Sunday, February 07, 2016

[Matt's Messages] "Striving for Unity (Part Three)"

“Striving for Unity (Part Three)”
All Roads Lead to Romans
February 7, 2016 :: Romans 14:1-15:13

This is the third and last sermon on this section of Romans stretching from chapter 14, verse 1 to chapter 15, verse 13. A section we’ve been calling “Striving for Unity.”

Paul has been applying the gospel that he taught in the early chapter of Romans to the problem of disunity within the church.

There were two groups of Christians in the church at Rome that were apparently struggling with one another.

What were the two groups?

The Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.

Both were Christians, but some were ethnically Jewish. They came from Jewish backgrounds, and the rest were not. They came from other ethnic and religious backgrounds.

And there was apparently tension between the two groups.

Which of the two groups was more important?

Neither, right? That’s a trick question. A bad question!

The Jewish Christians had certain advantages. They were given the law and the promises and the Savior first.

But there were already more Gentiles than there were Jews in the church at Rome!

And the two groups were struggling with unity.

So Paul has been laboring for all of chapter 14 and now will in this half of chapter 15 to bring the two groups together through the gospel and to strive for unity.

Paul said in chapter 14, verse 19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

So we’ve been learning how to strive for unity.

How to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification because God cares about it so much!

So far, Paul has given us two big steps to take in striving for unity.

The first step was to keep from passing judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ over what he called “disputable matters.”

Don’t pass judgment on your brother over disputable matters.

Do you remember what “disputable matters” were?

They were secondary issues that genuine gospel-believing Christians could disagree about and still have fellowship with one another.

There are indisputable matters that gospel-believing Christians cannot disagree about and still have true fellowship. Things that go to the heart of the gospel and cannot be denied.

But there are other issues that genuine believers can and do disagree about and yet regardless can still, at the same time, maintain unity in Christ.

What are some of those disputable matters?

Well, even that is disputable, isn’t it?

My list might be different from your list!

Can we still get along?

I remember being taught this stuff for the first time in the book The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindoll.  I remember reading it in the Summer of 1993 when I was traveling with the circus.

[Traveling with a circus might make it onto your list of disputable matters!]

But Chuck Swindoll gave this list of disputable matters in that book:
- Going to the movies or live theater.
- Wearing cosmetics.
- Playing cards.
- Watching television.
- Going to the beach.
- Not having a “quiet time” every morning or at least every day.
- Going to a restaurant that sells liquor.
- Wearing certain clothing.
- Driving certain cars.
- Wearing certain jewelry.
- Listening to certain music.
- Dancing...square, ballroom, disco–whatever.
- Holding a certain job.
- Wearing your hair a certain way ([He says, “assuming you have hair” which I found funny in 1993!]).
- Having lovely and elegant possessions.
- Getting a face-lift.
- Drinking coffee.
- Eating certain foods.
- Working out in leotards (pg. 163).
That last one made my laugh yesterday when I looked it up. It made me think of the great online debate over yoga pants last year!

Now, some of the things on that list did not surprise you. You know that Christians disagree about those things.

But there are probably other things on that list that you couldn’t imagine that Christians would differ on.

You might think that there is only Christian view about those things.

The last few weeks might have been a little difficult for you as a listener to these sermons because I said that genuine Christians disagree about things that you didn’t know there were two views on.

I confess to struggling with the whole concept myself.

Including passing judgment on those who differ from me. Paul told us to not condemn somebody who came down differently than I did on disputable matters.

To not look down them. That’s so easy to do.

Anybody here been convicted of judgmentalism the last few weeks?

Here’s one for you. The Super Bowl.

Football on a Sunday.

I have Christian friends who believe that it is wrong for Christians to attend or watch sporting events on Sundays. They believe the fourth commandment prohibits such a thing.

I, on the other hand, am planning to go to a Super Bowl party tonight and cheer for Peyton Manning so you can tell which side of that debate I’m on.

But I need to be very careful to not look down at those Christians friends of mine and to condemn and judge them.

Do you remember the story of Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete?

He believed it was a sin for him to run in the Olympics on a Sunday so he forfeited his spot in that race in the Olympics.

Do you judge him for that?

A lot of people did then. Including Christians. They felt like he was a missing a chance to show what a Christian can do.

What would Paul say about that?

Well, he told us in chapter 14, didn’t he? Verse 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.”

Paul said that each Christian needed to decide for themselves what they believed the Lord was calling them to do and to do that, and nothing but that!

But the rest of the Christians were to keep from judging the others for how they answered the question on these disputable matters.

What was the big one that Paul was talking about here that seemed to be dividing everybody?

Eating meat or only eating vegetables.

Many of the Jewish Christians probably could not eat at Hog’s Galore. They weren’t sure the meat was kosker and it might have even been sacrificed to idols at some point.

Most of the Gentile Christians unless they had been discipled by a Jewish Christian were fine with eating meat and everything else on the menu.

Which kind of Christian was Paul?

Well, Paul was Jewish, wasn’t he, but he was fine eating the meat. His conscience said it was okay to eat at Hog’s Galore. The Lord Jesus had called all food clean, and that was good enough for him.

So it wasn’t whether or not they were Jewish in background but whether or not they had the faith or confidence to eat or didn’t have the confidence to eat the meat.

What was Paul’s word for those who did not have the faith or confidence or assurance that it was right to eat the meat?

He calls them, “the weak.” Their faith was weak in that area.

So that makes the other side, “the strong.” I think that’s interesting because he’s not being judgmental even though he’s taking a side and even labeling somebody else as weak in their faith.

So, it’s not wrong to take a side or to debate the issue, but at the same time we are not to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ if they are not able to do something that we think would be okay.

Now, that’s the first step. Don’t pass judgment on your brother.

The second step, which we learned about last week, was to keep from putting a stumbling block in their way.

Don’t tempt your brother to betray his conscience.

Now, that concept was a little more complex. This is when the strong Christian who has the freedom to eat the meat flaunts his freedom in front of the weak Christian and tempts them to sin by doing the same thing, something their conscience says is wrong.

Do you remember this?

Paul says, “Don’t do that. Don’t put an obstacle in their way.”

The conscience is too important to mess around with like that.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a clean conscience, and a terrible thing to betray it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the strong NEVER do the things they believe they are free to do. But it does mean that they look out for the weakness of their brothers.

So if I’m around my Christian friends who believe that watching the Super Bowl on a Sunday is wrong, then I don’t try to talk them into coming to the party I’m going to by telling them about all of the delicious bacon that will be there! (There’s mixing categories for you.)

I’m not going to be like, “O come on, what would it hurt? You know you want to!”

Because if they believe it is sin for them, what?  It IS sin for them!

Now, at some point, we might talk about the Sabbath and whether or not it continues. Or what the Sabbath is for and what it is not for.

But I’m not going to tempt my brother to betray his conscience.

Make sense?

No, I’m going to admire him for holding to his principles.

I admire Eric Liddell for the stand he took even though I wouldn’t feel that I had to take the same stand if I had been in his place.

Now, that brings us to chapter 15.

In chapter 15, Paul is going to give us 2 more steps for striving for unity.

The first two were what not to do. Don’t judge your brother. Don’t tempt your brother.

The last two are what to do instead:

#1. PUT YOUR BROTHER AHEAD YOURSELF. Verse 1.

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Paul is basically summing up what he’s said so far.

He puts himself in the strong category, and he says that strong Christians have an obligation to the weak Christians.

They need to bear with them and to not live to please themselves first and only.

In other words, “Don’t be selfish.”

“Go the distance with the weak folks. Be longsuffering. Put their needs ahead of your own desires.”

He even says to “please” your neighbor.

Now, that’s not becoming a people pleaser. Pleasing a person instead of pleasing God.

It means simply putting your brother ahead of yourself. Paul says, “For his good, to build him up.”

Now, that’s not always easy to do.

Especially if it means giving up your freedoms or your rights.

We Americans don’t like to set aside our freedoms or our rights.

But Christians regularly do to do what’s best for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus calls for us to put our other brothers and sisters ahead of ourselves for their good to build them up.

Do you see how that foster unity? When we are making way for each other, allowing each other’s preferences and putting each other ahead of ourselves, how can but be at peace and be unified and mutually edified?

I see this all of the time here at Lanse Free Church. One reason we have so much unity here is that so many of you are good at setting aside your own rights and preferences to make allowances for the others.

Let’s take worship music for example.

There are some strong traditional hymn people here. You want your songs to have Thee and Thou in them. You don’t really care for the drums and the bass guitar and all that.

And there are some strong modern worship song people here. You don’t want to sing anything that is older than 10 years old. You want to sing what’s on the radio now and with the full rocking band.

Many of us are in between, but some of you are on either end. But you don’t grumble and complain about the other folks. You don’t take your hymnal and go down the street to some other church. You don’t grab your drumset and run away to some cooler hipster church.

You give in to each other’s preferences, and it’s a beautiful thing.

There are churches that have been split over the so-called “Worship Wars,” but not ours. And it’s not because we all like the same things. It’s because we are committed to putting each other ahead of ourselves.

Is that hard to do?

Yes, sometimes it is. But we do it...because Jesus did. V.3

“For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’”

That’s a quote from Psalm 69. And Jesus lived it.

Jesus was insulted, scorned, shamed when He went to the Cross, and He did all that for you and me.

Now, that’s suffering! We might think it’s hard to deal with our brother or sister in Christ that thinks differently than us, but that kind of suffering is nothing like what Jesus went through for you and me. Doesn’t even compare!

I think that we can give up a freedom here or there if Jesus gave up His life for us. Amen?

Now, Paul has just quoted Scripture, and that makes him want to make a point about the Old Testament Scriptures. V.4

“For everything that was written in the past [like Psalm 69] was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

We could say a lot about that verse, even though it’s now the main point here in this passage.

Paul is telling us that the Old Testament is still full of lessons for us today. That’s great encouragement for our Sunday School classes who are all in the Old Testament this year studying The Gospel Project. In fact, we’re in still in Genesis right now.

But “everything that was written in the past [like Genesis] was written to teach us, so that through endurance [that’s our old word “hupomonay” and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Do you remember all that we learned about hope in Romans chapters 5 through 8?

Paul is bringing it all back here and he’s going really hit it when we get to verse 13.

But in verse 5, he prays a blessing on the Roman Christians. V.5

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement [through the Scriptures] give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a prayer request! Paul prays for unity. He prays literally that they would “think the same thing” as they follow Christ.

And he doesn’t mean that they would think the same thing about these disputable matters! He means that in spite of the disputable matters they would think the same thing about following Jesus Christ!

That they wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their following Jesus Christ together.

That’s his prayer request.

“...so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We talk about agreeing to disagree agreeably.

This says that we would be able to do that on secondary disputable matters because we have the primary indisputable matter of glorifying Jesus in common.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And He’s worth the suffering!

Then the last step that Paul gives for us to strive for unity is to simply accept one another. [slide] v.7

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

#2. ACCEPT YOUR BROTHER.

That word “accept” is actually the first thing Paul said in chapter 14 so this brings a bookend to this teaching on unity.

The word for “accept” is stronger than just “tolerate” or “recognize.” This isn’t a grudging acceptance or toleration of another Christian.

It means to “embrace” or “welcome” or “receive” that other believer.

You put your arms around that brother, and you don’t hold your nose!

That’s how we strive for unity!

And look what it achieves: “in order to bring praise to God.”

The end goal of unity is not unity. It is worship.

That’s how important unity is. It either leads to praise to God or it doesn’t.

Now, again, this is with all genuine gospel believing Christians who you might disagree with on secondary issues.

We don’t receive and embrace everybody out in the world. Or even everybody that says that they are a Christian.

But if they are, even when we disagree with them, we strive to embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

When we do, we bring praise to God!

Why do we do this, again?  Because Jesus did. Paul goes there again. V.7\

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.’ Again, it says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’ And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.’ And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’”

Did you see what he just did?

Paul just said that Christians in Rome need to accept one another because Christ had accepted them and become a servant of whom for whom?

Of the Jews for the Gentiles!

And he’s got four Old Testament references up his sleeve to prove it.

Did Jesus love the Jews or the Gentiles?

Yes! Both!

Jesus loved the strong and the weak.

Jesus died for the Christians who won’t watch the Super Bowl but will watch movies that I couldn’t watch in good conscience.

Jesus died for the Christians who will watch the Super Bowl on a Sunday but do not feel free to drink alcohol at it.

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Is there someone you need to reach out to and embrace?

A believer who you differ from?

Someone who you need to put ahead of yourself?
Someone you need to stop judging?
Someone you need to stop flaunting your freedom in front of?
Someone who believes in the same Jesus you do?

The last verse for today is our new Hide the Word verse, so we’re going to get it burned into our memory over the next several weeks.

It’s another prayer. Paul prays this for the Roman Christians, and for ALL the Roman Christians together.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

There’s that hope again from verse 4.

God is the God of hope and the prayer is that all of the believers, not just the weak ones or the strong ones, not just the Jewish ones or the Gentile ones, would be filled with joy and peace (unity) as they all put their faith in Jesus so that they would overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Only He can do that. The Spirit must supply the power or we can’t keep from judging our brothers or tempting them to betray consciences. The Spirit must supply the power or we can’t put our brothers ahead of ourselves. The Spirit must supply the power or we won’t accept one another just as Christ accepted us.

But if the Spirit empowers us, we strive for unity and bring praise to God.

We can be filled with all joy and peace and with one heart and mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

###

Messages in this Series:

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed
21. Israel Stumbled
22. God Raised Him From the Dead
23. God Always Keeps His Promises
24. Therefore
25. How to Think of Yourself
26. A Transformed People (Part One)
27. A Transformed People (Part Two)
28. A Transformed People (Part Three)
30. A Transformed People (Part Four)
31. God's Servants
32. What Time Is It?
33. Returning to Romans
34. Striving for Unity (Part One)
35. Striving for Unity (Part Two)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Friday, February 05, 2016

2016 EFCA Theology Conference Resources


"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend this conference put on by the leadership of our association of churches. The teaching was top-notch, theologically rich and provocative, and challenging for pastoral practice.

All of the audio is now available for FREE online. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

[Matt's Messages] "Striving for Unity (Part Two)"

“Striving for Unity (Part Two)”
All Roads Lead to Romans
January 31, 2016 :: Romans 14:13-23 

Today’s message is the second in a three part mini-series on this section of Romans that stretches from chapter 14 verse 1 to chapter 15, verse 13.

This section is all about “Striving for Unity.”

And I know that’s been a couple of weeks since we looked at part one together, so we probably need some kind of a reminder.

Remember that the church in Rome apparently had some tensions in it between the Christians.

There were two main kinds of Christians there who were struggling in some ways with each other.

What were the two kinds?

Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

Christians who were ethnically Jewish. They came from Jewish backgrounds. Paul was actually like that himself. And Christians who had no Jewish background. They were not ethnically Jewish and had never been.

Which of these were more important than other?

[That was a trick question by the way.]

The Jews had a kind of priority because God had given them the law and the promises and the Savior first.

But the Gentiles had a kind of priority because there were already a lot more of them.

And the two groups were struggling with one another, probably over Jewishness and Gentileness.

And we saw that Paul has explained his gospel in such a way as to bring “gospel glue” to bring together the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome.

He has said over and over again that Jews and Gentiles are in the same gospel boat.

Jews and Gentiles are both sinners.
Jews and Gentiles are both justified by faith.
God is using both Jews and Gentiles to save the other group?

Jews and Gentiles while traveling somewhat different paths to get there are both in the same gospel boat.

And Paul is showing that, in part, to bring them together in true Christian unity.

Paul is applying the gospel to the question of Christian unity.

What does it take to bring Christians together? How can Christians keep from being divided? What does it look like to strive for unity in the church? Why should we even do that? The gospel!

Now, last time we met in Romans, we only took the first step in striving for unity, and it started in chapter 14, verse 1.

Paul told the Christians in Rome that the first thing to do strive for unity was to keep from passing judgment on your brothers and sister in Christ over disputable matters.

These chapters are a little complex to untangle, and it’s been two weeks, so bear with me.

There are these things that Paul calls, “disputable matters” or “disputations” or “opinions.”

Do you remember what they are?

They are secondary items that genuine believers can have different opinions upon.

They are not the gospel! Genuine believers cannot overlook differences in what we believe is the good news.

But they are things that genuine believers can and will disagree upon and still have fellowship with one another.

Last time, we used the example of the question “Can a follower of Jesus Christ watch a R-rated movie?” Do you remember that?

What was the answer?

That was another trick question, by the way.

My guess is knowing our church family that there are multiple answers to that question right here in this room.

Some of you would say, “Yes, he can, but no, he shouldn’t.”
Some of you would say, “Maybe he can, but I can’t.”
Some of you would say, “No way.”
And some of you would say, “Of course. Why not?”

And what Paul said in Romans 14 was that followers of Jesus Christ should be very careful to not judge each other on disputable matters.

And that goes for both sides of all of these questions.

For those who can and for those can’t. We are to be careful to not be judgmental and condemn or look down on our brothers and sisters who answer those questions differently than we would.

And we applied that principle not just to movies but also to politics and to drinking alcohol and to setting apart holy days, and even to eating meat or only eating vegetables.

Now, of course, that last one doesn’t concern us much these days, but it was the presenting problem for the church at Rome.

It seems that the Jewish Christians were keeping from eating meat because it might not be kosher. They didn’t feel free to eat at Hog’s Galore.

They didn’t have faith that it was right to just eat anything on the menu.

Perhaps the meat had been sacrificed to idols.

Their Jewishness while having some advantages was holding them back from freedom in this area.

But the Gentile Christians probably didn’t struggle with that. They never had been kosher before, and they were well taught now that Christians can eat anything they can give thanks for.

Paul himself even though he was a Jew ethnically had this same perspective on food.

It was all good.

But, his main point so far was not to make sure that everyone shared his perspective but to NOT JUDGE those who didn’t share his perspective!

Paul wanted the Christians at Rome to not pass judgment on their brothers over these disputable matters.

They were supposed to form their own opinions and them out. Paul tells them to do only what they believed was right before the Lord because the Lord was going to judge us all some day.

But because the Lord was going to judge us all, we could leave the judging to Him.

Now, last time, we only made it up through verse 12.

In verse 13, Paul takes this striving for unity one more big step.

He says, it’s not enough to just NOT JUDGE your brother or sister in Christ on these disputable matters.

We also must make up our minds not to TEMPT our brothers and sisters in Christ to betray their consciences on these disputable matters.

DON’T TEMPT YOUR BROTHER TO BETRAY HIS CONSCIENCE.

Chapter 14, verse 13.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another [that’s step number on in striving for unity]. Instead, [step two] make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.”

Now, what’s that?  What is a stumbling block or obstacle?

Well, there has been a lot of confusion on this concept over the years, but I think it’s relatively straightforward in this chapter.

A stumbling block or obstacle is a temptation to fall into sin.

It’s something that gets in the way of a Christian and entices them to fall off the Christian path.

It’s not a minor inconvenience or an irritant, it’s a temptation to give in to what you believe is sin and therefore an enticement to get off of the path of discipleship.

It’s this thing laid across your path that when you hit it, you go tumbling.

Now, I said at dinner time last night that Paul was going to teach us today to not tempt our brothers and sister in Christ to sin.

And one of my sons said, “Why would we want to tempt someone to sin?”

What would be your answer to that?

Well, we probably wouldn’t want to, but we might be doing it anyway if we insist on exercising our freedoms in these disputable matters all of the time.

Let’s see how this might work.

Remember, Paul is still talking about whether or not a Christian should eat meat or only vegetables.

What’s the answer to that one?

[That’s was another trick question.]

It depends, right?  V.14

“As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.”

That’s really important right there.

Paul knew that everything on the menu was okay. Jesus said so!

But there were going to be Christians, many of them Jews, who didn’t get that yet and thought that it was wrong to eat at Hog’s Galore.

And Paul is saying, for those Christians, it would be wrong to eat at Hog’s Galore. It would be sin. “If anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.”

So, Paul is strong. His conscience says, “Go ahead and eat that meat!”

But Paul says if your faith is weak on that question, then don’t you dare eat that meat!

Now, here’s how we can get to tempting our brothers or sisters in Christ to betray their consciences.

We run out to Hog’s Galore and get a big platter of pulled pork and plop it down in front of them, take a big bite and say with a full mouth, “Here, grab some for yourself, you big weakling!”

How does that make them feel?

Well, for some of them, they will just turn away from you.

And some will struggle with judging you back.

But some of them will be tempted to eat that pork even though they believe that it’s wrong to.

And what if they eat it thinking that it’s wrong?  Then it is wrong for them right then.

And they have sinned because they have betrayed their conscience.

Is that a big deal?  Yeah. If you do that enough, you will walk off of the Christian path and maybe walk off it for good.

It is incredibly dangerous to go against your conscience, your God-given sense of right and wrong.

And even if your conscience is a little off, it’s not good to go against it.

So, catch this, it matters whether or not we who can eat do eat because other people are watching. V.15

“If your brother is distressed [troubled, injured, hurt that word can mean] because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

Do you see how Paul has raised the stakes?

Here’s how you put a stumbling block in front of your brother. You flaunt your freedoms in a way that makes them want to do something they think is sin.

And it could lead to them being destroyed.

So, think about your brother and sister in Christ. And be ready to lay aside your rights because you are thinking about their spiritual well-being.

Does that make sense?  Do you see how that is striving for unity?

If you think about your brother and sister in Christ who are wrong about something but you are more worried about them obeying their conscience than about your being proved right, if you are more concerned for their spiritual well-being than your rights, then the church will be unified and strengthened and have peace.

Of course, we are obsessed with “our rights” in this culture.  So this is a hard-sell.

Last time was easy because all I was selling was “Don’t judge your brother.” And while that’s hard enough to do, we all nod our heads at the idea.

But Paul is saying something more. He’s saying that we should be ready to lay aside our rights for the spiritual well being our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because if we don’t, then we might be unintentionally throwing a great big rock into their paths.

Don’t tempt your brother to betray his conscience by flaunting your freedoms.

Why?

I can see at least four good reasons from verses 13 through 23 for us to think about today.

The first is this:

#1. JESUS LOVES YOUR BROTHER.

And so should you. V.15 says, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

Jesus loves your brother in Christ enough to die on the Cross for him.

How much do you love him?

Do you love him enough to not eat that bacon?

I love bacon.

The Lord knows I love bacon! But if I knew that I had a Jewish Christian brother on my hands who might be tempted to eat bacon that he believed was sinful, I would be happy to scrape that bacon into the trash. Amen?

That’s an easy one.

Because I doubt that I’ll have to do it.

The one time I did, it worked out great.

We had a Jewish Christian missionary in our home from Chosen People Ministries, and we fed him...sausage for breakfast. We offered to not serve it, but he said, “No, it’s all under the blood!”

So we got to have Jimmy Deans with this Jewish Christian missionary!

But forgoing bacon in that situation is easy for us. We don’t expect to have to do it.

What rights might we have to give up to care spiritually for our weaker brothers and sisters in Christ?

Those for whom Jesus loved enough to die?

Number two. Don’t tempt your brother to betray his conscience because...

#2. THE KINGDOM IS NOT ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS. V.16

“Do not allow what you consider good [the gospel of Jesus Christ] to be spoken of as evil [because the church is so divided. V.17]. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...”

The kingdom of God is not about our rights. It’s not about our freedoms. It’s not about us at all!

It’s about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

That’s what’s important!

In just a few minutes, we’re going to go back that hallway, eat a delicious lunch and then have a congregational meeting.

And I predict that we will enjoy wonderful unity.

But that’s not how all congregational meetings are, is it?

I was talking with a friend last week who said that when they grew up, their church had a congregational meeting every month, and it was fight every month.

Christians disagreeing with one another and fighting over their preferences, their opinions, and lots of other secondary and relatively unimportant matters.

It almost cost this person their faith.

We have been spared that here for the last 20 years or so and one of the reasons in God’s grace has been that our membership is focused on “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

We know that the Kingdom of God is not about our rights.

So we are willing to forgo our rights for the spiritual well being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The flipside is also true.

#3. GOD IS PLEASED WHEN YOU STRIVE FOR UNITY.

God is pleased when we strive for unity in this way. V.18

“...because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men [even unbelievers are impressed by unity when they see it in Christians. V.19] Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Do you see how much God cares about unity?

He loves it when we do whatever it takes in righteousness to lead to peace and mutual edification.

He wants us to work at it. To strive for it. To make every effort.

He wants us to build each other up.

Because the opposite will do real damage to the church. V.20

“Do not destroy [literally, “tear down”] the work of God for the sake of food.”

For the sake of food?

#4. GOD IS AT WORK.

Don’t tempt your brother to betray his conscience so that you can get your fill of meat!

Don’t lead him to do something that he will regret later!

Don’t tear down the work of God for your belly.

Do you see how this works?

I know that it’s a little hard to follow, but it’s really just looking out for your brother or sister in Christ. And not throwing something in their path that might take them down.

Even something that’s okay for you, but it just isn’t yet for them. V.20 again.

“All food is clean [Is clean! It is!], but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

That “anything else” there in verse 21 means that this principle is widely applicable.

This applies to food and also to drink.

It also applies to politics and entertainment.

Anywhere where you know that your actions, however clean in your own conscience, could lead another Christian you are in relationship with into betraying their conscience, this principle applies.

“It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

Now, what does this mean in practical terms?

I don’t think it means that you never do those things that tempt your brother.

But you are mindful of them. You are careful with them.

You live your life with a view, not just to doing whatever you feel like, but thinking about how your actions will affect others.

For example, you might do those things if your conscience is clear, but you don’t broadcast them. I think that’s what he means in verse 22.

“So whatever you believe [or have faith] about these things keep between yourself and God.”

I don’t think that means that you never talk about it. Paul is talking about it right here. But you don’t make a big deal out of those things which might be tempting to your weaker brother.

You don’t flaunt it or brag about it or broadcast it or put it in their face all of the time.

You are mindful of them.

That’s what we teach kids to do right? My four kids have four younger cousins on my side of the family. And they know not to parade what they can do in front of their little cousins.

One my kids got a video game for Christmas, and he was very careful not to show the violent parts to his little cousins. Not because it was bad for him to play those parts himself. He had a freedom in Jesus to do that, but because it would be bad for them.  Do you see?

This has some ramifications for social media, doesn’t it?

Do you think about who your friends are on social media? And about what you post and how it might be received?

Things you are free to do?  Let’s say R-Rated Movies. Or drinking wine. Or tattoos or smoking cigars. But you know that those things might be a problem for some of your Christian friends.

Not the ones who are judging you for doing it. I’m not worried about them. Don’t be held hostage by them.

But what about the ones who might be tempted to go against their consciences and do something they think Christians shouldn’t because you are boasting about doing it yourself on your Facebook?

It’s great to have a clean conscience. Paul says in verse 22, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

If you have a clean conscience, I’m glad for you. Do whatever you are free to do to the glory of God!

But look out for your weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. V.23

“But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

And you and I don’t want to be the cause of sin for our brothers and sister in Christ!

Let me close by applying this to drinking. Paul went there in verse 17 and verse 21.

For many many years I have been a weaker brother when it came to drinking alcohol.

I thought I was a stronger brother because I kept from drinking. I thought it was morally wrong to drink. I was a teetotaler, and that was right and righteous!

But over time, my conscience has been informed by a closer reading of the Bible to the point that I now believe that it is NOT sin to drink beverage alcohol.

In fact, for many people, it’s a good thing. Jesus did it. In fact, Jesus made wine. He made the best wine ever. And He promised to drink it again in the kingdom.

So that’s a change for me, at least in position.

Not that I’m going to be drinking any alcohol any time soon. I have tried it and don’t like the stuff!

But I believe that I could drink it, privately.

However, I don’t believe that I could broadcast my drinking. You won’t see posts on Facebook about what a great time I had at the bar. Or a picture of an open bottle of wine that says that this is how I get through a hard day in the church office.

And I wouldn’t invite someone to go with me to a bar or a wine-tasting event if I knew that they had a drinking problem or a conscience that said that drinking was sinful.

For the most part, I’ll be keeping my all of drinking activities (v.22) “between myself and God.”

But I do tell you this now to say two things:

One, that I have come to believe that it is a stronger believer who understands their freedom in this matter.

And two, if you do not have that same freedom, then do not drink alcohol. 

Because your drinking would not be from faith, and (v.23) “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

Don’t go against your conscience!

Don’t tempt your brother to betray his conscience.

And don’t go against your conscience either, whatever it says.

“...everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

And we want to avoid sin like the plague!

Let me sum up as we close and head off to our meal and meeting that will be full of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Here’s how we strive for unity.

First, we refrain from judging each other on disputable matters. We’ll let God do the judging on those.

And second, we refrain from flaunting our freedoms on those disputable matters in front of our brothers and sisters in Christ in any way that might tempt them to betray their own consciences and stumble into what would be sin for them.

Because Jesus loved them enough to die for them. So we should love them, too.
Because the Kingdom of God is not about our rights.
Because God is pleased when we strive for unity.
And because God is at work in our brothers and sisters and we don’t want to do anything that would get in His way.

***

Group Discussion Questions

1. Today’s sermon was Part Two. What did we learn in the first part? What are “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) and how should believers relate to one another over them (Romans 14:1-13a)?  What were the tensions between the Christians at Rome? How did the gospel provide “glue” to unify them?

2. If Part One was about not judging your brother in Christ, what was Part Two about (14:13b-23)? What did Paul mean by “stumbling block” or “obstacle? (14:.13b)” How can one Christian place a “stumbling block” in another Christian’s path (14:15, 14:20, 14:21)? Where have you seen this in life?

3. What are the 4 reasons Pastor Matt gave for why not to put a stumbling block in front of another Christian? Which ones spoke to you personally and why? What are things you do (or don’t do) to keep from causing fellow Christians to stumble?

4. Are there things that you believe would be sin for you to do that might not be sin for someone else (14:14)? What things and why?

5. What is the conscience? Why is it important to not go against our consciences?

6. What questions did this message raise for you that you need to do more thinking and praying about? What changes do you think the Lord wants you to make in your life?


***

Messages in this Series:

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed
21. Israel Stumbled
22. God Raised Him From the Dead
23. God Always Keeps His Promises
24. Therefore
25. How to Think of Yourself
26. A Transformed People (Part One)
27. A Transformed People (Part Two)
28. A Transformed People (Part Three)
30. A Transformed People (Part Four)
31. God's Servants
32. What Time Is It?
33. Returning to Romans
34. Striving for Unity (Part One)

My 2016 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2015

Dear Church Family,

This past year was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’m grateful to our Lord for not only getting me through 2015, but also giving me such a wonderful church family to travel together with through it all.

“I Hate My Guts.”

This last summer, I had two hospitalizations and my first major surgery. I would have never chosen these health troubles, but the Lord has used them in my life in ways for which I’m very thankful. During my time in and out of doctors’ offices, I learned many spiritual lessons in the “School of Affliction”(Psalm 119:71). I’m also grateful to have come through my illness so healthy and strong.

After my recovery was fully underway, I wrote this on my blog:
I have so many things I'm thankful for:
- My remarkable wife who walked with me every step of this difficult summer.
- Prayerful and caring friends and family. Visits, cards, calls, a load of gravel, help for Heather, and so much more.
- A supportive team of church elders and a congregation that have given me time and space to heal.
- The skillful hands of my surgeon and the expertise of his medical team.
- An amazing set of nurses and aides on the third floor at Dubois Hospital. They have a difficult job, and they do it with panache.
- Lessons I've learned in the school of affliction. As I begin to feel better, I don't want to forget them.
These and so much more are my Lord's mercies which are served up fresh and hot each day.
I'm really excited about getting back into full time active ministry: preaching the word, equipping the saints, shepherding the flock, and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I know that each day I get is a gift, and I resolve to use them for what really counts–His Kingdom and His righteousness.
I want to repeat all of that again. Thank you, dear church family, for your support and care for me through my illness and recovery. I’m thankful for the Elders who told me to stay out of the pulpit even after I had been released to go back to work. They arranged excellent guest preachers and make sure all of the bases of ministry were covered. I’m thankful to Marilynn Kristofits in the church office for her “administry” of so many details while I was out of commission. Our church didn’t miss a beat, and I am incredibly proud of all of you and feel blessed to be your pastor.

“He Showed Us How It’s Done”

But just when I was starting to feel better, a true tragedy struck our church. Blair Murray died in an airplane crash on October 12th.

Blair was a special man who meant a lot to our church. We all loved Blair. He had served faithfully in church leadership for several decades and left his mark spiritually on everyone he knew. I knew that I loved Blair, but until he was gone, I didn’t realize how precious he was to me. He was a mentor to me and a true friend. I’ve come to recognize that in many ways, he was my assistant pastor. On Sundays, he not only led us in wholehearted singing, but he made it around the room to talk to and care for as many people as he possibly could. Our church was impoverished when we had to say, “Goodbye.”

At Blair’s memorial service, I preached from Mark 10 and said that Blair showed us how to be truly great. Blair was a great man because he loved and served others and because he loved our Lord Jesus more than everything else. Now that he’s passed, I’ve been very encouraged to see how many people have “stepped up their game,” of praying, serving, loving, and caring because of Blair’s example.

So Much More

So, when I wrote in last year’s pastoral report that I saw 2015 being a “life-changing” year, I truly had no idea what that would actually mean! It seems like an understatement now.

But much more happened in 2015 than those two big difficult things. We had many sweet blessings to celebrate, not just bittersweet ones. Read the reports from our ministries in the rest of this document to get a taste of what else God has been doing in our midst.

We celebrated five baptisms of young people on Resurrection Sunday. Tyler Matthews, Thomas Kovalick, Megan Kerlin, Joshua Kerlin, and Nathan Kerlin all proclaimed that the Lord Jesus has changed their lives forever.

We reached out to our community through large group events like the Last Supper Drama, “God’s Not Dead” Movie Night, Family Bible Week, and the Good News Cruise.

We hired two young men as Summer Ministry Interns and gave them valuable learning experiences. Hunter Galley and Drew Moore spent the summer growing spiritually as disciples of Jesus Christ, learning how church ministry functions, and serving our youth and children’s ministries.

Our interns also joined our team of 9 intrepid members who traveled to the Pittsburgh Area to partner with two other district churches for a week of shared ministry. Our Pittsburgh Ministry Team, led by Curt and Steph Quick, worked with Pastors Alex Ielase and Kerry Doyal to share the good news of Jesus in public parks and a “mini-Family Bible Week.” I was proud of them stepping out of their comfort zones to reach people for Christ.

On average, our attendance at worship was lower than previous years, probably due in part to a severely cold winter, but we averaged a solid 143 worshipers each Sunday (last year was 145). The highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 252 people present. I believe we are actually growing numerically when you count how many people take part on a regular basis.

We also took on new members: Renée Mostyn, Bonnie Dobash, and Darla Kyler. We had a faithful group of folks pray each month at our Harvest Prayer Time.

Every time I turn around, I see something new that the Lord is doing.

Pastoral Ministry

For many years, I have summed up my ministry in three main areas–preaching, equipping, and shepherding. Here are some of the highlights from 2015:

Preach the Word

My plan was to finish the book of Romans by September, but life interrupted. I did preach Romans chapters 6 through 13 before I took sick, but then Romans went on the shelf for the rest of the calendar year. While we were in Romans, we learned many wonderful things about the gospel and memorized several key verses together–Romans 6:23, Romans 8:1, Romans 10:9, and Romans 12:1. We returned to it this month, and I hope to see it through to the end by spring.

From Labor Day to just after Thanksgiving, I preached a series on “Working for the Lord,” in which we learned how much God’s Word has to say about our vocations. Our work is a form of worship! Every Sunday, we celebrated the contributions of every single worker in our congregation. We also memorized Colossians 3:23-24 together, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Our Advent season this year focused on John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We learned that we are living in a war zone, but the outcome of the war has been decided from the beginning (Genesis 3:15). And because Jesus’ future victory is sure, we can have peace right now.

I also spoke to the West Branch FCA Bible Club several times, to the moms at our MOPS group and the Penns Valley MOPS group, to seniors at a Lenten Luncheon, to a Ministerium Lenten Service, to the residents at Windy Hill Village, to the men’s ministry of McKeesport’s First Free Church, and the fathers and sons at the retreat at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

Because of my hospitalizations, I was out of the pulpit more this year than I have ever been since becoming your pastor, but our guest preachers served us well. It was great to know that trustworthy guys like Mark Brenner, Donnie Rosie, and Dan Stanley from Miracle Mountain Ranch were pinch-hitting for me. Tim McGill really came through for us this year, preaching several times and on short notice when I was sick. And I was so thankful that my pastor, Jeff Powell, could be present on the Sunday after Blair died to comfort us and keep us focused on Jesus Christ.

Equip the Saints

One of my favorite moments in ministry this year was during the Good News Cruise. While I hobbled up and down the rows of cars talking to our guests, I was struck by how many of our people were serving others for the sake of the gospel, and how little I had to do with it! One way to measure effective pastoral ministry is recognize how many people are truly equipped for ministry. A church that can do major things without needing their pastor to do much is a healthy church!

This year, I completed an “elder training course” with our first cohort. I hope for many more cohorts in the years to come. I also met throughout the year with all of our ministry leaders for equipping, training, and mutual ministry.

In addition to coaching our local church leaders, I remain heavily involved in the broader EFCA on both the Allegheny District and national levels. In 2015, I continued to serve on the district board, chair the Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the Stay Sharp theology conference, and attend a regional pastors’ group.

On the national level, I continued to serve as the book review coordinator for “EFCA Now” for whom I also wrote an article on the occasion of his retirement about what I’ve learned over the years from EFCA President Bill Hamel. I also continued to serve as a member of the Spiritual Heritage Committee (SHC). I was able to attend the EFCA Theology Conference last January and, with Heather, attend EFCA One where we approved the new president of our association, Kevin Kompelien.

In 2015, Nesta Kephart and I were interviewed by EFCA Today on the topic of community-shaped disciplemaking. I love that our church partners with other gospel-centered churches who are similarly focused on growing followers of Jesus Christ!

Resisting Gossip continues to expand my equipping ministry beyond our community, as well. In 2015, the French version was published in both France and Canada. In September, I got to travel to Montreal for the official launch of Résister à la Médisance. I also got to speak at CCEF’s national conference on this topic. Thank you for allowing me to serve the body of Christ beyond our region. It is a privilege.

Shepherd the Flock

One of the most important things I do in ministry is to simply spend time with people. I love being in your lives, whether in pleasant circumstances or difficult ones. Throughout the year, I have visited in most of your homes, and also visited folks in hospitals, prisons, and funeral homes. In addition to Blair’s funeral, I also officiated at funerals for Adam Slabon, Arnold “Sonny” Collar, Russell Martell, and Jimmy Netterblade.

It is not “flashy” ministry, but is a true privilege to shepherd you through the good and the bad times. And as I said earlier, this year, I felt shepherded by you. Thank you for visiting and praying for me during my hospital stay!

Vision for 2016

In the first Sunday of this year, I preached a message entitled, “Sent on a Mission in 2016.” In that sermon, we went back to the Great Commission to remind ourselves what we are all about as a church.

Even though it’s a new year, nothing has really changed. Our message and our mission stay the same. Our message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

Whether we are reaching out to our community through a big event such as our Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, or Good News Cruise, sending folks on a mission trip, such as John Forcey and Roper Houston headed back to Oaxaca, Mexico in February, packing our teens off to the EFCA’s Challenge Conference in Louisville for discipleship training and learning to “Live Sent,” or simply continuing our many week-to-week ministries in a faithful way, everything we do in 2016 needs to make sure that our gospel message and disciplemaking mission is kept central.

This year may be easier than 2015 or it may be the same or even harder than last year, but our Lord Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way (Matthew 28:18-20). So, let’s take heart and stay on mission.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

[Matt's Messages] "Striving for Unity (Part One)"

“Striving for Unity (Part One)”
All Roads Lead to Romans
January 17, 2016 :: Romans 14:1-12

I tried to preach this passage once before, and it didn’t go so well.

I was studying Romans 14 and 15 on a Saturday back in July and trying to write a message entitled, “Unity,” but my gut kept hurting. And I ran into Myra at the Post Office and I told her that my gut was hurting again, and she encouraged me to go to the emergency room.

So I did, but I took my commentaries with me still intending to preach Romans 14 and 15 the next day if they didn’t admit me into the hospital. But they did admit me into the hospital, and I have never gotten back to chapter 14 until today.

So you could say that I’ve had 6 months to prepare this message, and it better be good!

This week, I told Marilynn that I was planning to preach chapter 14 verse 1 through chapter 15 verse 13. Because that’s the next big section, and it all fits together. And it’s all about one thing, striving for unity in the church.

But I realized as I was preparing to preach that I had bitten off more text than I could chew. More text than I could preach very well in one sermon.

Of course, last week I preached 13 chapters in one sermon, but that was a review. This is new territory for us together.

So, I decided to change my strategy a little and title this message, “Striving for Unity (Part One).”  So we’ll spend more than one week working our way through this section.

Today, we’re just going to go through the first 12 verses.

But the whole section could be summed up with verse 19 which says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Let’s do everything we can to strive for unity among Christians.

That’s what we’re going to talk about for the next few weeks in the book of Romans.

What does it take to bring Christians together? How can Christians keep from being divided? What does it look like to strive for unity in the church? Why should we even do that? And what sometimes gets in the way?

In some ways, this is where the whole book of Romans has been headed all along.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to read Romans like it’s headed for chapter 8 and then end there. And sometimes I also skip over chapters 9 through 11, that Israel stuff, and then camp on Romans 12 and maybe 13. But then I feel like the book is over, time for all of the signing-off at the end in chapter 16; I don’t really know what to do with chapters 14 and 15.

But Paul didn’t skip those chapters. He wrote them there! In many ways, he was driving towards them the whole time.

Last week, we were reminded who were the recipients of Paul’s letter. To whom was Paul writing?  “To ALL in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints...”

All of the Christians in Rome.

And there were, apparently, two major groups of Christians in Rome. Who were they?

The Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.

And there were apparently some tensions between those two groups.

The Jewish Christians had the priority of being first. The Savior was Jewish and the gospel came to the Jews first. “First for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

But there were probably many many more Gentile Christians so they had the priority of numbers. Romans 9, 10, and 11 are in the book because it looked even then like the promises to Israel were not being fulfilled.

And the two groups were struggling with one another.

There were tensions between the two kinds of Christians.

And into that tension, Paul writes this letter about the gospel.

And one of the big reasons why he writes it is to address that conflict and to bring the two groups together in unity.

So all of that gospel stuff in the first eight chapters isn’t just theology. It’s glue. Gospel glue that brings Christians together and makes them one.

That’s why Paul keeps stressing that Jews and Gentiles are all in the same boat.

Which ones are sinners? Gentiles or Jews? Both right?
Which ones are justified by faith? Gentiles or Jews? Both right?
Which ones are God using to save the other group? Gentiles or Jews? Both right?

That’s right. Jews and Gentiles while traveling somewhat different paths to get there are both in the same gospel boat.

Paul stresses that again and again and again.

And here’s why. At least one of the reasons why. Because he wants to bring them together in Rome so that they strive for Christian unity. A proper Christian unity.

Paul is still applying the gospel.

Ever since chapter 12 began, he has been relentlessly applying the implications of the gospel to the every day life of the church.

And now he addresses unity in the church. And calls for believers to strive for that unity, to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.

And the first thing he says that we need to do is to stop passing judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ.

#1. DON’T PASS JUDGMENT ON YOUR BROTHER.

Verse 1 of chapter 14 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”

Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but it is actually a fact that Christians do not always agree with one another.

Did you know that?

Did you know that followers of Jesus do not always see things in the same way?

I’ll bet you did.

In fact, you probably don’t have to be a Christian for long before you meet another Christian who sees something differently than you do.

And sometimes those differences can be very strong.

And they can divide Christians and keep them from living and ministering in unity.

And in verse 1, Paul says that Christians should try to keep themselves from “passing judgment on disputable matters.”

Now, there are some matters which should be indisputable.

There are some things that are right and wrong and there should not be two opinions on it between Christians.

For example, all Christians should believe in the full deity of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God and God the Son, then you are not a real Christian and other Christians can’t have unity with you. Indisputable.

Or another example, fitting for today, all Christians should believe that infanticide, the killing of babies is evil and wrong. I think that’s indisputable.

But there are many things that are much more debatable. That genuine Christians can have differing opinions on and still get along.

What the NIV calls here, “disputable matters” or the King James “doubtful disputations,” or the ESV simply calls, “opinions.”

These are things that genuine Christians can and will disagree about.

For example, can a follower of Jesus Christ go to the movies?

Now, I think that most of you would answer yes to that question, but I’m not sure if all of you would.

I am sure that many of you remember a time when church leaders you knew taught that it was wrong for believers to go the movie theater.

But most of you are okay with movies in general. In fact, we’ve shown some right here in our building. Last year, it was “God’s Not Dead.”

So let me refine the question, “Can a follower of Jesus Christ watch a R-rated movie?”

Some of you would say, “Yes, he can, but no, he shouldn’t.”
Some of you would say, “Maybe he can, but I can’t.”
Some of you would say, “No way.”
And some of you would say, “Of course. Why not?”

I think that’s an example of these kind of disputable matters.

Doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It just means that genuine Christians can disagree and can still function in Christian unity when they disagree.

We don’t have to judge each other.

We don’t have to pass judgment or condemn one another when we answer these kinds of questions differently than another Christian might answer these same questions.

Now, you might not like my example. For you, this might be a matter that would lead to dividing. You can’t live in unity with a believer who differs with you on the question of R-rated movies. Either for or against.

I understand.

One of the difficulties in applying Romans 14 and 15 is that these matters often matter so  much to us that it’s hard to decide sometimes if the specific issue fits into the category of disputable matters or not.

And there are a lot of issues to work on. One author that I respect a lot has listed 75 common issues that Christians often debate like this. And he’s got them broken up into like 17 common categories.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But Paul is saying that’s possible.

And that it’s important whenever we can to not pass judgment on your brother and sister in Christ when the matter is secondary and debatable.

Now, Paul doesn’t come out and say here in chapter 14 that the two groups that are struggling with one another are the Jews and the Gentiles.

Instead, he uses the words “weak” and “strong.” “Weak in faith.” V.1 again.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”

Now, Paul never says exactly who that is whose faith is weak, but I think from the context that he’s mainly talking about Jewish Christians.

And he doesn’t mean that they don’t have true or saving or strong faith in Jesus Christ. He means that they don’t have faith or confidence or assurance that they would be free to eat just anything but instead need to have a carefully kosher diet. V.2

“One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”

Now, I think that means Jewish Christians who haven’t really got used to the idea that they can eat anything on the menu.

Right?  Can I as a Jewish Christian eat at “Hogs Galore?”

Or even this beef, right here. Was this butchered in a kosher way?

Has it maybe even been offered to an idol before it came to my plate? That was the problem in 1 Corinthians 8 which is very similar to this passage.

The Gentile Christians, by and large, didn’t care about that. They understood their freedoms better. So they had faith to eat anything.

But these weak guys only had faith for vegetables. Those were what was safe.

Now, what does Paul say to do with the weak Christians?

Get ‘em strong, right?

Beef ‘em up, right?  Literally!

No. Verse 1 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”

Welcome him. Love him. Wrap your arms around him. Receive him.  V.3

“The man who eats everything [the strong] must not look down on him who does not [the weak], [but get this!] and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”

Oh, so it works both ways!

The strong is not to pass judgment on the weaker brother.

And the weaker brother is not to pass judgment on the stronger one, either.

This is a two way street.

Both kinds of Christians are called to love and accept and receive and welcome one another without condemning each other.

Now, that’s easy for us when it comes to meat and vegetables, I think.

We don’t have this disputable matter at hand, but what if it’s something else?

Like say, drinking alcohol?

Or whatever. Paul will mention alcohol in verse 21.

But the point that Paul is making is that we are to do our best to not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, that last phrase is really important: “in Christ.”

Because Paul says we are to not judge others for (v.3), “God has accepted him.”

If God has accepted somebody, then what business do I have to not accept him? V.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.”

Paul is saying, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you are God?”

When we condemn someone else for something the Lord does not condemn, then we are acting like we are their Lord.

Let’s get this straight:

I am not your Lord.
And you are not my Lord.

So we don’t need to be judging each other. Amen?

It’s a lot easier said than done.

Because, of course, we have to make some judgments. We have to be discerning. Not everything is right. On some things, we can’t both be right.

Remember, this is not gospel stuff. When people start to get the gospel wrong, Paul goes ballistic. Read Galatians some time.

There is plenty of judgment stuff there.

Read Romans 1, 2, and 3!

This is only on disputable matters that we can give each other this grace.

But regardless, we are not each other judges.

I said last week that I wouldn’t talk about the election much this year, but I will tell you this story.

Years ago, Heather and I were visiting some Christian friends of ours who were of a different political persuasion than we are.

I won’t say what we are or what they were because I don’t think that’s helpful most of the time for a pastor to talk about politics in public.

But when we pulled up to their house to visit, they had a political sign in their front yard for a presidential candidate that I couldn’t vote for.

And I have my reasons.

But they had their reasons why they were for that candidate.

And they had Christian reasons for it.

And at one point, we had to have a talk about it.

And my friend said to me, “Is this going to be an problem between us?”

And I said (in a rare moment of sanctification), “No. I think who you vote for is between you and your Lord.”

And he said, “Good. Because I think who you vote for is between you and your Lord.”

And we had sweet fellowship with one another and still do today.

We talk about politics. We try to convince each other of our opinions.

And I’m still right, and he’s still wrong!

But I’m not his Lord. “To his own master he stands or falls.” And because of the gospel, “he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Now in verse 5, Paul brings up another controversy beyond the meat and vegetables one. This tells me that Paul is trying to give us principles that apply to more than one disputable matter. Here the issue is special days. V.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.”

I still think he’s talking in general about Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians would have their Old Testament holidays that they would want to celebrate. And they would have a day each week that was ingrained in them to set apart as holy.

What day was that? The Sabbath.

But the Gentile Christians wouldn’t see it the same way, would they?

They would have thought that the Jewish Feasts were interesting but not sacred. And even the Sabbath pointed to Jesus as the true Sabbath and the kingdom is the Sabbath rest to come.

So, you don’t have to have a whole sacred day every week. Not for New Covenant Christians.

Yes, you need to regularly gather with God’s people and worship. That’s indisputable.

But is Sunday the new holy day?

Let me ask you? Is Sunday the new Sabbath?

I’ll bet some of you say yes and some of you say no.

What does Paul say?  V.5 again.

“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

#2. DO WHAT YOU TRULY BELIEVE IS RIGHT.

Do what you truly believe is right before the Lord.

You see, these are important things to think about and important things to make decisions about.

Just because they are disputable doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Christians should carefully think through what they believe and what they think they ought to do and ought not to do.

Should a Christian watch an R-rated movie?

Why or why not?

And if you are convinced that Christians can and sometimes should watch a movie like that, what are the biblical principles that guide your decisions about which ones to watch and when to watch them?

Or on the other side, why not? What are the biblical principles that guide your decision-making on that issue?

“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Here’s one on the special days question.

Do you think that Christians should celebrate Christmas?

I would guess that most of you would. I would guess that all of you do in some way.

But think about this, the Bible never commands Christians to celebrate Christmas.

Or Easter for that matter.

We worship on Sundays because the Lord was raised on a Sunday, but there is no command to once a year celebrate His resurrection.

That’s a just a tradition.

It’s not a bad one. We do it.

But what if you didn’t want to? What if you didn’t want to celebrate Christmas. Does that make you Ebeneezer Scrooge? What if you don’t want to say, “Merry Christmas.”

Does it make you an unbeliever? Does it mean that we shouldn’t welcome you as a true Christian?

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. [All 365.] Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

And the church ought to embrace both kinds with warm love.

Both kinds of Christians should do what they truly believe is right before the Lord.

Before the Lord. That’s what’s important. V.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.”

That’s really important!

You and I are to do what we truly believe that the Lord wants us to do.

If you truly believe that the Lord wants to you watch that movie, then please do.

If you truly believe that the Lord wants you to take that drink, then please do.

If you truly believe that your Lord wants you to set aside a day as holy, then please do.

Same the other way though!

If you truly believe that the Lord does NOT want you to watch that movie, then please don’t!

If you truly believe that the Lord does not want you to take that drink, then please don’t!

If you truly believe that the Lord wants you to treat every day the same, then please don’t make one holy!

You see how we have to have godly motivation for what we do? V.7

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 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.”

That’s the way to strive for unity. To make everything in our life revolve around the Lord who saved us. V.9

“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Do you believe that?

I did two funerals this week. One for a ten year old boy.

I don’t know how I could live without believing that Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

But I do believe!

And because I believe that, I want to honor Him with all of my life. All of my decisions. Everything I do and don’t do should be for His glory.

And so should it be for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Even if what they choose to do is different than what I would do.

Jesus is their judge. Not me.

#3. REMEMBER THAT WE WILL ALL BE JUDGED. V.10

“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: ‘'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.”

The Lord has that handled!

Judgment is God’s job.

And He will do it.

That’s sobering isn’t it?

To realize that we will all have to give an account for what we did with our lives?

We should be more concerned with what we are doing with our own lives than what other people are doing with theirs.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t care.

It doesn’t mean that we won’t try to help people that we think are doing something wrong.

Genuine love does that, too.

If you think that I’m doing something wrong, I invite you to try show me that in love and persuade me to your way of thinking on these disputable matters.

But let’s leave the judging up to God.

I think He knows what He’s doing.

There is much more to be said about how to strive for unity, but this is the first thing.

Don’t pass judgment on your brother and sister in Christ on these disputable matters.

Form your own opinion and live it out. Do what you truly believe is right before the Lord, remembering that we will all be judged some day soon.

We will all have to give account.

So, let’s warmly accept and receive and welcome and love each other while we wait for that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.


***

Messages in this Series:

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed
21. Israel Stumbled
22. God Raised Him From the Dead
23. God Always Keeps His Promises
24. Therefore
25. How to Think of Yourself
26. A Transformed People (Part One)
27. A Transformed People (Part Two)
28. A Transformed People (Part Three)
30. A Transformed People (Part Four)
31. God's Servants
32. What Time Is It?
33. Returning to Romans