Romans 14-16: Freedom

There are moments in cinematic history that have become legend. The moment when ET said: “Phone home” or touched the little boy’s finger with his glowing finger. The moment in Star Wars when Darth Vader proclaim: “Luke, I am your father.” Or that scene when Ferris Bueller’s teacher proclaims: “Bueller?…Bueller?…Bueller?” (Just for the record, let it be stated that I am not a fan of that movie, but my wife is). Then there is the iconic: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!” Truth be told, I could probably quote that whole movie to you as iconic and memorable, and I am deeply sorry for the string of quotes that I have inevitably set off in your mind from that movie. If, on the other hand, you do not recognize that quote from the Princess Bride, allow me to gently chide you for your lack of movie education and encourage you to make it your life mission for this week to watch it.

One other iconic movie scene happens near the end of the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace lies on the rack being tortured by the English and he raises his head, and cries out with his last breath: “FREEDOM!”

If the apostle Paul were to have a favourite movie clip, I think that scene from Braveheart would have a good chance of making the cut. Paul, on numerous occasions throughout his writing, reiterates the importance of freedom in the Christian life, and Romans chapter 14 is no exception.

You may wonder why this subject comes up in Paul’s writing. Let me clarify a couple of things: first, we must remember that much of Paul’s readership was made up of pretty new Christians. And their lives before they became Christians came from numerous backgrounds and even numerous faiths. So switching to the Christian faith involved some growing pains for these people. One of those growing pains was understanding that the rules and stigmas of their old ways of life did not apply to their new life in Jesus.

Here’s the second reason freedom comes up so often in Paul’s writings: it is the tendency of some people in the Christian church (both past, a evidenced by Paul’s writing in chapter 14, and present) who restrict and limit the freedom of others by imposing their views/morals/beliefs on others. Quite often, this is not done in a loving, caring, helping someone grow kind of a way. Instead, it is often done in a very judgmental, heavy handed, legalistic kind of way. That specifically is what Paul is addressing here in Romans 14 and into 15.

There were people in the Roman church who were judging and condemning other people because of what they eat or drank, because they celebrated Sabbath on a different day of the week or because there was a difference of opinion about what was clean and unclean.

The real key, Paul points out is two-fold. First, whatever we do, we do it for the Lord. So if someone celebrates Sabbath on Saturday, he/she does it to the Lord. If someone eats something, they do it for the Lord. If someone abstains from eating something, they abstain to the Lord. Paul makes it clear here that it is the motivation and the heart of the person in it’s direction to Jesus that is the important factor. Jesus is Lord, so he calls the shots. We have absolutely no ground to stand on in judging others.

The second Paul makes very clear is this: if we really love someone, if the law of love (as Paul puts it) is at work in our lives, then we should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for theirs. We should be willing to seek out the other person’s good instead of our own. The interesting thing is that works both ways. So if I love my brother in Christ, I will not judge him because he chooses to drink a beer on a Friday night. AND if that brother loves me, he will not drink beer in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

Just a side note: I only chose that illustration because it is a common item of judgement among some Christians. I quite enjoy a cold, frothy beverage from time to time.

That is the whole point of chapter 15. If we are mature in Christ, we should always act and speak in ways that benefit our neighbour, not ourselves, “in order to build him up” Paul says.

It all boils down to Romans 15:7 “Therefore, accept one another, just as the Messiah accepted you, to the glory of God.”

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 20:4-23:35

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