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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)

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