Therefore, do not allow what you consider as good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
If you are going to create division by arguing so hard for your rights, or your freedom, then you are distorting the gospel itself. The word Paul uses for “evil” means blaspheme. You are causing the good news about Christ to be blasphemed because you are making too much of an issue over a minor matter. You are insisting that your rights are so important that you have to divide the church over them. That is saying to the watching world around that Christianity consists of whether you do, or do not do, a certain thing.
I heard of a church that got into an argument over whether they ought to have a Christmas tree at their Christmas program. Some thought that a tree was fine; others thought it was a pagan practice, and they got so angry at each other and even got into fist fights over it. One group dragged the tree out, then the other group dragged it back in. They ended up suing each other in a court of law and this was spread in the newspapers for the entire community to read. What else could non-Christians conclude other than that the gospel consists of if you have a Christmas tree or not?
That is wrong. The main point of the Christian faith is not eating or drinking or Christmas trees. The main point is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. A non-Christian, looking at a Christian, ought to see righteousness, peace and joy, not wrangling and disputing and fighting and law courts. That word righteousness means that, because of the death of Jesus for you, you are loved and accepted by him. The world ought to see you confident about who you are, with an underlying assurance that shows you have a basis of self-acceptance that the world knows nothing about.
Another thing the world ought to see is peace. That comes across visibly as a kind of calmness, an inner core of unflappability that is undisturbed by the minor irritations of the moment. It is that quiet and calm assurance that God is present in the situation; that he will work it out for his glory, and we need not get upset or angry. It is hard for the world to get that impression of peace and calmness if they see two people screaming at one another. That does not look very calm.
The third element is joy. Joy is that delight in life that always finds life worthwhile, even though it may be filled with problems. Joy does not come from circumstances. I met a woman who had been lying in her bed for 13 years. She has arthritis so bad that her joints are disconnected and she cannot even raise her hands. But the smile on her face, the joy that is evident in her, is an outstanding witness to the fact that joy of this kind is a gift of God. It comes out of relationship, not out of circumstance.
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Paul is saying that if that is what you have discovered, then you can easily give up some momentary indulgence that you enjoy and are free to participate in, if it is going to cause someone to act contrary to their own conscience. Sometimes, when you enter a main highway, you see a sign that says, “YIELD.” I wish we could make one of those and put it up in our dining room. That is a Christian philosophy — to yield, to give way. Do not insist on your rights under these circumstances.
Thank you, Father, that there is a way of working problems out, peacefully and cheerfully and joyfully, “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
What is the three-fold evidence of one who is intentionally walking in the Spirit? How does the alternative to these violate the Gospel, and invalidate our witness to the world?