On Christian Love and Not Causing a Brother to Stumble (Henry)

Here is something Paul wrote to tell Christians not to use their rights or freedoms to cause other Christians to stumble:

“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ”

1 Cor. 8:9-12 NLT

It’s a very important biblical teaching to say the least! Matthew Henry’s comments on these verses are a great help in understanding Paul’s teaching. Note Henry’s excellent emphasis on love:

Note, Those whom Christ hath redeemed with his most precious blood should be very precious and dear to us. If he had such compassion as to die for them, that they might not perish, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes, in various instances, and not use our liberty to their hurt, to occasion their stumbling, or hazard their ruin. That man has very little of the Spirit of the Redeemer who had rather his brother should perish than himself be abridged, in any respect, of his liberty.

He who hath the Spirit of Christ in him will love those whom Christ loved, so as to die for them, and will study to promote their spiritual and eternal warfare, and shun every thing that would unnecessarily grieve them, and much more every thing that would be likely to occasion their stumbling, or falling into sin.

The hurt done to them Christ takes as done to himself: When you sin so against the weak brethren and wound their consciences, you sin against Christ, v. 12. Note, Injuries done to Christians are injuries to Christ, especially to babes in Christ, to weak Christians; and most of all, involving them in guilt: wounding their consciences is wounding him. He has a particular care of the lambs of the flock: He gathers them in his arm and carries them in his bosom, Isa. 60:11.

Strong Christians should be very careful to avoid what will offend weak ones, or lay a stumbling-block in their way. Shall we be void of compassion for those to whom Christ has shown so much? Shall we sin against Christ who suffered for us? Shall we set ourselves to defeat his gracious designs, and help to ruin those whom he died to save?

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2259.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Why I Am A Christian: Freedom (Stott)

Why I Am a Christian  “If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (John 8:36 & Gal. 5:1 NLT).  John Stott wrote well about this  freedom we have in Christ:

“The fifth reason why I am a Christian is that I have found Jesus Christ to be the key to freedom. …And freedom is a great Christian word.  Jesus Christ is portrayed in the New Testament as the world’s supreme liberator.  …Freedom is a good modern word for ‘salvation.’  To be saved by Jesus Christ is to be set free….”

I well remember, as a very new Christian, being shown this verse and being introduced to what are called ‘the three tenses of salvation’. They go like this:

Firstly, I have been saved (or freed) in the past from the penalty of sin by a crucified Saviour.
Secondly, I am being saved (or freed) in the present from the power of sin by a living Saviour.
Thirdly, I shall be saved (or freed) in the future from the presence of sin by a coming Savior.

It is a simple structure, which encapsulates what the Bible means by ‘salvation’; and it enables us, whenever the word occurs, to ask ourselves which tense of salvation is in mind: past, present or future. The fact that we have been saved frees us from guilt and from God’s judgment. The fact that we are being saved frees us from bondage to our own self-centeredness. And the fact that we shall be saved frees us from all fear about the future.

In the rest of this chapter (5) Stott explains the different biblical nuances of what “freedom in Christ” means.  It’s an edifying chapter – well worth reading!

 John Stott, Why I Am a Christian (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 87.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Freedom in Christ (Bray)

 I recently purchased God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray (which is currently on sale at Logos). While I haven’t read it all, I’ve appreciated different aspects of it.  Here’s one section on Christian liberty I read this morning that I think is worth sharing:

The trouble with freedom is that there are no fixed rules that can be applied in every circumstance. If there were, our freedom would be lost. Each situation has to be decided on its merits, and in the nature of things, different people are almost bound to come up with different conclusions. The one thing that Paul counsels in such circumstances is that the law of love should prevail. If I am doing something that wounds the conscience of another Christian, how important is that thing to me? Would it really matter to me if I gave it up? If the answer is no, says Paul, then the right thing is to give way and not cause unnecessary offense. In time, the conscience of my “weaker brother” may be healed by my humility and spirit of self-sacrifice, but if I am obstinate and insist on my “rights,” it is virtually certain that I shall lose him, and that is simply not worth it.

Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 692.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Detestation of the Diabolical Slave Traffic (Cowper)

The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper Most of us have heard about the great work of William Wilberforce who used his God-given gifts and talents to work towards ending the evil practice of the slave trade.  There were others, of course, who worked so diligently with Wilberforce in attaining the goal.  In fact, William Cowper was one of those who spoke early on against the “diabolical traffic” (as he called it).  Cowper wrote and published several poems describing the evils of the slave trade.  Here’s one called “The Negro’s Complaint” (1788/1793):

Forc’d from home, and all its pleasures,
Afric’s coast I left forlorn;
To increase a stranger’s treasures,
O’er the raging billows borne.
Men from England bought and sold me,
Paid my price in paltry gold;
But, though theirs they have enroll’d me,
Minds are never to be sold. 

Still in thought as free as ever,
What are England’s rights, I ask,
Me from my delights to sever,
Me to torture, me to task?
Fleecy locks, and black complexion
Cannot forfeit nature’s claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same. 

Why did all-creating Nature
Make the plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, tears must water,
Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think, ye masters, iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial boards;
Think how many backs have smarted
For the sweets your cane affords. 

Is there, as ye sometimes tell us,
Is there one who reigns on high?
Has he bid you buy and sell us,
Speaking from his throne the sky?
Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
Matches, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means which duty urges
Agents of his will to use? 

Hark! he answers—Wild tornadoes,
Strewing yonder sea with wrecks;
Wasting towns, plantations, meadows,
Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations
Afric’s sons should undergo,
Fix’d their tyrants’ habitations
Where his whirlwinds answer – NO!

By our blood in Afric’ wasted,
Ere our necks receiv’d the chain;
By the mis’ries we have tasted,
Crossing in your barks the main;
To the man-degrading mart;
All sustain’d by patience, taught us
Only by a broken heart: 

Deem our nation brutes no longer
Till some reason ye shall find
Worthier of regard and stronger
Than the colour of our kind.
Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings
Tarnish all your boasted pow’rs,
Prove that you have human feelings,
Ere you proudly question ours!

William Cowper, 1788 (The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, 371).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Legalism Indulges the Sinful Nature (Bridges)

 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (Gal. 5:1; 13 NIV).  One awesome outcome of Christ’s death and resurrection is that we are free in Christ.  Now it is true that sometimes Christians flaunt their freedom by bragging about what kind of alcohol they drink or by using foul language.  People who flaunt their freedom actually lack love towards other Christians (Rom 14:15).

Alternatively, sometimes Christians go to the other extreme by living as if they are not free in Christ.  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges addresses this problem:

Despite God’s call to be free and his earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it, there is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom.  Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity.  Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance.  Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture.  Yet that’s the ‘bottom line’ effect of most of our emphases in Christian circles today.

…We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom than we are about his guarding it.  We are more afraid of indulging the sinful nature than we are of falling into legalism.  Yet legalism does indulge the sinful nature because it fosters self-righteousness and religious pride.  It also diverts us from the real issues of the Christian life by focusing on external and sometimes trivial rules.

Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, page 134.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015