Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

A few years ago I added a ‘zip line’ to our jungle gym ‘fort’ which is set up in the backyard. It starts on the top level, about ten feet off the ground, and descends to a tree about 100 feet away.
Because our son recently turned 18, he now has little use for the jungle gym, zip line, trampoline, and swing set. He is too ‘big’ and too ‘cool’ for such child’s play.
However, our 11-year old daughter can spend hours a day enjoying them. While we avoid the term ‘tom boy’, our daughter is very active, enjoys more ‘physical’ activities, and really pushes the envelope of ‘thrills’ when it comes to trying to have fun.
There are good reasons that one of her primary nicknames in our household is ‘Monkey’. Yet she is fairly ‘safe’ with her escapades: she makes sure she has good grip on the zip line before riding it upside-down and backwards; she positions herself with plenty of room on the non-net-enclosed-trampoline before attempting a particular maneuver; and she checks the underside of the jungle gym for yellow jacket nests before climbing all over it.
Due to our daughter’s inclinations on using our backyard ‘toys’, little thought has been given to ‘safety measures’ or ‘warnings’ or even adult supervision most of the time. But everyone’s children are not like our little monkey.
This realization became clear on a recent Saturday evening when we had some friends over to visit. While I didn’t see exactly what happened, it appears that a friend’s daughter (a more indoor-oriented ‘girlie-girl’) attempted to ride the zip line but ended up doing a face plant from the upper level of the jungle gym.
After assuring my attorney friend of my ‘judgment proof’ status, we set about to cleaning up his daughter’s bloody face, comforting her, and forcing everyone to sign and notarize waivers of liability.
But the whole episode made me think about how we hadn’t really considered the predispositions of other children who may want to enjoy our backyard toys - We had those toys set up with only our daughter’s strengths in mind. And that lack of consideration resulted in injury.
Nevertheless, this situation didn’t cause me to go out and install safety nets and warning labels on the toys nor reconsider letting other children play on them. Instead, it gave me a new perspective on what Paul was discussing in Romans 14.
In that chapter, Paul is discussing ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ Christians and how they approach eating certain meats or observing certain ‘holy’ days. The chapter isn’t discussing ‘non-negotiables’ like stealing, adultery, murder, etc. Rather, the issue is how various believers handle their freedom in Christ when dealing with matters that are not specifically addressed in the Bible.
We normally cite Romans 14 when the subject comes up about drinking, or smoking, or what holidays to observe. But I don’t think it is in any way so limited.
In fact, I believe that the main take-away from Chapter 14 is in verse 13, which states: Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. (MSG)
That tells me that I should never use my ‘freedom in Christ’ when its exercise would ‘make life more difficult’ for another believer who is not as comfortable with such ‘freedom’ as I may be. This is not to say that we are to live our lives for the approval of men. On the contrary, we live and die to honor Christ. (Romans 14:8) But, with regard to fellow believers, we must live with the realization that our actions may have an impact on them, potentially making their ‘walk’ more difficult.
It is easy to mention an example like not drinking in public to avoid causing doubts/questions in the mind of a ‘weaker’ brother, but there are many other instances where our ‘freedoms’ can act as ‘hindrances’ to those who may observe our actions or be impacted by them. But the question to answer is, “Which brings glory to God – to exercise my freedom and potentially place an obstacle or stumbling block in another’s path, or to refrain and perhaps build up another believer?”
I am not going to list a bunch of situations for us to be aware of and tell you how you should approach each one. This is not about ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. Such discussions are for those ‘weak’ brothers who aren’t as comfortable with their freedom in Christ (they may ‘need’ rules and may wonder why you don’t follow them). Instead, we must just be aware that other believers are watching us and we need to exercise our ‘freedoms’ with them in mind.
Who is ‘weak’ and who is ‘strong’, which position is ‘right’ and which is ‘wrong’ – those arguments are not too relevant in this context. What is relevant is bringing glory to God.
By assuming that all of the kids who played on our backyard toys would be as agile, experienced, and strong as my daughter, I failed to see that others could be at a different level. Someone’s physical well-being could have been in jeopardy with something we didn’t consider to be particularly risky.
And someone got hurt.
That could have been avoided without ruining anyone’s fun. It just would have required a little consideration beforehand.
And spiritual matters are much more important than physical ones.
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink,
but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God,
and others will approve of you, too.
So then, let us aim for harmony in the church
and try to build each other up.
(Romans 14:17-19, NLT)
Don’t let your freedom in Christ be a hindrance to or cause difficulty for someone else today.