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.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.