Jamie Child considers a question that arose from a recent sermon in Acts.
After I preached on Acts 15.1-16.5 someone asked me this question: “where do you draw the line for how much of your freedom you should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of spreading the gospel?” The question came up because of Timothy’s significant sacrifice for the sake of gaining a hearing from the Jews (Acts 16.3)! So here are a few reflections to help us think it through:
Freedom rightly understood
In 21st century London we hear the word 'freedom' and think it means 'being able to follow any desire at any moment.' That’s not how the Bible understands freedom. In fact it would describe that as slavery… slavery to sin. I wasn’t created to serve myself, I was created to serve God and other people. That means that I’ll never be 'free' whilst I’m always seeking to serve myself. But Paul says of us, '…having been set free from sin [you] have become slaves of righteousness.' (Rom 6.18). True freedom (and joy for that matter!) will be experienced as Christ transforms me to love and serve him and others. As Paul says in Galatians 5.13 '…you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.'
Freedom for the sake of the unbelievers
The Bible then talks about us using this gospel freedom for the sake of two groups: Unbelievers and believers. 1 Corinthians 8-10 are the go to chapters for thinking about the first group and I’m going to let Paul do the talking. '…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks… Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ' (1 Cor 10.31-11.1). Two things to note: Firstly, every area of life is affected by this principle of love for others – ' …whatever you do'. Secondly, no limit is set on the extent of the personal sacrifice we might make – 'Be imitators of Christ'.
Freedom for the sake of believers
Romans 14.1-15.13 is the place to go to think about limiting our behavior so as not to cause other Christians to act against their conscience. The argument is complicated but the overall point is simple and strikingly similar to the point in 1 Corinthians. 'Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…' (Romans 15.2-3).
So here’s a brief answer to the question: It appears there are no limits to how much I should be willing to limit my freedom for the sake of the gospel. If Christ gave it all up for me, shouldn’t I be willing to give it all up for the sake of others? And only the grace of God can produce that kind of radical love.