by Al Maxey

Issue #647 ------- February 10, 2015
Liberty means responsibility.
That's why most men dread it.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Liberty vs. Libertarianism
Limiting Our Liberty in Love: Pondering
the Parameters of a Practical Principle

We are free in Christ Jesus, and our liberty is blood-bought. It was secured at great cost, and the price that was paid was the sacrifice of God's beloved Son upon a cross. As Christians, we should never take lightly, nor take for granted, this gracious gift of our Lord, nor should we ever surrender this liberty in order that we might return to a state of bondage. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). The apostle Paul urged his readers to be extremely cautious and watchful, for there are always going to be "false brethren who sneak in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). Whenever we, who are free, encounter and are confronted by such devious disciples and their dogmas, we must follow the lead of Paul, who said that he "did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour" (Gal. 2:5). Some things are too precious to surrender, even to those who may claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yes, Paul instructs, we are to be sensitive to our fellow disciples when they are genuinely unsettled in their faith on certain matters, and who are truly seeking to grow in grace, yet we are never, ever to submit to those who may claim to be "the weaker brother/sister," but who are, in reality, obstinately settled (calcified) in their convictions and determined to demand submission to those convictions of all who dare to differ with them. Consideration for those in the first group shows forth the love of Christ; subjecting ourselves to the second group is, in effect, a casting off of the freedom our Lord Jesus gave His life to secure. Paul circumcised Timothy out of consideration for the first group; he refused to circumcise Titus (Gal. 2:3) as a result of the demands of the second group. We must ever be aware of strong-willed disciples who hesitate not to play the "weaker brother" card in order to limit the liberties of others (Reflections #25 -- "Professional Weaker Brethren"). Submitting to them is sin, yet not being sensitive to the other group is also sin. Discerning the difference will forever prove somewhat challenging to us who are free in Christ, yet who seek to bring our unsettled brethren into the joyous experience of that same liberty we enjoy, while at the same time standing firm against those who seek to challenge our liberty and condemn us for our freedom (since the expressions of our freedom often fail to comport with their own settled convictions). It is a delicate dance.

Yes, we are free in Christ Jesus, and we must never surrender that freedom. We must guard it and cherish it, for it is a priceless gift of God extended through the sacrifice of His Son for all who have faith. It is also true, however, that with great freedom comes great responsibility, a fact many, to their detriment (and to the detriment of those around them), fail to perceive. Liberty does not imply license to do as we please; rather, those of us who are liberated must also realize that with our freedom comes the obligation to extend it unto those who have yet to attain it, and such a mission and ministry may at times require that we curtail various expressions of our freedom for a time in order not to offend those who have yet to attain to the perception of God's grace that we currently enjoy. Just because I am free does not give me the right to "do as I please," especially when some manifestations of my freedom may not be fully understood or appreciated by those around me (thereby harming and hindering them more than helping them). Yes, we are free, but all that we do must be done in love for God and our fellow man (whether saved or lost), which at times may mean that I must take a step back in order to allow another for whom Christ died to take a step forward. Such is not a surrendering of our freedom in Him, but rather living responsibly as free men and women, considering first the welfare of others. The apostle Paul expressed this principle this way to the brethren in the city of Corinth: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable" (1 Cor. 6:12, NASB; cf. 1 Cor. 10:23). Paul deals extensively, and very practically, with this principle in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, thereby helping us to better perceive its true intent. In this present issue of my Reflections, I would like to examine a few truths gleaned from the two statements recorded in Paul's first epistle to the brethren in Corinth (6:12; 10:23). Notice the wording of these two verses (as they appear in the New American Standard Bible):

1 Corinthians 6:12
All things are lawful for me, but not all things
are profitable. All things are lawful for me,
but I will not be mastered by anything.

1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful, but not all things are
profitable. All things are lawful, but not
all things edify.

The two passages are quite similar, but there are some notable distinctions between the two that stand out. First, you will notice that the twice repeated phrase "for me," which appears in 6:12, is missing in 10:23. There is a reason for this. If one examines the context of both passages, one will find that Paul is speaking of individual saints and their personal obligations in 6:12 (and he includes himself), whereas the 10:23 passage has the entire assembly of the saints in view, and their communal obligations, rather than individuals (thus, the phrase "for me" is not repeated). The King James Version and the New King James Version have erred in their translation by adding the phrase "for me" (which is found in the 6:12 text) to the 10:23 text. This is a mistake, and confuses the distinction Paul clearly seeks to draw between the two passages. The Greek term "moi" ("to/for me") is found in both passages in the Textus Receptus, but is not found in the 10:23 text in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, thus it is removed from the more modern translations of the Bible. "That the word crept into the text (of 10:23) from 6:12 seems to be almost certain" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek NT, p. 561]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown concur, stating that "the oldest manuscripts omit" the word translated "for me" from the second of these two texts [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1210]. The Pulpit Commentary, as do many other commentaries, also stresses that the phrase "for me" should not be included in the 10:23 passage, and that it is totally missing in the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts [vol. 19, p. 325]. Again, in 6:12 Paul addresses his thoughts to the individual Christian (and he includes himself), whereas in 10:23 he is addressing his thoughts to the church/congregation as a whole.

Something else you will notice if you examine these two passages in a number of different translations and versions (which I always do when preparing for a study of a particular biblical text) is that some scholars place the phrase "all things are lawful" in quotation marks, whereas others do not (as in the case of the NASB seen above). By not using quotation marks, one is left with the impression that the statement comes from Paul himself: that he is affirming a specific truth that is integral to his teaching. By employing quotation marks, however, the translators are suggesting the statement is either a well-known maxim, or it is something some disciples in Corinth were asserting, and which may have been included in their letter to Paul in which they sought insight from him on various issues (and to which this epistle is his response). In the original Greek text there were no such grammatical markings used, thus the adding of quotation marks is based upon the understanding of the translators. Scholars are somewhat divided as to which is the correct way to render the text, but the majority believe Paul is quoting what some were saying in Corinth, rather than declaring, as gospel truth, "all things are lawful." Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll refers to this as "Paul's dialectical use of the words of his opponents" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 867]. "Like a true rhetorician, Paul took up the position of his opponents, and turned them to good account for his own cause" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 343]. Such a practice is not uncommon with Paul, as I have sought to show in Reflections #592: "Challenging A Corinthian Quotation." Dr. Jimmy Allen observed, "In recent translation, this expression ('all things are lawful') is set apart in quotes to show that Paul was citing a Corinthian statement" [Survey of 1 Corinthians, p. 75]. If this is the case, then Paul was responding to a statement employed by some in Corinth ("all things are lawful") to justify their practice of turning their liberty into license. On the other hand, there are scholars who believe the statement "all things are lawful (for me)" had its origin with Paul: that this was something he had been teaching during his time in Corinth, and that the people had misunderstood, and thus misapplied, his teaching. "Apparently this proverb may have been used by Paul in Corinth, but not in the sense now used by Paul's opponents" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Dr. Charles Ellicott agrees: "This was probably a statement which the apostle had himself made. ... The freedom which it expresses was very dear to him, yet it may have been misused by some as an argument for universal license" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 304].

Whichever view one ultimately takes, the point being made by Paul in the two passages is nevertheless the same: with freedom (both individually and communally) comes significant responsibilities and obligations to both God and man. Liberty is not license! Indeed, genuine LIBERTY in Christ Jesus will always be tempered, and in some cases even limited, by LOVE. Paul told the Corinthian brethren that love is never "self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13:5), which liberty devoid of love can easily become. Anyone who declares, "all things are lawful/permitted, therefore I will do as I please regardless of what others think or feel," has no real concept of the type of freedom our Lord secured for His people. Yes, we are free, but we are also responsible for the ways in which we manifest this freedom. Christian liberty is to be governed by godly love, and thus its application must be limited by a number of considerations: (1) does this expression of my freedom bring glory to God, (2) does it help or hinder a fellow disciple of Christ, and (3) does it build up or tear down the church and its witness to the world? "To make one's own rights, one's own liberty, the sole and paramount consideration, regardless of the good of others, is the essence of selfishness, and a violation of the great law of love" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 137]. It is Paul's unselfish desire that his actions, whatever they may be, and no matter how lawful in themselves they may be, should always be done with a view to the edification of others (whether that be individually or communally). Further, if Paul is free to engage in something that might have a negative impact upon others, he will regulate his liberty with love. That is how one lives responsibly as a man or woman free in Christ Jesus. "We have no right to do even that which is innocent, if it be disadvantageous to the highest interests of ourselves or others" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 193]. Paul, therefore, advises us all to adopt this principle: "I will be master even over my liberty by keeping it under the beneficent control of love" [ibid].

The problem in Corinth, which Paul addresses in a number of places in his first epistle to them, and which he addresses in a number of ways, was that they "had misunderstood freedom in Christ," and also "Paul's teaching concerning law and grace," and as a result had embraced a destructive philosophy known as libertarianism, which led them to believe that because they were free they could thereby "engage in any and all activities with impunity" [Dr. Jimmy Allen, Survey of 1 Corinthians, p. 76]. Notice the following proverbial statements: "Unlawful things ruin thousands, lawful things (unlawfully used) ruin ten thousands." "Nowhere does the devil build his little chapels more cunningly than right by the side of the temple of Christian liberty." Unrestrained freedom can be deadly, and I would imagine we can all think of instances where this has proved to be true. Just because we may have the right, by virtue of our liberty in Him, to engage in some lawful act, does not necessarily mean it is always right to do so. If our actions are not governed by love, then an otherwise positive act may at times have a very negative result. With our freedom, therefore, must come a genuine concern as to how our exercise of our freedom will impact others. Paul had the freedom, for example, to eat meat that had previously been offered to an idol, for he knew these carvings of stone and wood were not truly gods. "But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7). So, Paul cautions, "Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak" (vs. 9). Paul concluded, "if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again" (vs. 13). Paul's goal was to build up (edify) the church, and he was not willing to allow anything to undermine that goal, even if it meant refraining from something he had every right to do. Such is the governing power of love in the lives of those who are free.

"Between having the right to do a certain thing and insisting upon making use of this right at all times and under all circumstances there is a great difference" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 137]. When we fail to perceive this great difference, and thus act selfishly, we too often bring harm to others. Those who allow their freedom to be governed by LOVE will not only enjoy the blessings of their liberty in their own lives, but they will also find joy in considerate interactions with others who may not have yet achieved the same level of spiritual awareness and maturity. Having said this, Paul would also not hesitate to declare that there are times when one should NOT allow one's freedom to be curtailed by the scruples of another. Just a few verses after Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 10:23, he then asks, "Why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?" (1 Cor. 10:29-30). Our freedom in Christ is regulated by LOVE, not by LEGALISTS. We should always be sensitive to those who are genuinely struggling with some matter (that doesn't mean we surrender our liberty, but that we simply live free in a manner that doesn't intentionally bring harm to those still unsettled in their faith). But then there are those who are extremely settled in their convictions (indeed, those convictions may have become calcified), and who "go after" those who dare to embrace and enjoy freedom in Christ. Paul was willing to show consideration to the former group, but was unwilling to submit for even a minute to the demands of the latter group.

Our blood-bought freedom is too precious to cast aside to calm our critics. Individuals, as well as congregations, must never bow to the dictates of those who cannot bring themselves to be free. Therefore, there will be times when we must go ahead and exercise our freedom in spite of the objections of a few still enslaved to their religious traditions and dogmas. The stark reality is: no matter what we do in our service to God and men, no matter how right our actions may be, there will always be some who don't like it, and thus will stand against it (and against you). For example, Paul instructed the Corinthian brethren to deal rather sternly with a particular individual in their midst (1 Cor. 5), yet we see later that not everyone in the church at Corinth was in agreement with this action, for Paul stated this punishment was inflicted on this person "by the majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). There was a percentage in the congregation that didn't agree with what Paul wanted to do, but there are times when an action is important enough that it needs to be done anyway. When we embrace and evidence our freedom in Christ, there will be some of our brethren who will not agree with or appreciate what we do. If it is because they are spiritually immature, and thus not entirely settled in their convictions, then we need to be sensitive to them in our actions. However, if the opposition comes from a few who simply are rigid religionists, who don't like change and who "throw a fit" whenever something different is proposed, then our liberty should not be limited by their legalism. We must always show sensitivity to the former group; we must never submit to the latter group. The latter destroys freedom, the former ennobles it; the latter is about LAW, the former is about LOVE. If we limit our liberty by love, we will be a powerful force for good; if we limit our liberty by law (and the demands of those who live by law), we are in danger of surrendering that which our Lord shed His blood to attain for us. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1), "for some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (Gal. 2:4-5). The good news is: you are free. The bad news is: some among you are seeking to return you to slavery. These must be resisted at all cost, and our freedom never surrendered to them. On the other hand, we may legitimately limit aspects of our freedom for a time if, in so doing, we can rescue some from their religious slavery. The key to the preservation of our freedom lies in our ability to perceive the distinction.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in California:

Al, I just read Reflections #646 -- "The Trespass of the Tray Pass." Thank you for an outstanding and logical argument against policies and practices (born of human opinions and traditions) that hinder our growth. Thank you so much for helping to lift the yoke of oppression that holds back Christians from serving to their full potential.

From a Minister in California:

Great job on your last article, Al. Well said. It is grossly sad, however, that women serving the Lord's Supper is even an issue among believers! Carry on, brother!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, you nail it every time!! Thank you!

From a Reader in Texas:

As you know, my congregation is not gender inclusive. I shared your article ("The Trespass of the Tray Pass") with one of our twelve elders. He wrote me back and said, "Interesting stuff, and a good writer. Thanks." Whether it will help open the door to discussion on this matter remains to be seen.

From a Reader in West Virginia:

I have a real interest in your study of The Nature of Man and his eternal destiny. I have the audio CD of this class of yours, as well as the 25 papers on that CD that you have written. I liked your organization and transitions. I am planning to use this material in a class here. As always, you are a blessing to me and many others. Though I do not write you as much as I used to, I am still keeping an eye on you and sharing your Reflections with others. Blessings to you, your family, and your ministries. I am praying for the Lord's return in 2015.

From a Reader in Ohio:

I hope all is well in the "Land of Enchantment." Our small group Bible study is off to a great start this year. We are using the handouts from your study of the epistle to the Galatians (The Message of Freedom). We have had some great discussion, and everyone has commented on how well written and researched your handouts are. Thanks again, Al, for all you do. I love listening to your lessons on the CDs you provide. They are truly grace filled.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, please send the two CD set of your study on Galatians (The Message of Freedom) to my friend in Georgia. Also, please send me another copy of this set just for lending purposes (I have to do without my own copy for extended periods of time whenever I let people take it and listen to it). Thanks!

From a Reader in Texas:

Thank you for exploring this truth (women serving in the assembly) in such a clear and understandable way! I ask God's blessings on you. You are such an encouragement to each of us!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

I almost got kicked out of my home church the first time I questioned why women couldn't pass trays and why girls couldn't pick up the attendance cards. Thanks for your wonderful article ("The Trespass of the Tray Pass"). I just want you to know I very much admire and appreciate your study and your stand for God and His Word. Traditions are hurting the Body of Christ in so many ways! I occasionally "steal your stuff" and share it with the congregation here, using your materials in sermons and devotionals, although there are a couple of people here who are very anti-Maxey, -Lucado, and -Chan.

From a State Official in New Mexico:

Brother Al, again I thank you for your wonderful point of view in your Reflections. It is just breath-taking!! May you and your ministry continue to be blessed, as it blesses each of us who are fortunate enough to get your emails.

From a Missionary in Peru:

There is no doubt that the Communion service in most churches looks nothing like what we read of in the NT. I have always found Communion to be too ceremonial and religious, having no real sense of the Communion in the NT, which was more natural, vibrant, transparent, spontaneous, and engendered true fellowship around a meal shared together. There is also not enough praise and worship among our churches; not enough joy. The majority of Baptist Communion services are more like a funeral. Should we not come together to celebrate the victory the Lord has accomplished for us? After all, in the festivals in Israel the Lord commanded them to come before Him joyfully. I just think we have lost completely what Communion should be. I agree with all you say in your latest Reflections, but my personal struggle is with the lack of joy and the dead ceremonial aspects of most Communion services.

From a Deaconess in Virginia:

In spite of growing up in a church where women were hardly allowed to speak, and ingrained with these regulations, I believe the Lord has finally opened my eyes to the truth on this matter, and I believe this short simple passage in Scripture -- Galatians 3:25-29 -- says it all, and that it can't be any clearer!

From a Reader in Alabama:

This may sound quite secular to some (particularly those who are so busy defending dogma that they don't have time to think about what Jesus said and did and stood for), but the two character traits that I admire most are: courage and the love of freedom. They may actually be Siamese twin traits, come to think of it. I thank God for men like you and Edward Fudge (and at the local level Henry Fudge) who are fighting to lead people out of the bondage of fear into the freedom of a personal relationship with Jesus.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I have been reading your Reflections regularly for a long time, and I have listened to lessons you have presented via CD/DVD. I really appreciate your scholarship and your discipleship. Thank you! It just makes me sad that our churches need to have a conversation like this about women's roles. What is wrong with us?!! I have been a Church of Christ member for 80 years, and I couldn't even begin to relate to you the PAIN I have suffered at being a female in this Boys' Club! What is even more painful is seeing my daughter experience the same things and who is now feeling the same hurts. I once believed that things would change, at least for her. I no longer believe it. The dear men in our fellowship seem to have no clue what damage they are doing to women and girls, and on a regular basis, in ways small and great, subtle and blatant. Just tonight, for example ... oh, well ... never mind! Women serving Communion in the Sunday morning assembly? What a baby step, and yet I am glad it is being taken, and glad that you are addressing this matter.

From a Reader in Texas:

"The Trespass of the Tray Pass" was a great article. Thank you for standing for biblical truth instead of for the traditions of the "good ole boys." How refreshing!!

From a Reader in Australia:

I really don't understand how women can continue to be members of churches that treat them like inferior beings!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I love my morning Joe (coffee) with Brother Al. I was encouraged this morning, as I drank my coffee and read your article, by the responses to your request for comment on women serving Communion. It seems that the overwhelming majority of those in the assembly see the matter as one of church tradition rather than biblical instruction. It's also clear that the majority believe it's unfortunate that women are treated this way. What doesn't appear to be the case, sadly, is that the majority think this treatment was wrong and that it should have been fixed a LONG time ago! How much longer will this insult to 50% or more of our congregations be tolerated?!! Seems to me the only "usurping" going on isn't to male authority, but to male EGO. Please keep it up, Al. Things are finally moving in the right direction. Love ya, brother!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, did you read the January/February issue of Contending for the Faith (which I call "Contentious for the Faith")? One article called the Robertsons (the "Duck Dynasty" family) apostates and condemned them, declaring them to be lost because their men have long hair, they attend the liberal, apostate White's Ferry Road Church of Christ, and they fellowship with heretical denominations. If that wasn't enough, the author went after a beautiful young nineteen year old Christian girl (Sadie Robertson) for appearing on (and almost winning, by the way) "Dancing With The Stars." The author admitted he had never watched the show, but he still accused Sadie of exposing and shaking her flesh in a lascivious manner. That attack on her, and her family, makes me so sick. I don't know who signed me up to receive this magazine, but I suspect it is someone within the ultra-conservative Church of Christ group who considers me "lost," and who wants to "save" me. I just thought I would vent and share this with you. Keep up the excellent writing and teaching, my friend. Keep contending for faith in the Man, not a man-made plan. God bless your life, family, and ministry.

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