Romans 14:1-4; 13-19
Bible Studies for Life, May 31
Wayne Woods, pastor
First Baptist Church, Moultrie
Love, encouragement, forgiveness, service, humility, and acceptance – six ingredients from God’s Word that are absolutely essential to build the kind of strong, enduring relationships we need with each other if we are going to bear a faithful witness in our increasingly darkened world.
If we will apply the lessons we have learned regarding the faithful practice of these six ingredients, we will see our witness to a lost and dying world empowered to a whole new level. With the changing of the landscape around us in America today, that is going to become even more critical.
Strong relationships are not hindered by differences of opinion. Or at least they shouldn’t be! Beloved, as a pastor, one of the things that grieves my heart more than anything else is the way we treat each other in the body of Christ, His church.
Strong relationships are not hindered by differences of opinion.
We know what the bible teaches regarding unity “in Christ,” and we also understand there are many different parts in the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27); but we still all too often insist that every member of the body see things exactly the way “I” do. That is not saying we have the option of “sloppy” doctrine, where everyone can believe what “is right in his own eyes.” That is saying that we must not let our unity in Christ be destroyed by our diversity in Christ.
The Gospel’s unique beauty
The unique beauty of the Gospel is clearly seen in how it unites us who are in so many ways, different. “I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us”(Eph. 4:1-3).
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul writes eloquently about how Jew and Gentile – the two New Testament groups that never would have come together naturally – have been supernaturally made into one through Jesus Christ.
Normally diversity does not make for unity. It is our fallen human tendency to judge those who do not conform to our customs or standards as being inferior, but in the body of Christ, that must not be, because it simply is not true.
God and the individual
We must learn to accept the different ways God works in the lives of our brethren. The issue in play in Romans 14 is the reality of the significantly different backgrounds from which these new Jewish believers and Gentile believers had been saved.
The Jewish believers were steeped in teachings regarding the law and although they were not as the Judaizers, who did not fully understand “grace,” they maintained an aversion to eating meat that had been the object of sacrifice in local pagan temples. The new Gentile believers, on the other hand, had no problem with eating such meat, understanding that the god to whom the meat would have been sacrificed was not the One True and Living God that they now worshipped.
In this passage, the Gentile believers, perhaps because they could more easily embrace the reality of grace, considered themselves to be the “strong,” or more mature, while they looked at their Jewish brethren as being the “weak,” or less mature. Paul wants both groups to understand that such classifications over doubtful issues have no place in the body of Christ.
We have all been accepted in Him, will all be accountable to Him, and we all will be enabled to stand secure by Him! Here’s where we must walk.
Acceptance and judging
Our acceptance of one another has to go beyond just not judging one another. That’s the point Paul is challenging us with in verses 13-15. Not only are we not to criticize one another, but our responsibility for one another goes much further. We are responsible to limit our freedom in any way necessary if it would place a legitimate stumbling block or pitfall in another brother’s way.
That is not to say that we have to accommodate any and all demands another may make upon our freedom. Sometimes that other brother’s heart is also being judgmental, but it does require us to be sensitive to those whose concerns are legitimate to their consciences.
“Walking in love” toward one another requires a new level of ethic, a uniquely Christian level, where we will forego our liberty if it brings hurt to our brother, because maintaining the strength of our relationship with one another in Christ is the most important thing. As a pastor, what I understand this to mean for me is that I will watch carefully the places I go and the activities I participate in, even if they are not “sinful” in and of themselves, but they could “hurt” the conscience of another brother or sister in Christ if they observed me. Here’s where we run.
Where responsibility falls
Our responsibility for acceptance must also rise to an even higher level. In verses 16-19, Paul reminds us of the fact that the Kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals at all, what we shall eat or drink or wear or sing, it is preeminently a matter of eternals: righteousness, peace, and joy, all coming to each one of us as members of the body of Christ by our union with Him and with God the Holy Spirit.
Our ultimate service then to our brethren should be that which is positively focused on and committed to “building one another up,” knowing that the body is only as strong as each individual member. Our desire is far beyond mere passive acceptance, even beyond not wanting be a hindrance, to the place of doing all we can to build our brethren up “in Christ.” Here’s where we soar!