Saturday, July 25, 2020

200726 No Barriers in Relationships

Romans 14:13-23
First, let’s look at the words of our Lord Jesus found in Luke 6:37-38 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The Greek verb that is translated as “judge” is not just an observation about a person but instead is a negative opinion. It is easy to observe a person in action and get the whole picture wrong. The person who judges assumes the role of God. He or she claims to understand the inner motive of another person. We must leave all judgment to God. If all of ue do that we will reduce the gossip traffic to almost nothing. As we continue with our study of Romans we should determine to never cause another person to stumble because we passed judgment on them. You never know what’s going on in another person’s heart. Rather than being a judgmental, unforgiving person we need to become giving people. Jesus has assured us that when we avoid taking away another person’s reputation through a negative opinion we should instead be givers and God will give to us. He doesn’t just return to us what we have given up God will give good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. As he promised the prophet Joel, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming Locusts has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” (Joel 2:25). Our God is not just a forgiving God He is a Giving God as well. We need to pattern our life like his! We must determine not to be a source of stumbling for another person. Our God is an awesome God and he has called us to have such an attitude that never pulls another person down. We need to lift up other people and never be responsible for putting them down. Now, let’s return to Romans 14 and…
Determine not to be a source of stumbling. Vv. 13–15
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.   14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
Notice that Paul admonishes us not to pass judgment on one another “any longer”! The natural indication is judgment was being passed. In Paul’s desire was that judgment should be replaced with freedom of hindrances in relationships. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:12). Of course, he was addressing eating meat offered to a pagan idol. Paul was convinced both here in Romans and in 1 Corinthians that the meat offered to the idols was not actually harmful because the idol had no ability to bless or curse. However, if a Christian brother, or sister, believed the meat carried with it a curse and eating the meat offered to an idol might cause a new believer to return to pagan rituals. Therefore Paul’s freedom could lead to spiritual destruction. We need to remember the words of the Lord Jesus found in Matthew 18:6 whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Here Jesus is talking about children and the possibility of leading them to sin against God or another person. Folks, this is not a simple matter! Being casual about doubtful things must never characterize our lifestyle. While Jesus is certainly talking about little children he leaves room for new believers. After all Jesus came into the world so that all who received him, who believed in his name, received the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13). So a person who is newly born again might easily be referred to as a child in the faith. Our relationships should be characterized by love. Our lifestyle should reflect our new birth.
We need to be careful as we grow up as Paul told the Ephesians in chapter 5 verse two. We are to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. If we are careful to walk in love, or live in love, we will remember that he gave himself for us and calls on us to give ourselves up for those he has chosen. If we have such a sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters in Christ we will treat them with the greatest respect. We may not agree with them in every matter but we will love them. Every person we meet, dark skinned or light, is part of God’s creation. They join with us to be a part of God’s kingdom. Every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a part of the kingdom of God.
When we see another person purposely separating themselves from God we need to remember that except for the grace of God we could be like that person. Instead we are to commit ourselves to live out the life of God in Christ Jesus. All of us were brought into the world as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. When they fell away from God we fell with them. God did not make us sinners we were born that way. I am not amazed that God has a plan to save some. I am amazed that he saved me.
I see the advertisements on TV telling us to be sure that we have gotten what we deserve. I know, they’re talking about some government health program. But I always find my thoughts turning to what if I got what I deserve spiritually! All mankind, you and I, along with everyone else, deserve death — the wages of sin — and an eternity in hell! This idea may not be very popular but it is completely, scripturally true.
If we are children of God we do not get what we deserve. We get what he purchased on the cross for us. When Jesus spoke the words, “it is finished”, he pronounced judgment on the sins of mankind. He paid the debt of sin for all those who would believe in him. He would transfer them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Therefore we should…
Live as citizens of the kingdom of God. Vv. 16–18
So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Living as citizens of the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink. It is a matter of righteousness! The experience of God’s righteousness in our lives produces an intimate longing for holiness! We have a desire to know him better. The psalmist got it right — of course — when he wrote: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, or the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2). When we become a part of the kingdom of God we experience a growing desire to know him and to be known by him. We tend to observe what people do, how they dress, what they eat or drink and base our understanding of their relationship to God on what we see. When we observe another person we only see what is external. God sees the eternal and reminds us that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Growing out of that understanding we find the words in it…
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In the verses before this list there is a longer list of the works of the flesh. The love that the Spirit of God puts in us shows itself in joy. The joy overflows into peace. The love and joy and peace gives birth to kindness. These characteristics combine to show themselves in goodness. Love that releases joy and peace, kindness and goodness will always produce faithfulness. Faithfulness will show itself in an attitude of gentleness. The Spirit will take this fruit and enable us to exercise self-control. When the kingdom of God works in our lives our spiritual freedom will allow us to stop wasting time over the trivial day to day activities and we will…
Pursue that which brings mutual benefit. Vv. 19-21
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
When we exercise our freedom we need to think carefully about whether we are building others up rather than tearing them down. Here, Paul comes back to the basics. Don’t cause others to stumble! Quarreling over the benefit of food, here meat offered to idols, certainly doesn’t build up godly relationships. Whatever we do we should do it to the glory of God.
In verse 21 the Scriptures tell us “it is good”… The root sense of the word translated “good” is “beautiful”. So, using that meaning “It is “beautiful” to not eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. It is beautiful because it shows love in the body of Christ. It is beautiful because it is unselfish. It is beautiful because it shows a finely tuned sense of spiritual proportion. It is beautiful because it puts others first. Living out the life of the kingdom is reflected throughout Paul’s writings.  As Paul instructed the Colossians chapter 3 verse 12 through 14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
We have to take an active step in revealing the love of God that is shown at the Christian life we are to “put on” heart attitudes that proves we love and understand each other. Again, it looks a lot like the Fruit of the Spirit, we are to be kind, humble, meek, and patient. We are to bear with one another and in the case of a need we are to forgive. Everything about the Christian life needs to be wrapped in love!
I remind you again as I often have, when we love each other with the love of Christ we prove we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
Living out the Christian lifestyle is not just a matter of going through religious rituals.
We must…
Make sure that everything is done with a clear conscience. Vv. 22, 23
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. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
What you believe about neutral things is between you and God. Keep it that way! You are blessed, or happy, if you do not condemn yourself while exercising liberty with a clear conscience.

Charles H. Spurgeon, one of the most powerful preachers of the 19th century, at the height of his fame, was one day walking down the street and saw a sign which read, “We sell the cigar that Charles Spurgeon smokes,” whereupon Spurgeon gave up the habit. He came to see that what was for him a freedom might cause others to stumble. “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

R. K. Hughes in his study on Romans summarizes these verses this way: The wise Apostle Paul has detailed four “dos” if we are to build unity amidst our diversity. First, we must determine never to be a source of stumbling. Second, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, concentrating on the eternals rather than the externals. Third, we must actively pursue that which benefits other believers. Fourth, we must do all that we do with a clear conscience.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

200719 Tolerating Differences

I grew up in the segregated South. Watching the news today brings back many memories. There are real differences in what is happening today and what happened in the 1960’s in the South. I was part of the 3rd generation following the Civil War. I had never heard the word “Racism” but immediately understood the concept. I don’t recall any feelings of superiority or rejection of people of color. I worked alongside black men but had very little interaction with black women. The first place I preached at regularly was a migrant labor camp. Everyone in that camp was black. There were very few men there on Sunday afternoon so my congregation was predominately women and children. A well dressed black man came one Sunday to see what we were doing. The camp was located alongside railroad tracks. When this gentleman arrived he told me he lived on the other side of the tracks. A prominent building over there was a church so I asked him why his church did not take on the ministry I was doing. His very thoughtful answer was, “These people are migrants and the people in my church (he was a deacon) own their own homes.” Prejudice and bigotry comes in many shapes. Immediately I understood him. Often bigotry is denied while being very obvious to those who will open their eyes.
Prejudice existed in the first century church. And exists today in the world wide church. Paul was careful in his approach to the subject. Let’s look at a part of what he had to say.
Romans 14:1-12, As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 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. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
The saying that comes to my mind as I look at this passage of Scripture is one I heard repeatedly in my growing up years. “It’s okay to disagree so long as you disagree agreeably!”
King David wrote a Psalm about the subject — Psalm 133
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Jesus prayed for unity not only for his disciples, but for us as well:
John 17:20-23, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
A little while before, Jesus had said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock,” (John 10:16). So we know that he was expecting a lot of cross-cultural outreach.
Every culture has its own peculiarities. Both Peter and Paul referred to the church as “a peculiar people”. Today’s church is certainly peculiar.
Looking back to Romans 14 let’s think about the peculiarities Paul had to deal with.
In verse one Paul refers to a person who is weak in faith. The example he uses has to do with eating kosher and observing special days like the Sabbath. In verse two he speaks of a person who believes he could eat anything while the weak person only ate vegetables.
The church in Rome would have been made up of Jews whose ancestors one or two generations before had moved there. Probably taking advantage of the Roman culture that included the ability to live in relative peace.
There would have been severe tension between the kosher Jews and the non-kosher Gentiles. It seems that most of the meat found in the markets of the Roman Empire would have been part of pagan sacrifices. The priest of the pagan temples would have sold the excess meat at a cut rate price. With that in mind, in order to protect themselves from eating meat offered to a pagan idol, they would just simply not eat meat. The result would have been two groups of people in the church. There would have been the carnivores and the vegetarians. This resulted in a law-observing group of Jewish Christians meeting alongside Gentile believers who had never observed kosher rules. The meat eaters were probably the largest group in the church and considered themselves strong in the faith. They would have considered the Jews weak in the faith. Both of these groups could cite scriptures to support their position. Both groups would’ve agreed about everything related to salvation. Eating meat and observing special days have nothing to do with salvation! Churches never split over major issues. Side issues worm their way into churches and take away their unity.
Leslie Flynn writes in his book “Great Church Fights”: In 1976. Today we would use other examples.
“Wide disagreements exist today in our churches over certain practices. A Christian from the South may be repelled by a swimming party including7 both men and women, then offend his Northern brother by lighting up a cigarette. At an international conclave for missionaries, a woman from the Orient could not wear sandals with a clear conscience. A Christian from western Canada thought it worldly for a Christian acquaintance to wear a wedding ring, and a woman from Europe thought it almost immoral for a wife not to wear a ring that signaled her status. A man from Denmark was pained to even watch British Bible school students play football, while the British students shrank from his pipe smoking.”
Churches are often ripped apart by minor disagreements. Almost never about a real issue. Chuck Swindall wrote:
Believe as I believe, No more, no less;
That I am right, And no one else, confess;
Feel as I feel, Think only as I think;
Eat what I eat, And drink but what I drink;
Look as I look, Do always as I do;
Then, and only then, Will I fellowship with you.
This should never be the attitude of a Christian. We should never despise a fellow Christian because of their social views.
R. Kent Hughes in his commentary on Romans tells the following story:
“I experienced this in my own life on one occasion when I walked into a dining room for a meal and sat with a whole tableful of Russian brothers and sisters from the Soviet Union. We communicated as well as possible despite the language barrier, and when the meal was over a translator joined us. One of the brothers at the far end of the table asked me what I thought of playing cards. I responded that the Bible did not have anything to say about that, and he replied that some missionaries had been playing Pit the night before. I started to answer, but this brother launched into a ten-minute dialogue, and I could not get a word in edgewise. As I sat there, I felt judged and responded in my own sinful mind that he must be a “mental midget.” I looked down on him, contrary to Paul’s admonition.
It is very easy to fall into Satan’s trap of judgmentalism! We need to remember the words of our Lord Jesus found in John chapter 13 verses 34 and 35: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I will quote from Judi Culbertson and Patti Bard, Games Christians Play (New York: Harper and Row, 1967).
“I can think of at least eleven issues on which Christians are divided today. (1976) Moreover, none of these items are listed as taboo or sinful in Scripture (although the Scriptures give guidelines in relation to each item). These issues are:
(1) Theater. Some Christians think they should never patronize a commercial theater. Others think they can, but that they should be selective, just as they are with the literature they read.
(2) Cosmetics. This is not the issue it used to be, but it is controversial in certain parts of the world.
(3) Alcohol. The drinking of alcohol is a major issue among American Christians today. Ironically, while there is growing medical evidence of its harmful physical and social effects, more Christians are exercising their freedom to partake. Hence rising tension.
(4) Tobacco. Traditionally, the Mason and Dixon Line has been the dividing line for the use and non-use of tobacco among many evangelical Christians.
(5) Card playing. Because of its association with gambling, Christians are ambivalent about the use of traditional cards. The controversy can also include similar games, as was mentioned above.
(6) Dancing. For some Christians this is a litmus test, especially among youth.
(7) Fashion.Trendiness is viewed by some Christians as worldliness. Withering judgments are sometimes made both ways on the basis of clothing and hair style.
(8) The Bible translation used. In some Christian circles your translation can be a quick ticket for acceptance or rejection.
(9) Sports. I know of young Christians who consider competitive sports sinful and ego-exalting.
(10) Music. Today a heated controversy goes on regarding appropriate Christian music.
(11) Material wealth. This tension is manifested in such forms as: “Stop me if I’m wrong, George, but haven’t you—uh, been spending a lot of money on a car?” “Nope.” “No? You don’t think the money could be better used, say, in the leprosy fund?”
Eric Lidell, at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, refused to run in the heats for his favored 100 meters because they were held on a Sunday. Instead he competed in the 400 meters held on a weekday, a race that he won. He returned to China in 1925 to serve as a missionary teacher. Aside from two furloughs in Scotland, he remained in China until his death in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945.
When he was challenged to run on the Sabbath he replied. “Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ. I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure. You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.”

The first-century conflict over special days probably focused on the Sabbath. Christian Jews probably felt a need to keep the Sabbath and some of the other holy days they had inherited from their past life. The Gentiles did not have the same conscience. They would’ve said every day is equally devoted to serving God. Paul’s advice was simple, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
The most important truth to bring out of this passage is: we must accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ! He is Lord! He is Lord! He is Lord! Whatever we do, whatever we teach, should never cause us to look down on another Christian. We will each give an account of ourselves before the judgment seat! In the meantime we have no right to judge another.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.