(Please read Romans 14:1-15:13 in your Bible. I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)
True faith requires us to get along with each other.
From the beginning of my ministry, even in seminary, I have numbered my messages as I wrote them. I can’t tell you from where the idea came. When I realized last month that my 1600th message would be coming up, I resolved to do something a little different. Not that there’s anything at all special about this particular number other than its roundness.
So I asked you to submit ideas for a message and then I randomly selected one of the responses and that’s how we ended up here at Romans 14+15. This is obviously too much material to cover in one 20 minute message, so we’ll split it up over two Sundays, Lord willing.
Now that we know how we got here, let’s read a portion of our passage:
This is actually old news, but as I only heard about it last week, I’ve been interested and eager to share it with you. Have you heard about the “9/11 Bible?” When I read the headline I assumed it referred to some new kind of specialty Bible that had been recently published.
Not so! This is the story of the discovery of an artifact at Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. It is a Bible that was fused, by heat and pressure, to a portion of a steel beam that had framed one of the Twin Towers.
A firefighter discovered the artifact in March of 2002, months after the terrorist attack that brought the Towers down. He recognized immediately what the find represented, he called to a nearby photographer to come and record the discovery. Eventually the artifact became one of several discoveries that memorialize the events and people of 9/11.
What’s more interesting about the “9/11 Bible” is that the exposed pages of the Bible are open to Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount section. Part of Jesus’ teaching on view on these pages – plainly legible – is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Jesus is teaching us about the futility of revenge. Hundreds of years after these words were spoken, in a spot hundreds of miles removed from the mountain on which they were spoken, the words delivered a timely rebuke of calls to avenge the deaths of the lives lost that way.
It is an amazing story and a great illustration of one of the important truths of the Bible; God calls His people to peace. We are to be peace-makers and nothing else. Division, conflict, and violence are often the result of sin and selfishness, a product of spiritual immaturity and biblical illiteracy.
- The WEAK churched person is a legalist (14:2, 23).
Food serves as an example of legalism (2). A faith that is WEAK imposes limits and makes laws that everyone must follow. It is a sign of weakness because that person can’t have convictions of their own; they must have partners or follow the crowd. (“Misery loves company?”) It is a sign of weakness because that person’s convictions can’t stand scrutiny; they don’t hold up under opposition.
Eating ONLY VEGETABLES is not a condemnation of vegetarianism (no matter h0w much you may want it to be). Paul is writing about people who chose to eat vegetables only because of their religious convictions, not because of perceived dietary benefits. Some people of faith in Paul’s time were so concerned about avoiding meat offered to idols that they ate only vegetables. Also, Jews couldn’t be sure meat sold in the market was kosher; rather than take the chance it wasn’t, they ate ONLY VEGETABLES. We might call this a “faith-based lifestyle choice.”
The WEAK person rejects their liberty in Christ, the freedom of grace. They settle for avoiding evil but don’t attend to doing good. Both of these moral priorities are necessary for a full-featured faith.
God’s standard for moral behavior is simple: EVERYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN (23). For example, legalism is rooted in self-centeredness, not God-centeredness. Therefore it is sin.
To put it another way, “If you’re not sure, assume it’s not God.” Observing this guideline will steer us clear of a lot of trouble.
How do we know whether or not something comes from faith?
Test #1 – It arises from and is confirmed by the plain teaching of the Bible.
Test #2 – It opposes the traditional teaching of the Church only rarely; when the tradition is in conflict with #1.
Test #3 – It is in harmony with the Holy Spirit.
Test #4 – It promotes unity in the Church and enacts love toward maturity.
- The STRONG churched person is a realist (14:2, 14 + 15:1).
Food is a place where realism can be exercised (2). One of the issues in the Corinthian church was eating meat offered to idols. The WEAK person saw it as spiritually contaminated and made eating it a moral issue. The STRONG person did not approve of idolatry but saw meat simply as meat. “Realism” does not deny the supernatural, but affirms it in ways that are consistent with FAITH.
Paul’s reference to UNCLEAN things (14) refutes legalists’ claims to be more biblical. Paul’s personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF. To conclude otherwise is to attempt to return to the Old Testament Law and use parts of it to support one’s personal biases (legalism). Folks, God sorted all this out with Peter in Acts 10+11; what I call Peter’s vision of “meat on a sheet.” Look it up for yourself!
However, Paul’s conviction was tempered by consideration for the people around him. Out of respect for them, he would heed what they believed was unclean. He did not force his view on anyone and expected others to do the same.
The kinds of things on which we typically disagree are DISPUTABLE MATTERS. Paul may be thinking about moral and theological points that are of lesser importance and/or are more difficult to resolve to everyone’s agreement. I heard recently there are currently 40,000 different groups calling themselves “Christians.” Another person predicted more divisions; by 2025 there will be 55,000 Christian sects. Why do we divide? Because we’ve not learned to agree to disagree on DISPUTABLE MATTERS. We are prone to “major on the minors.”
We can think of this phrase in terms of human nature: it is human nature to get mad about trivial things and be more forgiving on more important matters. We can avoid a lot of division if we would overlook small matters.
Another quality of DISPUTABLE MATTERS is that agreement is not required. We can agree to disagree without either one of us being untrue to Christ.
People who are STRONG in their faith will be more accepting, even of people who disagree with them. Even when the WEAK refuse tolerate disagreement, the STRONG are to BEAR with them. BEAR does NOT mean to growl at one another from our separate caves; it means to forgive and forget; to show patience and acceptance.
The STRONG can BEAR with the weak because they see things from God’s perspective and trust Him to work them out. The STRONG are not out to please themselves but their neighbors (15:2), just as Jesus commanded.
The key word in this passage is “accept.” In the NIV it is the first word in the passage: 14:1 = ACCEPT THE ONE WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK. It comes up again in 15:7; ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD. The idea of mutual acceptance is developed in the rest of the passage.
ACCEPT is the Greek word proslamban, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “to treat with kindness.” In a general sense, it is to “welcome” each other, receiving each other wholeheartedly. Specifically, when we “proslamban” one another, we grant each other admission into our heart, looking beyond the merely superficial, striving to build relationships.”
The important phrase for understanding and practicing this command is JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU. How did Christ accept us? According to Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We don’t follow Jesus’ example in the principle of self-sacrifice. We must be so in love with God and each other that we are willing to make sacrifices in order for love to flourish.
- I sacrifice my prejudice and stereotypes to welcome someone different from me.
- I sacrifice petty things like my comfort, convenience, and choices so I can help someone in need. More than that, I want them to feel included in my family of faith.
- I sacrifice some of the possessions, my time, my money, to support ministries that open doors to people who genuinely seek God.
- I sacrifice my ego, pride, or self-centeredness to make my circle of friends a bit larger every day because I have served them, not myself.
- I sacrifice the need to be right, to be the center of attention, to get my way all the time, in order to really hear the heart cries of people around me.
- I sacrifice my private ambitions in order to grow our church, one person at a time.