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 me 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 kosher 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:


“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 not 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.

“ 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.”


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)