This is the eighth week of our fall sermon series, “Viva La Vida Christus: Living the Life of Christ” dealing with Romans 12-16. Part 8, this week, is titled “The Principle of Preference” and works with Romans 14:13-15:3 addressing how walk to relationally walk through a disagreement with a fellow Chrsitian. This sermon was originally preached November 9th, 2008 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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November 9th, 2008
Pastor Duane M. Smets
Series: Viva La Vida | Romans 12-16
“The Principle of Preference” (Part 2)
Good morning everyone. How’s everybody doing? You all glad all the election craze is finally over. I sure am. Now we can all get on with our lives…at least for few years until everyone gets all hyped up at the next go around. Personally I just can’t wait until Jesus returns, set-up his throne here on earth and then we can just be done with the whole thing.
Well, we need to get to the Bible eh? So let’s do it. We’re winding down, coming to the end of our fall sermon series, Viva La Vida Christus, which means that we are coming to the end our study through the book of Romans. We have only three weeks left.
Right now, today we’re in the middle of chapter 14 and we’re essentially talking about how you get along with other people who are in the church. If you thought that becoming a Christian and being part of a church meant that you were hooking up with the good guys and in the church everything is all nice and pretty all the time…I’m sorry to disappoint you but that just isn’t the case. In fact it’s the opposite.
The church is a group of messed up people. Everyone is messed up in the world, the only difference with the church is were supposed to know were messed up and we’re looking to Jesus as our hope and our redemption…the gospel has gripped us and is changing us.
Maybe you haven’t had that experience and you’re experience of church has been all nice and good…that probably means you’ve never really got involved with the people who are the church. It probably means you’ve only attended Sunday services and failed to really get connected to the community of the church like you’re supposed to. The word church means people, the relationships of a group of people who are together trusting in Jesus. Church is people and it means living the life of Christ together. And that gets messy at times but it’s what we need. We need each other and each other’s messes.
Rick McKinely, a pastor up in Portland, calls church the beautiful mess, which is the title of his latest book. And I think church is messy not only because we are all sinners and have a lot of junk Jesus has got to deal with us about but because in the church you get people from all different backgrounds, races, cultures, ages, life experiences, which makes for a wide variety of opinions on various things…and when you put all those people together, you’re going to naturally have some problems.
The Bible recognizes this and that’s why there are places in it like Romans 14 to help us learn how to deal with that. I’ll give us a brief breakdown of what we covered last week in it and then we’ll read the text we’re working with today and see what God has to teach us through it.
So, chapter 14:1-15:13 really all go together as one section addressing the same thing. It’s a long chunk, but in it there is this one overriding principle that gets restated 7 times in this with roughly 23 supporting reasons addressing the necessity and nature of the principle. The principle is one of preference, giving away personal preference for the sake of another.
Now, 14:1-15:13 is a really long section. I felt exhausted just trying to read the whole thing at the beginning of my sermon last week. It is a packed section. I don’t know how the early church did it when they would sit and read the whole book of Romans together in one sitting. That’s crazy. So we basically only talked about the first 12 verses because in our day and culture we all have ADD and that’s about all we could handle. Today, we’ll take on another 14 verses and still sort of cut things off short and deal with the final piece in this section addressing preference next week.
Last week was mainly a set-up week. Here’s what we learned.
1. The original church in Rome had two main groups of people who came from two distinct religious backgrounds before they came to believe in the gospel and became Christians. One group’s religion hadn’t allowed them to eat certain kinds of meat, they only worshipped on certain days, and thought they were better than others for it. The other group loved meat and wine and didn’t see anything more important about one day versus another.
2. Both groups were Christian and loved and worshipped Jesus, they “lived for the Lord” and gave honor and thanks to him. They had unity in that, their belief, confidence, love and trust in Jesus.
3. The disagreements the two groups were having were matters of “opinion (vs.1).” So they were inconsequential in regards to whether one group was really Christian or not. So we learned that there are a number of things we may disagree about as Christians, that we can disagree with about and still be in the same family.
There are secondary things, opinions, matters of indifference, or what’s called adiaphora…that we can have different opinions about and it’s okay. I listed off a bunch of them last week: not just whether your vegan or not, or whether you drink alcohol or not (which are sort of mentioned here) but also things like: voting, tattoos, smoking or chewing tobacco, cussing, “R” rated movies or TV, driving SUV’s, listening to non-Christian or good music, baby baptism, speaking in tongues, or your view on end times just to name a few things. There is freedom in these things because it is possible for a Christian to be on one side or the other in these areas while having a totally free conscience before Jesus and thank and honor him in it. That’s the main question.
4. One group is called weak and one group is called strong. Which was not an insult but a humble recognition that there are different levels of maturity among Christians, some are further along in the depth of their understanding and the way they are able live out their faith, and that is okay. Some are going to be weak and some are going to be strong and the weak and the strong need each other.
5. Lastly, we learned that since both groups are Christian we are not to judge one another in the since of calling into question and sentence one another to hell because of these practices. Both are Christian and the judgment is belongs to Jesus alone, thus it is a very serious accusation to call into question someone’s faith in regards to one of these issues, that is not our place.
That brings us to verse 13 and as I said last week, this next part will really teach us how to walk through these issues in a practical way. How we make decisions and work with each other when we disagree. So let’s read it and pray.
Holy Spirit of God thank you for breathing out these words of the Bible through your servant Paul. Help us today to grasp them, to see where and how to apply it in our individual lives and relationships with one another. Lord, use your word today to teach us how to build up your community, your church rather than tear it down. And most of all would you use this text and this time to draw us closer to Jesus and see how his life and death radically changes how we approach and view everything. We need Jesus desperately. Be at work in us in these moments. Amen.
Judging, Stumbling, Building Up and Destroying One Another
So my first point for this morning is, “Judging, Stumbling, Building Up and Destroying One Another.” These are two pairs of warning and admonishments which get repeated a few times in this passage.
First judgment and stumbling. Verse 13, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” And verse 20-21, “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.”
Now we already learned last week that the judging being talked about here is the final judgment, when at the end of our lives or when Jesus returns, whichever happens first, each and every one of us will stand before him and his throne and have to give an account for our lives. This judgment is the heaven and hell judgment. It’s not saying that we don’t ever challenge one another.
You might be tempted to think the Bible here is teaching relativism. The postmodern idea that there is no real absolute truth, and what is right or wrong is just relative to the person. Look at verse 14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus (here Paul offer his personal opinion) that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.”
What do you think? It sort of sounds like it right? But notice something with me. Notice that word “think.” That is a loaded word. He just said in this sentence that what one thinks is a matter of persuasion, he’s been persuaded. Earlier in the passage, we learned last week, that if we do have differences of opinion or persuasion, we still ought to study the positions out and take a position. Look at verse 5, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” So what we think isn’t just offering our resident bias without actually really trying to pursue and land on the correct position.
If a person comes to a place as Paul does here and says I am persuaded this way, it is because number one they have given thought to it. They studied and considered both sides of the issue. And then two, they’ve put it before the Lord and have their position with a clean conscience. That’s what the last reference to judging is about here. Your personal internal judgment of yourself. It’s verse 22, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.”
Okay, so I took us through that line of reasoning for two reasons. One, because we live in such pluralistic times, it is important for us to know that the Bible clearly does not teach relativism even in secondary matters where we are allowed to have differences of opinion within the church.
The second reason is this, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about judging. Often people, when confronted about some issue in their life, usually some area of sin, will throw up a sort of defense move and say, “Don’t judge me!” And often for support they will sort of misquote, pull Jesus words out of context from Matthew 7:1, where Jesus says, “Judge not lest you be judged.”
They often leave out how Jesus concludes his teaching on judging where he says to first recognize and deal with yourself and your own sin, so that you can see clearly to help your brother or sister (Mt 7:5). What Jesus was getting at in Matthew 7 I believe is the same thing Paul is getting at here in Romans 14…and that is consigning people to hell, coming to them from the top down as though we are better, and instead of coming to them out of a spirit of love and care and concern.
I get that from our text because of what it says about stumbling. Look at the second part of verse 13 again, “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” The word for stumbling block here could also be a road block.
In the ancient province of Rome, the land this letter was originally written to, one of the chief things which made Rome so great was its roads. There was a saying called the “Pax Romana,” the “peace of Rome.” It often referred to the safety of the roads. They made roads and guarded them and insured safe passageway for people to travel on them. Sometimes there would be road blocks. Either because of a physical barrier or obstacle that ended up wrecking the road, which would need to be fixed. You’ve probably encountered something like that at one point or another when driving. Or sometimes a road block could be a human one, like a check point, where the soldiers would stop travelers and question them and based upon their answers decide whether or not to let them pass.
I used to take a lot of surf trips in Mexico and we would frequently encounter this. Maybe you’ve traveled down in Mexico and you come to these checkpoints where there are soldiers all dressed up in their uniform holding machine guns and they ask you a bunch of questions in Spanish that you don’t understand. The conversation usually deteriorates into them point at different things in your car and you don’t get to pass until you give them your watch or something.
I think that sort of captures the idea here with a stumbling block or hindrance. The idea is that we would act as some sort of officer toward one another, with a list of checkmarks that a person must first pass before we will let them into fellowship and friendship with us. That doesn’t help someone, who is already a Christian and is trying live for Jesus. It just make it harder on them and confuses the gospel, turning it into a list of checkmarks and do’s and don’ts where we work for the approval of men rather than relishing the God’s acceptance of us on the basis of Jesus.
This text is saying, don’t make it hard for each other. Don’t put up road blocks and barriers in the way. Do you see that? Decide not to put a block or hindrance “in the way.” We’ve talked many times about the Christian life being a journey we are traveling on. Often it is a long and arduous journey and we are to travel together not fighting and racing to see who can get to the end first.
That brings us to the second main pair here, building up and destroying. With these words we switch from the analogy of the Christian life being a journey to the analogy of the Christian life being a building. Here’s where it’s at…
The second part of verse 15, “…do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”
Verse 19, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.”
Verse 20, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God”
And verse 2 of chapter 15, “let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
So there are two options, building up or destroying, which is essentially tearing down…tearing down or building up. We are to build one another up and not tear one another down. This addresses a key issue within Jesus’ church, within Christian community and that is our tendency to want to make everything into a competition. We have this bent to want to always compare ourselves to each other in terms of who is smarter, who is prettier, who is more holy, who is more right.
This tells us we are looking at things entirely wrong. When we look at things that way we are looking at our achievements and our giftings, we are indulging in self-centered pride. Instead we are to see ourselves in a much humbler fashion. We are to see ourselves as people who need a lot of work. The foundation has been laid in Jesus, but there is a lot of building left to be done. There are walls to be put up, a roof that needs to be put over our heads, there’s electrical wires to run, drywall to be hung, there’s a lot of painting to be done and fixtures to be installed. We are a building and we are to help each other in this work of, “mutual up building.”
Now, I know maybe that analogy is tough for some of you to grasp because you’ve never touched a hammer in your entire life. Some of you guys have no clue how to work a screwdriver or a saw and you scare me. That’s okay, just stick to the computer keys. You can work on the architectural plans or something. Just do some push-up every once in awhile to make sure your still a real man. We’ll help out with the rest.
We’re building a building. That’s the idea here, that we are building a building together as a church and each member has a part and something to contribute and each person is important. When we take these secondary issues and turn them into primary issues and start comparing ourselves to one another and putting unnecessary restrictions on one another, that doesn’t help. In fact it hurts, it tears down. It makes things more difficult and frustrating and not enjoyable and it can even damage someone’s progress in the faith.
Did you catch that? That you can destroy or tear down the work of God, the one for whom Christ died? You might say how does that happen? It happens when you take a person’s eyes off of Christ by causing them to focus more on how they think or behave regarding a secondary issue instead of them being motivated by a love for Jesus and for their Christian brothers or sisters. There is a danger of trying to turn the gospel into a religion, when it is not, the gospel is about those for whom Christ died.
Conviction, Community, and The Kingdom of God
Okay, let’s move on to our second main point for today. Conviction, Community and the Kingdom of God. This is the nitty gritty. How we walk through something like this, when we disagree with one another. When two different people or groups think one thing with a clear conscience before Jesus and another person or group thinks another with a clear conscience before Jesus.
First, conviction. That is where it begins. The issue is having a clear conscience before Jesus. Verse 23, “Whoever doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
You see it begins with each of us as individuals. We have to start at our motives. You see it is very easy for us to justify what we want to do just because it what we want to do without having any regard first for what God thinks about it. There is no area of life that has nothing to do with God. Whether it is sex, or what we eat and drink, or what clothes we wear, what job we work at, how we work at our job, what relationship we have, how we relate, where we live….everything has to do with Jesus. There is no part of our lives we have any right to cut off away from God and say he doesn’t care or it doesn’t have anything to do with him.
If we are not making our decisions on how we live and behave out of our faith in Christ, then no matter what it is, it is sin and displeasing to God. If it does not proceed from faith it is sin. So it would be very easy to take the freedoms or liberty we have in Christ and just say oh, it does matter. But that’s not the case. Everything matters. This is another reason why there must be room for differences. Because what is right or okay for a person may depend on who they are or where they are at in their life.
For example, I spent 3-4 four years of my life, pretty consistently either high or drunk…when I began walking with Jesus I quit drinking entirely for 5 years. I didn’t have a sip of alcohol until my honeymoon. That was a season in my life where it would have been wrong, a sin for me to drink because God wanted to teach me some things for awhile to get me to a place where I could drink alcohol again and it not be a sin for me.
You see based on each of our backgrounds or experiences God is working in each of us in different ways and there are different seasons of our faith. We have to stay sensitive before the Lord and always be willing to give anything up if we believe that is what he is asking. Our motives for everything must proceed from our faith.
Then, we are not only to first consider our personal convictions but then our community’s concerns. Christianity teaches something radical and that is that we are all part of the kingdom of God, living life together under Jesus’ rule. That means we are not living for building our own personal kingdoms. That is the way most people live and make decisions solely about how things effect only themselves or their immediate family. The gospel changes that and calls us to make decisions in light of how it effects our church family as well.
Last year Mikey and I were at an Acts 29 conference up in Seattle and we were talking with the musicians from one of worship music bands and they were taking the issue of Christian community and mission so serious they had begun a project called, “homiesville.” Where they and their wife and kids were making decisions to all buy houses in the same neighborhood so that they could better love each other and better work together in loving their neighbors with the gospel.
Can you imagine that? Thinking that the people of my church have something to do with what house I buy? That my Christian brothers and sisters should have a say in where I decide to live? That is huge. But that is the kind of radical Christian community living that the gospel draws Jesus’ church into. It always has throughout history.
Well let’s take it down to an individual personal level…what you do when there’s disagreement. So far we’ve got we need to approach it looking to by not making a Christian or not Christian issue, not approaching it with road block checklist, looking to build a person up, and first considering our own person motives and convictions. If all that is in place and there is still disagreement, here’s what you do:
Verse 15, “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”
Verse 17-18, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Verse 21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
Here it is…you give way. You give up your personal preference, conviction, opinion for the sake of the other person. You just give in. You know in your heart you are right and are free before the Lord, your conscience is clean…you’ve studied it, your motives are right, but you just give way…because you care more about the other person and their faith and than you do getting your way. That’s it.
Notice, love is the motive. If a brother or sister just can’t come to grips with where you are at in something…they are grieved, it’s just too hard. You give way. How can you do that? Because you love them and it doesn’t really matter because when it comes down to it, the Kingdom of God, the good life, life the way it should be under Jesus rule and reign…isn’t about what is right or wrong on these issues, it is about the righteousness, peace and joy we have together through the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts. That is stronger. Our bond together as forgiven children of God goes way beyond our petty disagreements.
So let me give you some examples just to drive it home. I mentioned alcohol earlier, I think that is probably the issue that comes up the most in our church. It was tough for Christian back then and it is tough for Christians now. Say someone thinks you shouldn’t drink alcohol as a Christian.
Okay, I would disagree with them because Jesus drank and there is nothing inherently wrong with alcohol. Being drunk is wrong and is displeasing to God but not enjoying alcohol if you don’t get drunk. But say someone just can’t get over that. Fine, I’m not going to force them to drink with me and I’m not going to drink in front of them if that is just going to make them feel uncomfortable and at odds with me when in reality we have way more in common because of our mutual love and trust in Jesus.
Now it goes the other way too. Say someone has had a problem with abusing alcohol in the past and they are in a season of being sober in order to work on some issues in their heart on why they got so entrapped with alcohol before. Well duh, you need to help that person and not drink in front of them or with them…if you do you’re just making it hard for them to abstain when they feel that is what God wants them to do for awhile.
You see our liberty as Christian enables us to be free to drink or not to drink. I don’t have to have alcohol to have a good time and I’m not going to force the issue with those who have a problem with it. For example, I was at a wedding last night and there was an open bar and most the people at my table were having a beer or a glass of wine. But my brother in-law was at the table and he has a hard time with it. So I didn’t hassle him about it and try and get him to drink and have this big argument about it. We both love each other. We’re both Christians, we’re both ministers and we’ve learned that our relationship means far more to us then whether we agree about alcohol or Calvinism or a whole other host of things we disagree on. So I had my beer and he had his juice and we had we just left it alone out of love and had a great time together.
So let me ask you a personal question. Take some issue you have, whether it be alcohol, meat eating, voting, baptism, any of the secondary issues…could you give up your position out of love for another. Say you want to get a tattoo and you know it would really hurt someone who you love. There’s nothing wrong with tattoos, Jesus has one on his leg that says, “King of kings and Lord of Lords.” But this person is weak in faith and is quoting Leviticus and is going to be really hurt by it. Could you give up your desire for the tattoo because you care more about the person you love?
Or how about the other way around? You may honestly think people shouldn’t get tattoos but someone else has a free conscience before the Lord about it. Could you just give up your opinion out of your love for that person and let them be free to do as they wish rather than putting an obstacle in your relationship?
What about other things? Say you don’t eat meat. But you are having dinner at person’s house who prides themselves in their ability to cook meat, it’s their specialty. Could you give up your personal preference out of love because you know the other person would feel bad if you refused their food? Or how about on the other side. You are having people over for dinner who you know are vegan. Could you just give up your love of meat out of love and cook up some tasty tofu instead because you love those people you’re having over?
You see it goes both ways. It’s like in marriage…you seek to out serve one another. And if both parties are always seeking to please each other then you’re going to avoid a lot of problems because both people are always trying to figure out how they can give way and give preference to the other person. That is how it is supposed to be.
The Burdens and Pleasures of The Christian
Okay, our last point for this morning, “The Burdens and Pleasures of The Christian.” These last few verses for today sort of summarize everything we’ve said and tie it all together with Jesus. Let’s read ‘em, Romans 15:1-3, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
There is so much joy in becoming a Christian and becoming part of Jesus’ family in his church, along with it comes a burden because you inherit this whole group of new brothers and sisters to care about. This bearing with the failings of the weak has to do with being patient with one another. It is recognizing that some people may not be up to the standard of maturity you wish they were, but rather than getting frustrated and mad and upset and bailing out on them…you are patient and you just sort of absorb their faults and failures.
There is nothing like the gospel of Jesus Christ that enables you to do this. Everything else in the world is opposite of this. All religions. All self-help programs. They either teach you to ignore the reality of the hurt and the offense or to trust in some sort of payback or recompense. In the gospel the reality of an offense does not get diminished because Jesus absorb all of our offense for us on the cross. Our reproach fell on him…because of that we are enabled to take on a lot of reproach.
How does that work? When someone frustrates us, disagrees, hurts us…we can go to the cross of Jesus and recognize how much we have fought against God and frustrated him and hurt him and know how he absorbed that into himself, having God’s wrath poured out on his body in order that we might be accepted and redeemed and forgiven. That changes things…it changes everything. That is why the gospel is so unique. That’s why the gospel is not a religion. It is because the whole thing is about an exchange that happened on a cross which makes a way for us, a way out of ourselves and a way where we can truly love and serve and please one another.
Look at the first part of that phrase in verse 3, “For Christ did not please himself.” This means he did not avoid the suffering and the pain of the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says, “…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”
So it is not that there is no happiness or joy in the Christian life. It is not that we are all to be stoics and that anything is wrong if we get any pleasure from anything. It is what becomes the source of our joy and pleasure. For Jesus sought not to look to fulfill his own personal preservation but he gave his preference away. The result was much joy. It was the joy of Jesus to die for us.
And that same joy works its’ way in us. You will find that when you give up your personal preference for another, though it is painful, you will actually end up experiencing more joy and peace and happiness in your life.
Martin Luther wrote a little book called, “Concerning Christian Liberty.” I encourage you all to read it, it’s only about 30 pages or so. But it is all about the liberty we have Christians, which is what we’ve been talking about today. In it he makes this masterful statement,
“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
When we truly encounter Jesus, we become freed from all our vain pursuits and realize that only he matters. And it changes us. It enables us to truly turn away from ourselves and become servants to those around us, especially those in our Christian community.
Let me conlcude today this way.
Without the gospel, we will constantly be comparing ourselves among ourselves, considering some among us better than others. With the gospel, we will constantly see ourselves as in need of and recipients of the grace of Jesus.
Without the gospel we will either intentionally or unintentionally make it harder for other people to see and draw close to Jesus because of the sense of constrictions we put upon them. With the gospel, all barriers are removed so that Jesus is put on perfect display for all of us who need him so much.
Without the gospel we will fall into some form of religion thinking life is all about doing everything just right. With the gospel we will bask in the joy of knowing that despite us being so wrong Jesus has given us his spirit and we have his righteousness, peace, and joy together.
Without the gospel we as individuals will feel conflicted, with a troubled conscience before our God. With the gospel our guilt gets lifted and our life gets driven by a confident personal faith in Jesus known only between us and God.
Without the gospel, we will focus too much on ourselves and our own personal needs, wants, and desires. With the gospel we are enabled to turn our emphasis to care more about the social needs of the broader community, first in the church and then those in our city.
My friends, my family…we need the gospel. As we approach the table let the richness of Christ, who gave everything up for us. All his personal preference in order that our reproach, the worst of who we are, be dealt with on the cross so that we might have the peace and pleasure of God. Stand before Christ Jesus who died for you in order to save you and create a community of people who get radically changed by his grace.