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