The apostle’s second guideline is that you stop exercising your liberty whenever it interferes with someone else’s growth. Do you see that? Every believer should examine these issues more and more. They should study and dig out new truth from the Word and continually maintain an open mind on these kinds of things. If you do not push them too hard, they will. But if someone flaunts his liberty in such a way as to deliberately upset people, it will often harden them in their resistance to change, so they won’t even want to examine the question.! That, Paul says, must be the limit to those who indulge in their liberty. Do not push people too far, or press them too hard. Instead, help them understand the reason for our liberty.
I think it is a healthy thing for a Christian who has liberty in some of these areas to indulge it on occasion. I don’t think the cause of Christ is ever advanced by having every strong believer in a congregation completely forsake their right to indulge in some of the things. Because then what happens is that the whole question is settled on the basis of the most narrow and most prejudiced person on the congregation. Soon, the gospel itself is identified with that kind of view. That is why the non-believers often consider Christians to be too narrow-minded, and people who have no concerns except preventing other from enjoying the good gifts of life that God has given us.
It think people should indulge their freedom. Our relationship with our Lord is refreshing—and rewarding. It makes those who are not free, to raise questions in their minds about their relationship; their faith, especially when they see that that indulgence is linked with a clear manifestation of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Let me explain how that can work. Many years ago I was new to the community of churches and attended a men’s retreat. During the “Friday Night Get-Together,” the brothers were laughing, smoking cigars, having a few beers and enjoying just beng together.
I walked up to a brother I had met several years before this event ( and had a tremendous amount of respect for), and I asked him, “Excuse me Mark, but I am truly troubled by something. In my background believers do not smoke (let alone smoke cigars) or drink beer or have gatherings anything like this. Is this the right thing to do?’
He smiled and put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Yes, it is alright . . .” and began to quote several passages where alcohol was a gift from our Lord to ease the pain and discomfort of sin and discussed the very issues I am discussing with you. We talked some more and I pointed out that he wasn’t having a beer, how come? He answered, “Well, because for me, it would be sin. I feel the Lord has called me to enjoy life differently. But I cannot deprive them of enjoying life this way, as long as they do not celebrate to ‘excess’ and sin against our Lord.” Isn’t that what Paul is instructing us to do?
Then he asked me the same question. He asked me why I was not drinking a beer. As I said before, if you asked me that now, I would tell you because I choose not to, but not because of a fear of offending the Lord, but because I know the Lord is comfortable with me as I am. I am seeking him and attempting to honor him in my own way. When Mark asked me, I had to tell him straight out that it was out of fear of angering and dishonoring my Lord. That is a big difference!
It makes you think, when you see a godly person you admire and respect, who feels perfectly free to indulge in something that you have never been able to indulge in, and still remain the same godly person you admired. I think that kind of thing is right, and Paul is suggesting this, which we will see in a moment. But, Paul says, be careful, and judge how far you are going. If what you are doing upsets people and hardens them in their views so that they will no longer examine and investigate, then stop, you are going too far. That should be the limit. This is what the apostle means when he says,
I freely admit that all food is, in itself, harmless, but it can be harmful to the man who eats it with a guilty conscience. We should be willing to be both vegetarians and teetotallers if by doing otherwise we should impede a brother’s progress in faith (Romans 14:20-2)
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome