Forum Class December 21, 2003
(The chapter division for Chapter 15 is in the wrong place. 14:1 through 15:13 is a better division)
The overall concern here is about the unity of the Body of Christ.
The issues we are not to judge are peripheral issues. The dietary rules, tithing, keeping the Sabbath and special days from the OT do not carry over into the New Covenant (Colossians 2).
The moral code is still intact from the Old Covenant: Sexual immorality, lying, stealing, drunkenness, lawless behavior, gossip, slander, hypocrisy are still wrong. These issues in the church need to be treated as illustrated in Matthew 18. God "disciplines (scourges) every son whom he receives." This the work of God the Father individually in every believer.
There are central core issues of belief that constitute mainstream orthodoxy--these we defend: The nature of Christ as God and man, the virgin birth, the Fall, the depravity of man, the character of God as just, holy and merciful (etc.) "Sound doctrine" is something we all should be concerned with. "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." (Titus 1:9) "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when men will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:2-5). (We are defending absolutes in a Postmodern age of moral relativism)
God does not make clones. The world produces conformity to arbitrary standards; God likes diversity, variety, and contrast.
Frances Schaefer frequently talked about "the chasm." He as speaking of the great gulf between a believer and an unbeliever--not about a gulf separating Christians.
Some Christians don't attend church. Are we better than they?
Some Christians are Lutherans or Methodists or even Roman Catholics. We must not be doctrinal snobs.
Some Christians know the Bible less well than others. God will judge them based on what they do know--and on their "works." (Romans 2). The life of the church is expressed by teaching and by service. Do we excel in both?
"Our church" just might be a cultural ghetto. A whole community of Christians can easily become self-righteous.
In any church some are not yet Christians, others are new Christians, others in various stages of growth.
God has no grandchildren, He raises every son or daughter personally and individually. "Don't meddle with God's kids."
God has wide-ranging tastes in music, art, and literature.
Christians in other parts of the world have different customs and traditions. Our ways are not necessarily better.
God is working on different areas in each of our lives at different times as he unravels the tangled ball of twine. His long-term goal for us is wholeness in Christ not moral perfection.
Some Christians are poor and live on the wrong side of the tracks. Many today come from broken families or dysfunctional families and may been "reparenting." The work of the church includes much damage control, repair and rebuilding.
Some Christians grew up in a culture different than mine. Living with Christians in foreign lands is very valuable and broadening! Meeting Christians from other cultures is probably the best way to see ourselves better.
I usually do not know the full story of another person's life. What have they been through? Where is the other person coming from?
The Body of Christ is non-hierarchical. There is no one "over you" in the Lord. Our job is edifying one another not lording it over people, not controlling them as the cults like to do.
Each believer is accountable to God one at a time. (the Judgment Seat of Christ). God keeps perfect records. We do not have all the facts--He does. We each get all the grace we need,
Matthew 12:36, 37 says, "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
God saves others by grace the same way he saves you. God is much more patient and longsuffering than we are. He gives each of us lots of slack.
God accepts each of us "as is." That is how he accepted you. Can we allow Him to accept others the same way? We each need grace every day probably even more, than ever.
"To whom much is given much is expected." If I want to judge someone, I should judge myself. "If we judge ourselves we should not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31)
"Man looks on the outer appearance, but God looks upon the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) We do not know the motives of others which lead to their actions. God told Isaiah to walk naked and barefooted in ancient Israel for example. (Isaiah 20:2)
Matthew 7:1-5: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Because of the mechanism psychologists call "projection" we often see what are really our faults as if these faults resided in others).
People who think they are "strong" Christians may merely have become self-righteous.
In any case God Himself is the Defense Attorney for the "weaker brother," and the weaker brother "will be upheld."
God's standards are servant-based. Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; "but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:35-45)
Keep a low profile, and "stay below the radar." Our model is the life of Jesus.
Am I edifying and encouraging others, or am I putting them down and hindering their growth?
Christians need to take into account how their actions affect others and adjust to that.
We are a family all traveling together across the desert towards the same heavenly city. The entire family in the wagon train matters--not just one individual.
Legalism, by Ray Stedman: http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/misc/legal.html
Worldliness, by Ray Stedman: http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/misc/worldly.html
Finding the Will of God, by Ray Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/misc/will.html
The Judgment Seat of Christ: http://www.ldolphin.org/Jseat.html
Romans notes and audio for this class are at http://ldolphin.org/romans/
December 19, 2003.
Forum Class for December 21, 2003
Notes from Ray Stedman:
ON TRYING TO CHANGE OTHERS
We are back in the fourteenth chapter of Romans this morning, and we are going to be discussing the favorite indoor sport of Christians, that is, trying to change each other. As this passage indicates, this has been a major problem in the church for centuries. All through the history of the church, the problem arises from the attitude that most of us share, I am sure, that God is clearly pleased with the way we live -- but there are those others around. They drink beer and play cards; they go to movies; they smoke cigars; they work on Sundays; they wear lipstick; they dance; they play musical instruments; they use zippers instead of buttons. There is an endless list of things that can be included, debatable matters that the church has never been able to settle because of a misunderstanding of the principles that are set forth here in this very passage.
We are dealing, of course, with the problem of Christian taboos, all the no-no's of the Christian life that we encounter from place to place, and from time to time. We are facing the question of how much fellowship you can have with somebody who lives in a different way than you do, who does things that you do not approve of as a Christian.
This is the problem of Christian ethics, the problem of so-called legalistic behavior, and this passage is a rather extensive one, which indicates the extent of the problem. The passage runs all the way through Chapter 14, and through the first fourteen verses of Chapter 15. But we are not going to try to cover all that this morning. I want to look at just the introduction to it and to see the principle that will lead us to a solution of this problem. I think it is very important to note that this whole section dealing with this problem is part of an extended commentary of the Apostle Paul on the command of Jesus to love one another. This is part of how you love one another, and this has been the subject ever since the apostle turned to the practical part of this letter, from Chapter 12 on. In fact, in Chapter 12 he tells us two things about love: First, love must be serving. That is its nature; love serves. That is why we are given spiritual gifts, so that we might serve one another. Paul emphasizes that in Chapter 12. Second, he tells us that love must be genuine. It cannot be phony or sham; it cannot be "put-on" love. It has to be real. Then, in Chapter 13, we learn that love must be submissive, especially to the authorities, to the state, and the powers that be, because they are put there by God. And in the latter part of Chapter 13, Paul tells us that love must be universal; we owe love to everyone without exception. "Owe no man anything, but to love one another," (Rom 13:8a KJV). That is a universal debt which we must continually be paying to everyone we meet. Now, in Chapter 14, we learn that love must be patient and tolerant of other people's views. It begins with our actions towards someone whom we regard as less enlightened than ourselves. Think about who that is for a moment and then listen to what Paul says to do about it (Verse 1):
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (Rom 14:1 NIV)
That is very plain, isn't it? Do not reject him; do not ignore him; do not treat him in a second-class way. Accept him, but not for the purpose of arguing with him. Do not accept him in order to debate with him, but "without passing judgment on disputable matters."
To accept him, of course, means that regardless of where you may struggle with someone and about what you may struggle, you must realize that they are brothers and sisters in the family of God, if they are Christians at all. You did not make them part of the family -- the Lord did. Therefore, you are to accept them because they are your brothers and sisters. And you are not to accept them with the idea of immediately straightening them out in the areas in which they are weak. I think that is a very necessary, practical admonition because many of us love to argue and sometimes the first thing we want to do is straighten somebody out.
I remember years ago when, after preaching from this platform on a Sunday night, a man came up to me and started talking in a rather roundabout way. He said, "Let me ask you something. Do you believe that two Christians who love the Lord and are led by the Holy Spirit will read a passage of Scripture and both come out believing the same thing?" I said, "Yes, I think that sounds logical." "Well," he said, "can you explain why, when I read the passage you preached on tonight, I believe it teaches there will be no millennium, but when you read it, you believe there is going to be one. What do you think of that?" Being young and aggressive I said, "Well, I think it means that I believe the Bible and you do not." That immediately precipitated an argument and, with several other people gathered around, we went at it hammer and tongs for an hour or so. Afterwards, thinking it through, I realized how wrong I was. I had immediately started arguing. I had to write to that brother and tell him that I was sorry I had jumped on him like that. Of course, he had jumped on me, too, but that was his problem, not mine. I had to straighten out my problem, so I apologized to him and said, "I am sorry that I did not recognize the parts where we agree before we got on to those things over which we differ."
Paul wants us to understand that this is what we are to do. First of all, accept people, let them know that you see them as a brother or a sister. Establish the boundaries of your relationship by some gesture or word of acceptance so they do not feel that you are attacking them immediately. The Greek here says not to accept them in order to argue about your differences, or, as the New English Bible puts it, "without attempting to settle doubtful points." First, let there be a basic recognition that you belong to one another. Paul goes on to define more precisely the areas of debate that he has in view here in Verse 2:
One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. (Rom 14:2 NIV)
Did you hear that, you vegetarians? This is not dealing with nutrition, of course. This arises out of the background of the early church in which there was a real moral question about eating meat. Not only were there the Jewish restrictions against certain forms of meat -- Jews did not eat pork, and even beef and lamb had to be kosher -- but it had to be slain in a certain way. So a Jew, or even one raised as a Jew, after he became a Christian, always had great emotional difficulty in eating meat. I still wonder what the Apostle Paul's reaction was when, as a Christian, he was first handed a ham sandwich. I think he ate it, but I do not know what his feeling about it was. He may have struggled at that point.
Then there was the problem in Rome and in other pagan Greek and Roman cities about the matter of eating meat that had been offered to idols. Some Christians said that if you did that it was tantamount to worshipping that idol. You were no different than the people who worshipped and believed in the idol, and therefore, it placed a stigma on your faith to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Other Christians said, "Oh, no. How can that be? Meat is meat. The fact that someone else thinks of it as offered to idols does not mean that I have to." In these pagan cities the best meat was sold in the butcher shop next to the temple because that is where the sacrifices were sold to the populace, who bought it without any question. So there was a real problem in the church.
As in every area of this type, there were two viewpoints. There was a liberal, broad viewpoint that said it was perfectly all right to do this, and a stricter, narrower viewpoint that said it was wrong to do this. It really does not make any difference what you are arguing about if it is in this area that is debatable -- something about which the Scriptures themselves do not speak -- then you always get this two-fold division. You can put many of the modern problems that we have into this category. Should you drink wine and beer; should you go to the movies; should you dance; what about card-playing; what about work on Sunday? Some of the things I have already mentioned fall into this category.
Let us be very clear that there are areas that Scripture speaks about that are not debatable at all. It is always wrong to be drunk. It is always wrong to commit adultery or fornicate. These things are clearly wrong. In both the Old and New Testaments, God has spoken, he has judged, in these areas. Christians are exhorted to rebuke and exhort and reprove one another, and, if necessary, even discipline one another according to patterns set out in the Scriptures. This is not judging each other in those areas. The Word of God has judged; it has already pronounced what is wrong.
But there are all those other areas that are left open, and the amazing thing to me, and the significant thing here, is that Scripture always leaves those open. Paul will not give a "yes" or "no" answer about some of these things because God does not do so. There is an area, in other words, where God wants to leave it up to the individual as to what he or she does. And, as we see later on, he expects it to be based upon a deep conviction of that individual. But it is up to them. This is the area Paul is talking about here. It is also clear that he calls the "liberal party" strong in the faith, while the "narrow party" is regarded as being weak in the faith.
I point out that the translation that I am reading from, the New International Version of the New Testament, is wrong in Verse 1 where it translates: "Accept him whose faith is weak." It has nothing to do with the strength or weakness of the individual's faith. It is not talking about someone whose faith is weak. It is talking about someone who is weak in the faith. The problem is doctrinal here. The problem is that he does not understand truth. Remember, Jesus himself said,
"If anyone continue in my word, he shall be my disciple indeed and he shall know the truth and the truth will set him free," (cf, John 8:31-32 KJV).
Therefore, the mark of understanding truth is freedom; it is liberty. That is why Paul calls the person who understands truth clearly one who is strong in the faith, while those who do not understand it clearly are weak in the faith. They do not understand the delivering character of truth. I think William Barclay in his commentary on Romans has handled this well. He says:
Such a man is weak in the faith for two reasons: (i) He has not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; he is at heart still a legalist; he sees Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations. His whole aim is to govern his life by a series of laws and observances; he is indeed frightened of Christian freedom and Christian liberty.
(ii) He has not yet liberated himself from a belief in the efficacy of works. In his heart he believes that he can gain God's favor by doing certain things and abstaining from doing others. Basically he is still trying to earn a right relationship with God, and has not yet accepted the way of grace. He is still thinking of what he can do for God more than of what God has done for him.
That is the problem here. It is the problem of a Christian who is not yet understanding fully the freedom that Christ has brought him, who struggles with these kinds of things, and who feels limited in his ability to indulge or to use some of these things -- while others feel free to do so. One is strong in the faith; the other is called weak in the faith. Every church has these groups. We have them right here. Paul puts his finger precisely on the natural attitudes which each group would have toward each other that must be avoided if we are going to accept one another as he says. In Verse 3 you have that:
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, (Rom 14:3a NIV)
That is the first thing. In other words, the strong must not reject the one who is still struggling, who is still weak. The word look down here is really a word that means "push him out." The strong must not push him out; they must not exclude him. That involves several things: First, it means that he must not think about him in a disdainful or contemptuous way. He must not let himself look down on these people.
I think this is a tendency that some of us have who feel that we are free in certain of these areas. We tend to regard those who are not yet free as weaklings, which in some sense they are. But we are not to regard them as deliberately so, as if it is their own fault that they are that way. Thus we get offended when they do not behave as freely as we think they should. This is wrong. Paul says, "The strong must not reject the weak." You must not think wrongly about him. You must not say wrong things about him. You must not ridicule him.
Someone has defined a legalist as someone who lives in mortal terror that someone, somewhere, is enjoying himself. But we must not think of legalists that way, because that is not the motivation that governs them and creates legalism in their attitude. There is another reason and, therefore, we must limit ourselves to that, and not think of them as motivated simply because they want to spoil it for everyone else.
We are not to exclude these people from our contacts with one another. We must not form little cliques within the church that shut out people from social fellowship with people who have different viewpoints. We must not think of our group as being set free while this group over here is very narrow and we have nothing to do with them. This is wrong, and Paul clearly says so. In fact, he implies that if any of the so-called strong exclude weaker brothers, look down on them, treat them as though they are second-class Christians, they have simply proved that they are just as weak in the faith as the ones they have denied. Strength in the faith means more than understanding truth. It means living in a loving way with those who are weak: The truly strong in the faith will never put down those who are still struggling. On the other hand, the apostle goes on:
...the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. (Rom 14:3b NIV)
Here is the other side of it. Those who struggle must not look down on those who have freedom in these areas. Those who think it is morally wrong for a Christian to drink wine or beer must not look down on those who feel free to do so. They must not judge them. The word condemn means "to sit in judgment" on them and it involves several things: It involves, first, no criticizing of such people or censoring of them. We are not to go up to them and tell them, "I do not see how you can be a Christian and do things like that." That has nothing to do with being a Christian. Their Christianity is established on grounds other than those. It means no categorizing of such people, no classifying them as carnal Christians or reproving or rebuking them. In these areas we have no rights to reprove or rebuke. The church has no authority in these areas. It means no legislating against them; no imposing of behavioral standards or codes without the agreement of all those who are affected by them. These are areas in which the Scriptures say we are to make up our own minds and we are to go along only with that with which we agree. Now, there are sometimes good reasons for limitations. We will go into some of them as we get further into this section next week. But they must be reasons which the individual accepts and makes. They are not to be imposed upon him by others, that is the point. What has happened often in the church is that those who are weak in the faith, i.e., those who do not fully understand the freedom in Christ, are the majority party and they often make artificial standards for Christians and impose them on everybody who comes into the church, with the implication that you really cannot be a Christian unless you do these things or do not do these things.
That has given rise to a tremendous distortion of Christianity in the eyes of the world. It has given rise to the idea that Christianity is a "do not do something" idea, a "don't" religion. This distorts the freedom that is the message of the gospel. It propagates the feeling that Christianity is a set of rules to be obeyed, and the freedom of the sons of God is denied. The world therefore, gets a totally false idea of what the church is all about. This has happened widely in our day and for the most part, I think, the "narrow party" has triumphed in the evangelical churches. This is why many people will not touch the church with a 25-foot pole, even though they are fantastically interested in the gospel. They see the church as having imposed standards and rules of conduct that have nothing to do with the Scriptures. These are artificial regulations that only the church has brought about.
Now, as a fourth main point, we come to the reason that governs this kind of conduct. It is set forth in Verses 4-12, and it is the central part of this section. The apostle sets forth three great facts, all supporting and explaining the great principle involved. The first reason why you must not look down on the weak or judge or condemn the strong is because it is not your responsibility to change your brother in this area. He is not your servant. This is what Paul says in Verse 4:
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. (Rom 14:4 NIV)
That is very plain, is it not? The reason we are not to judge each other is that we are not responsible for one another's conduct in this area. Such responsibility is not defined in the Scriptures. This is an open area that each one has to decide before God, and, therefore, we have no responsibility to change each other and no authority to do so.
He is not your servant, Paul says; the Lord chose him. The Lord, then, is the one responsible to change him. The Lord chose him without asking you or me. Half of you would not be here if I were choosing you! Oh, I do not know about that. I do not know you that well. But I did not choose you, therefore I do not have to change you either. Nor do you have to change me. We are not responsible for each other in this area.
The thing Paul brings out (Verse 4) is that the man under consideration is being changed. He is on his way to standing. He will stand, Paul says. Stand, of course, means that he will be straightened out if he is doing wrong in this area. If it is really wrong, God will straighten him out and it is not up to you to do it. This is why I enjoy so much that little pin that Bill Gothard gives out with the letters PBPGINFWMY, i.e., "Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet." We are all in the process of change. The Lord is doing it, and he will do it. He is changing us, and if we will just wait a little while we can see some of the changes. Now, if the problem is one of not understanding truth, the solution is teaching the truth more plainly. As people hear it and understand it, they will be freed from this. To try to force them into some kind of compliance with something they yet do not understand is ridiculous and futile. Therefore, be patient. If they are being exposed to truth, they will change. Let the Lord change them; it is his responsibility. Not only will he do so, but he is perfectly able to do so. God is able to do it. I like Phillips' translation here. He says, "God is well able to transform men into servants who are satisfactory." That is exactly what Paul is relying on here.
Now, if the first point is that it is not your responsibility to change these people, the second one is that God is reading the heart and he sees something that you cannot see about them (Verses 5-8):
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord, and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 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. (Rom 14:5-8 NIV)
That is a very impressive point. What Paul is saying is that God can read hearts and you cannot. These distinctions and differences of viewpoint arise out of honest conviction which God sees, even though you cannot. Therefore, the individual is not simply being difficult because he does not agree with you. He is acting on the basis of what he feels is right, so give him the benefit of the doubt on that. Believe that he is as intent on being real before God and true to him as you are, and if he feels able to indulge in some of these things you think are not right, then at least see him as doing so because he really feels that God is not displeased with him on that basis. Or, if he does feel limited and he feels he should not do certain things, do not get upset with him because he has not moved into freedom yet. Remember that he really feels that God would be displeased if he did those things; it is an honest conviction. The apostle makes clear here that every man should have that kind of a conviction, if he acts this way. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own heart," (Rom 14:4b KJV).
Do not just act from tradition, because you were brought up that way or because you just feel it is right. Find some reason in the Scripture for it. Seek justification out of the Word of God. You may change your mind as your understanding of truth develops, but at least let it be on the ground of a conviction of the heart and of the mind.
The next thing Paul says is that God sees both of these men and both of these viewpoints as honoring him. The one who thinks Sunday is a special day that ought to be kept different from all other days is doing so as unto the Lord, therefore honor that, respect that viewpoint. The one who says, "No. When we are in Christ, days do not mean anything. They are not set aside for any special purpose. Therefore, I feel every day is alike, and I want to honor the Lord on every day." Okay, do not feel upset at that. He is doing so out of a deep conviction of his heart.
The one who drinks beer gives thanks to God for the refreshment of it and the taste of it, and it is perfectly proper that he does so. The one who says, "No. I cannot drink beer. I only drink coffee," gives thanks for the coffee. The coffee may do as much physical harm as the beer, but, in either case, it is not a moral question. It is a question of what the heart is doing in the eyes of God. Sometimes we are too harsh with one another in these areas.
I heard some time ago of a girl who was a converted nightclub singer, a fresh, new Christian, who was asked to sing at a church meeting. She wanted to do her very best for the Lord whom she had come to love, and so she dressed up the best way she knew how and she sang a song that she thought was expressive of her faith. She did it in the 'torchy' style of the nightclub singer. Somebody came up to her afterwards and just ripped into her and said, "How can you sing a song like that and claim to be a Christian? God could never be happy with a Christian who dresses the way you do, and to sing in that kind of a nightclub style must be offensive to him." The poor girl was so taken back, she just stood there for a minute, and she broke into tears, and turned and ran. Now, that was a wrong and hurtful thing to do to her. Granted, later on she might have changed her style, but God has the right to change her, not you. Her heart was right and God saw the heart and honored it. I think that was something he was pleased with, not displeased. We must remember that we are not to make distinctions where God would not.
The last thing Paul says in this area is that our relationship with one another is more important than our life style (Verses 7, 8): "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Basically, what Paul is saying there is simply that living is liberty and dying is limitation. In the context, this is surely what this means. He is not talking about funerals, and life and death in that sense. He is talking about those who feel free to enjoy liberty to the fullest. They are living, while others, because of deep convictions of their own, limit themselves, and to that degree they are dying, because death is limitation.
"But whether we live," Paul says, "or whether we die, that is not the important thing. The important thing is that we belong to the Lord. He understands." That, therefore, is what we ought to remember in our relationships with one another. We belong to the Lord. We are brothers and sisters. We are not servants of each other. We are servants of the Lord and he has the right to change us. The third and final fact that supports this governing principle is that Christ alone has won the right to judge (Verse 9):
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As I live,' says the Lord, 'Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:9-12 NIV)
That is clearly stating the fact, again, that the Lord alone has the right to judge us in these areas and he has the ability to do so because he has been involved in both death and life. He died, so he knows what ultimate and utter limitation is. He gave himself up to death and he deliberately restricted himself in many things so that he knows what that is like. And he lives, so he is free to do anything and everything that he desires, and he knows what that is like. Therefore, he alone has won the right to judge us. He understands us both.
So Paul says, "Stop trying to take his place. Stop trying to be Christ to the rest of the church or playing God to each other. You, the weak, why do you judge your brother? And you, the strong, why do you look down on your brother? It is wrong. You are trying to take Christ's place when you do that. But remember that all of us, men and women alike, all brothers and sisters together, must individually stand before God's judgment seat."
This is true in both a present and future sense. There is a sense in which we are before him all the time and we have to give an account to him and to him alone. But there is also coming a day that Paul mentions in First Corinthians 4, where he says, "The Lord returns and brings to light all the hidden things of the heart," (cf, 1 Cor 4:5). All the things that we thought nobody ever saw will be brought out to the light. We must then give an account to the Lord. That is where we stand. Again, Paul sums up everything in the first part: We are not servants of each other; we are brothers and sisters; we are all struggling; we are all in the process; we are all subject to change; we are all trying to understand truth more clearly as we go on and we are all being freed by it. But, in the process, the only one who has a right to do anything about it is the Lord. So stop judging each other in these areas. That is what Paul is saying.
There are other things we need to explore in this area and later in the section, which we will take up next week, Paul goes further into them to show us how we are to carry them out. But here is the great principle: In these areas, we are to quit judging one another. Quit treating each other with disdain and contempt and ridicule and separating from one another. We are to love one another and show it by accepting one another.
THE RIGHT TO YIELD
In our study in Romans 14, we are facing again the troublesome question of different views on such matters as dietary restrictions (whether it is all right to eat meat at certain times or days, or whether we should be free from that); on ritual regulations (such as observance of Sunday or other special days, such as Lent); on ceremonies; and especially, personal preferences in the matter of drinking wine and beer and alcohol, smoking, movies, cosmetics, or whatever.
We are right in the middle of the apostle's treatment of these kinds of problems, and I remind you that this all comes in one great section, from Chapter14, Verse1, through Chapter 15, Verse13. This is a very lengthy section which deals with these matters, showing how much they were a problem in the early church, as they are in churches today. The section falls naturally into three divisions: what you must not do about these things; what you can do about them; and what happens when you handle them in the right way. Last week, we looked at what you must not do. We saw that the apostle tells us that we must not criticize or condemn each other in these matters. There is an area of freedom in anyone's life which only God has the right to correct. We must not judge each other in these matters; we must not try to regulate one another's conduct by legislation, by majority rule, or by artificial codes of behavior. These methods are wrong because, as Paul brought out, they are taking the place of Christ. He alone has the right to judge. He alone has the right to criticize or condemn in these areas. And he will do so. Therefore, when Christians take this on themselves, they are usurping the place of Christ. I think that argument was very clear.
This morning we want to look at what you can do about these matters; how we are to behave toward one another in these areas. Paul sets out the first thing we can do in Chapter 14, Verse 13:
Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. [That summarizes what we have covered so far: we are not to judge one another.] Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (Rom 14:13 NIV)
I have always appreciated the fact that Scripture is never merely negative. It never says, "Do not do something," without suggesting a positive action to take its place. If all the apostle had to say was, "Stop judging," that would be like saying to someone, "Do not worry," which is a futile thing to say, unless you give them a basis on which they can stop worrying. If you try to stop worrying without any reason for doing so, you will find yourself worrying all the more; that is the nature of worry. Someone said,
The worry cow would have lived till now,
if only she'd saved her breath.
But she got so afraid she was going to worry,
that she worried half to death!
Scripture never says anything like that. It does not merely say, "Stop judging"; it says, "Stop judging, but, if you want to judge, fine! Start with yourself; judge yourself." Are you pushing liberty so hard, are you insisting on your rights in certain areas, and your freedom to indulge in something, that you are upsetting others and forcing them to act beyond their own conscience? That is what you ought to judge. What is the effect upon others of your attitudes about some of these things? The apostle goes on to give us two reasons why we must not judge others, but must judge ourselves first in this area. The first reason is in Verse 14:
As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. (Rom 14:14 NIV)
Now, there is a fundamental, psychological insight into life that governs our behavior in these areas, or it ought to. It is one thing to be free yourself to partake of something that others are not free to indulge in. And, like the apostle, you may have arrived at that by some direct teaching of Scripture, even as Paul did in the case of the Lord Jesus himself.
Actually, it does not really say in the Greek text, as this version translates it, "As one who is in the Lord Jesus," that is, as one speaking as a Christian. What Paul really says is, "As one who has been taught by the Lord Jesus, no food is unclean in itself." The Lord Jesus did say that. It was he who said, "No food is unclean." He does not mean that all foods are good for you; some foods are not; some things you can eat are highly poisonous. Jesus does not mean that everything is all right to take in; he means that there is no moral question about food. It is never wrong, morally, to eat what your body may enjoy. Jesus taught that himself, and Paul says, "That is enough for me. That sets me free." But that is not the only problem involved. The conscience needs to be trained by this new insight into liberty. One person's conscience may move much slower than another's, therefore, we are to adjust to one another's needs along this line.
I liken this to crossing a swinging bridge over a mountain stream. There are people who can run across a bridge like that, even though it does not have any handrails. They are not alarmed by it, they can keep their balance well. They are not concerned about the swaying of the bridge, or the danger of falling into the torrent below. That is fine; some people can do that. But others cannot. You watch them go out on a bridge like that, and they are very uncertain. They shake and tremble; they inch along. They may even get down on their hands and knees and crawl across. But they will make it if you just give them time, if you let them set their own speed. After a few crossings, they begin to pick up courage, and eventually they are able to run right across.
It is like that with these moral questions. Some people just cannot see themselves moving in a certain area that they have been brought up to think is wrong; they have difficulty doing so. As in the case of the swinging bridge, it would be cruel for someone who had the freedom to cross boldly to take the arm of someone who was timid and drag them across, to force them to run across. They might even lose their balance and fall off the bridge and suffer injury. This is what Paul is warning about in Verse 15:
If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. (Rom 14:15 NIV)
It is wrong to do that. It is not loving to force people to move at your pace. To refuse to indulge a freedom that you have for the sake of someone else, to adjust to their pace, is surely one of the clearest and truest exercises of Christian love. That is what the apostle urges us to do here.
The second thing Paul says in this regard is that the issue of freedom versus non-freedom does not really demand unyielding firmness. There are some issues that do demand that. There are certain doctrines in the Scriptures we are to stand fast on, and refuse to let anyone change us on. But not on one of these questions. We are not to take that kind of unyielding view. That is what Paul says in Verses 16, 17 and 18:
Do not allow what you consider as good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. (Rom 14:16-18 NIV)
If you are going to create division by arguing so hard for your rights, or your freedom, or by flaunting your liberty in the face of those who do not agree with it, then you are distorting the gospel itself, Paul argues. He actually uses the word blaspheme. You are causing that which is good, Paul says, the good news about Christ, to be blasphemed because you are making too much of an issue over a minor matter. You are insisting that your rights are so important that you have to divide the church over them, or separate from a brother or sister who does not believe as you do. That is saying to the watching world around that Christianity consists of whether you do, or do not do, a certain thing.
I heard of a church some time ago that got into an unholy argument over whether they ought to have a Christmas tree at their Christmas program. Some thought that a tree was fine; others thought it was a pagan practice, and they got so angry at each other that they actually got into fist fights over it. One group dragged the tree out, then the other group dragged it back in. They ended up suing each other in a court of law and, of course, the whole thing was spread in the newspapers for the entire community to read. What else could non-Christians conclude other than that the gospel consists of whether you have a Christmas tree or not? They made such an important issue over it, they were ready to physically attack one another.
Paul says that is utterly wrong. The main point of the Christian faith is not eating or drinking or Christmas trees. The main point is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. A non-Christian, looking at a Christian, ought to see these things, not wrangling and disputing and fighting and law courts, but righteousness. You have seen that word righteousness many times in Romans, and you know what it means. It means God's gift of a sense of worth about yourself. It means that, because of the death of Jesus on your behalf, you are loved by him; you are accepted by him; you are a valuable person in his sight. In fact, he cheerfully and delightedly calls you his beloved child. That is righteousness, and from it, when we understand that, comes a sense of dignity, a sense of self-respect. That is what the world ought to see. The world ought to see you confident as to who you are, with that kind of underlying assurance that is without conceit; that shows you have a basis of self-acceptance that the world knows nothing about.
The second thing the world ought to see is peace. That comes across visibly as a kind of calmness, an inner core of unflappability that is undisturbed by the minor irritations of the moment. It is that quiet and calm assurance that God is present in the situation; that he will work it out for his glory, and therefore, we need not get upset or angry, or vindictive toward someone. It is hard for the world to get that impression of peace and calmness if they see two people screaming at one another over what they disagree on. That does not look very calm. The important thing, therefore, is that you manifest that gift of God, which is peace.
The third element is joy. These three always go together: righteousness, peace, and joy. They are gifts of God. They do not come from you; they come from him. Joy is that delight in life that always finds life worthwhile, even though it may be filled with problems. Joy, in a Christian, does not come from circumstances. I was down south a couple of weeks ago, and I met a lady who has been lying in her bed for 13 years. She has arthritis so bad that her joints are disconnected and she cannot even raise her hands. But the smile on her face, the joy that is evident in her, is an outstanding witness to the fact that joy of this kind is a gift of God. It comes out of relationship, not out of circumstance. She has a tremendous ministry to the community around her because of that.
Paul is saying that if that is what you have discovered, if that is the center of your focus and interest, then you can easily give up some momentary indulgence in a pleasure that you enjoy and are free to participate in, if it is going to bother someone, or upset someone, or make them move beyond their own conscience. Sometimes, when you enter a main highway, you see a sign that says "YIELD." Now, I would not suggest that you steal one of those, but it would be good if you could make one and put it up in your dining room. That is a Christian philosophy -- to yield, to give way. Do not insist on your rights under these circumstances. What should guide us in that? Paul takes it up more fully in the second section, Verses 19 to 21:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Rom 14:19 NIV)
There are the guidelines: Enjoy your liberties, indulge them wherever you desire, if you do so in such a way that you do not destroy peace, or mutual building up in truth, or arrest the learning process for someone else. Paul enlarges on these guidelines for us. Whenever you are doing something that threatens the peace of a community, or a church, or a group, or an individual, so that they cannot handle it, so that they become angry and upset, then back off. You who are strong, bear that burden. Do not insist on your rights. Some Christians get so intent on having their rights that I have seen them indulge in the very presence of people they knew would be highly offended by what they did, simply because they wanted to show how free they were. Paul says that kind of thing is absolutely wrong. He goes on to say,
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. (Rom 14:20a NIV)
Peace is the work of God. Nothing can produce lasting peace among people, especially those of different cultural backgrounds, except the work of God. It is the Spirit of God who produces peace. So, if for the sake of some right that you have, some liberty you feel, you destroy that peace, you are destroying what God has brought about. Do not do that. It is not worth it. The apostle's second guideline is that you stop exercising your liberty whenever it arrests someone else's learning process. All Christians ought to examine these issues more and more. They ought to investigate for new truth from the Word, in a sense, constantly keeping an open mind on these matters. And they will, if you do not push them too hard. But if someone flaunts his liberty in such a way as to anger people and upset them, it will often harden them in their resistance to change, so that they no longer want to examine the question. That, Paul says, must be the limit to those who indulge in their liberty. Do not push people that far, or press them that hard. Rather, we are to help them understand the reason for our liberty.
I think it is a healthy thing for a Christian who has liberty in some of these areas to indulge it on occasion. I do not think the cause of Christ is ever advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation completely forsake their right to indulge in some of the things. What happens then is that the whole question is settled on the basis of the most narrow and most prejudiced person on the congregation. Soon, the gospel itself becomes identified with that kind of view. That is why the outside world often considers Christians to be narrow-minded people who have no concern except to prevent the enjoyment of the good gifts of life that God has given us.
It is a good thing for people to indulge their liberties. It makes those who are not free raise questions in their minds, especially when they see that that indulgence is linked with a clear manifestation of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It makes you think, when you see a godly person whom you admire and respect feel perfectly free to indulge in something that you have never been able to indulge in, and yet you cannot deny that he is a godly person. I think that kind of thing is right, and Paul is suggesting this, as we will see in our next study. But, Paul says, be careful, and judge how far you are going. If what you are doing upsets people and hardens them in their views so that they will no longer examine and investigate, then stop, you are going too far. That should be the limit. This is what the apostle means when he says,
All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (Rom 14:20b-21 NIV)
Now, be careful there. Paul does not say it is wrong to make him think; it is never wrong to indulge your liberty to such a degree that your brother has to ask questions about his viewpoint. That is all right. But it is wrong to persist in it to such a degree that you cause him to act beyond his convictions in order to feel acceptable. Paul brings in the third guideline in Verses 22 and 23:
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. (Rom 14:22a NIV)
Unfortunately, that is not a very good translation. It suggests that you are to keep quiet about your liberties, that you do not say anything to anybody, that you keep it between yourself and God. That really is not what Paul is saying. What he is saying is, "if you have faith, have it between yourself and God." That is, let God and God's Word be the basis for your faith, and nothing else. Be sure that what you are doing is not because of pride on your part, because you want to show off how free you are -- you are doing this because God has freed you by his Word. And, Paul says, if you do that,
Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (Rom 14:22b NIV)
If you have really based it on that, then your action will be one in which your conscience is free. You will not feel guilty and troubled as to whether you are acting beyond what the Word of God really says. You will be happy, free, blessed. But, if you do not, if you really have not settled this on the basis of Scripture, but are acting only because you want to indulge yourself; if you like this thing but you still feel a bit troubled by it; if you act then, you are going to be condemned by your conscience. And if you are condemned by your conscience, you will feel guilty. And if you act because you feel guilty, you are not acting out of faith, and, therefore, you are sinning. This is Paul's argument.
"Without faith," Hebrews says, "it is impossible to please God," (Heb 11:6a). Faith means believing what God has said. Thus, you must base your actions in Christian liberty on what the Word of God declares -- not about any specific thing, but the great principle of freedom which is set forth. Now, if you understand that, fine, Paul says. But be sure that you yourself are acting not out of pride, not out of mere self-indulgence, but out of a deep conviction that rests upon the Word and revelation of God. To sum up, what Paul has said to us is: Do not deliberately stumble or shock your brother or sister. Do not deliberately do things that will offend them, or even make them feel uncomfortable. Think about them, not yourself. Second: Give up your right when it threatens the peace or hinders the growth of another individual. Be alert to judge in that area. And third: Never act from doubt. Act only from conviction, by the Word, and by the Spirit of God. If these problems are all settled on that basis, a congregation will be moving gradually toward the great liberty that we have as children of God.
What will happen in the eyes of the watching world? Christians will be seen to be free people, not controlled by scruples that limit them and narrow them in their enjoyment of God's great gifts. Yet, these things will not be of such importance that they are put at the heart and center of everything. The world will begin to see that the heart of the Gospel is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, the gifts of God. Those gifts, then, are the basis for freedom in all these areas. But you are just as free to say "No" to the indulgence of a gift as you are to say "Yes" to it. That is true freedom. You are not free if you think you have won your rights. That is not freedom. Freedom is the right to give up your rights, for good and proper cause. That is what the watching world will begin to see.
These are wise words. Properly followed, they will gradually work out the differences of viewpoints we may have. But if they are ignored, the church is bound to go along with one side or the other, and division, anger, and upset will follow, and the whole cause of Christ will be injured by that. In our next study, we are going to see how Christ is our great example in this, and what will happen to us when we really begin to live on these terms. (From http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/)