By Pastor Glenn Pease
A crystal gazer collected 25 dollars for a reading and told the visitor, "This entitles you to ask me two questions. Isn't that a lot of money for only two questions?" Asked the startled woman. "Yes it is," answered the fortune teller. "Now what is your second question?" Many of the questions people ask are as wasteful as the first one of this unfortunate woman. They are as irrelevant as the question of the secretary who was to spell Mississippi, and she asked, "The river or the state?"
If all foolish questions were limited to the realm of the trivial, there would be no problem, but they invade theology also, and waste time and energy that could be put to a useful purpose. For example, someone asked Anselm, the leading theologian of the 11th century, why the second Person of the Trinity, rather than the first or third, became incarnate? Rather than dismissing it as irrelevant and beyond the finite mortal mind, he not only answered it, but he published his answer. It is very complicated, but one of his reasons is that if the Father or the Holy Spirit would have been incarnated, there would have been two sons in the Trinity: One before the incarnation and one after. It makes sense, but it is of no value. It is on the same level as the question on how many angels can stand on the head of a pin? Even if there was an answer, it would be worthless information.
A good question is one that leads to an answer that really matters. Paul's question in verse 4 to Christians in conflict is a good question because it forces Christians to come to conclusions which are healthy for Christian maturity. He asks, "Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" It calls for self-examination and evaluation, and this is vital for Christian growth. Christians who face up to this question will be among the great protectors of Christian freedom. Paul shows in the context that a proper answer to this question will protect us from a perversion of freedom, and provide us with a positive freedom. Paul stresses both the need for freedom from, and freedom for. The negative and the positive are both essential. We need freedom from condemnation, and we need freedom for conviction. We need freedom from perverted self-exaltation, and freedom for positive self-examination. In the simplest terms, we need freedom from idolatry, and freedom for investigation. Let's consider first:
I. FREEDOM FROM IDOLATRY.
How does this question free us from idolatry? If we ask ourselves who we are when we judge another person we are forced to either produce our credentials, or get off God's throne. Joseph Parker said, "That is the annihilating question. It brings every man up sharply, when he is asked to produce his title." Paul's question demands that we come up with a answer that authorizes us to sit in judgment, or get down with our fellow servants where we belong. This question is a sharp rebuke to the weak Christians who were playing God and condemning the strong Christians. What was happening in the Roman church was a common problem all through Christian history, and is still a problem today. Christians have a tendency to identify their convictions with the convictions of God, and, therefore, if anyone disagrees with them they interpret this as an attack upon God and so they feel obligated to express God's wrath and condemnation.
This eagerness to defend God was well known to Paul, for he was convinced that he was defending God when he persecuted the church. Paul learned in a shocking way that he was playing God and doing an exceedingly poor job of it. Man never does a decent job at being God. That is why God insists on handling his own affairs when it comes to judgment. Vengeance is mine I will repay says the Lord. Christians are notorious, however, for being impatient with God, and they take judgment into their own hands. Such an attitude is a sign of weak faith and self-idolatry. It leads one to worship his own ideas and convictions as if they were equivalent to God's.
This was the major problem that developed within the Catholic Church. It was her weakness that led to her to self-idolatry. She set herself up as judge of all, and suppressed the freedom to differ. All who did not conform to her pronouncements were killed or excommunicated. This is idolatry when any man or organization puts itself on the judgment seat of God. Protestants have done the same thing, and all of us are in danger of it. How do we gain freedom from this idolatry? We simply ask ourselves this question of Paul-who are you, or more personality, who am I to judge another man's servant. A servant stands or falls before his own master and not me.
If I can produce evidence authorizing me to be the master of my fellow Christians, then I can justify my judging them, but if I ask who I am, and have to confess that I am merely a fellow servant, then I will be set free from the dangers of idolatry. I must be fully aware that no Christian has any obligation to conform to my will. He is obligated to please Christ, and if he does that, it is none of my business that his conduct does not please me. Saddler writes, "In indifferent matters Christ leaves His servants at liberty, and if anyone of their fellow servants presumes to deprive them of their liberty, he puts himself between them and Christ, and this intrusion Christ will sooner or later resent."
Paul is telling us that Jesus is a master who does not desire all His servants to conform to one another, but rather to Him who is the author of infinite variety. He who made every snow flake; every blade of grass, and every finger print different, does not change His love for variety when it comes to His highest creation in man. Paul says to those who want to judge other Christians-don't do it. He will be upheld by his Master, and you will only be putting yourself in a position of insubordination to the Master.
The conservative is sure that the more liberal Christian will fall into sin and be swept away, but if he does what he does with a clear conviction, Paul says he will stand. The strong Christian will stand even if the weak Christian is sure he will fall. Jesus will not let a piece of meat bring about the fall of any of His servants. Peter said to Jesus, "What about John?" Jesus said, "If I will that he tarries till I come, what is that to thee, follow thou me." So Jesus is saying, it is not your business to judge another of my servants. Your business is to do what you feel is right in obedience to My will. If we keep the right question in our minds, we will keep ourselves free from idolatry, and be able to say with Joaquin Miller-
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still;
In men whom men pronounce divine,
I find so much of sin and blot.
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.
Freedom from idolatry is only one part of Christian freedom. The next part is the positive part that Paul stresses in verse 5.
II. FREEDOM FOR INVESTIGATION
In this verse Paul brings up another completely different issue. It was not only on the matter of meats that the Christians had a problem, but also on special days. The Jews had long traditions of observing the Sabbath, and special days of feasting and atonement. The Gentiles had no such traditions, and they were not about to introduce a lot of new holidays into their schedule. Nor were they interested in fasting on certain days as were the Jews. Thus you had another hot issue of radical disagreement.
It was the weak Christian who said, just as vegetables are better than meat so certain days are better than others to be set aside for fasting or feasting. The strong Christians said all food is good, and so are all days. You can see how the Jews would be hurt to think that fellow Christians thought nothing of the Sabbath. The Gentiles would think the Jews were foolish for thinking Sunday-the Lord's Day was not to be preferred. Ignatius, who was martyred in 115 A.D. wrote, "Those who were concerned with old things have come to newness of confidence, no longer keeping Sabbaths, but living according to the Lord's Day, on whom our life, as risen again, through Him, depends." This shows that it was a slow process by which the Jewish Christians eventually got away from their loyalty to Old Testament law.
Paul was, of course, on the side of the strong Christians. He wrote to the Gal. 4:10-11, "You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain." It is never good to become superstitious about anything and think there is some special grace in certain days or seasons. The Old Testament did make much of these, but Paul writes to the Colossians and makes it clear the Christian is free from all of this. He writes in Col. 2:14, "Having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross." "Therefore," he says in verse 16, "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath."
The famous missionary Mary Slessor spent 3 lonely years in the bush and had no calendar. She frequently got mixed up on her days. Once she was found holding her service on Monday, and again on one Sunday she was found on the roof hammering away in the belief that it was Saturday. Were her services any less valid or valuable? Not according to Paul. In the New Testament we are not bound by any laws of days. Martin Luther said that if all Christians agreed to worship on Tuesday, they could do so without breaking any laws of God. Paul recognized that Christian freedom allows worship on the Sabbath or the Lord's Day, or any other day.
The Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists have a right to worship on Saturday and be pleasing to God. Their only danger is in thinking they have a superior day to those who worship on Sunday. If they think that, they are weak Christians, and fail to heed Paul's command that each be fully persuaded in his own mind. This is a very important principle, for it clearly opens up the way for the freedom of investigation and persuasion. If each Christian is to be free to chose, it means both sides of an issue must be free to express their views and present evidence. Any Christian church that sets down as an absolute standard to be conformed to on controversial issues, not clearly revealed in Scripture, is not a church based on New Testament principles. If Christians equally committed to Christ feel differently on a issue, it should be open to investigation, and never settled by a decree of the majority or a strong minority.
Paul says, let freedom prevail, and suppress no aspect of the truth, and let each be persuaded in his own mind. This, of course, means that some will be persuaded one way and others another way, and so there will never be full agreement. What is needed is not full agreement, but full liberty to obey the truth as you see it. Where this is lacking unity of agreement is of no value, for all agree, not out of conviction, but out of ignorance or necessity. Truth is only effective when it is held by conviction. Paul could throw his weight around, and by his authority command all to worship on Sunday and forget the Sabbath, but this is not an issue to be settled by authority. It is to be settled by evidence, persuasion, and conviction. This freedom to investigate, inquire, and search is essential for the Christian.
We have here the principles of liberty of conscience and toleration of differences. These are principles for which many Christians have fought and died. No church can eliminate these principles and be pleasing to God. Christians need to be free to take opposite sides on issues of controversy such as war and various views of the second coming. This freedom of investigation will keep Christians ever open to new light and truth, and prevent them from identifying Christianity with any particular position or party which has always been a curse to the church through history. This principle is a challenge for all Christians to be thinkers. It is never a Christian attitude to follow any path just because someone else says it is the right path. All a Christian does he is to do out of conviction, having looked at evidence and been persuaded.
Since I will not have to answer to my professor, pastor, teacher, or any other Christian leader, but to God alone, I am under obligation to disagree with them all and obey my convictions before God. These convictions, however, must be based on investigation and persuasion by evidence. Every Christian is to stand on his own two feet. You might take a position that differs from your mate or men of God whom you love and admire, but God says stand on that ground if you are fully persuaded in your own mind. This means Christians can disagree on many issues, and all be equally acceptable to God. It is not a New Testament principle that all Christians should agree on everything, but, that they should be fully persuaded in there own minds. I must respect another position even if I am convinced that it is wrong if they are fully persuaded that it is right.
This leads to the paradox that what is wrong for you may be right for me, or vice versa. Luther said, "Because of the diversity of consciences, therefore, it can happen that one man sins and another does the right thing in one and the same action...." This opens the door to many exciting ideas. We can only conclude that freedom of speech and debate is a basic part of Christian living. If Christians could see this, they would not be offended when others reject their views, and try and present evidence to show it is inadequate. This is part of the process of growth in truth. No group on earth should be more open to new light than God's people. Therefore, no group needs to ask themselves Paul's good question more often than Christians-who are you? This is a good question because an honest answer will give us as a church, and as an individual, freedom from idolatry and freedom for investigation.