Maintaining Sweet Fellowship over Disputable Matters, Part 1 (Romans Sermon 103 of 120)
June 11, 2006 | Andrew Davis
Legalism, License, Christian Freedom
Introduction: Shunned for Buttons
My sister-in-law and her family live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And I love to visit there. I love the peaceful rural way of life there. And I remember sleeping in their living room, under an open window, and hearing the clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage that goes by. And I know that it's some Amish man going early in the morning someplace, and it occurs to me that that Christian community, the Amish, there in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are one of the most noteworthy efforts in the world the Christians have made of finding a way to be separate from the wickedness of this world.
But they've done it in a very interesting way, they have erected man-made barriers around their community. And they have a rule of life, called the Ordnung, which governs what they wear, men's beards, styles of clothes. It governs the way they interact with the outside world, that governs the level of technology that they'll use and will not use. They have reasons for everything. And if you study the Amish movement, it really is a movement of repeated schisms and fracturing, again, and again, and again. It started with the Mennonites, the Anabaptists in the 17th century, and they were trying to establish the Believers Church, separate from the world, a holy people in the midst of an ungodly world. But then, within them, came this group, led by Joseph Amman, and he basically said, "We have got to practice strict shunning, ostracism if there's any sin or breaking of the community rules and regulations." And so, little by little, some were persuaded, and they broke off from the group of Mennonites, then they came over to America and continued this isolated way of living. It's an incredible study.
In the 19th century, they subdivided and broke again and again, something like six major subdivisions, of their group. And as I look at Romans 14, I think this is the chapter that addresses what it is they were trying to do, and some of the flaws of that approach. It seems to me that the Lord has taken his church and set it in a tremendously hostile environment. We are surrounded by forces hostile to our faith, somewhat like leaving a toddler in the median strip of an interstate highway, savagely dangerous. And you wonder, why in the world would the Lord leave us here, surrounded by such hostile forces to our faith? This world is no friend to the Christian faith.
The Extremes: Legalism and License
And the church has had two different extreme ways of responding to being surrounded by a sinful world, legalism on the one side, license on the other. The Amish, I think, in my opinion, are an example of a legalistic response to being surrounded by a hostile world. They set up a barrier, a wall, a dividing wall of hostility, and they say this is the community. They focus on themselves, they have very little encounter with the outside world, and they do it by setting up extra biblical regulations and requirements that they elevate to the same level as any other commandment in the Bible, and on the base of them, you can be shunned or ostracized. That's legalism, that your standing before God depends on keeping a list of rules and regulations that are made by men. Legalism.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have license, which basically says, because of the grace of God in Christ, because of the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, you can live anyway you want, in connecting with the outside world. You can do anything you want, and you're still forgiven, you're still loved, you're adopted in the family of God. That's license, on that side. For the most part, American churches are strongly on the license side, heading that direction. The Amish are an exception. So are some other, perhaps, fundamentalist groups that have set up similar boundaries or dividing walls.
Now, there is a very real problem that both groups are dealing with, wrestling with, and that is the surrounding world and its hostility to our faith. It says, in 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world." Or then it says again, in 2 Corinthians 6, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" And then 2 Corinthians 6:17, one of the most vital verses for those that are separatistic in their whole approach to the world. 2 Corinthians 6:17, "'Therefore, come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord, 'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.'" That's the strongest separation verse there is in the Bible.
I. Central Command: Christian Acceptance
Now, obviously, this is a major issue. The question is how best do we deal with this as a community? How do we wrestle with the attack of the world on our faith? How do we maintain concern about each other as brothers and sisters in Christ? Our church covenant says, "We will watch over one another in brotherly love." How do we do that without becoming intrusive busybodies, or legalistic in some way, judging others? How do we maintain the proper balance? I think Romans 14 is the chapter to answer that question. I consider it a vital chapter for any community of Christian believers in this hostile world, so that we can maintain a sweet unity, a sweet fellowship, while, at the same time, being pure and undefiled from the world, while weak believers and growing believers work out their salvation with fear and trembling, but they're in a safe environment where they're not going to be condemned and said to be non-Christian if they make certain decisions. But where we're going to continue, as iron sharpens iron, honing each other, and helping each other be holy. Romans 14 is the chapter for that. Now, it begins with a command in verse 1, "Accept him, whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." So, right from the beginning, the word 'accept' in the NIV, or welcome, gives us a sense of a rich welcome, a rich fellowship, rich community.
It literally means welcome or draw alongside to yourself someone. In Acts 28, for example, the islanders on the Island of Malta welcomed and received Paul and his companions who had been shipwrecked, and they showed them unusual kindness, they welcome, in the same Greek word. It's also urged by Paul of Philemon, concerning Onesimus, in Philemon 1:16 and 17. Paul there, writing about Onesimus, he says, "He is very dear to me, but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me." Take him in, be friendly to him, be kind to and love him. That's the word. Now, divisions and arguments over debatable issues threatens that kind of welcome, doesn't it? Christian unity is constantly threatened by our sinfulness. Paul desires a warm, loving, united community, not a faction-ridden group of sullen people who can't walk across the room to shake somebody's hand. That's not it. He wants unity and a warm, rich fellowship of love. So the welcome is coupled with a negative clarification. In the ESV, Romans 14:1 reads this way, "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions." Don't take them alongside so that you can drill him on this, on these matters. That's not it. Like you remember how Peter took Jesus aside, in Matthew 16, and began to rebuke him about the cross. He said, "Come with me, Jesus. I have something to say." And he began to rebuke Jesus.
Well, he ended up getting rebuked by Jesus. Don't ever rebuke Jesus. You're wrong. Okay? That's very simple. Basic rule of the faith, if you're thinking to rebuke Jesus, you're wrong, and he's right. You may actually get the rebuke back. So, Peter takes him aside to rebuke him. Or even worse, the Old Testament example of Abner and Joab. In 2 Samuel 3:27, it says, "Now, when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took Abner aside into the gateway, as though to speak to him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother, Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died." That's even worse. Taking a brother alongside, and then, mmm, right in the stomach. Say, "No." Don't welcome him to dispute over debatable issues, that's not what it's about, but rather welcome him warmly, get close to him, love him, cherish him. Now, this is not worldly tolerance. That's not what we're talking about here. America loves tolerance. We're into tolerance these days, tolerance of doctrine, accept my views, celebrate my views, whatever they may be. Tolerance of lifestyle, accept me as I am, however I may be living. That is not what Paul is talking about here in Romans 14.
We are never to accept or welcome false doctrine, never. It says, concerning the messages of the churches in the Book of Revelation, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus because they have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them false. Don't welcome that. As a matter of fact, in 3 John, it says, if you welcome a false teacher, you're sharing in his wicked work. Don't do that, that's not what it's talking about. Neither is it talking about tolerating sin. Because, there, the Lord speaks against the church at Thyatira, because they welcome or they tolerate that woman, Jezebel, who leads God's servants into sexual immorality. Don't tolerate sin. So that's not what Paul is talking about in Romans 14, tolerating false doctrine or tolerating sin. The basis of this acceptance, of this welcome, is the truth of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the basis of it.
We're welcoming people that God has welcomed. We're accepting people that God has accepted. That's what we're talking about. Look at verse 3, it says God has accepted him, this weak brother. So don't judge him, because God has accepted him. And then, again, in Romans 15:7, which ends this whole section, "Accept one another, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." We are dealing with people that God has accepted. We're dealing with people that Christ has accepted. You should accept them too. The basis is commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is faith in the Gospel that unites Christians. The brother or sister that has weak faith still has faith, don't they? They are brothers and sisters in Christ, and so you should welcome them. That is the basis for the warm fellowship that Paul has in mind here.
The Need for Discernment
Do you see already the need we have for discernment? We have to have discernment in these matters. We have to be able to discern people, who is a genuine Christian or not, on the basis of the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on what they say about Christ, about the commitment they've made, their view of the cross, repentance and faith. On that basis, we accept people as Christians. We have to discern people. We also have to discern issues. What issues are at the core of our faith? What issues are the ones... The hill to die on, the one that God has drawn a line, and saying, "You must believe this in order to be a Christian." We have to discern issues, and then those things that are debatable, a matter of Christian liberty. We have to discern these things. Now, the context of Paul writing in Romans 14 is a mixed church in Rome, in a transition period, in redemptive history, as they're moving from Old Covenant over to New Covenant, we've got Jews and Gentiles together, trying to work it out. And so Paul writes, Romans 14, right into that situation, the mixed church at Rome. If you read through the book of Romans, sometimes Paul directly addresses Jews, other times he directly addresses Gentiles. It's clearly a mixed group he's writing to, Jews and Gentiles.
II. Context: Disputable Matters in the New Covenant Church
Now, that church at Rome was very significant because they were at the heart of the Roman Empire. And so, the fact that there was a genuine, growing, healthy, spirit-filled church in Rome was of huge encouragement to the Christian faith around the world. And so, Paul writes, right at the beginning, in Romans 1:8. "First, I thank my God, through Jesus Christ, for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world." God has put you up on a pedestal. Everyone's watching you. Well, that's a two-edged sword, isn't it? Your faith is being reported all over the world, but if you can't get along, if you end up fracturing and breaking into seven schismatic groups, everybody's going to see that too. You've got to find a way to continue loving each other, accepting each other, while you work it out on these issues. So stay together. That's what he's dealing with. Jesus said that the progress of the Gospel in the world will be directly connected to the open display that Christians have of love for one another. In John 13:35, "By this, will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." There needs to be an open, warm, display of love in this place.
And Jesus prayed in John 17, as he was leaving his disciples in the world, and he's going to the Father, he's praying for them. And he prays this in John 17:23, "may they be brought to complete unity." That's processed language. "May they be brought to complete unity, to let the world know that you sent me." Do you see that? As the church makes progress in unity, the watching world will say, "God sent Jesus to be the savior of the world. We can see it by the changes that are happening in that community." So this issue of love and unity is essential to the progress of the Gospel, got to have it. And so, he's writing to this mixed church in Rome. Everyone's watching and they're dealing with some very difficult issues.
Now, the fact that they were in a unique period in history, which we are no longer in, we're not in that period, but they were, brings out these test cases. They were moving from Old Covenant or Old Testament lifestyle into a New Covenant, New Testament lifestyle. Many people there, Jews and some God-fearing Gentiles, were used to following the law of Moses. They were used to the food regulations, they were used to the sacrificial system, they were used to making annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, they were used to all of the ceremonial laws. Moses had been preached in every place for generations. These people were used to the ceremonial law. Now, the ceremonial law divided Jew from Gentile, there was a wall between the Jews and the outside world.
Circumcision was part of that, also the food regulations, can't eat pig, and all of those sort of things. In Leviticus 11, God gives all those rules and regulations. Have any of you memorized Leviticus 11, by any chance? All the food that you could eat, and couldn't eat? I didn't think so. I don't think it would be your first chapter to memorize. Maybe John 3, or something like that, would be your first chapter. But there, in Leviticus 11, there are all the rules and regulations. Just to refresh your memory, okay, in case you're interested, the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron, "Say to the Israelites, 'Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof, completely divided, and that chews the cud.'" There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split foot, you must not eat them. They don't meet both criteria. You got it? Let's take a test case, the pig. Alright? The pig is unclean because, although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. For you, it is unclean. Well, that's Old Covenant. That's the Old Testament food regulation. It wasn't kosher, it wasn't clean, it wasn't holy food, so they couldn't eat it.
Now, there were long lists of birds and other types of animals you could or couldn't eat, and they all knew what they were, and they didn't eat them. Now, I believe that Christ came and fulfilled the ceremonial law. Once Jesus was born a Jew, born under the law, and he was identified within that community of Jews, the need for that barrier, that dividing wall of hostility, Ephesians 2, was removed. He didn't need it anymore, and God took it away, he fulfilled it in Christ, he removed those regulations. And so, in his ministry, Jesus declared all foods clean. He basically said, "Nothing you eat will defile you spiritually." And in so, saying, it says in Mark 7, "Jesus declared all foods clean." That means we can eat anything we want, and not be displeasing God.
Now, this was very difficult for the Jews to accept. I mean, look at Peter, for example. One afternoon, Acts chapter 10, he's hungry, and he's up on the roof, praying, and he sends to have something made for lunch. Just hungry. And while he's praying, suddenly, he has a vision, and from heaven, a large sheet gets let down, and the sheet kind of opens, and in it, are all kinds of four-footed creatures of the earth, and reptiles, and all kinds of nasty things. And they're kind of living and moving and moving, and all that, like a jungle. And then the voice comes from heaven, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Oh, never, Lord," he said. Fourth time Peter said "never" to God, he just keeps on doing it. I don't know if he's still doing it. I think he is not still doing it. But there he says, "Never, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." And then the voice from heaven came a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Now, that's a lesson. You know, in context, what God is doing, he has to do it three times. You don't drill into concrete quickly. Okay? He has to do it three times, and then comes the messengers from Cornelius the Centurion, who has a house full of Gentiles ready to hear the Gospel. And Peter the Jew is going to go and actually enter the house of a Gentile and preach the Gospel. Peter has got to be worked on first, or else he is never going in that house. And so, God works on him, and he enters the house. Now, the deeper issue here, friends, is not just eating or circumcision. No, that's not it. The deeper issue is how do unclean sinners like us, Jew and Gentile, stand pure and holy before God. That's the issue. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There's no one pure and righteous of ourselves. There is no one who does good, not even one. How do unclean sinners like us stand before a pure and holy God, on judgment day, and survive that dreadful day? How will you?
Let me just take a break from this sermon and ask, have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior? Are you ready for that day when he whose eyes are too pure to look on evil, will look on you, and study your life from beginning to end? Are you ready? Are you cleansed? Are you covered by the blood of Jesus Christ? It's the only way. And one of the central teachings of the Gospel is it doesn't matter how many rules and regulations you think you've kept. You can never earn your way to heaven by legal observance, by keeping the law, cannot be done. And so, they had a big convention, a big meeting in Acts 15, to deal with this issue. Lots of Gentiles were coming into the church. Do they need to be circumcised? Do they have to obey the law of Moses or not? The circumcision controversy.
Peter, he gets up and says this, "Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" That's the law of Moses, with all of its commands, 600-plus laws. And then the Pharisees added hundreds and hundreds to them. Multiplication of laws, rules, and regulations. Why do you want to put on their neck a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? Peter says, "No, we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Amen. It is by the grace of Christ, not by legal observance that we're saved. Simply by trusting in the shed blood of Christ, we are made pure, or we're made holy. That's the real issue.
Arguing over “Disputable Matters”
But then there are these debatable issues, arguing back and forth over disputable matters. Well, what are they? In Romans 14, it's at least this, eating and drinking, and special days of observance, perhaps the Sabbath. What do we do with these leftovers from the Mosaic Covenant? Eating and drinking. Look at verse 2, "One man's faith allows them to eat everything. But another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables."
Now, do you notice what's happened with the guy who eats only vegetables? The way I read Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy, its parallel passage, there's actually a lot of meat you can eat, if you're a Jew. They say, "No. We're not even going to do that because it may have been sacrificed to an idol." We'll set yet another wall even further away from God's laws. We're not getting anywhere close to the edge of the cliff. So they set up a man-made regulation, they eat only vegetables. But Paul says their faith is weak. So the issue has to do with eating and drinking. Drinking wine and other issues. Is it all right for the godly to be drinking wine? Etcetera. And Paul deals with that in Romans 14.
Another issue is special religious days, as I mentioned, perhaps the Sabbath itself. Look at verse 5. 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. Now, these debatable issues clearly do not have to do with was Jesus God or not. They don't have to do with the doctrine of the trinity. They're not core issues, they're external to that. They're not central to the Gospel, they're debatable, they're matters of Christian liberty, that's what they are. That's what he's dealing with in Romans 14.
III. Strong and Weak Christians
And so, Paul has to deal with the issue of strong and weak Christians. Look at verse 1, "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions." Look one full chapter up, Romans 15:1, "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves." So we have a division of category in the church, strong Christians, weak Christians. Strong in the faith, weak in the faith. He's dealing with two different kinds of Christians. Now, the word weak could be translated sick or frail or ill. Conversely, the word strong could be translated healthy, powerful, capable, or able. What are we dealing with when we're talking about somebody who's weak in the faith? Well, the KJV, I think, does a good job of highlighting what we're talking about here. In Romans 14:1, the KJV gives us, "Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye."
The faith was the body of doctrines that we call Christianity, it was orthodox doctrine, right doctrine. This person is weak in understanding the New Covenant. We can understand in what Christ had done. They don't seem to grasp the idea of justification by faith alone, and how they're free from all the ceremonial laws. They didn't grasp that. They were weak in the faith of the Gospel, they were fearful of sin, they were fearful of displeasing God by externals, fearful that eating meat sacrificed to idols would lead them into a sinful lifestyle. They're ridden by fear, fear of condemnation, fear that God's going to get them someday.
They live their life that way. It's a life of fear, not of faith, and so they make man-made rules and regulations to prevent themselves from straying into sin, but they don't stop there, oh no. You see, they care about you too. They care about you too, and they'd like to export their rules and regulations to you and me. And it's not just them that's doing it, because you're doing it too, and the whole community is doing it. And so, the whole thing is this legalistic cauldron of finger-pointing and arguing and disputing, weak in the faith, because they have not understood who they are. They haven't understood that they're adopted children of God. They haven't understood the power of the grace of the Gospel, how certain it is that they're going to end up in heaven. And so, they're fearful, holding on to Christ as though Christ were not holding on to them. That's a big problem, they're weak, they've lost their grip on grace, and they feel they must finish their own salvation. Having begun by the spirit, they're now completed by fleshly efforts. That's weak in the faith. And they judge themselves, don't they? It's a miserable way to live, constantly reproving themselves, wearing the hair shirt, flogging themselves.
And, in their misery, they'll make you miserable too, and criticize you. Weak in the faith. What about those that are strong in the faith? What does Paul mean? Well, they are strong in the faith, they understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone, apart from works, they do not use the grace of God as a license for sin, but as freedom from fear of condemnation. They're not afraid of judgment day, in that regard. They're free. They have a lively sense of the immeasurable power of Christ at work in them, to finish their salvation. They're fearlessly roaming in the path of freedom set up by the law of God that's written in their own heart, and the Holy Spirit enables them to run free in that path. They're not licensed, they're not legalistic, they're right where they need to be, they're strong in the faith.
Paul himself was strong, and he applied it to the matter of eating meat-sacrificed idols. Look at verse 14, Romans 14:14, he says, "As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully-convinced that no food is unclean in itself." We'll talk about that in due time, but here is a legalistic Pharisee of Pharisees. He says, "No, I'm free from that. I'm free. I can eat anything I want." He's strong in the faith. He's free to do anything he wants on this matter. At the same time, he is conscious of the needs of his weak brothers and sisters. He's not going to eat anything that will cause them to sin or to stumble. We'll get to that in due time. But he's free, weak and strong.
IV. Sinful Tendencies: Disdain and Judgmentalism
Now, each of these groups have sinful tendencies. The tendency of the strong is to disdain the weak, to look down on them and to mock them. The tendency of the weak is to judge the strong. Look at it, verse 3. "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." So the strong disdain the weak. Paul's word literally means look down on or treat with contempt as though you were some kind of lofty Lord, looking down on some lower life form. What is the matter with you? Don't you get it? Don't you get that Jesus has freed us from all this? You can eat that anytime you want. What's the matter with you? It's a disdaining, a kind of a mocking.
Early in my Christian life, I was discipled by a wonderful man at Campus Crusade for Christ, he just took hold of me at a key time in my life when I was a junior in college, and just taught me quiet times, evangelism, all kinds of things. I was raised Roman Catholic, and Roman Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays. Now, that was a problem for me when I was growing up, because I hate seafood, I just can't stand it. So I was a big cheese-eater on Fridays. So I went out with this man, and we were sitting down to lunch, and we ordered, and I ordered a grilled cheese, and he was little surprised. He said, "Why don't you get a burger or something?" I said, "Well, it's Friday." He burst out laughing. I felt terrible. I felt belittled, like I was an idiot. I said, "Why are you laughing?" He said, "You can eat meat any day you want." Alright. Well, he's right. There's nothing in the Bible about not eating meat on Fridays, nothing, it's a man-made rule. It's not just the Amish that do it. Alright? It's a man-made rule, and I was free from it. But that was not the best discipleship technique, bursting out laughing. Okay? It hurt. I was determined I was going to eat cheese for months after that, until he reasoned with me, and said, "Look, I'm sorry." Etcetera. Okay, the strong can disdain the weak. And the disdaining can go so far as to say, "Look, enough of this. I don't need to be with this person anymore. They're holding me back." And it gets even more pronounced when they, the weak, start to condemn you for the way you're living your life. What do you want to do then? Get away from them. Say, "Look, leave me alone." And so, there's a fracturing, and they start to pull away. He's saying, "Don't do it," talking to the strong. "Don't disdain the weak."
Even worse, though, is the tendency of the weak to condemn the strong. Let's use the word. It's not just judge in the term of assess, that's not what's going on here, it's judge in the term of sit on the throne and make a final judgment on you, condemning you to hell, basically, saying you're not a Christian on this disputable matter. They set up rules and regulations, and they are shocked if you don't follow them. And here come all those legalistic Christian groups who have condemned others for the way they live their lives, Roman Catholic monasteries with their hierarchy of holiness, and all their rules and regulations, separatistic Protestant groups who refuse fellowship with others on the basis of community-drive rules and regulations. Amish are like that. Fundamentalist groups who excommunicate others on the basis of dancing and card-playing, and other things like that. We've interacted, in our Haiti mission, with a group that will not formally connect with us because we don't practice separation the way they do, and so they will not formally do ministry with us.
It's all over the place, Romans 14. It's a constant problem from generation to generation. So many issues have been the ground for Romans 14 disputes in church history. Questions like this: Can a Christian drink any alcohol at all? Obviously, you're not supposed to get drunk, but can a Christian drink alcohol? What about the use of tobacco? Some Amish grow tobacco, it's interesting, and consider it one of God's good gifts, because God called everything good in Genesis 1. I was reading a commentary by J. Vernon McGee. Have you ever listened to him through the Bible? What a great voice. Wouldn't you be shocked if I preached like him one Sunday? Yes, you would. But he was from Texas, and I'm from Massachusetts, so there's no chance that's going to happen. But J. Vernon McGee was talking about a Romans 14 issue that he observed. He was in California, right on the beach, and they were having a conference, and there were Christians from all over the country, and there were the California beach Christians, and then there were some rural Christians that had come from farming communities further east, and they were together, and they were all just having a wonderful time in Christian fellowship, until a couple of issues came up.
One of them was mixed swimming, young men and young women wearing bathing suits and swimming together. The ones from the rural communities were absolutely horrified, horrified. How can you call yourself a Christian and do that? It was like open sexual immorality for them, they were stunned. So that wasn't good in terms of the Christian fellowship, but then come to find out that some of them grew up on tobacco farms, and actually didn't think there was anything wrong with tobacco use. And some of the California Christians were absolutely horrified, saying the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. How can you defile the temple of the Holy Spirit? And so, they were having a major Romans 14 issue. And there was judgmentalism and condemnation on both sides. And, see, what's so sad is those are real issues that communities need to work through and try to figure out what is best and what is godly, but right from the start, there's the judgmentalism that makes the discussion impossible, so iron can't sharpen iron.
How we judge one another. How about issues of entertainment? In the past, anyone who went to the theater, to see a play or a movie, was considered an open defiant sin. Dancing has always been controversial in conservative circles, among the Puritans and among fundamentalists. This church, First Baptist Church, disciplined a number of its own members 100 years ago for dancing. You can read about it in the deacon minutes. And, frequently, the church members will say, "I didn't know it was a sin." And so they had to work it through. Eventually, the whole structure of church discipline kind of sank on the rock of the problem of dancing, because they couldn't support it scripturally, but they felt, in their hearts, it was wrong, so they ended up not doing any discipline at all. They went too far the other way.
Romans 14 issue. What about spectator sports? Is it sin to watch a ballgame? How about on Sunday? We'll talk about Sabbath or Sunday next week, God willing. How about card playing? Is that a sin? Do you realize how shocking you card players would be to some of your brothers and sisters from five generations ago? It's a big issue. Worship styles is a big one these days, worship styles. Some advocate a more traditional worship style, and others advocate a more contemporary Christian style. One hold strongly to the pillar of separation from the world and its defilements, the other holding strongly to the pillar of we need to reach non-Christians with the Gospel. But what... Those are both good themes. What happens is the one clinging to the one pillar condemns the other on the basis of their own pillar, right? Saying, "You don't care at all about genuine, heartfelt, austere worship to God, you're irreverent and worldly," say the traditionalists to the more open or contemporary types. Meanwhile, they are going to say back, "You don't care anything about the lost. You have no concern whatsoever if they go to hell." Well, these are the kind of words that ought not to be said.
How about Bible translations? Is it KJV only? Or are the modern translations okay? Can you use the NIV? ESV? Etcetera. How about homeschooling? We have graduates, a number of our graduates are homeschooled. We have homeschool families in our current congregation. It would be so easy for the judgmentalism to fly either way, for the homeschool families to judge those that send their kids to public school, or vice versa, for those that send their kids to public school, to judge the homeschool families. These issues just continue on and on. Bottom line, on any debatable issue, we Christians stand in a continuum, with Christians to our right and Christians to our left. The ones to our right have, perhaps, a more strict and conservative interpretation on the issue that we're talking about than you do. The ones on the left have a more, open, free, Christian freedom way of looking at it than you do. There you go, Christians on your right and Christians on your left. Now, you will be tempted to condemn the Christians on your right, and say... To say that they are legalistic, and that they don't understand grace, and to look to the ones on the left and say they're wicked and worldly and sinful, but be careful because, you know, they're doing the same thing to you.
You got a group of people that are looking at you, and they're basically saying, "You are wicked and sinful for the way you're living, or you are legalistic and strict," etcetera. Oh, be careful.
V. Remedy: Understanding Our Proper Place in Christ
What is the remedy? Well, Romans 14:3, the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. First of all, let's understand God's acceptance. Therefore, do not judge. Paul bases this command not to judge on one simple fact, God has welcomed this person, he has welcomed them, richly welcomed them. Think about the parable of the prodigal son, in which the father welcomes the son as he comes back after his journey into sin, Luke 15, "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet, bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.' And so they began to celebrate." That welcome is nothing compared to the welcome we will have when we come into the heavenly realms.
Oh, how rich will the welcome be then, when we are free at last from sin. Rich welcome. And on the basis of that, how can we be holier than God, and not welcome somebody that God has welcomed? Don't judge. God's message to Peter was very clear when he let down the sheet with all the previously unclean animals, do not call anything impure that God has made clean. When Peter went to preach to Cornelius the Roman, he began his history-making Gospel presentation to the Gentiles. He said this, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." When confronted, the next chapter, with a bunch of legalistic, Jewish... Zealous Jewish Christians who wanted to condemn Peter for going into the house of an uncircumcised man and eating with him, he said, "If God gave him the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?" That's what the judger is doing, they're opposing God, because God's welcomed him. We don't have the right to judge somebody else.
Secondly, let's understand God as master, and, therefore, do not judge. Look at 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." You know what? It's brutally bad manners to go in somebody else's house, and interfere with their servants, say, "The soup's cold. What's the matter with you? Come on, get going." Well, you're saying, "Servants, I don't know anybody that has servants."
Alright, let's talk about children. How would you feel if you had teenagers and kids down to age 8, 7, whatever, and you had some guests over, and they started disciplining your kids? Would that bother you? Oh, come on. Would that bother you? "Who are you to talk to my kid that way? I'm here. Okay. I'm on the job. We're working on it, okay? We don't need your parenting help." I'm not saying that we can't give each other loving insight, especially when asked for, but I'm just... I'm not talking about that. I'm saying it's a dinner, you're sitting down, and this individual, this guest in your home starts dealing with your children, disciplining them, even. Would you not be shocked and horrified? Isn't that about what Paul's saying here? Who are you... Who are you to judge somebody else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls.
That's what he's saying. Don't take God's place. He is dealing with that individual. It's not your place. Thirdly, let's understand God's power, therefore, let's not fear. That whole legalistic thing, it's a religion of fear. To his own master, he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Praise God for that. We are surrounded by a world that attacks our faith. You will stand 'til the end by God's power, not by your legalistic rule-keeping. You will stand 'til the end. God's grace has gotten hold of you, and he will not let you go. He will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. And, finally, let's understand our community responsibility, and therefore, let's not give up watching over one another in brotherly love. It's not in verses 1 through 4, but I can't preach what, to me, seems somewhat like an imbalanced sermon, saying, "We're supposed to just live and let live." That's not true, we'll get to it. We will learn that there are some things that may be generally a matter of freedom for you, but they will lead somebody else directly into sin. You need to be sensitive to your brother or sister in Christ. We'll talk about that in due time. Close with me in prayer.