Friday, May 11, 2007

Romans 14:14-15,20-23

As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food [or nothing] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.... Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

God says that the food is not unclean and Paul agrees: “nothing is unclean in itself.” What makes something unclean? Motive and conscience, not the food itself. When a person considers something to be unclean, then to him it is unclean! If in my heart and conscience I consider something to be wrong, then I must not do it. In time I may need to rethink and relearn some things in light of God’s Word and I will discover that what I thought was wrong was not wrong at all! Is Paul saying that the conscience determines what is clean and unclean? No. He’s saying that our freedom is to be used lovingly for the good of our brethren. Some Christians believe that it is wrong for them to eat certain things and others believe it is right for them to eat those things. And Paul is addressing how we love each other in that situation. Let’s make sure we understand that truth is not becoming subjective here!

“If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” There’s nothing I can add to what Paul says here. He has just told us repeatedly from chapter 12 on to act in love, and here he says that if a fellow Christian is distressed because of your food choices (or your actions), then you are acting in an unloving way. Then he uses the word, “destroy,” and it’s strong. It’s a command not to cause your brother to sin by doing something you perceive as permissible and he perceives as sinful in his presence. God in Christ loved this brother so much that He made the greatest sacrifice to save him from eternal destruction. In light of Calvary’s cross, should we not make a small sacrifice (giving up some pork chops) for our brother’s temporal welfare? Christ sacrificed everything so that this brother would not be destroyed eternally. Can I not sacrifice a glass of wine so that my brother will not be ruined in his earthly Christian walk? Do you see how important the edification of believers is to God? Compare 1 Corinthians 8.

1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In other words, knowledge says, “I know that I am free to eat this meat because God has said so in 1 Timothy 4:3-6,” and love says, “I will lay aside my right to eat this meat for the sake of my weaker brother. I don’t want my actions to be a problem for him.” That’s what Christian freedom is for – to build up the Body of Christ, and not to break it down or destroy it.

From v20-23, God is in the process of justifying the wicked and sanctifying the justified. Even though all things are permissible, we would be sinning if we did something or ate something that causes our brother to stumble. For the weaker brother, and actually for all believers, we must be convinced that what we are doing is right. Whatever is done without conviction that it is right is sinful. Here is the summary: The voice of conscience must not be ignored. As we grow in the knowledge of the Word of God, our conscience may need to be corrected. Recall – “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If we are involved in the decision-making process, and we’re sure what to do, and it’s grounded in the Word of God, then we ought to do it. If we’re not sure that it’s okay, we mustn’t do it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Romans 14:5-9

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Paul has shown us that believers have different levels of faith in the example of food. Now he turns to the Sabbath to continue the illustration. It’s the same idea: Don’t look down on one another or condemn one another. Regarding the Sabbath, Paul is not denying the importance of the Lord’s Day. He’s saying to the Jewish Christians who still observe the feast days and the Jewish Sabbath that the Gentile Christians don’t have to do that. Everyone stills observes the Lord’s Day. So perhaps it’s more like our being legalistic about attending the Wednesday night service or something. See Galatians 4:10-11 and Colossians 2:16-17. You mustn’t observe the Lord’s Day so that I will see you observing the Lord’s Day. Observe the Lord’s Day for the Lord! If you don’t see me observing the Lord’s Day, don’t think critically of me. I am accountable to God for my Lord’s Day observance. You don’t know my motives, but Jesus does, and He’ll reveal that on Judgment Day. We are to live for each other, to build each other up, not to tear each other down, so encourage me to attend and participate in community worship, but don’t condemn me if I’m not there. And I’ll not invite you to skip church to play golf if I know that you’d be offended by that.

“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This is important statement “A” in Paul’s explanation of these principles. Some time ago, Albert Mohler wrote on and discussed Christians and birth control. This topic is of special interest to me; and his conclusion was that of Paul’s. If you’re a believer, be fully convinced in your own mind on these “minor” issues. If I’m fully convinced that birth control is okay, then it is. If I’m fully convinced that birth control is not okay, then it is not. Is that correct thinking? Perhaps it is, but Scripture doesn’t discuss condoms or the pill; and that’s why it fits here. But what about issues on which Scripture is clear? What should we watch out for with this type of thinking?

A good principle here is that the more mature brother must protect the conscience of the weaker brother; and the weaker brother must seek to have his conscience in Christ and informed by Scripture. In other words, we should all seek to have our consciences on every matter confirmed by Scripture, and we should all prayerfully seek the advice of those we deem stronger in faith. And thus, we should make decisions on “disputable matters” as follows: Be (1) fully convinced that what you are committed to is (2) not sinful, as validated by the Word of God, (3) honoring to Christ (glorifying to God), and (4) the best way you can think for yourself to act in the given situation. Regardless on our differing decisions, Paul wants us to be aware that the weak are not self-exalting in their abstinence or dissention, and the strong are not self-indulgent in their liberty or affirmation. Both are doing what their consciences have allowed, even commanded. Both are glorifying God. Yet, it’s very difficult to see how this is truly possible. How can eating and not-eating (abstaining or fasting) in the same circumstance both glorify God equally? Paul explains that in light of living and not-living (dying) as both glorifying to God.

“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.” This is important statement “B” in Paul’s explanation of these principles. It is not enough to be fully convinced in one’s own mind about certain behaviors. We must also commit to doing everything “for the Lord” or “to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Those two important statements summarize our behavior in Christ. After all, we were bought with an expensive price; we belong to the Lord! Are we worshipping and serving and resting on the Lord’s Day to the glory of Lord? Are we playing golf on the Lord’s Day to the glory of the Lord? If there is no explicit violation of being Christ-like, then we ought not condemn or look down at anyone.

This is our Christian liberty: we are free to serve Christ. Paul refuses to set up a specific rule to solve the issue at hand. He appeals to this general principle. He longs for the Christian to be captive to God’s Word and to God’s will, and he presses home this great principle of God’s ownership of us. No believer “lives or dies to himself alone” (v7). Our living is through Him, with Him, in Him, to Him, and for Him. And better still, our dying is the same. To die is gain, and, as Paul says, “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Christ died and rose to life so He could be LORD OF ALL! No one else has conquered the grave. No one else deserves to be Lord. Christ alone is worthy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Romans 14:4,10-13

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.... You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God'" [Isaiah 45:23]. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

Paul’s illustration is that of a household slave or servant, a menial worker. And the one judging this slave or servant or menial worker needs to realize that he is not the head of household. We are not the master of our fellow man. Only God is the master, and so all men are first and foremost accountable to Him. In fact, Paul makes it clear that God’s judgment of us should play a major factor in our lifestyle choices. We should think and behave in light of the fact that we will stand before God and give an account of our whole lives. That ought to scare us into humble, loving obedience!

Does this mean that we don’t judge one another? Of course not! The principle is this: Don’t judge or despise your fellow believers by treating them as unbelievers or by being critical of them without brotherly affection. We should not be too quick to take upon ourselves the role of judge and master. We should give as much room as we possibly can to the consciences of our brothers in Christ. As we’ll see in a minute, the conscience of an individual plays an important role in this as well. And lastly here, notice Paul’s transition from attitudes toward one another to actions or behaviors toward one another. Recall Jesus’ admonition (Matthew 18:1-6; Luke 17:1-5) not to make a little one stumble. He was speaking to the disciples, so that warning may very well be for the mature-in-faith dealing with the weak-in-faith.

See Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-42. As these passages suggest, we are to judge ourselves first. How does this truth fit with the pattern of men’s accountability groups? We need help judging ourselves! And we’ll never finish that task, because we’re not yet glorified. Every time we think about judging or looking down on or condemning our Christian brother, we should stop to examine ourselves. We’ll find faults, and thus, we shouldn’t even think about condemning or judging or looking down on one another (see John 8:7). And others likewise should be looking at themselves in the same light. Accountability groups should be for the purpose of aiding self-examination. If someone in your group doesn’t want to examine themselves in light of the Word of God, then perhaps they ought not to be a member of the group. We need to avoid being stumbling blocks to our Christian brethren. We should seek not to tear others down, but to build others up and to be built up. It’s okay to place a stepping stone on their path, but not a stumbling block.

And then notice that the weak believer, and the strong one too for that matter, is not only accountable before God, but will certainly stand before God. Why? The Lord is able to make him stand. We’ll all give an account before the judgment seat of God, before the throne of Christ. And believers will be found standing after that. I think it’s critical to recall that God grants faith in different measures. We may not understand why, but we trust God’s reasoning. Since he’s the One granting the faith, it only makes sense that He would be able to keep a person in the faith which He has granted to them (see Philippians 1:6). Perhaps He’ll increase it; perhaps He’ll increase their faith by your influence on them (see 1 Timothy 4:1-8). Regardless, since God will make the weaker brother stand, we ought to do the same. Why should we tear him down if God will make him stand?

To summarize, Paul brings up the little things, the disputable matters, and tells us to be loving and supportive to one another; then he exhorts us to keep in mind the bigger picture – we will all face judgment and God will make us stand. He’ll do a similar thing in the next portion of this chapter, which we'll look at next time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Romans 14:1-3

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

This chapter continues Paul’s theme of loving one another. We could continue on through the first half of chapter 15 as well, because Paul’s point all the way is to accept each other as we have been accepted by God. Since God accepts us to sanctify us, we should build each other up. Notice several points in verses 1-3:

Paul says to “accept him whose faith is weak.” Who is that? Remember that God gives us different measures of grace and different measures of faith and different gifts. And He does so for His sovereign purpose to build the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. The person with weak faith is not described as a Christian living in sin; rather he is someone who is making efforts to glorify God in and by his behavior. This is not a bad thing! But at the same time, the weak-in-faith brother has not grown to understand Christian liberty and is perhaps not as well grounded in the teaching of Scripture and in the practice of the Christian life. Perhaps he is a new believer, a baby Christian, someone who has never read the Bible or is bogged down with a particular Old Testament ceremonial law, someone who is caught up in some form of legalism without realizing it. Paul is gentle here, using the word “weak” as encouragement. It’s not bad to be weak for a time, but none of us want to remain weak. See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:12-13. The reason Paul calls them “weak” is that they think abstaining from meat perceived as unclean is more glorifying to God than eating. They don’t realize that whatever we do, whether eating and drinking or abstaining from meat and wine, we glorify God. This chapter ties in well with 1 Corinthians 8. Read them together, and these 2 passages will interpret each other. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Paul tells us that the weaker brothers lack knowledge of the freedom they have in Christ and of the fact that all things are meant to glorify God. It takes time for our knowledge to be made complete (Romans 15:14; Isaiah 11:9; Ephesians 4:13).

Paul has some words for these less-mature Christians and the way they relate to more-mature Christians, but his primary concern is how the stronger Christians relate to the weaker Christians. Why should we whose faith is not weak (described as “strong” in Romans 15:1) accept the one weak in faith? Because “God has accepted him” (v3b). Notice the parallel in Romans 15:7.

Our motive should also be right in accepting the one whose faith is weak. In other words, don’t bring a young Christian into your group of mature Christians solely for the purpose of boasting in your freedom, denouncing his lifestyle by displaying your “free” actions which seem sinful to him. Sure, encourage him to grow and learn in understanding of doctrine and lifestyle application, but don’t bring him down by including him just to prove that everything he is doing is inconsistent with true freedom in Christ.

What are the “disputable matters” that Paul mentions? What are non-disputable matters? What if two parties don’t agree on what matters are disputable? How to handle these situations is among the most challenging issues of our day. And it’s encouraging to see that Paul had the same concerns. Differences of opinion about moral and ethical and religious matters are often of great significance to the individuals who hold those opinions. How do you deal with that with in the local body? Paul is addressing that here. And let’s acknowledge that these differences are not in regards to justification by faith or anything to do with the Gospel. These are lifestyle differences more so than doctrinal differences or morality issues. Doctrinal differences and morality issues require a more hard-nosed stance, but these particular lifestyle differences, as disputable matters, require mutual forbearance. The more mature Christian should be patient with the less mature Christian, thereby allowing room for growth. And notice that God holds those Christians to whom He grants a greater measure of faith to higher standards than those to whom He grants a lesser measure of faith. The more you know, the more accountable you are to God. And the more you have received, the more you should patiently nurture and encourage your weaker brothers.

The weak-in-faith brother in this passage struggles with clean and unclean foods. Paul acknowledges here, in agreement with Jesus and Peter, that all foods are clean if eaten in thanksgiving. Some of the Jews in Paul’s audience were having a tough time letting go of their Jewish ceremonial law heritage; they certainly didn’t want to be eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience were not struggling with those issues at all. The same may be true for us. Consider Seventh-Day Adventists. They eat only kosher foods and celebrate the Sabbath as Saturday – and they’re pretty legalistic about it; so we shouldn’t invite them “to jog over to our house for the pig roast on Saturday.” We shouldn’t call them foolish vegetarians; we shouldn’t say to them, “Don’t you know that all foods are clean in Christ!?” That would be “looking down” on them. In fellowshipping with weaker faith brothers, we must avoid doing things or saying things that might make them stumble. And notice that their “stumbling” would be to judge us in our “Sabbath”-desecrating pork-fest, which of course, they need to strive to avoid.

As weak-in-faith Christians, we might criticize or condemn the behavior of seemingly stronger Christians, not understanding how “everything is permissible.” For example, a weak Christian might condemn a strong Christian for having a glass of wine with dinner. Paul says not to do that, because Scripture nowhere condemns having a drink. At the same time, strong Christians might look down on the weak Christians, treating them as if they are missing out on the pleasures of Christian freedom. For example, a strong Christian might invite the weak Christian to have a glass of wine with supper, fully knowing that the weak Christian doesn’t drink and doesn’t believe that it’s right for any Christian to drink. And Paul says not to do that to the weaker brother. Mutual respect is the principle, and it’s based on God’s acceptance of us.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Romans 13:13-14

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Paul tells us to behave decently, as in the daytime. It’s still nighttime, but we ought to have our day clothes on. We ought to be who we are, children of the light. We ought to be wearing Christ even in the darkness. Galatians 3:27 says that we as believers have already put on Christ. Galatians is talking about justification; here we are talking about sanctification. The same thing is evident in “putting on the new man.” See Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:9-12. We must not behave as if it’s still nighttime, even though it is. We need to avoid party sins or substance abuse, orgies and drunkenness, which tend to occur at night; we need avoid chamber sins or sexual lusts, sexual immorality and debauchery, which often happen behind closed doors when the lights are off; we need to avoid sins that desire attention or control, dissension and jealousy, which stem from pride.

People notice the clothes you wear; do they see you wearing Christ? Do they see you wearing the ugliness of the flesh, which the world thinks is beautiful. To us it seems like a harsh expression to speak of putting on a person, but the Greeks understood this language to mean “to imitate a person’s example, to copy his spirit, to become like him.” Christ is the light, so we clothe ourselves with Him, putting on the armor of light, Christ, visible as the fruits of the Spirit of Christ.