|(Apologies for the obscure Reformed humor.)|
Americans tend to think freedom means being able to do whatever we want, but Paul has a very different view. Paul has been freed to love as God loves, and so his freedom can never be the cause for any other person' harm. In a sense, Paul's new freedom has bound him and made him captive to his neighbor. The issues Paul worries about, clean and unclean foods, circumcision, and whether Saturday or Sunday were special days, don't get us very worked up. And so Paul's statement, "Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat,"has little contact with our lives. Still, the concept is easily transferable.
I think Paul's warnings especially applicable to those of us who fancy ourselves good theologians. It is an admirable thing to struggle with the Bible and faith seeking fuller understanding. "Eureka!" theological moments can be deeply gratifying and even life-changing. They can also lead to no small amount of arrogance.
When we've figured something out or gotten where others haven't yet gotten, we naturally want to help them join us. But there is also a tendency to look down on those who don't see things as we do, to view them as theological simpletons. Even if we are correct, little good is likely to come of such arrogance. I wonder how often my own attempts to shape someone into my view of theological purity did more harm than good as I ignored "what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" in order to get people to do what I "know" is right. And according to Paul, if I somehow manage to cajole them into going along with me, but in their hearts they aren't convinced, I've actually led them into sin. So much for theological purity.
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