The Freedom of Worship

Steve Viars July 5, 2003

- This morning I’d like to begin our time together by asking you six questions about eating.
- now, I’m not doing this because today is our church’s annual pig roast...I’m doing it to make a point about music and worship.
- but let’s start mentally at a place where the questions and answers are fairly obvious and we’ll see if that helps us with a topic that isn’t always so easy.
1.  Has God given us biblical truth regarding the way we should eat?
- sure, we’re told that God has given us food to enjoy, but on the other hand we’re warned against gluttony, and told that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit...
- so eating is not amoral—there are principles in the Bible that would govern, at least to some degree, how we eat...
2.  Does the Bible give us explicit instructions about exactly what foods to eat, and in what proportions?
- so when you get to the Pig Roast tables today, where there will be an incredible array of food...will you be able to open your Bible and say...I Thess tells me I can have I level tablespoon of potato salad as long as it was made with low-fat mayo...
- and Jeremiah tells me I can only have 5 ounces of pork...
- and Colossians says only 1 packet of barbecue sauce...
- is that the way eating works?...no
- would you want eating to work that way?...most of us would say, no...

- so at some point, eating becomes a matter of Christian liberty—areas of life where the Bible has not given direct and explicit commands---and within a framework of biblical principles, we then have the freedom to choose on the basis of preference...
- and it is amazing how many areas of the Christian life fall under this heading...
- so when we talk about the Bible being sufficient, we’re not saying that the Bible gives black and white direct commands that apply to every specific life choice.

- now, I asked a moment ago...would you want eating to be an area of life where it was all laid out for you with no choices involved...and many of us would say, no...
- but friends, I’m convinced of this...some people would say yes...or at least they act like they would.
- in fact, some people are very frustrated by freedom, and intimidated by freedom...and what they would really like...is for God just to take them through the Pig Roast line today...and make all the choices for them...
- He holds the plate...He selects the dishes....and the amounts...
- He decides about dessert...
- He even gets our drink, puts it in a sippy cup, and helps us to the table...
- and the point I’m making is this...in areas of Christian liberty, God treats us like adults...
- He trusts us to make wise decisions within biblical parameters and it honors Him greatly when we do so...

3.  Should Christians make identical eating choices?
- of course not---if there’s freedom, then there’s also what?...diversity...different preferences and opinions...
- some people like mustard in their potato salad, some don’t...no big deal...
- but friends, for some people...choices are a big deal...
- because not only do they want God to make all the specific choices for them...they want God to make all the specific choices for everyone...and they want those choices to be identical.
- they want carbon copy Christians...this kind of bland sameness where all freedom has been removed, and all diversity has been erased.
4.  Have people ever tried to place specific eating restrictions on the New Testament church?
- absolutely...people are forever trying to add to the Bible...
- in fact, that was a big problem even when the NT church was just being established...
- Paul wrote to the Colossians...
- Colossians 2:8 - See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
- you say, this must have been some serious heresy...
- Colossians 2:16-23 - Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—  things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,  and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.  If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,  “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”  (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters that have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
- so the Christian faith has a long history of people trying to squash the liberty of others with arguments that are not found in legitimate exegesis of the Word of God but that sound so spiritual and right.
- now, here’s the other side of this...5.  Have people ever abused their “eating freedoms”?
- without question - a key verse in all of this is Galatians 5:13 - For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- it’s certainly possible for a believer to abuse his eating freedoms in a way that harms him, or maybe even harms someone else.
- our country is facing a health epidemic because of obesity...
- and men and women are doing great harm to their own physical bodies...
- and since we are not islands unto ourselves...
- our children often pick up habits by watching us...
- and our poor health will negatively affects not just us, but our spouse, children, and other family members and friends.
- now you might say, PV, my head is spinning here...achieving balance often requires a couple of good spins of the head...
6.  So what should we do?
- Enjoy the freedom [nobody wants a God who mandates all specific choices] but exercise it responsibly. Galatians 5:13 - For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- now, we need to say two things in response to this discussion of eating...
1.  It is amazing how many areas of the Christian life fall under this heading of Christian liberty.
- where God has given us some direct commands, and He has given us some indirect principles...but within those parameters there’s freedom to navigate the exact choices you make...and your choices might be different than someone else’s...
- in fact, here’s a holiday weekend homework assignment...
- sit down and make a list of how many different areas of life fall under this heading...
- you could easily come up with ten, and if you worked for an hour you could come up with 100...
2.  The second thing we need to say is this...music is a lot like eating.
- yes, there are some direct commands...
- yes, there are some indirect principles...
- but within those buoys, there’s quite a bit of room with which to freely navigate...and I believe the only way a person could take a different position than that is to try to make the Bible say a whole lot more than it does or to try to apply it in absolute ways that the original writers wouldn’t even recognize...
- that’s why this morning I’d like to speak to you about The Freedom of Worship.
- in a sentence, our point this morning is...New Testament worship should be characterized by great freedom and joy.
- with that in mind, I’d like to ask you to do something challenging...that is, turn to two passages of Scripture simultaneously...Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8...[page 127 and 134 in the Bible under the chair in front of you]...
- while you’re turning there, let me make a couple of other balancing comments...I’m trying to be very careful here this morning because this is one of the most important aspects of the music and worship question...
a.  in many places in Scripture, there are absolute commands...
- they are black and white...no question, no debate, right and wrong...
- thou shalt not steal...its pretty easy to break that one down and there’s not a lot of room for fudging...
b.  in many other places in Scripture, God gives us indirect principles...
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 - Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
- that is a tremendously important principle, but what glorifies God and what doesn’t in a given situation is open to interpretation.
- Romans 12:2 - And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- we mustn’t let the world squeeze us into its mold, but there might be legitimate disagreements about what constitutes worldliness in a given situation.
- Philippians 1:10 - so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
- here again...very important verse --- but hard to draw absolute applications to which everyone should submit...excellence is in the eye of the beholder.
c.  In places where the Bible does not give us specific commands...please don’t throw your hands in the air and say, God has left us in the dark...
- far from it...because the Bible is loaded with principles about how believers should exercise their freedoms...
- now please chew on that for a moment...
- an approach to Christian liberty issues is emerging here if you’re following along carefully...
1)  with any topic, I first ask...what are the direct biblical commands?...
- those we obey, those we submit to, and we encourage others to show their love for God by following them...
2)    then we ask, what are the indirect principles?
- general truths that might have been given in contexts that have nothing to do with the specific question we’re asking, but it still an indirect biblical principle that needs to be factored in...
- now as soon as we cross that line, our level of certainty goes way down...
- and we recognize that the way we apply that principle might be different than someone else...
- but after we’ve thought about specific biblical commands, and general biblical principles, and we have all these choices left...where does that leave us?...the answer is...
3)  then we turn to the passages in God’s Word that help us handle our Christian liberty.
- so God hasn’t left us in the dark regarding these kinds of questions, it’s just that the kind of biblical material is different...
- now, do you know where the two most important passages on Christian liberty in the Bible are?...Romans 14, and I Cor. 8-10...the ones you have in your hand.
- for sake of time, there’s one more thing we need to do that will help us study these passages, and let’s let the power point screen help us...think with me for a minute about how:


I.  One of the Great Blessings of New Testament Christianity is Our Freedom in Christ.


- friends, this should not be a topic frustrates us, because it is a major benefit of the cross-work of our Savior...think about this, we have...
A.  Freedom from the power and penalty of sin.
John 8:32 - and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
- what a wonderful thing it is to know that the cross liberates us...we have died to sin and are raised to new life in Christ.
- [apply to those who don’t yet know Christ]
B.  Freedom from the law.
Galatians 5:1 - It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
- we saw last week from II Corinthians 3 that the cross work of Christ is much more glorious than the OT law...
- all the law can do is condemn you...which is important “pre-cross”, or pre-salvation because at least it convinces you of your inability to save yourself and your need of grace from our merciful God...
- but the repeated argument in the NT is, why in the world, after salvation, would you want to make up a bunch of new laws and try to impose them on yourselves or someone else?
- and when I say repeated, I’m serious...for example, 2 chapters earlier than the verse we just quoted... Galatians 3:1-3 - You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
- and I would encourage you to think about reading Galatians chapter 3-5 sometime in the next week to see how important this theme is in God’s Word.
C.  Freedom from the blindness that plagues those who do not have a relationship with Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:17 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
- in this passage, it’s the freedom to finally understand God’s Word and begin learning how to please Him...then there’s
D.  The privilege to make choices within biblical buoys.
- that God trusts us to make choices says a lot about what He has chosen to think about us, and it says a lot about what we should choose to think about Him.

- so, are we all agreed, that freedom in Christ is a really good thing?...now, let’s see what God’s Word says about handling these freedoms...See...


II.  Our Freedoms Must Always Be Exercised and Enjoyed Within the Parameters of Biblical Principles.


- Read Romans 14:1
- a person Weak in the faith - someone whose conscience is triggered by criteria other than the Scriptures.
- this is a new believer...someone who is easily offended...
- a person who has been saved for any period of time at all should never be in this category...being weak in the faith is not an acceptable position long term.
- Read Romans 14:2-4
- what’s the principle there?...
A.  Don’t judge one another in areas of Christian liberty.
- be very careful about calling things sin that cannot be clearly proven in Scripture.
- Read Romans 14:5
- what does that tell us?
B.  Each person must follow the dictates of his own conscience in areas not clearly spelled out in Scripture.
- that means that when someone makes choices that are different than you in some of these areas...
- that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s right and you’re wrong, or vise versa...
- freedom breeds diversity...and we ought to be happy about that...
- the verses continue to develop the argument, so for sake of time, please look at verse 10...
- Read Romans 14:10-13 [through “anymore”]
- now the passage is about to make a very important shift – Read Romans 14:13-15
C.  Don’t exercise your liberty in a way that might harm someone else.
- In the Corinthians passage we’re about to study, that’s called “causing them to stumble”...
- and again, we’re not talking about people who have been saved a long time...
- we’re talking about a sensitivity to those who are young in the faith, and until there is time to teach them and help them mature, the principle is...
- Often it is better to voluntarily enslave your liberty in order to maximize your ministry.
- just like Gal 5:13 said --- don’t exercise your freedoms selfishly.
- Read Romans 14:18-19
D.  Don’t exercise your liberty in a way that is divisive or destructive.
- when people make a big deal about insisting that their particular approach to Christian liberty issues has to be the only way things are done in the church, they are misusing their freedoms...
- they don’t care about peace in the church, and they don’t care about anybody else’s spiritual development but their own.
- Read Romans 14:22-23
E.  If it is doubtful, don’t do it.
- we refer to this passage as the holding principle...we should never push our freedoms to questionable extremes...
- the question isn’t...is it wrong yet?...or how far can we go?...
- the question is, what’s best?...what’s safest?...what’s the most careful and balanced approach?

- now please look at I Cor. 8-10...this is actually the most extended passage in the entire Bible on this subject.
- this morning we’re going to hit the highlights---if you want to do a more thorough treatment, feel free to either to go to our web site for some more extensive resources, or you can pick up a tape series or a summary booklet about these principles ....
- in chapter 8, the same themes we saw in Romans 14 are repeated.
- the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols is the subject, and since there had been no specific guidelines in the form of yes or no, there was freedom there...and the Corinthians had written to Paul asking him about it...
- they probably expected a yes or no answer, but that’s not what they got...which is very important to keep in mind...
- God trusts you to make decisions within these parameters in ways that shows your love for Him...
- if you have time this week, I would encourage you to read through chapter 8 and add the appropriate verses to the points we’ve already seen---you’ll find it to be very easy to do...
- then in chapter 9, Paul starts talking about the issue of whether he should be paid a salary as an apostle in his situation...
- and you’re tempted to think....this is an entirely different subject...but its not, because look at Paul’s summary....Read I Cor. 9:14-18.

- now, that is a critical section for these two reasons...
-  it repeats an important summary from Romans 14...
- many times it is best to voluntarily enslave your liberties in order to maximize your ministry to others...[we said that earlier under letter “C”]...but did you hear the second part of the verse?...here’s the principle....
F.   Exercise your liberty in a way that highly values outreach to those who do not know Christ.
- friends, I wish I had the ability to just sear certain biblical principles into the hearts of the people of our church.
- because an understanding of those two ideas would put many Christian liberty disputes to rest, forever.
- on the one hand, we do not want to push our freedoms in a way that might cause someone else to sin.
- but on the other hand, we don’t want to needlessly enslave our liberties in a way that limits our outreach to others.

- those are the driving motivations behind our church’s music and worship philosophy.
- I explained several weeks ago that you could think about music like this...
- there is clearly a large percentage of music that falls outside of biblical commands, most notably because the lyrics are violations of God’s Word...
- or the music places inappropriate emphasis on the physical body or our emotions apart from a biblical informed heart and mind...
- so there’s no question that there are definite buoys...and when people listen to music outside of those buoys, it will harm them spiritually...and it can be a powerful force for ill in their lives.
- within those buoys, there is a fairly broad range of music from which a believer in Christ can legitimately choose...
- and it is true that there are also indirect principles, or general principles that can help us make choices within the buoys...but there is room for healthy discussion and individual choices and preferences because our level of certainty changes when we move to indirect principles instead of clear commands.
- and when it comes to a church, we have to decide where we’re going to position ourselves in worship and music...
- and I explained...if the range is represented by a scale of 1-10, 1 being as conservative as possible and 10 being as progressive as possible but still within biblical parameters...
- 5 years ago we were a 1...about as conservative as you can get...
- right now we’re about a 2.5, maybe a 3...
- our goal is to be a 4, for the very reasons we’re studying this morning...

- now, I’ve had some people ask me...why not a 10...why not get as close to the line as possible?
- this text answers that...because music is a very powerful force, and with people who are less mature in the Lord, mark it down...what we do in moderation, they might do to excess...and if we don’t care about how our actions might negatively affect someone else...we’re selfish and displeasing to God...
- but others have asked, why be a 4 instead of a 1?
- this text answers that too...because we’re concerned about reaching others, and ministering to those who did not grow up in a church, and can’t relate to the outdated sounds and forms that some of us grew up with.
- and some people don’t care about reaching others, or ministering to others unlike themselves...and that too is selfish.

- now, the text has some more help for us.
- read I Cor. 9:20-21
- what’s the principle there?
G.  Exercise your liberty in a way that is sensitive to the ministry context (audience).
- in other words, to whom has God called you to minister?
- Christian ministry should not be done in a one-sized fits all approach.
- that’s another reason we seeking a 4 out of 10 position because it best positions us to reach the kind of people in our town.
- frankly, if this church was down south, I would suggest to you that our music should be different...
- if we were in a major metro area, it should be different...
- if we were ministering primarily to younger persons, it would be different...
- or primarily to older persons, it would be different yet again...

- and I realize that that is hard for some folks to process [I only want it one way, my way, everywhere...], but we have to do business with this text.
- now please watch how these themes are reinforced....
- READ I Cor. 9:22-23
- there’s our emphasis again on the gospel, on winning others...
- then we have this great verse – Read 9:24
- friends, win what?...
- win the reward for winning others.
- [develop --- our church’s mission statement and some who have objected to the wording]
- [develop how music can either help us accomplish our mission or hinder us from doing so]

[develop the issue of the slippery slope having two sides]

- now, there’s actually a caveat in verse 27...READ
H.  Don’t exercise your liberty in a way that might harm yourself.
- since none of us for sure knows where the line of sin is, it’s always wisest to stay as far away from that line as possible.
- Paul says, I don’t want to be disqualified by exercising my freedom in way that I was led into sin.
- and if you’d like to study that some more, I’d encourage you to look at I Cor. 6:12, and I Cor. 10:23-24...
- those are the passages that tell us...all things are lawful, but all things aren’t expedient...
- in other words, just because I’m free to do that doesn’t mean I should...
- some things are lawful, but they don’t build others up...
- or they’re lawful, but there’s the danger of becoming enslaved...

- one last principle --- and it deserves a whole more time than it’s going to get...
I.  Give careful attention to your heart, your motivation for exercising your freedoms the way you do.
- ultimately this is a matter of whether you really are rejoicing in your freedoms, and using them as an opportunity to celebrate the liberty you have in Christ...
- and using them (or not using them) to minister to others...

- or are you using them selfishly, in a way that is rebellious and pushing the limits wherever you can?

- now, where does this leave us?


III.  Evaluate and Perhaps Adjust Your Approach to Worship and Music.


- friends, the application of this message depends entirely on the condition of the heart that you brought into the room.
- obviously if you don’t know Christ, it would be impossible to figure all of this out...
- it really requires careful thought and application of important biblical principles, and that is impossible if you don’t have the Holy Spirit resident inside of you.

- but for believers...
A.  Honestly ask – what extreme do you lean toward when it comes to Christian liberty issues in general, and music in particular?
- some here would have to admit --- I’m pushing my liberties too far...
- I’m endangering myself, or I’m endangering someone else...
- and I’m been hiding behind the excuse, well, the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid that...
- maybe not in black and white commands, but the Scripture has a whole lot more than black and white commands, and God wants us to know and apply all of His Word.
- maybe you tend to be a person who needlessly enslaves liberties to the point that you really aren’t rejoicing in your freedoms in Christ...
- in other words, you need to loosen it up a bit...
- especially if the choices you’re making in this area is making it harder for you to have a positive spiritual impact on others.

B.  Determine now what steps need to be taken in this area to achieve a more biblical and balanced approach.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video