exercise of our Christian freedom

through love as the highest form of knowledge.

Timeless Truth:

The real knowledge of Christian freedom is the knowledge of love.

“ If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NIVUS)

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