Bible Passage: Romans 14:13-23
Big Idea: The Church needs to work towards Peace & Edification
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors and those joining online. My name is Matt Johnson and we are now studying Romans 14. In Romans 14 & 15 Paul explains how Christians should LIVE TOGETHER in the church – even when we have some differences as people. Last week Paul explained that in some matters it’s ok for Christians to agree to disagree.
PRAYER: Well in June 1977 the UNITING CHURCH of Australia was more or less formed on the principle of lets agree to disagree. Many Christians believed that the most important thing in the Church was PEACE AND UNITY. So three different Christian denominations – 1) the Methodists, 2) the Congregationalists and 3) most of the Presbyterians – decided to join together and become one big church family.
The problem was these three different churches had some pretty significant differences. Some were Calvinists. Some were Arminians. Some believed in infant baptism. Others believed in believer’s baptism. Some thought women should be pastors. Others thought only men should be pastors etc etc. Now how do you bring a whole lot of sincere Christians together in one church, where there are significant, biblical disagreements. How could they agree to disagree?
Well the Uniting Church drew up a document called the “BASIS FOR UNION”, which explained how they would UNITE – despite significant differences. Tragically, no-where does the BASIS OF UNION explain what Jesus’ death on the cross achieved. I think that is telling. They couldn’t even agree on this fundamental truth. But this lack of agreement was really expressed in their definition of the Bible. This is what they said… (Slide 2 – Basis of Union).
Now at first glance that may seem right. (ENTER) But I would cross out these words and say (ENTER), “which is the Word of God.” The Christian church has always believed the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is innerant and infallible Word of God.
But the Uniting Church started to teach that the Bible was only a human witness to the eternal Word of God. The Bible pointed the church in the right direction. But the Bible itself was no longer the full and final authoritative Word of God. So they gained a kind of unity, but at the expense of truth.
Their new definition of God’s Word meant everything was now a disputable matter. You might hear the Bible saying that Jesus died on the cross and rose again, but some ministers started saying – I hear something different. You might hear the Bible say – that greed, drunkenness and sexual immorality are sin; but some ministers started to say they heard something very different. All of a sudden – it was ok for Uniting Church Christians to AGREE TO DISAGREE on absolutely everything – including core tenets of the Christian faith. These days it is little more than pick and choose which bits of the Bible you like…
Now I tell you the Uniting Church story, because this is an inherent danger when we start to preserve Christian unity, at the expense of biblical truth. The question is – how far do we go and on what things can we agree to disagree? Obviously, there are limits somewhere…
Point 1: Mature Christians must ALWAYS act in Love (Speak truth in love)
Show: Rom.14:13-16 (READ)
Explain: Well you’ll notice –in verse 14, Paul says; “I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him (or her) it is unclean.” In the Old Testament God told the Jews what they could and couldn’t eat. ANIMALS that the Jews were allowed to eat were called kosher and ANIMALS they were not allowed to eat were non-Kosher. And Paul states rather emphatically – that no food is intrinsically unclean – for Christians to eat.
Now like I said last week – I don’t think Paul is directly tackling the subject of food sacrificed to idols in Romans 14:14. I think food sacrificed to idols needs further thought from 1 Corinthians. But Paul is saying in that Christians are free to eat non-kosher foods…
Now some of the JEWISH CHRISTIANS still thought this was wrong – because of the Mosaic law. Meanwhile the GENTILE CHRISTIANS had become a bit lackadaisical about food altogether – including food sacrificed to idols. So Paul tells both sides not to put a STUMBLING STONE or OBSTACLE in the way of their Christian unity. In other words be considerate of one another’s cultural backgrounds and accept one another’s differences. But nonetheless, Paul takes a position and declares that all foods are clean because this is what Jesus said.
Show: Slide 6; Mark 7:19; Slide 7 – Acts 10:13-15; Rom.14:14)
Now I show you ALL this because there is a strange form of Gentile Christianity that pretends to be Jewish on the internet. It usually begins with the true gospel that people are saved by God’s grace. through faith in Jesus. But these amateur Bible teachers say part of trusting Jesus is keeping certain Jewish laws. They then tend to focus on 2 or 3 Jewish laws Christians must keep (while completely ignoring the other 610 Jewish laws with no explanation why).
Now if you’re crazy enough to go down this rabbit hole – these amateur teachers will try to explain away Jesus words in Mark 7; Gods’ words in Acts 10 and Paul’s words in Romans 14. Now sadly, I think many of these people are sincere Jesus loving Christians. But they completely miss the finer nuances of the Bible and come very close to being FALSE TEACHERS. Now truth is – we often have people in our church who have been influenced by all sorts of silly stuff on the internet. So don’t believe everything you hear people say at church morning tea.
Now a BIG PART of the problem is many Christians don’t really understand the relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. They think A) the whole Bible is the Word of God, therefore Christians should B) obey the whole Bible. Now I agree the whole Bible is the Word of God. But these Christians are flattening the Bible in a very non-biblical way. Sadly, their HEART MOTIVE is often right. They want to be faithful to all of God’s Word. But they end up doing the very thing THE APOSTLES refused to do at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Remember Peter rebuked the Jewish Christians who said Gentile Christians MUST keep the Jewish law. Peter said (Slide 8; Acts 15:10). Sadly, many well-meaning baby Christians make this Old-Covenant – New-Covenant mistake all the time and become false teachers…
So Paul is encouraging us to be gracious and yet firm with well-meaning, immature Christians. JESUS, PETER AND PAUL are all clear that all food is clean. But for many Jewish Christians (and baby Christians) this truth is hard to grasp. WHY DO WE OBEY this bit of the Bible in the New Testament, but not this bit of the Bible, in the Old Testament. Our traditional Protestant answers about ceremonial laws, civil laws and moral laws – ONLY muddy the water further. So my preferred answer (in line with the book of Hebrews) is Christians only need to obey the New Testament because we are now under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant. We’re under a better, superior covenant and we’re actually in danger of forfeiting the new covenant, if we return to the old covenant. That’s a simple summary of Hebrews.
So I love all of God’s Word. But I live by faith in Jesus words recorded in the New Testament by the apostles. For many Christians – (especially Jewish Christians) it takes a lot of time to sort out in their mind the Old Testament – New Testament relationship.
Illustrate: Bob Mendehlsohn from “Jews for Jesus” still chooses to eat kosher and he observes the Sabbath. He doesn’t really defend that choice. But partially he is being a Jew to win the Jews. And thankfully for Bob, this comes very naturally. But not once has Bob tried to convince me – that I should eat kosher or observe the Sabbath. WHY? (PAUSE) Bob knows these things don’t matter. They are NOT NECESSARY and they are certainly NOT NECESSARY for Gentile Christians. In fact, some Jewish Christians get OFFENDED when Gentile Christians pretend to be Jews. There are too many Gentile Christians who are TRANS – trans-ethnic. Stop pretending you’re a Jew caught in a Gentile body.
Apply: So Paul appeals to the more mature Christians to be wise and gracious with weaker, confused brothers and sisters. FIRST, in verse 15 – Paul tells us not to cause distress to a weaker Christian”. FOR EXAMPLE don’t force Jewish Christians to be Gentiles, nor Gentile Christians to be Jews. Rather, let them work out the old Covenant-New Covenant relationship for themselves – rather than force them to do things they are not yet convinced about from Scripture. ANOTHER SIMILAR EXAMPLE is ALCOHOL. The Bible is clear that in moderation alcohol is ok. But for many Christians who have been alcoholics or seen the damage of alcohol – it often remains a lifelong difficulty. So be considerate.
SECOND, realise that if young Christians see you doing something they THINK is sinful (like eating non-kosher food or drinking alcohol), they may think Christians don’t actually obey the Bible. So remember, if you are a mature Christian, younger Christians are watching you to see how they should live. So be wise in how you exercise your freedom. BUT THIRD & FINALLY, Paul says – if you know that eating non-kosher food is ok – don’t allow the church to say its EVIL.
Point 2: Mature Christians should Uphold Righteousness, Peace & Joy
Show: Rom.14:16-18 (READ)
Explain: So far Paul has told us that there are such things as DISPUTABLE MATTERS in Christianity – like should Christians be Rabbitoh’s or Panthers supporter’s. I know you’ll all scream at me and say Rabbitohs. But there are some things where Christians can AGREE TO DISAGREE…
Paul has also encouraged us to be gentle and gracious with one another – understanding that it takes time for Christians to mature. 1) We start off on milk (simply trying to understand the gospel). Then 2) we get to meat and three veg – where we begin to understand God’s truth and righteousness. At this point – we often get over-zealous and a bit crazy. 3) But there is still another level of maturity where we learn to hold both GOD’S GRACE and GODS TRUTH together in all the messiness of this world.
This is what Paul is doing now. After encouraging us to be gracious with one another, he says in verse 16; “Do not allow what you know is good to be spoken of evil.” The YOU is now PLURAL and means church. Throughout verse 15 – the YOU is singular. As individual Christians we need to be gracious, gentle and wise in our interactions with immature, weak Christians. But YOU the church needs to be uncompromising in what is good and what is evil. Paul says do not allow what you know is good be spoken of as evil (in the church body). In Isaiah 5:20 the Bible says “Woe to those who call GOOD-evil AND EVIL-good.” Yes, the church needs to be gracious and gentle and accepting of young Christians and confused people. But not at the expense of what is good.
Back in Romans 12 – we were told that in response to Jesus saving us we must live lives pleasing to God. This included serving one another in the church. It means clinging to what is good AND hating what is evil. Paul explained a whole lot of things that were good and a whole lot of things that were evil.
So yes, we must be gracious. But not at the expense of REJECTING what is good or ACCEPTING what is evil. Paul says that YOU singular must be gracious and gentle with young Christians. But YOU plural the church must never allow what you know is GOOD to be spoken of as evil OR (I would add) what you know is EVIL to be spoken of as good.
The point is acceptance, graciousness and gentleness is limited by good and evil. There is a point where young, foolish Christians start becoming false teachers. When young, foolish Christians start making the Kingdom of God about food and drink, or circumcision and Sabbath observance – (or start to promote immorality) – the church as a collective body has to say NO! YOUR WRONG. This is not disputable matter. We are not going to agree to disagree. You are just plain wrong and you need to repent.
In circumstances (where the Bible is clear something is good or something is evil) the church has a responsibility to make sure good does not become evil, AND evil does not become good. We must get the balance between truth and grace right. This is where the Uniting church went very wrong.
Illustrate: Many years ago – a man in his mid-thirties joined – our church. He knew a bit of the Bible and professed to be a Christian. But he started going down a legalistic Jewish path. He started saying Christians needed to keep the Sabbath, eat kosher and get circumcised. He also got pedantic about Christmas and Easter and started causing lots of dissension in the church. Now at first, we were gracious with him and gentle with him. I read the Bible with him and tried to explain why he was sincerely wrong. But he was unteachable. And over time I also began to see some very significant sins in his life – that he refused to address. He just kept promoting Jewish ideas in the church and causing dissension. So in the end – THE WARDENS AND I asked him to leave the church because he was beginning to call things that are good – evil, and things that are evil – good…
Apply: Now the truth is – this happens around the edges of all churches because we have an open-door policy. Sometimes people from other religions like HINDUISM, BUDDHISM OR ISLAM come to our church with their own religious ideas – speaking things that are untrue. But we are gracious and gentle so they have time to learn about Jesus and hopefully convert to Christianity. Sometimes people who are sexually immoral or drug addicts come to our church. That doesn’t mean we accept these behaviours. But we are gracious and gentle and somewhat accepting – because we want them to learn about Jesus’ death for their sins and gradually be changed by God’s Spirit.
(GOSPEL) The fact is – the true God, the Creator God – sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins. There is a penalty for calling good-evil AND evil-good. It is death. We deserve to be sent to hell. But as Jesus died on the cross he took the penalty for your sins. The good news of Christianity is that no matter what sin you have committed or what religion you have followed up to now – GOD WILL FORGIVE YOU – if you trust in Jesus and start obeying the Bible. God will do this for you because he loves you. But truly there is no other way to be saved. Hindusim, Buddhism and Islam are all wrong. Sexual immorality and greed is also wrong. Of course, many of the adherents in these religions and ways of life are sincere. But they are sincerely wrong.
So, we give everyone time to UNDERSTAND the truth about Jesus and decide for themselves whether they want to become Christians or not. But that does have limits. The church is gracious and gentle. But if you start to publicly disagree with the Bible or you start calling good, evil AND evil, good – you will eventually be asked to leave. While the church must be gracious, it must also stand for the truth of the gospel AND it must uphold what is good and stand against what is evil.
Point 3: Mature Christians MUST balance PEACE, with EDIFICATION
Show: Rom.14:19-21 (READ)
Explain: Well please notice Paul says we have two goals. Then first goal is peace and the second goal is edification. On the one hand we need to be gracious and gentle with one another (especially on disputable matters) in order to maintain peace and unity in the church. But on the other hand we need to make sure that only edifying things are being promoted and taught in the church. EDIFICATION is about being built up in God’s truth. The more we are edified by Gods truth the more mature we become as Christians. But if we are too gracious and put up with lots of error and/or arguing over disputable matters – people stop being edified.
Apply: Friends, in our modern world, we probably lean too heavily on the grace and gentleness side. The world tells us to tolerate everything and accept everyone. The world says there is no such thing as right or wrong; good or evil. Just agree to disagree about everything. This means the modern church is facing a real pressure to accept and tolerate everything. THE CHURCH CANNOT DO THIS – because there is such a thing as truth. But at the same time – the loss of truth in the world – means the EVANGELICAL CHURCH has a bit of a siege mentality going on. We almost expect a fight and anticipate a fight – sometimes where there is no fight. Sometimes what we think is a fight is just Christian immaturity, or confusion or a slightly different cultural approach to the Bible. And instead of charging in and arguing about everything (which is hardly edifying) we need to bite our tongue and promote peace. Responding in the right way, at the right time requires great wisdom, a sensitivity to Gods Spirit and Christian maturity.
But again, under the current circumstances, I MUST say it’s not peace – at the expense of biblical righteousness. Paul says in verse 22 – “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” Again, if we approve of good things that cause younger Christians to stumble, we break the law of love and condemn ourselves.
But similarly, if we are so gracious that we start approving of evil things that the Bible calls sin, we also break the rule of love and so condemn ourselves. So Paul calls mature Christians to be wise and exhorts us to get both sides right. We must make every effort to do what leads to peace in the church (short of calling good-evil AND evil-good). And we must make every effort to edify people in God’s truth (short of pushing them to do things that are not coming from genuine faith and biblical comprehension). For everything that does not come from love of Jesus and Bible informed faith – HAS THE NATURE OF SIN. So getting people to do the right biblical thing (without understanding why or against their better judgment) is still sin. Only when people truly live by faith in Jesus and His Word (above all other words) – is it truly pleasing to God. But this takes time and this takes patience…