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.