Greeting: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Text: 5) One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6) He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7) For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8) If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9) For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Introduction: “I’m in the middle of something right now.” That statement is something we can truthfully say on a number of levels. You may be in the middle of a project you are doing, in the middle of a program you are watching or in the middle of a discussion you are having. You may be driving in the middle lane, sitting in the middle seat, walking in the middle aisle. You may be a middle child stuck in the middle of an argument in the middle of the afternoon. We are often in the middle of something.
That is certain true of us a Christians. When it comes to our lives, we often operate in the great middle which God has created for us. As God designed the moral ground on which we are to walk, He has created two sides and a middle. On one side are the things that God commands us to do. Here we find directives such as honor God, proclaim the Gospel, love your neighbor, speak the truth. On the other side are the things that God has forbidden us to do. Here we find prohibitions such as do not misuse God’s name, do not kill, do not steal, do not covet. In between those two areas is the middle. In this middle area are the things are neither commanded, nor forbidden, the area of moral neutrality, the area where we are free to do as we choose. This area is sometimes called the land of Adiaphora or the region of the Middle Things.
This area contains lots of issues that we can choose to do or not do according to the dictates of our conscience and with a Christ-given regard to glorify God and do no harm to others. For example, in the moral middle we may make moderate use of alcohol, if of legal age, or not, use a mixture of traditional and contemporary worship forms or not, be a vegetarian or not, eat fast food or not, send our children to public school or not, home school our children or not, own a gun or not, hunt deer and pheasants or not, go fishing or not, protest animal research or not, celebrate birthdays or not, root for sports teams or not, get married or not, join a political party or not, have pets or not, carry life insurance or not. The list of these items goes on and on. There is a lot of territory to cover in the middle where God gives us permission to do or not.
When Saint Paul discusses this subject toward the end of the Book of Romans, he makes some important points for us to remember about our relationship to Christ and to others and about the role of our conscience and Christian faith as we operate in the middle with each other. He reminds us that our freedom of choice when it comes to the things neither commanded, nor forbidden by God is not an absolute freedom to do whatever we want without regard for anyone or anything. As we think about our use of the middle things, we are to remember, first of all, that our decisions and actions are to please and glorify the God who has died and rose again to save us from sin and death. Paul writes that the Christian “does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” As we operate in the middle, we are not to do so selfishly, but in thankful, devotion to our Lord.
Saint Paul also reminds us that we are to operate in the middle according to the dictates of our consciences. He writes: “One man considers on day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” He tells us that our consciences must be clear and convinced that our choices are morally permissible before we go ahead with something. Along with this principle goes concern for the Christian faith revealed in the Bible. Here God clearly tells us what is commanded, what is forbidden and what is permitted. In God’s Word an unsure conscience can find clarity and certainty. In addition, this matter of the role of conscience reminds us to be concerned about other people in our personal use of things in the middle or in our reaction to another person’s use of middle things. Not everyone’s conscience has the same level of knowledge and confidence about God’s teachings of the commanded, forbidden and permitted things. Some are stronger and some are weaker in these things.
In some ways, we might liken this difference in Christians to the difference in the strike zone that different umpires call. The official rules of Major League Baseball define the strike zone as the area vertically between the midway point of top of the shoulder and the top of their pants to the bottom of the knee and horizontally over the area of home plate. Home plate, by the way, is a five sided figure: 17” in front, two 8.5” front sides and two 12” back sides that meet at a point. The dimensions are fixed and clear, but there are difference in what umpires allow as strikes because of a difference in sight and judgment. So, too, different Christians have differences in understanding and confidence. Some operate with the full range of things permitted and others have a narrower range that they are confident and comfortable with.
Differences in calling a strike zone in baseball from umpire to umpire and differences in the use of matters of Christian freedom have the potential for a lot of unloving conflict and controversy. That is the last thing God wants His Christ-ransomed people to be engaged in. So we are urged to adopt the following principles regarding our fellow Christians who are operating in the middle things.
1. Respect Their Decisions
Just as home plate umpires are given the right to make their calls, so Christians are given the right to make their calls on the matters presented to them. When a person is using their Christian freedom in good conscience and to glorify God, we are to lovingly respect his/her decisions. That fellow believer’s decisions may not be the ones we would make. They may not make sense to us. But then again your decisions are probably not the ones they would make and they don’t make sense to him/her. Just as we have to take an home umpire’s quality of vision and ability to make judgments into account when we watch a baseball game, so we have take our fellow believer’s weaknesses into account when we watch him/her operate in the land of the adiaphora. Let us refrain from judgmental decisions, unthinking criticism, and unloving condemnation. Let us patiently, kindly, compassionately respect their decisions just as we would like others to do for ours.
2. Defend Their Freedoms
Along with respecting the sincere decisions our fellow believers make in regard to the things neither commanded, nor forbidden, let us also step us and defend their freedom and right to do as they do when necessary. If they come under uncharitable attack for a conscience-led decision about something they choose or do not choose, something they endorse or are silent on, something they do or refrain from doing, let us speak up for their God-given right to make those decisions. Let us say: “God gives freedom in this area. He or she can do this. There is nothing wrong. It may not be your preference, but he/she is right to do this.” Let us do this as people who know the freedom for which Christ has set us free and cherish that spiritual liberty for all.
3. Strengthen Their Knowledge
Finally, as we deal with fellow believers who may not understand and appreciate the fuller scope of Christian freedoms that God grants in His Word, let us patiently and lovingly assist them. Let us help them learn what the Bible says and doesn’t say. Let us show them the clear lines God has laid about between what is commanded, what is forbidden and what is permitted. Let us strengthen them with the sweet Gospel message of God’s love for them so they can be confident and sure of their relationship with Christ and His will for them. Let us speak the truth in love, with lots of love and help them gain strength.
These are wonderful ways God would use us to help fellow Christians in the middle. May God bless and strengthen us all as we live in the joy of our Christ-won freedoms to the glory of our God and to the good of dear brothers and sister in faith. Amen.