My 3-year-old Daisy and her good friend Lynn play together constantly. Sometimes it’s funny to listen to the disagreements they get into.
Just the other day they were playing together, and Daisy wanted to pretend it was imaginary nap time. Lynn, on the other hand, didn’t want to play that game and instead wanted to build a tower. This can lead to them going back and forth. No, pretend it’s nap time with me. No, build a tower with me. No, play with me my way. Then eventually a parent has to step in and make peace.
Sometimes we are no better than toddlers. We want people to be with us on our terms, to play with us the way we want them to, to do things our way. But we miss the fact, that we both want the same thing. Daisy and Lynn both want to have fun and play together. But their insistence on their terms can prevent that from happening.
As we continue our sermon series: Anchoring Truth for Turbulent Times, I want to talk about how we can stay Anchored by Receptive Grace.
We are going to look at a text Romans 14-15:1-7 where the Apostle Paul was addressing a fractured church. When division happens, there are often two sides. This is true with the churches in Rome.
Paul calls these two sides the Strong and the Weak.
-Mainly Gentile Christians (Apostle Paul considered himself one)
-Rightly believe they are free from Jewish food laws and Sabbath observance.
-Despise the Weak for their narrow minded judgmentalism and their scruples.
-Mainly Jewish Christians
-Wrongly believe they must obey Jewish food laws and keep the Sabbath
-But remember, they were raised to believe it was a serious and God-honoring matter to keep these commands. They don’t yet feel free from them.
-Judge the Strong for their liberal freedom.
Essentially, Jewish Christians feel obligated to keep kosher food laws and the Sabbath and judge the Christians who don’t keep these commands. Gentile believers know that in Jesus, they are free from these obligations, and so despise the weak for their judgmentalism. Paul’s pastoral concern is how can we get these two groups to welcome each other at the Table and be one family in Christ.
Romans 14:1 “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”
“without attempting to settle doubtful points” (NEB)
Before we dive into the meat of this passage, we need to clarify a few things. This passage has also been misused just like Romans 13 from last week.
This passage doesn’t apply to sin.
The Apostle Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew Christians would use Romans 14 and 15 to allow for freedom on sin. He tried to nip this in the bud in Romans 6.
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Repentance from sin is so consistent with Jesus and the NT we shouldn’t be attempted to apply this to sin. The issue here isn’t about what sin can be allowed, but about two sides that disagree about how to best honor and follow God.
This passage doesn’t apply to orthodox beliefs and does not support relativism.
Over and over again in the NT, Jesus and the Apostles warn us about false teaching.
2 Tim 4 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Right living and right beliefs deeply matter. So, we are to believe what God’s Word and the central truths of the faith. We are to resist the desire to hear what we want to hear.
Now, we’ve cleared up some misuses of this text, let’s look at the context. It is interesting that Paul is addressing here a divided church. He knows that one side has the correct belief. “The Strong” is correct that they are free from traditional Jewish obligations of Sabbath and Kosher laws. However, he knows that the Jewish Christians don’t have a liberated conscience yet. They have been told for centuries that God expects them to keep the Sabbath and eat pure. It’s in the Bible. So we can’t fault them too hard for desiring to honor God by still keeping these commands. It’s not a belief that is not wrong about Jesus or salvation. It’s a belief with a pure motive to honor God. In this particular case, Paul does something different than his usual. He doesn’t try to correct “The Weak” or tell the “Strong” to feel justified because they are correct. Rather, he tells both sides to accept each other, he tells the strong to lay down their freedom for the family, and he tells them to be receive each other.
How can we can live together as the family of God, when we hold beliefs that really aren’t central to our faith, yet they still distress others in the church community?
Remember we are all living to please God our Judge.
Romans 14:2-4 “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall.”
God is in charge of each individual believer. We do well to remember we are not in charge of each other. We have have power to control each other or control what people think, no matter how wrong someone may be.
One way of discerning if we have a freedom on a particular matter is to ask ourselves: Can I do this for God’s glory and give thanks to God for it?
Remember we are all living to please God our Judge.
Refrain from using your freedom for self-interest but Resolve to do whatever it takes to build up the Church.
Romans 14:13-15 “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. 14 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. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.”
Remember that the early Christian worship services were meals. Jews and Gentiles gathered to eat together, share communion, and worship. Gentile Christians wanted to bring the BBQ. Jewish Christians felt that would be sinful.
Paul says, the BBQ is not sinful, but some in our community think it is. So that person is distressed about their relationship with God and for the church’s purity if “unclean food” is brought to church. Even though the BBQ people are right, Paul says if you use your freedom that brings distress on someone else, you are no longer acting in love.
We are called to go the way of the cross. To put to death our freedom for the sake of others good. That’s how we find life.
Romans 14:19-21 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”
Receive one another just as Jesus received us and Recline at the same Table.
Romans 15:5-7: 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
The conclusion to this whole thing is accept or receive one another. To welcome someone into your life. To welcome someone into your home. In particular, the one voice glorifying God is the language of worship. It seems that Paul is appealing to the church, in spite of your different practices, the different ways you like to worship God, worship together and eat together at the same table.
Remember we are all living to please God our Judge. Refrain from using your freedom for self-interest but Resolve to do whatever it takes to make peace and build others up. Receive one another just as Jesus received us and Recline at the same Table. Friends, when we do this for one another, we will be anchored together by grace.
Give the gift of freedom in Christ.
In the Covenant, we have a tradition, an affirmation called “Freedom in Christ.” We remember we have a lot we agree on. We believe the Bible is God’s Word. We affirm the consensus of what Christians have always believed at all times and in all places across cultures. We affirm the creeds. We don’t need to rehash debates on the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus. There is so much we agree on.
When Scripture seems to support different beliefs and when there is no consensus in the tradition of the Church, we have the freedom to lovingly welcome each other when we hold differing viewpoints. This is a beautiful thing we need to hold on to. We are better and sharper as believers for pursuing this type of unity. The table and the conversation are always open, as we keep asking each other, where is it written? How do you see the Scriptures?
Be stern with ourselves and give others the benefit of the doubt.
We often view ourselves with rose-colored glasses. We often view others with a magnifying glass. We need to reverse these. Be hard on our own sin. Cultivate empathy for others. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
What freedoms may I need to lay down that are a stumbling block to others?
This is so countercultural. The church asks you to do things not because you even believe or agree, but because you love each other. Everything in you will likely resist this, so you may event want to open your hands, and say Lord, what do I need to lay down?
Jesus Christ laid down all the freedom and glory he had in heaven, cancelled all your sin and your debt, and was raised to life for your eternal redemption and salvation from eternal judgment. The least we can do, is lay down our freedoms for each other so that we can be brothers and sisters who worship together and eat at the same table. When we do, we will be bound together, anchored together, and the world will marvel at our love and our unity.