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Four Reasons to Limit Our Freedom

I was still a long-haired hippie when God called me into the ministry. I’ll never forget when I was asked to go to Bakersfield, California, for a citywide crusade as a teenager. 

When the steering committee of the crusade saw my picture, they wanted to cancel the meeting. They had been telling their sons to cut their hair. My long hair would just confuse everyone. 

I had every right to wear my hair any length I wanted, but I cut it. Why?

Because the Bible teaches us there are times to limit our freedom to minister to others. It’s one way we show love to others and protect the unity of our churches.

God places a high premium on unity and harmony in the church. He can overlook a lack of facilities, poor programs, a lack of leadership, and no money. But God will not bless a church in conflict.  

Paul described the importance of limiting our freedom for the sake of love in Romans 14. In that chapter, he is writing about three issues that were causing conflict in the church— diet, days, and drink. As for diet, some were arguing it was okay to eat food offered to idols. Others said it wasn’t.

Paul wrote, “Don’t undo the work of God for a chunk of meat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with the meat, but it is wrong to eat it if it makes another stumble. The right thing to do is to quit eating meat or drinking wine or doing anything else that offends your brother or makes him sin” (vv.20-21).

Paul tells the Romans that it’s a problem when their freedom hinders God’s work. The souls of those your church can reach are far more important than your liberty.

In fact, scripture tells us there are four areas we need to limit our freedom. The first few are obvious, but the last couple get confused often. 

1. When we’re violating a clear biblical standard. “But those who keep on sinning are against God, for every sin is done against the will of God” (1 John 3:4 TLB). We should not do what the Bible clearly teaches us not to do. Sins like adultery and drunkenness are wrong. They violate scripture, and we shouldn’t do them.

2. When we know something is wrong, yet we do it anyway. “Anyone who knows the right thing to do, but does not do it, is sinning” (James 4:17 NCV). Whether you don’t help someone when you should or you fail to speak up when you know it’s the right time, the Bible says this is a sin. 

3. When we’re not sure something is right, but we do it anyway. “If you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs. And you know that is wrong, because anything you do against your beliefs is sin” (Romans 14:23 CEV). Remember this principle — when in doubt, don’t. If you’re wondering whether you should watch a movie or tell a joke, don’t do it. The Bible says anything you do against your beliefs is a sin.

4. When we cause someone to stumble. “Don’t cause problems for someone with a weak conscience, just because you have the right to eat anything” (1 Corinthians 8:9 CEV).

Causing someone to stumble is a sin, even if your actions are morally acceptable. Paul reminds us 1 Corinthians 10 that “everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” Your goal is to build people up, not tear them down. 

The truth is, the more responsibility you have in the church, the fewer options you have in your behavior and lifestyle. It’s one price of leadership. Because you have a greater opportunity to lead people into stumbling blocks, you have a bigger responsibility to limit your freedom as an act of love. 

If you’ve ever had preschoolers in your house, you understand the idea. You likely went through your entire house to childproof it. You put latches on doors and breakable stuff up high. 

You limited your freedom as an act of love to your children. The same is true for us in leadership. We limit our freedom to show our love for those we lead. 
Paul tells us this in Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (NLT). We are called to use our freedom in service of others, not ourselves.

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