This morning we turn to Romans 14 and whether you realize it or not we find Paul speaking to issues such as this,
Should Christians ever drink a beer?
Should Christians play cards?
Should Worship Services consist of choruses or hymns?
Should Communion be celebrated weekly, monthly, quarterly or something in between?
Should Christians dress up for worship?
Should a Christian take part in Halloween activities?
In fact, these are just a few of the things that this passage speaks to. In Romans 14 and the beginning of chapter 15 the apostle Paul questions the issue of areas of dispute that exist in the Christian community. You might not see it at first but the principles Paul gives us will guide us in all these areas.
Before we get into the principles notice something. Notice how much time Paul devotes to this subject. Dr. Boice points out,
His instruction about developing a Christian mind was completed in two verses. To discuss a right estimate of oneself and others and the need to encourage others took six verses. A call to love one another filled thirteen verses; material on the question of the church and state, seven verses; right conduct in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, seven verses more. But now the discussion of how Christians are to accept and support other Christians when they do not think or behave as we think they should fill all of chapter 14 and the first half of chapter 15. [Boice p. 1724]
This the last major issue addressed by Paul and it leads me to believe that this is a real problem, a complex problem and an important problem. Let’s carefully hear what Paul has to say.
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.[14:1]
This one text gives us the first two truths we must comprehend.
THE CHURCH SHOULD BE AN ACCEPTING PLACE
The body of Christ is to be a place where people find warmth and acceptance. This should be a place where people of diverse backgrounds can come together and find a home. One of the things that characterized the early church was that it was made up of a diverse group of people who came from different races and backgrounds.
I wonder how many people have been turned away from a church (maybe even this one) because they felt they condemned, belittled, and dismissed by the people of the church.
Suppose you were really sick! You go to the hospital emergency room to find help. When you are asked the reason for your visit you tell the person that you aren’t feeling well and want to get some help. Now, suppose the people in the emergency room say to you, “What are you doing here? Are you trying to make us sick!” Another person standing nearby says, “If you took better care of yourself you wouldn’t be in the state that you are in now!” and then walks away!
Would you feel cared for in that hospital? Would that hospital be in business for very long? Of course not on both counts. The whole purpose of a hospital is to render care to the sick and needy.
Isn’t that the same purpose of the church? The truth be told, every one of us comes into this place sick and needy. Everyone (even the person off the street) is coming to this place looking for help. We all enter in the hope that maybe God will love us. The church should be a place of warmth and acceptance. It should be a place where those who have experienced the love of Jesus are eager to share and celebrate that love with others.
THERE WILL BE DISAGREEMENTS IN THE BODY
Paul assumes that there will be disputable matters? There is no reason for people to assume that Christians are going to agree on everything. We are all different people. We have different backgrounds, different passions, and different stages of growth. God is doing different things in each of us. We are going to disagree on issues.
Let me ask you a question: Do you children disagree? Do husbands and wives disagree on how to approach things? Of course they do! Likewise there will be disagreements in the family of God.
We can’t be sure of what the big controversies were in the Roman Church but we are given a couple of clues. First, Paul says, “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables” (14:2).
It’s possible that this was a situation that developed from the fact that Jews and Gentiles were coming together in the church. The Jews had grown up with strict dietary laws, the Gentiles had not. For example, the Jew would be horrified to eat pork while the Gentile felt it was a delicious meal. The Jews would have been horrified at the “lax attitude” of the Gentiles and the Gentiles would have accused the Jews of being overly legalistic. (Today, we might debate whether or not it is appropriate to drink wine with your meal; Some would say it is wrong to drink coffee; others believe Christians shouldn’t eat meat)
In verse 5 we are told, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.” In this case the people disagreed over the significance of various days. The Jews may have believed that certain feast days should be observed. The Gentiles may have had their own special day. The debate may have even focused on the nature of the Sabbath. Did God want us to worship on Saturday instead of Sunday? There would have also been a debate as to what is appropriate behavior on a Sunday. (Today the question might be can I participate in leisure activities on Sunday? Is it OK to celebrate Christmas? Should a Christian participate in Halloween parties?)
HOW DO WE APPROACH THE DISAGREEMENTS?
We can’t list all the principles in this message but let’s look at some of them.
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. [v. 3]
First, we must not look down at or condemn the person we disagree with. If we would obey just this one command the church would be so much better off. We are too quick to pronounce people pagan, worldly, fallen, and uncommitted simply because they don’t agree with us on certain issues. This is wrong. Our job is to love, support and encourage each other.
But there is a problem isn’t there? How far do we go with this? Are we to simply shrug our shoulders when a person is engaged in sinful behaviors? Do we simply go along when denominational officials approve of what the Bible clearly seems to say is wrong like same sex marriage? Do we say “To each their own” when people promote different views of Jesus? I think the answer is “No!”
A couple things we must keep in mind in this matter of acceptance. First, we need to remember that Paul is talking to Christians about relating to other Christians. By definition I believe there are certain things that we already hold in common as believers: We believe the Bible is authoritative, we believe in Christ as our Savior, we believe He was truly God and truly man, we believe that He literally rose from the dead and He will one day return. We believe that we are sinful people who are saved by grace by a merciful, loving and Sovereign God. These are the things believed by Christians (according to the Bible).
When a person denies the essentials of the faith we have no responsibility to accept that person as a brother in Christ. We accept them as lost people who need to hear the gospel message.
Second, we must not accept sin that is clearly forbidden in Scripture. Note that I said behavior that is CLEARLY forbidden. I’m talking about things like adultery, homosexuality, theft, gossip, murder, denying Christ.
Third, we must not accept those who are making secondary issues (that normally we would simply accept as a difference of opinion and understanding) into something necessary for salvation. Paul tells us about a confrontation he had with Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. Paul rebuked Peter because he was joining those who said that a person couldn’t be a Christian unless they ate certain things and followed certain rituals. Paul was upset because in essence they were proclaiming a false gospel. They were making certain behaviors a prerequisite to salvation. Let’s try to clarify.
- It is OK to debate the mode and timing of baptism, but it is wrong to make your form of baptism a test of true belief (making it necessary for salvation).
- It is OK to prefer a certain version of the Bible, it is wrong to say that a person can’t be saved unless they use that version.
- It is OK to have your beliefs about various spiritual gifts, it is wrong to say that another person cannot be saved unless they agree with you.
- It is OK for me to abstain from certain amusements, it is wrong for me to say that you can’t be a true believer unless you abstain also.
To insist that another conform to a behavior pattern that you embrace before they can become a Christian is to promote a false Christianity! It is to say that we are saved to some degree by our efforts rather than completely by God’s grace. We cannot and MUST not tolerate such distinctions.
The second principle from Romans 14 is this: we must remember that God has authority over another person, not us. This is what Paul is saying in verse 4,
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Let me illustrate. Suppose your children are playing at a playground. One of the parents gets up and starts scolding your child and tells them they can’t play there any more. How do you respond? Most likely you are angry. Why? It’s because that person has no right to scold your child or tell them what to do when you are sitting right there.
Let’s try another illustration. You run a business. You have told your employee to record expenditures in a certain way. What would your response be to the person who owns a different business coming into your office and changing the way your employee records expenditures? You would be angry. That person has no authority over your employee.
Paul is saying this is what we are doing when we are judging, criticizing, putting down another person for the things that they are doing. These people don’t belong to us. They aren’t serving us. They are serving the Lord.
In John chapter 21 we read the record of Jesus restoring Peter to the community. Jesus wanted Peter to know that he was forgiven for denying Christ. Jesus told Peter a little about how he would die and how faithful he would be. Peter was restored to fellowship. After this restoration, Peter and Jesus are walking and Peter saw John following them. Peter asked the Lord, “What about him?” Listen to Jesus’ response, “Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
Do you get that? “What is that to you?” It is none of Peter’s business what the Lord decides to do with, through and in John. Frankly, it is not our job to be mother, father, or Savior to others in the community of faith. Jesus is the Savior. Period.
The third principle for handling disagreements on issues is: Each person must do what they are convinced is right to honor the Lord. Paul writes,
5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. [14:6-8]
Paul tells us that the rule of thumb in every situation should be this, “What is it that I believe God wants me to do?” Obviously, before we can move forward with a clear conscience it is important that we actually look at the issue in question. It is not enough to say, “This is how I feel.” We are called to examine the Scriptures and draw our conclusions. If our conscience is clear before Him on questionable and fringe matters, we shouldn’t worry about it and we shouldn’t let other people make us feel guilty.
There is still more to say on this issue but let’s draw some preliminary conclusions. First, make up your own mind on controversial issues. Study the Scriptures, consider the arguments and come to your own conclusions. As the Lord’s servant determine your own convictions and then hold to those convictions.
Second, let other people make up their own minds too. We will not agree on all of these things. We must follow our convictions and allow others to do the same. You may feel it is wrong to participate in Halloween but don’t condemn those who see it as just a fun costume party.
Third, learn the difference between primary and secondary issues. Hold fast to the essentials. Leave room for disagreement and diversity on non-essentials. Remind yourself that most of our debates are on secondary issues.
Fourth, stop focusing on our differences and started to celebrate the grace that binds us together. Rather than looking for things to argue about, let’s pursue those things we can celebrate together. William Barclay has written,
our own age is over fond of discussion for discussion’s sake. It is fatal to give the impression that Christianity consists of nothing but a series of questions under debate. “We have found,” said G. K. Chesterton, “all the questions that can be found. It is time we stopped looking for questions and started looking for answer.” There is one good rule which should guide the progress of any discussion, it should always finish with an affirmation. There may be many questions left unanswered, but there must be some certainty left unshaken. [Barclay, DSB, Romans 14:1,2]
We have much to celebrate as a family of God. One of the things we can celebrate is that God brings people from all walks and backgrounds together into one family. True maturity embraces diversity. I love the fact that this church is a diverse church. Diversity is healthy. It keeps us honest. It keeps us from becoming smug and narrow-minded as if we had all the answers.
Please understand, we are not saying that it doesn’t matter what you do. We aren’t saying you can do what you want and still go to Heaven. That is not the message I want you to walk away with. We cannot get to Heaven except by trusting Christ. We will not get to Heaven unless God takes up residence in our lives by the Holy Spirit. There is a time when we must stop and recognize that we are sinful people in need of an extraordinary grace. We turn from our past and begin to follow the One who died for us. If you have never trusted Jesus alone for salvation, you need to do so.
Once we turn to Christ in faith, God will transform our lives. He will lead us to the truth. Changes will be made in our lives.
What we are proclaiming today is that God is much more concerned with our heart than with our external conformity to rules and regulations. He wants to free us from reliance on man made regulations so that we can be free to follow the leading of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit will lead us in different ways as He sees fit. Paul’s argument is simple: we should trust God timing.