Big Idea: Christians MUST learn to be Gracious in Disputable Matters
Intro: Morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are moving into the final section of Romans. Romans 14 & 15 is focussed on “PEACE AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION” in the church. What Paul is explaining is that while ALL Christians must be united in walking in the light of biblical truth, we MUST recognize that there will be legitimate differences in what that means. So lets pray…
Prayer: Well Romans 14-15 explains what super-mature Christianity looks like in practice. Mature Christians know what really matters in the church and they know what is less important. Mature Christians know winning the person, is more important than winning the fight. This is not something that is easily taught. It takes time as a Christian.
I really began to wrestle with this question when I first finished Bible college. I trained at a low church (non-traditional), biblically conservative Anglican Bible college. But my first job was in Newcastle Anglican Diocese which was high Church and very, very traditional. They loved their robes and they loved their Anglican liturgies
So straight away – I had to work out what really mattered and what was less important? For starters – I had to wear Anglican robes. Yes, there are pictures to confirm this. But if you tell anyone – I’ll deny it and you and I will settle things out the back. (PAUSE) But what made me a little flexible were the apostle Paul’s word’s in 1 Corinthians 9. He said; “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1Cor.9:22). If I was going to spread the gospel in Newcastle Diocese – I needed to see that not every fight – was worth fighting. Not every fight was a gospel fight.
So I decided that I could wear Anglican robes. (Maybe, you would disagree with that decision. That’s ok). But I ended up working with a retired Anglican Bishop, named Colin Schumach.
He was a very traditional Anglican Bishop. Together we ran an 8am Anglican Church service – every Sunday – that was almost Catholic in style. But I was allowed to preach every second Sunday. And much to my surprise Bishop Colin was positive about my sermons. Slowly, I began to see that on the fundamentals of Jesus, salvation by faith and the authority of God’s Word we generally agreed. (This was certainly not the case with many other bishops in Newcastle).
Now yes, I challenged Colin on some of his high church traditions that I thought were silly. He also challenged me on some of my low church thinking that he thought was infantile and pedantic. But over time – we recognized in each other true, genuine Christian faith and we prayed together. Colin (who is now with the Lord) taught me things about holiness, biblical mystery and epistemic humility (that I think was lacking in my low church, evangelical training).
Now in the end Newcastle Diocese refused to ordain me a minister. So Bishop Colin kind of publicly rebuked them. Shortly, after I was rejected, THE DIOCESE held a special service in honour of Bishop Colin Schumach’s 50 years of Christian ministry. (All the Bishop’s and big-wigs were present – and Colin requested that I lead the church service). The hierarchy protested. But Colin demanded. Despite our significant differences – Colin believed I should be an Anglican minister and he recognized me as a genuine Christian brother – although we were like chalk and cheese. And this is what today’s passage is about. Its about having the grace to recognize true Christian faith, even when significant differences exist….
Point 1: Christians must accept other Christians who have Genuine Faith*
Show: Rom.14:1-4 (READ)
Explain: Well in chapters 1-11, Paul explains how Jews and Gentiles are all sinners, SAVED BY GOD’S GRACE, through faith in Jesus Christ. When we believe in Jesus – God forgives us and we are eternally saved. So Paul then says in Romans 12:1-2 (Slide 2).
This is the APPLICATION part of Romans. In response to what Jesus has done for us at the cross, this is how we are meant to live. And last week – end of chapter 13 – Paul told us Christians must walk in THE LIGHT, not in THE DARKNESS. Now obviously, some things are darkness. Paul explains orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension and jealousy are all darkness. If you are a Christian you can’t keep doing these things. But what about cleaning your teeth? There’s actually nothing in the Bible about cleaning your teeth. There’s also nothing in the Bible saying whether you should use the NIV Bible translation or the KJV Bible translation. So what should you do? What if you make the wrong decision?
The fact is – there are a lot of things in the Bible that are perfectly clear. A) Drunkenness, orgies, sexual immorality and greed are all darkness. B) Truth telling; generosity, faithfulness and forgiveness are all light. But there are lots of things in the Bible – that fall into the category of WISDOM, rather than clear right or wrong. For instance – should Christians drink alcohol? That is not a YES or NO answer. It depends on our past. It depends on who we are with and why we are drinking. Of course, if you’ve been an alcoholic – it’s a no brainer. THE ANSWER IS NO. Don’t drink. But another possible example is should Christians be baptized by A) immersion or B) is sprinkling with water ok? Again, Christians often hold very strong positions on some of these subjects – even when the Bible is less clear (or has qualified answers).
So its in this context of the Bible NOT spelling out absolutely every detail of the Christian life that Paul writes Romans 14.
Look again at verse 1 (READ; Rom.14:1-3). Notice it says – ACCEPT him whose faith is weak. Notice this is not saying TOLERATE those whose faith is weak. Its saying ACCEPT those whose faith is weak. ACCEPTANCE is more than begrudging tolerance. ACCEPTANCE is positive and inclusive and embracing. Paul is saying accept those in whom you discern genuine Christian faith, even if you think it’s weak or ill-informed or infantile.
So what is genuine, saving faith (even if it’s weak)? Does genuine Christian faith have to be right on ALL points of doctrine? Does genuine Christian faith – ONLY display acceptable middle-class sins? Of course, the answer is no. Genuine saving faith is basically “I am wretched sinner and Jesus is a wonderful Saviour.” In fact, when a person first becomes a Christian – they may not be able to articulate much more than God loves me and Jesus died for me. But whenever we discern genuine Christian faith (even if it’s really weak) we are meant to have an attitude of love and acceptance.
Now a little later in Romans 15 (continuing on the theme of accepting one another) Paul writes this (Slide 5; Rom.15:7-9). Now straightaway, we see that our acceptance of other Christians is meant to be as Jesus accepted us. That is graciously, lovingly and welcomingly (If that is a word). But we also see that there is a Jewish and Gentile Christian issue lurking in the background. The Jewish Christians are meant to be accepting the Gentile Christians and vice versa. But we know Jew-Gentile issues existed in the early church and we’ve seen it in Romans. Right from the beginning (in chapter 1) – Paul said the gospel is first for the Jews and then for the Gentiles (Rom.1:16-17). So straightaway Paul identifies there is a still some DIFFERENCES between Jews and Gentiles. Although we are all equal in Christ. The gospel is first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles. That means something. We’re also told – after the full number of Gentiles come in, then the Jews will be saved (Rom.11:25-26). We’re equal, but some things are different.
So differences, still exist between Jews and Gentile’s in God’s big plan of salvation and these differences caused problems. Jewish Christians still wanted to observe some aspects of their religious past, like observing the Sabbath and eating kosher. Gentile Christians thought these things should be discarded. So who is right?
Apply: Well so long as the Jewish Christians trusted in Jesus for salvation and not in their Sabbath observance or kosher eating – then it wasn’t a problem. Of course, the book of Galatians explains that if Jewish Christians THINK Sabbath observance or eating kosher is what saves them – there is a big problem. (I personally think Galatians also says that if Gentiles start observing the Jewish law – that is another big problem). But God originally gave these laws to the Jews (and while Jesus reinterpreted many of them) nowhere did Jesus forbid them. So a Jewish Christian who believed in Jesus as Messiah could choose to worship Jesus on a Saturday and they could choose to eat kosher.
But problems started to arise because the JEWISH CHRISTIANS were trying to turn the GENTILE CHRISTIANS into Jews AND the Gentile Christians were trying to turn the Jewish Christians into Gentiles. SO PAUL SAYS STOP. Accept one another – where you see genuine Christian faith in Jesus, even if you think that faith is weak or ill-informed. This is gracious mature Christianity.
Point 2: Christians must be True to their Understanding of Jesus
Show: Rom.14:5-6 (READ)
Explain: Well here are some of the differences. Some Christians are eating everything and others only eating VEGETABLES. Some Christians are observing special holy days and others are not. Some Christians are drinking wine and others are avoiding wine. Now some of this seems strange to our modern ears – because nowhere in the Bible does God forbid eating meat or drinking wine.
I mean, as a man who loves BBQ, Genesis 9 – where God tells Noah – you can now eat the animals is one of my favourite Bible passages. I mean its right up there alongside John 3:16. Jesus died for me AND I can eat the animals. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord! Of course, if you want to be vegan or vegetarian – that’s up to you. I seriously don’t get it. But eating meat or not eating meat is a Christian freedom.
SO WHY are some Jewish Christians going vegetarian? Well If you go back to Daniel 1, you’ll see Daniel does exactly the same thing in Babylon. He turns vegetarian and rejects wine. Why? Well, Daniel knows that in the butchering process – all the animal’s in Babylon are being dedicated to pagan gods. He also knows the same thing has happened with the wines. They’re offered to the pagan gods in a LIBATION SACRIFICE before being drunk. So Daniel, abstained from food and wine that was tainted by idolatry. And it appears – devout Jewish Christians in Rome were doing the same thing. They were avoiding anything tainted by idolatry. Now they weren’t necessarily doing this for legalistic righteousness. They may have simply been doing this in reverence for God and in love of neighbour.
Now this may all seem irrelevant. But it’s not really. In the preparation of Muslim HALAL meat – the same sort of idolatry happens. As animals are butchered in Islam TWO special Muslim prayers are said – called the TASMIYYAH and TAKBIR – dedicating the slaughtered animal and the consumers of the animal to Allah.
So every time you eat your Turkish Halal kebabs, you are eating meat dedicated to a false god, named Allah. So should Christians eat meat that is HALAL. Most Gentile Christians will eat halal without thinking twice. But Jews and Jewish Christians (even today) generally say, no way. If possible, they will avoid Halal. So who’s right?
Well a little later in Romans 14:14 (Slide 10) – Paul says “I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.” So all the Gentiles think few I can keep eating kebabs). But the word “UNCLEAN” tells us Paul is focussed on all types of food (including pork and seafood) being ok for Christian consumption. He’s not talking about food offered to idols. You may recall – that at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Gentile Christians were clearly told to avoid food offered to idols. That was one of the four things. So a plain reading of Acts 15 – says Gentile Christians should avoid food offered to idols and halal meat is somewhere on that spectrum. What’s more, we need to realise that it’s VERY UNLIKELY Paul is completely renouncing the Jerusalem Councils decision in either Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8-10. That is profoundly unlikely.
Now 1 Corinthians 8-10 also talks about food offered to idols. GENTILE CHRISTIANS generally focus on chapter 8. JEWISH CHRISTIANS focus on chapter 10 (Slide 8; 1 Cor.8:4). Despite what the Jerusalem Council said, Gentile Christians generally conclude – AN IDOL IS NOTHING; so let’s have a kebab. We tend to ignore everything else Paul says about whether we’re eating in KNOWLEDGE or in IGNORANCE and its impact on other people. Meanwhile Jewish Christians tend to focus on 1 Corinthians 10; where Paul says (Slide 9 – 1Cor.10:19-20). So is it ok to participate in demonic activity? Well generally, we’d say no! (PAUSE) So if I truly engage with everything the Bible says about “food sacrificed to idols” – I have to acknowledge it is a fairly nuanced and not straightforward subject. So “food sacrificed idols” becomes a perfect example of where Christians need to show grace towards one another.
Apply: So Paul kind of says whatever you decide on this topic (and others like it) you should be fully convinced in your own mind. Don’t be lazy. Think carefully about what you believe and then act accordingly. But don’t be too quick to judge others (who disagree) – because some issues are not actually as straightforward as we sometimes pretend…
In some situations, (when you truly engage with the Bible) you may even find it hard to come down definitively one way or another. THAT’S GOOD because it will make you more humble and gracious with others. Now you may fret and think what if I reach the wrong conclusion on halal food (or something else). Well, we shouldn’t blatantly walk in darkness. But over the course of your Christian life – you will make some mistakes and you will probably change your position on some things. That’s humble, healthy Christianity.
Remember the good news is that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. WE ARE NOT SAVED by having perfect theology or perfect ethics. No! (GOSPEL) Jesus died for our sins. In his love for us – Jesus took the punishment for all our wrongdoing when he died on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for your willful sins and your genuine mistakes done in ignorance. God says – we are saved when we truly believe in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. We are saved by God’s grace (and by God’s forgiveness) through faith in Jesus. And then we start following Jesus as best we can. Remember as best we can…
So in the end, you have to have a working position. Does Jesus want me to eat food offered to idols or avoid food offered to idols? I think generally speaking you’d have to say the answer is avoid where possible, but it depends on context and it’s not a poison chalice. It may even depend on whether you’re Jew or Gentile and your cultural background? Your Christian witness as a Jew (to other Jews) may be so compromised by eating Halal – that it wrecks your evangelism. So perhaps in love Christian Jews should not eat Halal. But maybe, in certain situations Christian Gentiles should eat Halal.
The reality is – that in some issues – things are not going to be entirely black or entirely white. It’s going to come down to context and wisdom and even gospel witness. Some examples of where Christians probably need to accept one another and show grace is in issues related to 1) baptism; 2) or Arminianism vs Calvinism; 3) theories about the end of the world; 4) church governance; 5) Pentecostal gifts and 6) maybe some issues of creation. The same is true on some moral issues – like observing the Sabbath and maybe divorce and remarriage. There is probably some room legitimate disagreement. Now again, I’m not saying – be wishy washy – and accept everything. Some things are clearly inconsistent with Christian faith. But mature Christians do know the areas – where they are willing to accept and embrace Christian brothers and sisters – who may think differently. This is humble and healthy mature Christianity.
Point 3: Christians Should first Focus on their own Walk
Show: Rom.14:10-12 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul says that instead of judging everybody elses walk with Jesus – we should first focus on ourselves. On the last day – when I stand before God – it really doesn’t matter what other people have done. It matters what I’ve done. We’re not all the SAME. I am a husband, I am a father and I am a pastor – so the way God ultimately judges me will be different to how he judges some of you. But likewise, some of you are single and that is an incredible blessing (in its own way). So God is going to expect some different sacrifices from you, to what he expects from me. Some of us are rich and some of us are poor. Some of us are Jews and some of us Gentiles. Again, that means the way we are ALL judged on the last day is going to be a bit different.
Now we have lots in common and some things like sexual immorality, drunkenness and greed will always be wrong. Some things like truth telling, going to church and praying faithfully will always be right. But each of our personal callings may be slightly different as living sacrifices for God.
The rightness or wrongness for me a white fella attending an aboriginal smoking ceremony, may be different for an aboriginal Christian who knows the spirits being summoned in the ceremony. The other night in Bible study – we talked about CHINESE ANCESTOR WORSHIP. In Malaysia and in China they hold exactly the same spiritual customs at the grave – which include incense and offerings. But in China (which is now largely atheistic) these customs are simply carried out, in much the same way I might lay flowers at some ones grave. Its just a sign of respect. But in Malaysia these same customs are still steeped in real spiritual religious beliefs. So while a Chinese Christian may be able to do these things in good conscience, a Malay Christian may have to abstain.
Apply: As Christians we are called to be living sacrifices for God, who live in the light (and not in darkness). But there are still going to be some legitimate differences in how that is expressed. Some of us – are going to UNDERSTAND parts of the Bible differently. Some of us – are going to have slightly different APPLICATIONS – because of our culture, our talents and even how long we’ve been a Christian. So, Paul encourages us to accept and embrace other Christians – where we discern genuine faith (even if it appears weak or is expressed in slightly different ways to us).
This is mature biblical Christianity. WE KNOW some things are light. WE KNOW some things are darkness. These things are indisputable. But we also know – some things are less clear and some things even apply differently in different contexts. In a mature Christian church – there is room to AGREE to DISAGREE (and yet still pray, worship and engage in mission together). Do you have this maturity? Can you share fellowship with Christians with whom you disagree? OR is absolutely everything, everything, everything black and white for you (and you tend to break fellowship at the first sign of difference)? If the answer is yes – you may actually need to repent, because black and white everything usually leads to self-righteousness and CULTS.