This morning we turn the page into Romans 15, the penultimate chapter in this amazing and revolutionary book. The title for this morning is “Grace & Space”, though it could easily be simply Part IV of our “WAKE UP!” series through Romans 13-14 because it is the same thought.
In the first part of this chapter, Paul is still pleading with the Roman church to WAKE UP and live with one another in love. In fact, in just these fifteen verses we find three “one another” commands that we must not overlook. Let’s read the text together and see what they are.
Did you catch them? Verse 5 – “be like-minded toward one another”; Verse 7 – “receive one another”; Verse 14 – “admonish one another”. The crux of this passage is the same as have been the last couple of chapter’s: for the sake of the Kingdom, LOVE ONE ANOTHER! And this is what love is and this is how it is lived out with one another.
At the very center of this passage is the theme of GRACE. In the same way that Christ extends grace to you, and gives space for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, so you must do in loving and honoring one another above yourselves. Here are four truths that I believe the Holy Spirit would speak to you this morning:
The reason you have hope is because of the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus
Look again at verses 2-3 with me. “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Now, there is so much here, and we don’t have time to get into all the implications of this statement this morning. But, we can look at the what Paul says here in verse 3: “even Christ”. Even Christ did what you are now being instructed to do: walk with one another in patience, and in hope, and full of grace. Think about those words for a minute: even Christ. When we begin to whine and complain about people, or our circumstances, or the lack of a particular outcome we are hoping for…even Christ did not please Himself.
God clothed Himself with human flesh and came to serve those He created and brought hope into the world by extending His grace to, literally, everyone. In His grace, He allowed people space to respond to Him in such a way that they failed repeatedly and were never cut off! This is our blessed hope as His children and as His ambassadors into the world.
And yet, despite knowing personally of His grace, how do often treat one another? All too often, we are like the two men lost in the woods and trying to find their way back to camp.
The story goes that two men were in the woods when a giant, angry grizzly jumped out of the bushes. Immediately one of the men reached in his backpack and pulled out his running shoes. His companion said, "You're not going to try and outrun that grizzly, are you? Full grown grizzly bears can run 30-35 mph?" While tying his shoes, his buddy answered, "Don't worry, I know I can't outrun a grizzly bear, but I don't have to! All I have to do is outrun you!”
Sadly, this is the attitude of many Christians. Rather than "bear with" a weaker Christian we run out ahead and leave them behind to get eaten by the spiritual grizzlies. Our goal is to love others, not just save our own skin!
Sadly, this is exactly the way so many of us view the Christian life! What we often fail to wrestle with and grasp is the fact that such a life is completely void of hope. It is, at best, a self-centered Christianity which is not actually biblical at all. If we would remember that whatever hope we have is because of the grace of Jesus, and that He has called us to bring His hope into the world, we would love one another much differently than we do; so differently, in fact, that what we now understand to be love would not be able to be called love at all.
Charles Spurgeon, in talking about how Christ received us and gave us hope, said: “Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because He could see no fault in us, or because He hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, He welcomed us to His heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.”
Notice two things here: how Jesus loves you and how you are to love others. Do you cover their faults? Do you seek their good without considering what would be good for you? Do you welcome them into your heart?
It is imperative that we remember that the hope which we have is a direct result of the grace of Jesus and the space He grants you to grow into a mature and loving Christian. It is impossible to be a person of eternal, unwavering hope without being a regular visitor to the pages of Scripture. This brings us to our next point, which is that:
Scripture is your source of renewed hope by revisiting the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus in your own life and those who came before you
Look at verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Not only do we have this hope because of the person of Jesus, but we have this hope recorded for us to revisit at any time. We just looked at Jesus and how He willingly gave up everything for the glory of God. He served others and sought to fulfill the will of the Father in every area of life.
But, not only did God send us His son to give us hope, but He also gave us dozens, even hundreds, of stories from saints who have gone before us. We read their stories and it further strengthens our hope and assurance in Christ.
A survey of the Old Testament provides numerous instances where people were willing to forego their own freedom and comfort for the sake of others. Noah... Joseph... Moses... Daniel... all bypassed the easy road and chose to live their lives as an influence for God, and for the good of other people. And their impact was worth their sacrifice. They stand out as models for us.
Why do we, in our pompous arrogance, feel that we deserve something easier, cushier, or softer than Noah, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus Himself?
One of the major contributing factors to such an attitude is simply a neglect of Scripture. There is no one on planet Earth who can approach the Bible with a willing Spirit and an open heart who can maintain their arrogance.
If you often find yourself in a place of being downcast, or feeling without hope, or just beat down and discouraged, the medicine you need is Scripture. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed at how many supposed Christ-followers never talk with Him. Why would we expect to be anything more than discouraged or hopeless when we neglect the words of hope and life?
One of my favorite quotes from Spurgeon in regard to people simply not reading their Bibles is: “Some of you have so much dust on the covers of your Bibles, that you could spell out the word ‘damnation’ with your fingertips.”
This hope is not only necessary for us personally, but it is also necessary to walk with in redemptive relationship with others. If we find ourselves failing in this area, we must turn to Scripture to get the hope and encouragement we need to do what Jesus has called us to do and be who He has called us to be.
When we read Scripture, we are also reminded of another great truth and Christ and His grace:
The greatest example of GRACE & SPACE is found in Jesus and His love for both Jews and Gentiles. THIS IS YOUR CALLING.
This is the greatest message of this text and all of the Bible. I won’t read them with you again, but verses 5-12 show us that throughout Scripture this is the theme: God is the God of the Jew and the Gentile. This was one of the messages that the religious leaders could not stand and one which they never could get past.
It has been said that the Christian church is the only place where the requirement for membership is that members understand that they could never be worthy of membership! What a statement! When we have that level of humility – again, as Christ embodied and modeled for us – then we begin to be transformed. We ourselves begin to look like Jesus and our relationships begin to look more like the relationships we are called to have.
Leon Morris, an Australian New Testament scholar, poignantly noted what a genuine biblical concern for others looks like in relationship with one another. And, again, this is nested within what Christ’s concern for you and everyone else looks like.
“A genuine concern for the weak will mean an attempt to make them strong by leading them out of their irrational scruples so that they, too, can be strong.”
This concern is to continually extend grace toward those weaker in the faith for the purpose of making them strong. And, like Jesus, this concern leads our relationships with others to have no parameters on them; not cultural, political, racial, economical, or any other thing that separates people into groups. Like Christ commands of us, our relationships are centered on grace and space to allow others to grow strong in the Lord.
Think, for example, of raising children. How much grace is required to make them strong? BOUNDLESS GRACE! It requires staying up late with them at night, and cleaning their bottoms, and feeding them. As they grow older, it requires grace to teach them basic manners. As they grow older still, it requires a transition from the imparting of specific rules to instilling principles by which they are to live and modeling for them what that looks like. As they grow stronger still, it is being there unwaveringly and unconditionally to continue to guide them until they reach the point at which they can succeed with you entirely, but still desire a relationship with you. This is, in a small way, the “grace and space” of Jesus that we are all familiar with, either as parents or as children.
If you think about your own life, you will no doubt recall the grace of Christ and the space He allowed (and still allows) for such growth to occur in your own life. Failure after miserable failure in your life, and still He walks with you with grace and helps transform you. And, boy do we appreciate God’s patience with us! But, oh how hard it is for us to have patience (grace & space) with others and help them grow to be strong. Yet, when we look again to Jesus, we are humbled by His example and patience to Jew and Gentile, easy people and difficult people and everyone in between. We can do no less and we must do no less.
Finally, we must understand of grace and space that:
One of the greatest exchanges Jesus offers us is that as we pour out GRACE & SPACE on others, we are more than replenished by the Holy Spirit.
Remember the old song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart...” Then we’d sing the second stanza, “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart...” But there were other verses, like... “I’ve got the happy hope that heckles heathens down in my heart...” I love “the happy hope that heckles heathens...” This is what the world today lacks most. Our problems seem insurmountable. Folks have no hope. In contrast, we serve “the God of hope,” thus our situation is never hopeless!
The great irony of the Christian life is that we find our rest in our work. While the world views rest as necessary because of the demands of work, the Christian understands that true rest in found in serving. It is so important that we remember this as those who serve in the kingdom of light, because the world has trained us and programmed us to view work as exhausting and as something which we must do only as a necessary evil. I have been amazed at the number of supposed mature Christians who view Christian service as being akin to mixing and pouring concrete! When you talk about mobilizing for service either locally or in the form of a missions trip, the reaction is as though you are asking people to give birth while running a triathlon while carrying cinderblocks and solving trigonometry problems all at the same time!
But, just how are we to serve others? Oftentimes, when I am preparing for a physical fitness test, I will look only at the minimum requirements. What the fewest number of push-ups and sit-ups I need to do to pass? What’s the slowest amount of time I can run two miles in and still pass? Similarly, it is tragic how many of us think of Christian service in this way? What’s the least amount of service I can do so as to be pleasing to the Lord? What’s the slowest I can run this Christian race and still get my name on the board? However, when we look to Christ as our standard, which He is, we discover again that we can, should, and must serve Christ and the world more.
John Schultz, a former Alliance missionary, says this of the depth of our service to one another: “We may conclude that if Jesus took our failures upon Himself in such an extreme manner, the least we can do with other people’s weaknesses is to endure them [alongside them]. To the Galatians, Paul wrote: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
How are you doing in your relationships with others? Do you endure with them? Do you carry their burdens the way Christ calls you to? Are you personally filled with the hope of Jesus that comes from spending time with Him in His word? If we are not, this morning is the time for repentance and forgiveness. As we pray and take communion this morning, beg Jesus to change you and fill you with hope. Be reminded of His grace, and be encouraged to have a gracious spirit and, like Jesus, extend that grace to others and give the Holy Spirit space to fill them with hope as they experience God’s grace as well.
Let’s pray and then we will take communion together and go before the Lord in repentance.
This morning, we wrap up this important chapter of Romans 14. For the past two weeks, we have talked about why this chapter is particularly applicable to us today: we live in a culture largely influenced by religious legalism and the potential for both positive and negative impact in the community and the world is limitless. Our surrender to Christ and His ability to love through us brings life through redemptive, discipling relationships and our neglect or abuse of such love can lead others to walk away from Christ permanently.
This week, we finish our series on calling the church to “WAKE UP!” and love one another in the way Scripture prescribes. Let’s read verses 16-22 together.
Now, since this is part three of a series, these points today are not in isolation, but are given in conjunction with the past two weeks. Each of these describes behavior that we exhibit toward one another when we love in the way Christ has called us to. They are:
When we love one another: we journey with those stronger and weaker than us
When we love one another: we stop majoring on the minors
When we love one another: we recognize that we are a servant of all and a master of none
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that we will be judged not for someone else’s actions, but for our attitude
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that sin dwells in a person and not in any material things
When we love one another: we don’t destroy each other
This morning, we add the final three characteristics to this transformative list. This first is:
When we love one another: we don’t initiate or seek out controversy over minor issues
Look at verse 22 with me. “Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God”
What things is Paul talking about? He is talking about disputable issues like meat, veggies, days of the week, and drinking. He mentions each of these here in this one chapter. Essentially, Paul says, “if it’s not clearly spelled out in Scripture, then keep your mouth shut! If it’s not prescribed in the Bible, then keep your opinion – no matter strongly you hold to it personally – between you and God.
What are the consequences when we spark controversy over minor issues with others without having a relationship with them? As we discussed last week, we run the risk of destroying them, of “giving them over to eternal misery in hell”. Not only does the Holy Spirit give us a direct order here to hush¸ but the risk of not keeping our mouth shut far outweighs whatever twisted benefit we feel like we are receiving from opening our mouth.
Just think about how often Jesus talks about being peacemakers. In His Sermon on the Mount, He says that those who are peacemakers will be happy and blessed and will be called the children of God. This is exactly what the Spirit pens through Paul here in verse 18: “Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” We’ll come back to that thought, though, because it is more directly tied to another point.
Think, for example, of the great peace-makers of our time. One recent example is Billy Graham, who just passed away last week. Here was a man who was not only revered by the church, as one might expect, but he was also adored by the world. He was the first religious leader to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol. Think about how crazy that is! The headquarters of our secular government so honored and revered this man of God that they bestowed upon him an honor never before given to any religious leader. The entire country paused to honor him and his memorial service was broadcast live on secular news networks. What caused him to receive both God’s approval and the approval of man?
He was an extraordinary peacemaker. His platform was not politics, though he influenced politics. His platform was not social work, though he and his organizations do such work all over the world. His platform was not denominational, though he served under the Baptist name. His banner was JESUS and the forgiveness of sin and the hope of redemption. He was as much a friend to George W. Bush as he was to Richard Nixon. There photos of him with his arm around Richard Nixon and holding hands with George Bush. The man a peacemaker and both God and man honored him because of his message.
Are you a peacemaker in this way? Or, are you one to initiate controversy over silly, insignificant things? Are you quick to voice your opinion even when no one asks for it? Is the driving force in your life the need to “be heard” or is it to be satisfied in Christ and being an ambassador for Him? When we love another, we are peacemakers and controversy creators and agitators. Love one another and be a peacemaker and Scripture says that you will be pleasing both to God and man.
Following that point, this passage gives us what being a peacemaker looks like. This is how we all should love.
When we love one another: we infuse righteousness, joy, and peace into the world by the Holy Spirit in us
Look at verse 17 with me. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
If your life does not bring the righteousness of Christ into the world, and the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit into people’s lives, then something is wrong! Something is broken, and we must go before Christ and ask Him to “restore unto me the joy of His salvation and renew a right Spirit within me” as David did in Psalm 51 after being confronted about his own sin and brokenness.
If we were to take a poll, would other people say that you are a person who brings joy and peace into situations? Or, would they say the opposite – that you are a person of doom and gloom who focuses on all the wrong things? What an indictment upon us if this is our testimony.
To go back to being peacemakers, this is the section where, in verse 18, Paul writes that “Anyone who serves Christ in this way [a life of righteousness, peace, and joy] is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” Do you want to influence people for the Kingdom? The Bible tells us that the way to do just that is to be a person of relationship who brings the righteousness of God and the peace of joy of the Holy Spirit into the lives and situations of others. How do we become a disciple who makes disciples and thereby fulfill the will of God and be pleasing to Him? We are a people of righteousness, joy, and peace. When we do this, our lives point others to the source of our righteousness, joy, and peace – Jesus Christ.
We also discover that the greatest fulfillment comes from living such a life. Ask the Lord to help you discover anew his righteousness, peace, and joy and let Him change your spirit and your countenance in order to be a vessel of life and love.
Finally, when we become someone who is deeply in love with Christ, we find our entire lives being reoriented around building His Kingdom and not focused on our own. The final point from this passage is this:
When we love one another: we center our lives on building God’s Kingdom and not our own
Verse 19 reads like this: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”
Think of the words of Christ to His disciples about the impossibility of divided interests when He said that “man cannot serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other or love the one and hate the other.” This is exactly how Paul wraps up this thought: you are either serving the Kingdom of God or you are working to destroy it by serving yourself and your own interests.
The greatest and sneakiest risk in serving our own Kingdom is that we can slap a label on top of what we do and call it “serving God” when, in actuality, we are working to destroy the Kingdom of God and truthfully just serving ourselves. Jeff Christopherson wrote a book called “Kingdom Matrix” and he wrote of churches and people who do this as “a congregation of flabby spiritual consumers.” In other words, he says that we become spiritually obese by consuming the fruit of teaching and teaching, fellowship, and prayer without ever actually exercising our faith in service to the Kingdom of God. Of those tendencies, he says that,
“Inherent, it would seem, is the innate compulsion to believe in the deepest part of our hearts that God is on our side. We ask for God’s blessing on our plans and then we proceed without Him. We open our church’s business meetings in prayer and then with all the rights of democracy begin to establish our will over someone else’s and say that in the process, God has spoken. For some reason, we think we should be able to declare to all that God is indeed on our side.”
It always helps to see some practical ways in which we may be guilty of focusing on and building our own Kingdom while rationalizing why what we are doing as being a necessary part of serving the Kingdom of Christ. I came across an article this week by Paul Tripp, who spoke at our men’s conference a couple of weeks ago. He talked about four ways in which we can be guilty of building our own Kingdom without even realizing it. He asks and answers the question: Where are we at risk of building our kingdoms in the situations, locations, and relationships of everyday life? He gives four ways in which we do this.
Pleasure and Comfort: In Numbers, the Israelites were willing to sacrifice their freedom for slavery, because in Egypt, they at least had “meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (11:5). I love how much of the glory of God in creation is edible, and it’s not sinful to enjoy comfort. But beware. Chasing momentary, physical pleasure in an attempt to build our own kingdom will always lead to slavery and bondage.
Schedule and Organization: In Exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf in an act of heinous idolatry. Why? One of the reasons was because “Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (32:1).
I’m a very task-oriented person, and organization and time management is important in God’s Kingdom. But beware. Allowing the schedule of our lives to become a dominating idol can lead to foolish acts of worship.
Position and Power: In Luke, Jesus is sitting with his disciples and instituting the New Covenant. What could be more significant than this moment? Yet “a dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (22:24).
God wisely created structures of leadership and has gifted people in different ways. But beware. Our status can rise to such a level of selfish significance that we’re blind to beautiful Kingdom of God moments.
Affirmation and Approval: In Galatians, Paul recounts the story of when Peter allowed his fear of man (2:12) to alter the message of gospel, which he was called to be a spokesperson for.
So, let’s each be on the lookout for these ways and others in which we build up our own Kingdom. May we repent of those areas and serve to advance the Kingdom of God in every area of our lives.
I’d like to wrap up our time together this morning by pointing to you one incredibly practical way in which our love for one another can be turned to service and fruitfulness toward Christ and His Kingdom.
Earlier this week, Scott Crabtree gave me some data about Columbus County that I found not only shocking but terribly convicting. This data from two years ago reveal something astounding about our community; not Africa, not Asia, not New York City or Los Angeles, but little old Columbus County. There are as many people (almost 25,000) in our immediate community who openly profess to be lost as there are who profess to be Christians. This doesn’t even take into consideration those who claim an affiliation with a particular church but who, in no discernable way, reflect a life that has been truly changed by Jesus.
How are you loving them? What are you doing to reach them? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we cannot be content and satisfied with simply inviting them to our church grounds, if we even make it that far. Studies have shown that most believers don’t even extend an invitation anymore.
Are we reaching them? Are we loving them? Do we walk with them? Do we trust the Holy Spirit of God to convict them of sin, and righteousness, and judgment, or do we assume that role ourselves? Are we a people who consistently major on the minors?
Please be challenged by the Holy Spirit this morning to not be satisfied until you personally have made every effort to reach out to these “nones” with the love of Christ. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, if the community of Christ does nothing to address this issue the number of “nones” will continue to grow while the number of those who openly profess to know and follow Jesus will shrink. And what will one of the major causes? It will be a failure on the part of the church to love and to reach out with a sense of urgency. It our job to love, and our job to be Christ in our relationships. So, let each one of commit ourselves to Christ to love one another by:
Journeying with those stronger and weaker than us
Not majoring on the minors
Recognizing that we are a servant of all and a master of none
Reflecting the truth that we will be judged not for someone else’s actions, but for our attitude
Reflecting the truth that sin dwells in a person and not in any material things
Not destroying each other
Not initiating or seeking out controversy with others over minor issues
Infusing righteousness, joy, and peace into the world by the Holy Spirit in us
Centering our lives on building God’s Kingdom and not our own
Last week we looked at the end of Romans 13 and the beginning of Romans 14. It was a challenging message, wasn’t it? I think it is a particularly challenging message for us because of our local context and culture.
This week I traveled down to Merritt Island, Florida for a pastor’s conference. The conference reminded me how vastly different church contexts and cultures can be. For example, the “beach culture” does not struggle or wrestle with issues such as, “Can you wear hats in the sanctuary?” or “is it ok to wear shorts and flip-flops to church?”. Their context, and churches like theirs, struggle with attracting “hyper-pentecostals” and “New Age” sort of people and having to confront them and clarify with them about what they believe about spiritual gifts and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
But, our struggles in our culture and context are very different. In general, we here in the “Old South”, or the “Deep South” tend to struggle with legalism. I have lived in the South my entire life, as have most of you, and it breaks my heart to see the complete lack of joy in people’s lives when it comes to knowing Jesus. They have years of thorough training in how to follow the supposed rules to be religious and live “good lives”. People’s greatest concern is with not wanting to do something that may be perceived as breaking the religious rules of the group – like smiling, or being a little too excited about life. So, we know exactly what not to do. We have no idea or actual experience of knowing what exactly it means and feels like to be a Christian, but we know what not to do, and so we carry on not doing anything for fear of breaking the rules.
As most of you know all too well, we had some serious financial struggles when we moved into this new property. At a board meeting talking about how to ease some pressure a couple of years ago, Geoff, who was serving as our treasurer, said, “You can’t cut your way to profitability”. In that same vein, we can’t become fruitful by simply knowing what we are not. It would be akin to someone asking you what you do for work and you saying, “well, I know that I’m not a postman, or an oceanographer, or a construction worker, or a policeman. I’m more like a doctor than I am a lawyer, but I know I don’t work in the medical field. But, that’s all I really know.” That response, as ridiculous as it sounds, is akin to what we, in our context, often do when trying to explain the type of Christian and type of fellowship we are. We know what we are not much more than we know what we are, and this is a clear sign of legalism creeping into the body, and we know of how clearly and harshly Christ spoke against legalism in His ministry.
Well, legalism – along with every other culture and context – is destroyed in the book of Romans, and, particularly, in chapter fourteen. The reason these other cultures and contexts get destroyed is because the emphasis is on relationship; our relationship with the Holy Spirit of God and our Spirit-filled relationship with one another. You’re familiar with the parenting phrase, “Rules without relationship breeds rebellion”, well the same thing is true, and carries even more weight, in our relationships with others as ambassadors for Jesus. Legalism, along with every other culture and context, is destroyed by Spirit-filled relationships, and this is what this chapter and this section of Romans is all about. This morning, we’re examining verses 10-15, but we’ll read together from the beginning of the chapter.
Now, the central focus of the Spirit here is on LOVE. Because you are submitted to Christ and have been transformed into His image, you love one another. Last week, we looked at three character that become a part of who we are when we love one another:
When we love one another: we journey with those stronger and weaker than us
When we love one another: we stop majoring on the minors
When we love one another: we recognize that we are a servant of all and a master of none.
This morning, we continue to look at this idea of what true, biblical, Spirit-filled transformative love does for us in our relationships with one another. In addition to these three character traits, we also:
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that we will be judged not for someone else’s actions, but for our attitude.
It is one thing to know that something is true, but it is another thing entirely for your life to reflect that truth. In other words, when people examine our lives, it is obvious to them just by observing us that the central issue for the Christ-follower is a surrender of my heart to Jesus and not a policing to ensure that your heart is surrendered.
Look at verses 11-13 with me. It says:
“we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
God wants you to know, or be reminded, that you will give an account of you and of no one else. The most difficult aspect of this part of the Christian life is that you will not only give an account of our thoughts, words, and actions, but also you will give an account for the deep state of your heart toward others and their thoughts, words, and actions.
For example, if someone is dressed in a way, or talks in a way, or markets themselves in a way that absolutely repulses me, the only account I will give to God is an account my heart toward them. Did we immediately pass judgment on them? You will have to answer to God for that, and the sooner you repent of your judgmental spirit the better.
I can remember vividly one time when I was working hard in a particular ministry to bless people and show them Jesus, and not only did no one seem to notice my hard work, but they seem to be completely unchanged by it. A hard, judgmental spirit came from within me and I began to complain about these people: these ungrateful, selfish, hard-hearted people…and the Lord spoke to my heart and convicted me. “Who are you serving?” “I’m serving you, Lord!” “Are you?” “I’m sorry, Lord. Forgive me and thank you for speaking to me. Help me to continue to listen.”
When we run into someone in Wal-Mart, and we pass them on the street, or they come into our church, and they don’t look, or dress, or act in a way that we see as proper or acceptable, we will give an account of our heart towards them. Wake up, church, Paul says! Love one another in this way.
When the Spirit of God is at work in our hearts to teach us this truth, we reflect another incredible truth that we see here in this passage:
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that sin dwells in a person and not in any material things.
Look here at verses 14-15 again with me:
“I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”
You know, Paul says, the more I meet people the more I am convinced that we have a sin problem and not a “stuff” problem! “Nothing is unclean in itself” can be a hard concept to wrestle with because it pertains to everything in life.
Money is not the problem; alcohol is not the problem; marijuana is not the problem; policies are not the problem; people’s clothes are not the problem; nothing is unclean in itself for everyone. In other words, nothing man-made is inherently sinful. We won’t rehash it again, but this ties in directly to what we talked about last week with majoring on the minors. When we recognize that the only “major” is sin, then we are free to love people and lead them to Jesus regardless of their personal stuff or struggles.
So, if people want to dye their hair blue or neon green, have at it! If they want to wear clothes that look absolutely ridiculous, go for it! If they want to have the most bizarre head of hair the world has ever seen, more power to them! If one of my daughters begins to have a serious relationship with someone of a different background or ethnicity, but they clearly are given to Christ, let’s bless them! MINORS.
However, if someone is the most generous person on planet Earth but they are completely lost, it’s time to address that sin in a loving way. If someone is the most upstanding looking citizen in the community but has never met Christ, it’s time for me to focus on making that introduction. Our lives must be a reflection of our understanding that sin dwells in a person and not in any material thing. We major on the majors and trust the Lord to take care of the minors in His will and in His time.
This all ties in to the final point I’d like for you to consider with me this morning, and this is the consummation of these first five truths we’ve looked at.
When we love one another: we don’t destroy each other.
How do we destroy one another? By disregarding what we’ve talked about so far in this chapter: by not walking with others where they are, by majoring on the minors, by ignoring the convictions of others, by judging others for their actions, and by acting like sin in inherent in anything other than the human heart.
This is, in my opinion, the most important point because a failure to recognize this has eternal ramifications. It’s important to understand in this last point that “destroy” doesn’t paint a picture of a nuclear holocaust, or a bombing raid. It paints a picture of our judgment and failure to love as being the final straw which causes someone to walk away from the Lord.
This word “destroy” is always used in the New Testament as referring to those in hell. It’s the word Jesus uses in Matthew 10:28 when he says that we should fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. But, it’s also the same word Jesus uses in Luke 19:10 when He says that He came to “seek and save the lost”. The best definition here is in this passage is to “give over to eternal misery in hell”.
What God is telling us here is heavy: Christ loved this person enough to come and die for them, and we love them so little that we are willing to condemn them to death over something like meat, or drink, or clothes.
This makes the weight of our actions so immeasurably important. We are – you are – as Paul told Timothy, ambassadors for the Kingdom of Christ. As ambassadors, when people look at us, talk to us, watch us, and live with us, they develop an impression – rightly or wrongly – of what the Kingdom of God is like and what our King is like. When we fail to love one another, we must never forget that the eternal consequences could be to cause someone to walk away from Jesus. What a terrible, shameful thing to face on judgment day.
What might this look like?
Mick Noel told the story of his son, while he was a Marine at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, taking some of his friends to a local church. He had been after them for a while to go with him, and they finally relented. When they arrived at the church, they were turned away at the door because their clothes didn’t match up to the dress code. Now, if one of those men walk away from that church and from Jesus for all eternity on account of that person, according to Scripture, it would have been better for him if he had never been born.
Alwyn Wall, who is a pastor in London, told the story of going to a public park and putting on a little concert and doing some open-air preaching. After a couple of weeks, several people came to know Christ and Alwyn wanted to get them plugged into a local church family. The problem was that everywhere they went, the conversations and the sermons always centered on long hair, smoking, wearing “holey jeans”, or some other incredibly minor issue. Now, if one of these new converts walked away from Christ forever on that account, it would have been better for them if they had never been born.
It doesn’t have to be so blatant, though. It could something such as gossip, slander and tearing down someone’s character. You know what I’m talking about, the “guess what I heard” chatter; the “let me tell you what I think” crowd. I personally believe this to be the biggest relational issue in our culture. I talk with so many people who have been wounded by the church because of gossip and passive/aggressive backbiting. People see it or experience it and walk away from church altogether because of it, and in many, many ways I don’t blame them one bit. What a tragically awful testimony and, if we are in that crowd and cause someone to walk away forever, then we better get on our knees and do some serious praying and interceding before both God and man.
It is important to remember, too, that this passage is dealing with those who are weak in the faith, who this who are the most vulnerable. These are those people who are “exploring” Jesus or “exploring” the church. These are those who have been wounded before, and perhaps are just getting up the courage to venture into the family of God for, maybe, the first time in years. We don’t, as this passage tells us, live for ourselves or die for ourselves. We are a servant of all and a master of none, and we must walk with others where they are and not where we are. This is the calling of a disciple.
You don’t have to worry about me! Everyone in my family, or in this fellowship, or in the world could be completely crazy, but my faith in Christ is strong enough that I will be fine. BUT, there are so many people who are skeptical, who are hurting, who are wounded, who – to just set foot inside a church building or the home of a believer – takes an unbelievable amount of courage and vulnerability. We must consider them because their faith is the easiest to shipwreck. Don’t destroy your brother, Paul says, for something as silly as meat.
Is the Spirit of God convicting your heart about this? Does someone come to mind? Someone may come to your mind when you think of those who “destroy” the faith of others, but the question is, “Do you come to someone else’s mind when they consider this question?” We must beg and plead with the God to save those who have been wounded and redeem them from our ignorance and immaturity. Our God is a God of salvation and redemption and, like with Abraham in Exodus 32, appealing to God through fervent prayer can move His hand to deal with people differently and redemptively.
Now, let’s bring this entire discussion full circle. We, as followers and disciples of Jesus, are called to submit to Him and be transformed by Him. A huge part of this involves oozing the joy and love of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, it completely changes our relationships not only with Jesus, but with one another as well. We love one another, and we love one another in a way that causes us to live life in intentional, redemptive, discipling relationships with one another. We walk with those who are weaker than us where they are, and we also walk with those who are stronger than us so that we might be encouraged, equipped, and strengthened to serve Christ and His Kingdom.
When that happens – those intentional, redemptive, discipling relationships – everything changes. A culture of legalism dies and a culture of liberalism dies. Judgment ceases to exist amongst one another and the family of God transforms into the salt and light we were called and set apart by our Lord to be. However, if these relationships don’t exist, then legalism will thrive, passing our subjective judgment will be the norm, and a deadly cycle of destroying one another – relegating others to eternal misery in hell – will kill the church. “WAKE UP”, says the Spirit of God. REPENT, says Jesus. You walk personally with Jesus and be an ambassador for Jesus.
Let’s go before the Lord.
In recent weeks, we have been examining the challenging message of this section of Romans, which is the message of the all Scripture: LOVE! In Romans 9-11, Paul talks about the deep love he has for the Israelites and how profoundly he wants them to turn to Jesus. “I would take their place in hell”, he says, if that would drive them to Jesus. Do we love anywhere close to that depth?
Then, in Romans 12, we are urged to surrender all of who we are to Jesus – completely, entirely, and without reservation – to be used for eternal purposes by the One who created us for His glory. When this happens, love becomes sincere, we honor one another above ourselves, and we serve Christ and His Kingdom with hope and joy. This love also changes how we interact with others. Romans 13 opens by talking about subjection and submission to authority, which is a natural outflow of the love of Christ. Then, as we looked at last week, this love is a continual debt which is never paid off, and which comprises everything about who we are as believers: love, for us, is our very DNA. So, now, we come to the next development of that thought as we read Romans 13:11 – Romans 14:9. Let’s read it together.
Now, there’s a lot here, and all of it is integral to the Christian life, so I’m begging and pleading with you to pay attention and listen to Jesus this morning. A few weeks ago, when we talked about division and disunity in the church and what a problem and issue it is, this exact same topic came up, and here we see that even 2,000 years ago, Christians were fighting about this they simply shouldn’t be fighting about it and it was harming the Body. The mission of Christ and the power of the church were suffering due to the opinions of God’s people. Sound familiar?
Now, what is really fascinating is how this whole passage ties in together to the Christian life as well as the second coming of Christ. Verse 11 says for us to “do this, understanding the present time.” It is imperative, Paul says, that we WAKE UP!
IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP! “Wake up from your slumber,” says the Holy Spirit, “because the night is nearly over.” As an Alliance congregation, we believe that Christ is our Coming King, and that, because our King is returning for us, we need to wake up and “put on the armor of light” as Paul says in verse 12. This is reflected in the Alliance statement of faith regarding the second coming of Christ. We believe that “the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ…is the believer’s blessed hope and is a vital truth which is an incentive to holy living and faithful service.” This is a sermon in and of itself, which we talked about three years ago at this point. I’ll be happy to provide that sermon to you if you want to listen to it again. But, the larger point in which this is nested is that this whole idea of “putting on the armor of light” and “behaving decently” is an incredibly urgent matter and one which changes the way we live and interact with one another. Here are just a few things, from this passage, that transform when we love Christ and one another with this Spirit-driven love.
WHEN WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER: WE JOURNEY WITH THOSE STRONGER AND WEAKER THAN US.
One of Jesus’ greatest characteristics – and one of the most appreciated by humanity – is that He meets you where you are. If you think of who you were and where you were when you came to Jesus, you were, in many ways, a mess! And yet, like the little boy with the bread and fish, Jesus said, “Oh, I can work with this.”
Likewise, says that Holy Spirit through, Paul, we are called to love in that same way. Is someone weaker in the faith than you? Then you need to come down to their level and walk with them for a while. Are you weaker than someone else? Then you need to be constantly walking with them in order to grow in your faith. This is simply a picture of a family, isn’t it? Children need help with things for a while before they can do it themselves: walk, reaching cereal on the top shelf, making macaroni and cheese, and so on until they are independent and helping others with those tasks which they once needed help with. A physical family, like a church family, needs the wisdom of the elderly, the strength of youth, and the life of a child. This is exactly what verse one means when it says that we are to “accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”
Another example of this principle in action comes from what the United States did with their ships in World War II:
“In the early days of World War II, German U-boats attacked Allied ships traveling from the East Coast to Europe. To remedy this, they traveled in large convoys. But, the convoys could only travel as fast as the slowest boat. So, the faster boats slowed down to the speed of the slowest boat in order that they all might be protected from attack.”
Who are you walking with? It’s difficult to criticize someone when their struggles become your struggles, and their victories become yours. God may well be calling you to walk with and protect someone of weaker faith, or to walk with someone stronger than you to grow.
Don’t miss this, too, though: when we walk with others in love, something else transformative happens.
WHEN WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER: WE STOP MAJORING ON THE MINORS.
Look again at verse one, “accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” This is really a central idea of Paul’s message, and we know it’s a principle and not one issue because he gives two examples: eating meat and worshipping on different days.
The issue of the day was meat which was offered to idols and was, therefore, cheaper to buy. You had some in the church who had no personal conviction about buying and eating those meats, but others who were obviously deeply convicted about that. The same was true for worshipping on different days in that culture: Saturday was the Sabbath for Jews, while the early church met on Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection. People were fighting about meats and veggies, and days of worship. Now, not much has changed in the past 2,000 years, has it?
The church has always struggled – and always will struggle – with “majoring on the minors” because of our human depravity. Because of our depraved nature, we want to conform everyone to think like us, and live like us, and our sinful nature, like Adam and Eve, desires to be “god-like” and persuade everyone else that our convictions are to be honored above everyone else’s. The consequences for this are severe, because verse three says that when we major on the minors that we are, essentially, telling God that, even though in His judgment He has accepted them, that we really know that they should be condemned. Our heart places us above God: majoring on the minors makes us idolaters in the worst way.
This failure to love causes the church and the mission of God to suffer. I came across this story earlier in the week which, I think, communicates the effect of “majoring on the minors”.
I once heard a story of a poor, simple woman who visited an upper class, sophisticated church. After attending for some time, she applied for membership in the church. Her application was rejected. She sent a second one a few months later, which was also rejected. After a third and a fourth, she went to the chairman of the membership committee and said, “Why are my applications being rejected?” “You need to go home and pray,” answered the chairman. “And I think the Lord will show you what the real issues are.”
A few years later, the chairman saw her scrubbing floors in a hotel lobby and said to her, “You haven’t made application for membership lately. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen you in church at all. Tell me, when I sent you home to pray, did God speak to you?” “Why, yes,” answered the woman, “He did. He told me not to feel bad about being rejected because He tried to join your church for twenty years before He finally gave up.”
Now, we may not be fighting over meat and vegetables, but we have our own minors that we major on. We divide ourselves among matters that are all too often a deep, personal conviction we have but that become the soapbox upon which we stand and push others away because they don’t share the same conviction.
I’ll give you several examples of what this looks like today, and remember, these are all examples of “majoring on the minors” which reveal a lack of love in one area or another.
One minor which often gets majored on is what church looks like. It’s interesting when you talk to missionaries from around the world, or people from other American cultures and listen to what church looks like in their context. I remember when Jimbo was here a couple of years ago and he mentioned what his average week as a missionary was like: soccer games, coffee shops, and evening Bible studies in their living room. That is church. In the ever-changing world in which we live, there often aren’t “weekends” for people; many people work in the evenings or on Saturday and Sunday. Yet, all too often an argument will arise if someone is not at “church” during service times. If we don’t see someone in the two-hour block we are at church, we assume they must not be at church at all. Scripture tells us clearly what the church does (prayer, studying Scripture, breaking of bread, fellowship) but never prescribes how that is to be done, and yet we fight over the how at the expense of the doing.
Terri, my mother-in-law, told me of when they lived in Europe and had to drive an hour-and-a-half to get to church. This was a Baptist church back in the 80’s, so you had a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night service. Well, people would drive for 90 minutes to get there and then just have to sit around all afternoon with their kids until the Sunday night service. One afternoon, a friend remarked sarcastically, “well…another day of rest…” Their inability to change the how made the doing a big burden.
Another issue that I have always found interesting is that of smoking and drinking. When I was young, smoking or drinking were pretty much automatic tickets to hell! Now, nowhere in Scripture are either of those things forbidden to believers, but oftentimes we make them both pre-requisites for joining God’s family. Are these bad convictions to have? Not at all! We just must remember that they are personal convictions which others are not mandated by God to follow. When we take these deep personal convictions and project them onto others, we take a disputable matter and use it as a cattle prod to push others away unnecessarily. Christian love majors on the majors and leaves latitude on the minors.
Another example is the “Billy Graham Rule”. Billy Graham had a personal rule that he would never, under any circumstances, be alone with a woman; not in an elevator, a cab, a restaurant, anywhere. Now, this is not a bad rule at all, but it was a deep and well-thought out personal conviction of Billy Graham but nowhere in Scripture. And yet, many people take this personal conviction and make it a requirement for serving Jesus. I was told by someone who graduated from Bob Jones University that they had such a rule for their students. Well, one night a young man passed a young woman in the pouring down rain on the side of the road. He was by himself and she was by herself. He left her standing in the pouring rain on the side of the road because this rule was a requirement of this Christian school. We must not major on the minors.
One more which came up during the course of my week was the issue of giving. I was talking with someone and they asked me how they should calculate how much they give: should it be from their gross or from their net? I thought for a minute, and responded that verse eight here says something that goes upstream of our giving: “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.” To think in terms of gross or net is not the real issue, but the real issue is: are you submitted entirely to the Lord, to include 100% of the assets He gives you? Jesus condemned the Pharisees for carefully measuring out a tenth of their spices, but neglecting the very foundations of law: justice, mercy, grace, and so on. When Jesus was questioned about paying taxes, He replied that we should give Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God. The implication there is that just as coins have the image of Caesar on them, so is the image of God on you; all of you belongs to God. So, as much as I would like to answer that question of how much should I give, and to where should I give it, the Bible doesn’t specifically address that issue, but it does cover the topic by saying that everything belongs to God. So, offer it all to Him and obey, just as Jesus told the rich, young ruler to do.
To argue and divide over such issues is no different than arguing over meats and veggies. We may have deep, personal convictions about such issues, but we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit there and understand that others may have equally deep convictions from the Holy Spirit which are different from ours. And that is part of the beauty of the body of Christ!
Now, one final principle that we see here ties into the issues of our convictions and our love for one another, and that is this:
WHEN WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER: WE RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE A SERVANT OF ALL AND A MASTER OF NONE.
Verse 4 phrases it this way: “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.”
In other words, what Paul is saying here is that if that someone you judge were your servant, then that judgment would be fine. But, such is not the case. The servant answers to the master, and you are not the master. You are a servant, as are we all.
What’s interesting about this is that it shows us how often we think of ourselves as the master and others as the servant. Again, the thought is that our sinful nature craves to be god-like, and this comes out in our judgment. But, every Christian answers to Christ, and no Christian answers to you.
Now, what’s interesting is how this relates to our convictions. Convictions, verse 5 tells us, are largely a personal matter, but that is not where the buck stops. For example, both Romans 1 and the end of chapter 13 here lay out some convictions that must be shared by all believers. Certain lifestyles and behavior patterns are universally and objectively unacceptable: orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension and jealousy, for example (Romans 13). However, for those other “gray area” convictions, we must honor the personal convictions of others and not just our own.
Consider this with me: our own convictions are not the final guideline for our life, but we must also walk with others according to their convictions. This is all part of the theology of verse seven, “None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” What does this look like in the practice of Christian community?
Well, let’s just consider some of those “gray area” convictions I mentioned earlier. Let’s look at what is perhaps, in our culture, the most troublesome: drinking. Drunkenness is clearly a sin in any circumstances by any person at any time. However, one person may have no personal convictions about drinking wine with dinner in the confines of their own home, while their neighbor may have deep personal convictions about ever sipping a single drop of alcohol. What is the Christian to do here? As a part of walking with one another at different levels and honoring one another as more important than ourselves, the love of both individuals comes out in honoring the convictions of the other. The one who has deep personal convictions about drinking alcohol is bound by Spirit-filled love to not pass judgment on his brother, and the one who has no convictions refrains from waving the liberty he has in Christ in the face of his brother. In other words, in honoring others above yourself, you lovingly respect those with convictions narrower than your own as well as those with convictions broader than your own.
The Christian life is not a life of solitude; we are not an army of one. We are one part of a large body, all following the same Head, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. The more we argue over silly, trivial, insignificant, disputable matters, the more it reveals about all the ways in which we do not understand or practice Christian love. There is such variety in the Body of Christ, and that is only one small part of what makes it so glorious.
So, if you have deep personal convictions which you constantly force on others, you need to repent. Or, if you have broader personal convictions and you pass judgment on those with narrower convictions than yourself, you need to repent. Through the power of the Holy Spirit of God, let us reconcile ourselves to Christ and to one another and show the world who our God is and how He loves. Pray with me.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.