This is the first of a brand new thing I’m doing. My messages have a tendency to get sort of long, and 2 weeks ago, I kept the kids upstairs, all of us together. That sounds nice, right? Yes, unless the feedback you get from your children is, “soooooooo long,” exhausted, as if they had run consecutive marathons, like I did. So, I am taking a section and silently writing a companion piece.
Welcome to that companion piece, for last week’s message ‘Audience of 1.’.
(Col. 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
We have an audience of One. We are not actors on a stage, performing for our spouses, friends, parents, families, bosses, neighbors, the people who we see at the grocery store or in church. And this is the issue, isn’t it? We are image-making, wearing masks and watching what we say, so that we sound smart and capable, gauging their reactions to make sure we stay ‘in.’ The Scriptures promise a life free from those masquerade party chains.
However, this verse, this concept can lead to an interesting slide into a different kind of cell. We take this as license to say, ‘I do what I want,’or ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks.’ Which sounds pretty close, but is that really what the Paul is saying to the church in Colosse?
(This is the part of this ‘brand new thing’ where you open your Bibles and read Romans 14 – Unless you happen to be reading this with me in your house, I’m can’t read it to you)
One of the biggest points of contention for the early church was food, and that only makes sense because there were so many laws on what you could or could not eat in the Torah. Religious people were judged on how well they could follow the many, many, many, many different rules. Clean or unclean? was the primary question. When Paul wrote his epistles of a new kind of covenant where the law was fulfilled, where there were no more rules to follow (or foods to eat or not eat) to be loved or accepted by God (that you ALREADY ARE!!!!), well, as you can imagine, that would cause quite the stir.
Circumcision was, also, a hot topic. As Paul was on his journeys, Jewish Christians were traveling behind, teaching a version of the Gospel where you were free as long as you were circumcised. Paul took great exception to this false Gospel, once proclaiming he wished they would go the rest of the way and castrate themselves! He was very clear on the circumcision issue, very clear. Yet later, as he is discipling Timothy, he decides that, in the interest of bringing down more of the walls we use to divide ourselves, Timothy should be circumcised!??! (Acts 16:1-3 NLT “In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.”)
In other words, Brother A understands his freedom as the ability to eat a BLT, but when he does, Brother B is horrified, sees it as an affront to the Living God, who he has followed since he was born. Now, according to Paul, Brother A is ‘right,’ but Brother B takes his offense down the road, complaining about this new ‘liberal’ heresy, never considering BLT’s or the final sacrifice or grace ever again.
What does it matter, at this point, who’s ‘right?’
If our freedom drives another (who hasn’t yet had his eyes opened) away from the love of Jesus, isn’t this just another kind of narcissism? Another kind of self-righteousness?
Our Romans passage is really telling us that we should not let our freedom get in the way of another, that sometimes, we subjugate our freedom to build bridges, to create relationship, to love. That we will sometimes keep quiet, pass on the BLT today, to create a safe space for Brother B to discover this unbelievable Truth on his own and let it transform his life, so that we can eat BLT’s every day for the rest of eternity.
Nehemiah’s life was entirely about serving others, asking ‘what do they need?’
There are really only 2 postures: serve or be served?
Will you use your power and influence to build into others, to make their lives better? Will you use your freedom to serve someone?
Will you use it to get ahead, to satisfy your every desire, to sit with your ego, praying out loud, thanking God that you are “not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers…certainly not like that tax collector (Luke 18:11)?” Will you eat your BLT alone?