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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

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