Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Advertisements

Four Bear Ants

Please read Romans 14+15 in your go-to version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.  (This is the third in a series of three posts.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

By the way, if you want an explanation of this post’s title, please repeat it aloud until you hear the word that’s really there.  Forbearance is the virtue of extending forgiveness in advance of an offense: it is essential for godly relationships.

This week an article posted on the Harvard Business Review website caught my eye.  The title of the article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.”  The author was Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States.  He served in that position from 2014 to 2017.

His point is that loneliness is more prevalent than we may realize and why it’s a problem.

“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that t real number may well be higher.”

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”

“Loneliness is t feeling of having inadequate social connections. Why has this feeling increased over past decades? Partly because people are more geographically mobile and are thus more likely to be living apart from friends and family. Indeed, more people report living alone today than at any time since the census began collecting this data.”

(Retrieved from https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic on 09.27.17>)

After we’ve had a chance to complete our understanding of God’s teaching in RMS 14+15, we’ll revisit this article and adapt Dr. Murthy’s advice to businesses on how to help people with the problem of loneliness.

Let me make this simple.  God has two solutions to the problem of loneliness: family and the Church.  This fact makes it even more of a shame that we have so thoroughly messed-up BOTH these institutions.  The result is that loneliness is a problem growing in width and depth.

  1. God’s solution has many layers.

Our motive is love and in this order: God, others, self (14:15).  Given the culture we have, here’s an ethical principle our nation needs to hear and practice: your freedom (“rights”) NEVER trumps your responsibility to love.

The value of other people is NOT dependant on what YOU think of them; the value of other people depends on what God thinks of them.  V. 15 reminds us of what God thinks of them; they are SOMEONE FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.

The standard is unity (14:7-9, 19-21; 15:5-6) as an expression of our commonly-held life.  14:7-9 explain why we are not in this alone: we’re part of a team, the winning team, as a matter of fact.  Let’s observe something important: you may feel alone sometimes, but you are never really alone (14:7).

The most important reason we’re never alone is that the Lord Jesus is always with us.  In life and in death He is with us and we BELONG to Him (14:8).

Jesus died on the cross to make this depth of relationship possible (14:9).  It is His action not yours; Jesus picked you first.  It’s GRACE, folks.

In 14:19-21 an important objective is set before us, a main reason to be church.  THEREFORE (14:19) alerts us that an application is coming; in this case three of them.

One, MAKE EVERY EFFORT means that unity is a greater priority than getting your way.  Sacrifice selfishness to succeed in spirituality!

Two, DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE requires us to choose our words and deeds carefully; to intentionally select things that cause PEACE.

Three, DO WHAT LEADS TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION means to choose things that will build others’ faith and confidence in the Lord.

The FOOD & DRINK in 14:20-21 are examples of non-issues that became issues because a weaker sibling in the family of God made them an issue. Maturity and freedom do not give anyone the right to purposely ignore the conscience of others or give offense.  Love trumps one’s rights.  If you truly love God and your neighbor, you’ll show it by being considerate.

The weaker sibling is someone who has genuine but wrong convictions.  This obviously does not include people who are choosing to be obnoxious, willful bullies, and hypocrites.  We don’t let them rule the day by pettiness.

Unity is not something we accomplish on our own strength; God provides it (15:5+6).  God gives us ENDURANCE and ENCOURAGEMENT; He gives us THE SAME MIND TOWARD EACH OTHER THAT CHRIST JESUS HAD (a sacrificial one).

These gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God the Father by having ONE MIND AND ONE VOICE.  Of course, having ONE MIND AND VOICE is not possible in our humanity; it is a gift from God.  God is glorified when we are in unity; He is not when we are in disunity.

Have your convictions but temper them by accepting others (14:1, 3, 5-6, 14-16, 22; 15:1-4, 7).  Accepting one another means two things.

One, do not quarrel at all & especially not over DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1).  Paul offered the choice of SACRED DAYS (14:5-6), and MEAT offered to idols (14:6) as examples of disputable matters.

Two, no matter which side of an issue you take, don’t TREAT anyone w/ CONTEMPT.  In Jesus, it is possible to be FULLY CONVINCED without being obnoxious.  The “secret” is that regardless of which side you take, you do it for the Lord, not self.  This will keep your pride from getting in the way of your better judgment.  Whatever your conviction is, redeem it from selfishness by  doing it with THANKS to God.  This orientation will take selfishness out of the equation, keeping our priorities in proper order.

Practicing what he preached, Paul accepted other believers (14:14-16).  His personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  But he didn’t go around forcing his belief on others.  Out of love, he was considerate and did all he could to avoid causing distress.

When you find yourself in a disagreement or argument, what is your first inclination?

– If you want to force your will and win at all costs, then know you are sinning. It’s serious.  You are destroying someone for who Christ died.

– If you want to give in and do anything to keep even a false peace, then know that you are sinning because you lack the courage of your convictions, even tho’ God gives strengthens us to do right.

– As usual, the best way is in the middle.  In this case, that means being careful to not do anything to offend sincere spiritual siblings.

A practical way to avoid this sin is to keep your opinions to yourself as Paul commanded in 14:22.  If you’re not asked for your opinions, don’t volunteer them.  Instead, do as Paul suggested and KEEP them BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD.  Do this and you will be BLESSED because you will avoid unnecessary conflicts and embarrassing yourself.

Those who think themselves STRONG will prove it by not living to PLEASE themselves (15:1-4).  This means bearing with the FAILINGS OF THE WEAK.  We don’t assert superiority – especially if it’s real – but in humility, love them.  This also means we aim to BUILD UP our neighbors in spiritual maturity by doing GOOD.

In this we have Jesus Himself as our example, as everything He did was aimed at helping others, not Himself.  He even suffers the INSULTS intended for us.  15:7 provides perspective; we are motivated to accept one another in the way God has accepted us IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.

The teaching of God’s word makes His will plain: we are to love one another.  The Scriptures help us to endure difficult people and toxic relationships graciously.  The Scriptures give us courage by giving us HOPE.  God is in charge; the truth will win out.

Another method is to keep your perspective broad by trusting God that He will get it right at the end (14:1, 13, 17-18; 15:8-14).  A lack of perspective makes DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1) feel like a matter of life and death, even when they aren’t.  Seeing things from God’s point of view reduces problems down to actual size.

The word THEREFORE in 14:13 introduces two more applications of this truth.  First, STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is a command to stop acting on your human nature.  We tend to show prejudice and bias because we’re too hateful or too lazy to get to know people individually.

Another tendency is to “demonize” people who dare to disagree with us.  We imagine them to be bad people because we’re unwilling to concede they may be right.

The second application is to not put a STUMBLING BLOCK or OBSTACLE in the way of another person.  Don’t make living a life of faith harder; make it easier.

When we see life from God’s perspective we don’t allow DISPUTABLE MATTERS to become divisive (14:17-18).  From His perspective, what matters is the KINGDOM OF GOD and it is made up of more important things that mere EATING and DRINKING.  People who make God’s perspective their own will succeed in PLEASING GOD and will ultimately win HUMAN APPROVAL.

This lengthy and essential section on righteous relationships concludes with the ultimate example of God bringing people together: God brought the Jews and Gentiles together (15:8-15).  The Jews were the people of God from the time he made them a nation at the exodus.  Everybody else is a GENTILE.

BUT – God has always been working to bring the Gentiles into the family of God.  In Old Testament times, this was accomplished by Gentiles converting to the Law.  Case in point; Jesus served the Jews to fulfill all God’s promises to the Jewish founding fathers, but by His death and resurrection, He broke down the DIVIDING WALL between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14), creating one new people, the Church.  The Church is supposed to be God’s greatest achievement in bringing people together and just look at what we’ve done with it.  To prove this point Paul offered a series of OT quotes – all of them with the word GENTILE in them – to demonstrate God always intended all nations to be included among His people.

The passage concludes on a positive note, offering all these divine blessings: HOPE…ALL JOY AND PEACE…OVERFLOW WITH HOPE.  Paul also explained HOW we will come to these blessings.  Two means:

AS YOU TRUST IN HIM.  Interesting.  The more we trust God, the more accepting we are of each other.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the power cable through which the divine energy of God is channeled to us.

Our days are pockmarked with bullet holes.  Nationalism and tribalism give rise to war and other kinds of conflicts around the world.  Have you seen the news and heard the rhetoric in the media and in government?  We seem to be more divided than ever as a nation.  The Church is divided into tens of thousands of splinter groups.  Individual churches see feud and splits over matters that are trivial.  Families are broken on a scale we would have thought unimaginable a generation ago.

We are in need of righteous relationships.  In Jesus Christ, believers have all we need to make righteous relationships a reality.  The only question is our willingness to believe, to sacrifice selfishness, and to enact the commands of God in the power of the Spirit.  Righteous relationships do not come easy, but they are worth it.

He Ain’t Heavy…

Please read Romans 14+15 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

An umpire named Babe Pinelli once called Babe Ruth out on strikes. When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the legendary Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and said, “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.”

Suspecting that the umpire would erupt with anger, the coaches and players braced themselves for Ruth’s ejection. However, the cool headed Pinelli replied, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

Believers need to realize that God’s judgment is the only one that counts and resist the temptation to argue over disappointments and disagreements.

(Paul Fritz, Sermon Central, via http://www.family-times.net/illustration/Judgment/201427/ ).

Last week we learned the difference between the STRONG and WEAK believers.  We learned that neither type were to sit in judgment on one another, pronouncing perceived faults in one another’s faith.  As we will see today, Paul punctuated this preaching by essentially saying, “Look, we will all be judged, but it won’t be by any of YOU!”  God is our Judge and His judgment is all that really matters.  So, you’re entitled to your opinions; you are responsible to keep them to yourself.

What we’re trying to avoid here is rejection.  One of our greatest fears is that of being rejected by others.  Some of us try to avoid rejection by cutting ourselves off from others; we become “loners.”  Some of us try so hard to avoid giving reason for rejection that we become perfectionists.  Some of us retreat into addictions to try and fail to manage feelings of rejection.  These are all attempts at coping with rejection that result in failure and mental/emotional dysfunction.

As always, God offers us a better way; He calls us to a higher standard.  The best way to deal with rejection is to remove the threat entirely.  Our most important earthly relationships are those we have with our fellow believers.  The Church is to be a model community of relationships where rejection is never a danger because we are all seeking the godly virtue of acceptance instead.

REVIEW:

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (2, 23).
  2. The STRONG churched person is a realist (2, 14).

NEW:

  1. The problem is rejection (14:4, 10-12).

The biblical word similar to the meaning of “rejection” is JUDGE.  We will unpack the meaning of the word first, then I’ll offer the word “reject” as an alternative that might be less confusing/more relevant to modern ears.

When Paul condemns “judging” what does he mean?

FIRST, notice that this teaching is directed at believers and their relationships.  In verse four Paul used a relationship typical in his day as an example.  He referred to one MASTER, but several SERVANTS.  Our MASTER is God; his other SERVANTS are other believers (14:4).  His point; just as it would be bad manners to interfere in someone else’s management of their SERVANTS, so it would be inappropriate to criticize other believers.  Paul makes the point even more obvious in 14:10; YOU, THEN, WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER?

SECOND, we are not qualified to JUDGE one another, that’s God’s job.  He wrote, WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE SOMEONE ELSE’S SERVANT?  TO THEIR OWN MASTER SERVANTS STAND OR FALL. (14:4)  God alone decides who is saved and who is not; that decision is not ours to make.  None of us is “worthy” of salvation; all of us are beggars at the gates of heaven; we are all recipients of grace.  The extent of our judgment is our own imperfect discernment of right and wrong.  God knows everything and sees our inner person with perfect clarity; the same cannot be said of any of us.

Paul made three statements that show we are accountable to God, not to one another.  This theological fact makes it extra important that each believer minds his own business and refrains from being judgmental or a busybody.

One; WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD’S JUDGMENT SEAT (14:10).

Two, verse eleven quotes Isaiah 45:23, predicting Judgment Day when all people will bow before God to receive His just decision on their eternal outcome – heaven or hell.

Three; 14:12 states EACH OF US WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF OURSELVES TO GOD.

THIRD, our judgment too often results in contempt of spiritual kindred, rejection of others, and sin.  Paul made this cause and effect relationship plain in 1 Corinthians 8:11-12 = SO THIS WEAK BROTHER OR SISTER, FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED, IS DESTROYED BY YOUR KNOWLEDGE.  WHEN YOU SIN AGAINST THEM IN THIS WAY AND WOUND THEIR WEAK CONSCIENCE, YOU SIN AGAINST CHRIST.

FOURTH, God’s promise is to make His people STAND on Judgment Day.

The Bible is consistent, but our use of the word JUDGE is not; it gets confusing.  The most frequently misinterpreted passage in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, where Jesus is quoted as saying, “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  This verse is misused because it has been co-opted by our culture in support of an attitude that only winks at sin and excuses immorality in the name of “tolerance.”

It is based on the rejection of absolute truth and any standard of morality except “let’s leave each other alone.”  In practicality, it means that no one is responsible or guilty; there is no threat of judgment.  People frequently preface a confession with the words, “Don’t judge me.”

We have learned that God’s standard for relationships is much more ambitious than what this world calls “tolerance;” God calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER (14:1 + 15:7).  Acceptance can be a virtue when it is based on God. God loved us and did not reject us, but gave us means (Jesus’ death on a cross) by which our relationship with Him could be restored.  He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.  God is constantly calling us into personal growth and greater maturity.

When Paul calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, he is calling us to love one another in exactly the same way God has loved us; He accepted us into His family.  People who are in God’s family will ACCEPT other believers.  People who are judgmental betray their true allegiance.

To avoid the confused and tortured use of the word “judge” in our culture and to clarify what we mean, I suggest we use the word “reject” instead.  We have no fear of the morals of others, but we don’t want to be rejected by them.  We don’t want to be excluded or feel as if we’re being discriminated against.

Rejection is one of our deepest fears.  It drives us to make sorry compromises in our moral decisions and can keep us in toxic relationships.  Also, the virtue Paul names here is “acceptance.”  The vice, the opposite behavior, might be called “rejection.”

In 1988, quarterback Jeff Kemp was to start for the Seattle Seahawks against his old team, the San Fransisco 49ers. He entered the stadium brimming with excitement.

After the pregame meal, one of the coaches put his arm around Kemp and said, “I want you to know how happy I am that you are our quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.”  Kemp felt honored, valued, esteemed.

Kemp’s first pass of the game hit Hall of Famer Steve Largent right in the hands but he dropped the ball.  When everyone huddled up, Kemp moaned, “Steve, what’s the matter? You never drop the ball. Why are you doing this to me?”

After that, Largent didn’t make any mistakes but Kemp played the worst game of his life. At half-time the 49ers lead 28-0. Kemp later wrote, “Have you ever heard nearly sixty thousand people booing you? It’s quite an experience.”

He knew he might be benched for the second half.  He sought the coach who had been supportive before the game. Kemp approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on Kemp without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, discussing plays he would run in the second half.

Worse, that coach didn’t talk to Kemp for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. For the next month, there was silence between them; complete rejection. That coach couldn’t deal with the fact that Kemp hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected Kemp relationally because his professional performance fell short.

(Jeff Kemp, “Rules to Live by on and off the Playing Field,” Imprimis, July, 1998, p. 3, retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/coach%E2%80%99s-rejection on 9/22/17.)

Obviously, this is NOT the kind of attitude being described here in Romans 14-15.  God calls us to a higher standard, a deeper love.  One that is based on acceptance, not performance.  He calls us to a love that is not centered on love of self, but love of God.

PREVIEW:

  1. The solution has many layers.

We Must Get Along… And More!

(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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Love Does It

(Please read Romans 13:8-10 in your favorite Bible. I use the NIV in my study.)

A man and his wife were driving home from church one Sunday morning.  After a few moments of comfortable silence, the woman said, “Cindy is sure putting on weight.  Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“I didn’t notice, dear,” the man replied.

“Well, did you see how short Diane’s skirt was?  And at her age!”

“I’m sorry, dear.  I didn’t notice.”

“Surely you noticed the way the Smiths let their kids crawl all over everything during fellowship?”

“No, I didn’t see that either.”

“Honestly!” the woman said, disgusted.  “I don’t even know why you go to church anymore!”

Why ARE you here?

Let me suggest the best reason of all: to give and receive love.  Church is where we learn about love; it is like a rehearsal and pep rally where we are reminded about the essential importance of love and given a chance to practice it before we return to the world and put it to work.

Love is what we have received from God.  It is the reason we celebrate in worship and the object of our prayers.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

  1. Love is a DEBT in the sense that we “owe” it to one another.

The first part of v. 8 is good financial advice.  V. 8 relates back to v. 7, which is about keeping our monetary obligations, mentioning TAXES and REVENUE.  The Gk word for OWE in v. 7 comes from the same root as the word DEBT in v. 8.  This is a chain of thought in Paul’s mind.

LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING takes v. 7 and generalizes it into a principle which can guide many of our daily decisions.  Financial counselors will tell you to avoid debt wherever possible.  Debt has a way of crushing our finances and straining our relationships.  It’s a kind of stress that should be avoided.  When debt is unavoidable, the next best thing is to pay it off as soon as possible, to not let it REMAIN OUTSTANDING.

On the other hand, Jesus taught “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” in Matthew 5:42.  Money should be the same as ministry in the eyes of a believer.

Church Father Origen wrote, “The debt of love is permanent, and we never get out of it; for we pay it daily and yet always own it.”

God has commanded us to love, that’s why we owe it to one another. In the Old Testament we find the command to love evident in the following passages.

– Love God = Deuteronomy 6:5 = LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.

– Love your neighbor = Leviticus 19:18 = DO NOT SEEK REVENGE OR BEAR A GRUDGE AGAINST ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE, BUT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  I AM THE LORD.

In the New Testament the command to love is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles.

– In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.  THIS IS THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT.  AND THE SECOND IS LIKE IT: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”

– Peter wrote, ABOVE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS. (1 Peter 4:8)

  1. Love is the fulfillment of every point of God’s Law.

Paul sets forth the principle in vs. 8+10: LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.  This is true because LOVE is the highest, best, and most reliable motive for keeping the LAW.

One way we know whether or not any word or deed is loving is to subject it to the standard set forth in v. 10: LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOR.  Love is distinguished by always wanting more for the other person than for self.  Love motivates us to avoid doing anything harmful.  Of course this means causing physical, mental, or reputational pain – harm of any kind.  Love takes a positive approach every time.

The literal meaning of NEIGHBOR is “one who is near.”  This means that the application of this command is universal – all the people we meet.

Paul offers four specific examples of how we’re to treat our NEIGHBOR in verse nine.

First, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of committing ADULTERY.  Our English word ADULTERY translates the Greek word porneia.

It is the Bible’s base word for all kinds of sexual sin.  Whether a person is married or single, this one term covers all forms of this kind of sin.

ADULTERY is not restricted to the physical acts of disobedience, but encompasses all the attitudes of the heart that put satisfaction of self ahead of devotion to God.  For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus condemned

LUST as an act that makes a person as guilty of ADULTERY as the physical relationship.

Those who love keep their eyes and heart devoted to their beloved, so they are never guilty of ADULTERY in an emotional or spiritual sense or a physical one.  Marriage is the one relationship where sexuality is approved.

Second, everyone who truly loves will not commit MURDER.  This word does not refer to capital punishment or acts of violence in defense of self or the innocent.  Some Christians believe this command forbids all forms of violence, but that is not what the text says.

Of course, there are other kinds of violence.  Jesus taught that whoever condemns his brother is in as much danger of hell as whoever commits murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Once again, unloving attitudes are as much sin as unloving acts.

Third, everyone who truly loves will not STEAL.  Stealing is an offense to God for many reasons, but at its base it is a refusal to respect others and their rights to private property.  The idea of DOMINION or ownership goes back to Genesis 1+2.  Those who steal disrespect the dominion God has given others over their property.

Of course, people routinely steal things other than property and are thereby as guilty of stealing as someone who pinches physical goods.  For example, the sins of gossip, lying, backbiting, and slander are sins because they steal from another person’s reputation.

Fourth, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of coveting.  To COVET is to be so materialistic that you desire things you do not own.  It may be a prelude to stealing.  It is a sin because it is a selfish irritation and dissatisfaction with what God has provided.  It betrays a lack of faith & trust in God.

The truly loving person will not COVET because they will care more about the owner than the item.  They will recognize that the owner and their treatment of him will continue into eternity, but the thing in question will not.

All of these examples are problems that would be solved if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, if we kept the Golden Rule.  Notice how Jesus expressed this in Matthew 7:12: “IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.”  Does that sound familiar?  That’s exactly what Paul wrote!  Imagine what kind of a home, church, community and world we would have if everyone abided by this foundational ethical principle.  It is simple, portable, and it works.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

“Almost a century ago, two young medical school graduates, along with their doctor father, tried an important experiment. They built a small sanitarium on a farm outside Topeka, Kansas (USA). Oftentimes patients were sent to impersonal institutions where they might remain their entire lives.
“The doctors were Charles Menninger and his sons Karl and William. The Menningers had a different idea. Their sanitarium would not be impersonal. They were determined to create a loving, family atmosphere among their patients and staff. Their vision was to grow a community of doctors, nurses and support staff that would cooperate to heal patients.
“To this end, nurses were given special training and were told, ‘Let each person know how much you value them. Shower these people with love.’ Many of the patients received more love and kindness at the Menninger Sanitarium than they had ever experienced before.
“The treatment worked – spectacularly.  [At the end of the first six months, the time people spent in the institution was cut in half.] The experiment was a resounding success and the Menninger’s revolutionary approach to healing and their radical (for that time) methods became world famous.
“Karl Menninger later wrote numerous books and became a leading figure in American psychiatry. ‘Love cures people,’ Menninger wrote, ‘both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.’ His work demonstrated just how true that statement is.”

<Retrieved from http://stevegoodier.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-conspiracy-of-love.html on 1/20/17.>

“Love cures people,” that’s a quote worth remembering, isn’t it?  We’ve learned today that love helps us keep God’s commands: indeed, it is His greatest commandment.  Love is the most important thing.

The flipside of love is holiness.  To be genuine, you can’t have one without the other.  Holiness is the practice of love in our relationships, the things we do that are in keeping with God’s commands.

One of the chief places where love shows up or is conspicuously absent is in our conversations.  The words we say and the way in which we say them goes a long way in revealing whether we are truly in Christ or not and that’s why the NT spends so much time on them.

(If you’d like to see the video version of this message,

Do What is Due

(Please read Romans 13:1-7 in your favorite Bible.  I studied the NIV to make these remarks.)

I read the following article at NEWSER.com 

“’If they were going to inconvenience me then I was going to inconvenience them,’ says Nick Stafford of employees at his local DMV, which received 298,745 unrolled pennies weighing 1,548 pounds on Wednesday. Stafford’s payment came after months of butting heads with DMV workers. The Cedar Bluff, Va., man says he attempted to call the Lebanon DMV in September with a ‘30-second question’—an inquiry about registering a new car—but reached a call center in Richmond and was put on hold for more than an hour. He then got a number for the Lebanon DMV through a Freedom of Information Act request, but was told it wasn’t for public use. Employees answered his question, but wouldn’t give up the numbers to nine other local DMVs, Stafford says—so he sued for them.

“The suits were dismissed Tuesday, but Stafford ended up getting those numbers, which he posted online. As a further protest, he paid $2,987.45 in sales tax for two cars with pennies—five wheelbarrows full of them. He bought the wheelbarrows for $400 and paid 11 people $10 per hour to break open rolls of pennies over four hours, meaning the scheme cost him $840.

“DMV workers spent 12 hours counting his pennies, which jammed a coin-counting machine. Considering such an enormous task, they were

surprisingly ‘respectful and accommodating,’

Stafford says on his website. Moral of the story, NEVER, ever, tell a slightly rebellious, yet knowledgeable and well informed tax paying citizen… he is not ‘allowed’ to call a phone number that HE is already paying for.”

<Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/236811/to-inconvenience-dmv-guy-pays-in-300kpennies.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=1636199079483677525&utm_campaign=20170113 on 01/13/17.>

Obviously, this man’s vengeful and possibly publicity-driven stunt is NOT the kind of relations we as Christians want to have with our government.  And please, don’t make your tithe or offering in wheelbarrows full of pennies.  Let’s talk first!

Rushing in where angels fear to tread – mixing politics and religion this morning – I felt this was the most appropriate moment all year to look at Romans 13:1-7.  Consider that this week holds a celebration of the civil rights legacy and life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sanctity of Human Life Day, and the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.  What other week in all of 2017 will evidence the entire spectrum of American political life than this?  In what other week will we be so obviously challenged to be one nation, under God?

Christian, where do we fit in the body politic?  Is there a place at the conference table for people of faith?  I believe God is telling us to be good citizens, exercising our freedom in Christ in responsible, righteous and respectful ways.

  1. The Principle: Voluntary submission to authority.

Let’s set this passage in context.  Paul was a Jew.  He grew up under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. The empire and its officials held the power of life and death, could tax with prejudice, and there was no appeal for most of the decisions handed down.  There were the “one percenters” as always, only 2-5% middle class, and the remaining 94+% of humanity were reduced to subsistence living at or near the level of slavery.  Imagine what it cost Paul to pen these words in the world in which he lived.

The command is to SUBMIT.  In the Greek language in which Romans was written, this word is hupotasso, which means to subject one’s self.  It is a voluntary submission to authority that is typically motivated by a sense of devotion.  This is what you want to do.

This is NOT the word hupakuo, which can also be translated as SUBMIT, but is a submission motivated by a sense of duty.  It may not be what we want to do, but what we have to do.  The distinction is important because motive is one of the key parts of determining the ethics of an action.  Devotion is generally preferable.

There are six reasons to keep this command.

One, it is God who establishes AUTHORITY (1-2).  When we studied the creation chapters in Genesis we learned that God is a God of order.  Creativity is brining order out of chaos.  From the Old Testament prophets we learn that even evil governments bring a kind of order and further that they are instruments in God’s hands.

Two, rebellion brings one under JUDGMENT (2).  The warning is clear and the terms absolute: rebellion against AUTHORITY is rebellion against God.  Rebels bring judgment on themselves.  We will talk later about instances when rebellion may be the most moral choice.

Three, wrong-doing results in fear of authority (3).  The only people who need to FEAR the authorities are persons doing evil.  Think about yourself out driving.  What happens when you see a police car?  Are they merely part of the scenery, just another vehicle on the road?  Or do you immediately check your speedometer, put on the safety belt you forgot before, or give thought to what you might be doing wrong?  Worse, how do you feel when you see the flashing lights behind you?

Four, righteousness brings commendation (3).  Don’t you wish this were true?  Too often it feels like “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Here’s a place we need to trust God rather than our experience and believe that sooner or later, in this life or the next, that our good works will be rewarded.

Fifth, to avoid punishment (4-5).  Wanting to avoid punishment may not be the most unselfish motive in the world, but as it is sufficient to keep us from evil, it’s good enough.  Paul uses very serious language here: Authorities BEAR THE SWORD.  That sounds threatening.  They have the power to punish evil doers.  They are AGENTS OF WRATH.  Whether they are good or evil, God is so powerful He routinely uses them to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.

Sixth, to keep a good CONSCIENCE (5).  The Bible teaches that every person is created with a conscience.  Like other parts of our humanity, the conscience needs development as we mature.  Not everyone’s conscience develops well. The best way to develop and maintain a good CONSCIENCE is to do what is right.

Paul expresses a realistic but radical view of authority that follows the teaching of Jesus.  Its “realistic” in the sense of being practical and reflects the universal human experience that life is easier and better when we SUBMIT to the authorities God has put in place over us.  Its “radical” in the sense that he uses unconditional language and calls followers of Jesus to a standard that seems impractical in the world as we have experienced it.

I believe this passage elaborates the principle Paul set forth in the preceding verse: DO NOT BE OVERCOME BY EVIL, BUT OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD. (Romans 12:21)  There is another thing we need to remember.  Scripture must be combined with other Scripture to form beliefs that validate all of the parts.  If this were the only passage that spoke to the believer’s relation to authority, then these unconditional statements would be more troubling.  We’ll talk more on that later.  We must also remember that Paul is not just talking about governmental authorities, but all persons who have an authoritative role in our lives.  From parents to presidents, submitting to authority figures is part of our devotion to God.

  1. An application of the principle: taxes.

Taxes have always been a sore subject.

Paul offers 3 reasons a disciple must pay taxes.

First, AUTHORITIES ARE GOD’S SERVANTS (6).  SERVANTS can also be translated as “ministers.”  This means that like a priest, the governing authorities represent God in the world.  They function in His role of bringing order to chaos.  It may help us to think of God delegating some of His supreme authority to these people so their governing actions bring about His will in the world.

Second, GIVE THEIR FULL TIME TO GOVERNING (6).  Not only do the AUTHORITIES deserve our cooperation, they deserve our support.  One reason we pay taxes is the very practical reason that it enables those who govern to work FULL TIME at their governing.  This is similar to what God commanded for the support of the priests in the Old Testament.  They did not do any other work to support themselves and did not own land.  The nation of Israel gave offerings to God and the offerings supported the priests.

Third, GIVE EVERYONE WHAT YOU OWE HIM (7).  This is an expansion of the principle of taxes being given to support authorities.  Paul is generalizing the principle, saying, “In the same way you should pay the taxes you owe to the government, you pay the worker what his labor is worth, not whatever you feel you can afford.”

This is about money, but it is also, as Paul makes clear, about all kinds of obligations.  Note that along with TAXES and REVENUE, he also mentions RESPECT and HONOR.  It makes sense that these emotional components would accompany submission that is based on devotion, not duty.  So, for example, being in compliance with your TAXES and REVENUE is good, but that’s not the whole picture of submission to authorities.  A true follower of Jesus will also show RESPECT and give HONOR to those who lead.

  1. The test of the principle: evil government.

It feels like Paul is only writing about an ideal situation, a government that is good.  Remember what I said about the Roman government and life in his culture.  Know that Paul personally suffered beatings and imprisonment at the hands of governmental authorities.  This is personal, not philosophical or theological.  If anyone had motive to resist the government, Paul did.  But he taught just the opposite.

Remember the teaching of Jesus that supported this radical submission.  For example, Roman soldiers could order civilians to carry their kits up to a mile.  Those who refused could be killed on the spot.  Commenting on this, Jesus said, “IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO WITH HIM TWO.” (Matthew 5:41)  He also affirmed the duty of citizens to pay their taxes and obey the authorities.  On the other hand, He also confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and the system that oppressed the poor (see Matthew 23:2-3 as an example).

Notice Paul wrote about governments not cultures nor any other kind of human system.  Understand Paul’s teaching here is consistent with what he taught elsewhere (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Titus 3:1) and in agreement with Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17).

Reconcile this teaching with the actions of the apostles.  When he was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, Peter respectfully refused to obey their order to speak the name of Jesus no more.  He said to those religious leaders, “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN.” (Acts 5:29)  When we put all this together, the teaching is clear but maybe a bit more complicated: Our default attitude is to respectfully SUBMIT to the authorities in our life until they make demands that are contrary to the will of God.  Like Peter, we must obey God first and lesser authorities second.

This is simple in theory but more complicated in practice because of our tendency toward self-deception and excuse-making.  We need to be certain of our facts and our motives before we take on city hall or any other AUTHORITY God has put in the world.

Note the key word in the first point: VOLUNTARY.  Though it is mandated by God’s law and man’s law, submission is still voluntary.  Also in his reference to the conscience in verse 5, Paul reminds us that this whole subject is on an individual level.

Historically, this is an essential point for us as Baptists; every individual’s right and responsibility to weigh his own conscience against the demands of the governing authorities.  While in the short term we may have to answer to human authorities, in the long term we will definitely have to answer to God as our Righteous Judge.  For those of us who know that, we are more motivated to please our Heavenly Judge than any earthly one.

We have seen in the Bible that God is telling us to be good citizens, exercising our freedom in Christ in responsible, righteous and respectful ways.

As we conclude, may I remind you that this is not a philosophical discussion in all places in the world?  We need to be in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world who live under governments that sponsor or at least tolerate violent persecution of Christians.

I mention all this to give us a little perspective. While it is easy to let politics drive us apart, we need to remember that there are more important matters to bring us together.  For example, equality of opportunity, justice, and affirmation of life are goals that all Americans should support in our common political life.

Under the Influence

At Emmanuel Baptist Church, we combined our Pentecost and Memorial Day observations in the “Pastoral Prayer” section of our worship service.  I was particularly happy with the way it turned out and offer it as an addition to your own Memorial Day observances.

“Since 1971 Memorial Day has been observed annually on the last Monday in May. The purpose is to honor the nation’s military personnel killed in wartime.

“The holiday was called Decoration Day at first, because people decorated soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags on that day. Today it is also marked by parades, memorial speeches and ceremonies.

“Waterloo, New York, was the birthplace of Memorial Day.  On May 5, 1866, the people of Waterloo placed flowers on the graves of northern soldiers who had died in the Civil War. In 1868, Major General John Logan declared May 30 as a day for honoring soldiers who had died fighting for the North.             “After World War I ended, in 1918, Decoration Day became a day to remember everyone who died fighting in U.S. wars – the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. The observation now also includes World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf wars.” <Bobby Scobey; retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bobby-scobey-stories-59644.asp on 05/23/15.>

Decoration Day has become Memorial Day, a time to remember all our loved ones and the sacrifices they have made for us.

“It’s honorable and fitting this morning we remember the sacrifice of our nation’s great veterans, who gave their lives on battlefields abroad and here at home. By some estimates, nearly 1.3 million Americans have shed their blood and died for freedom’s cause. Still, as magnanimous as this number is, it pales in comparison to the number of men, women, and children who have given their lives for freedom’s eternal cause.

“Michael J. McClymond, writing for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, wrote in its December 2002 edition: ‘The total number of Christian martyrs during the 20th Century is reported at 45 million.’ He finished his though by defining Christian martyrs as ‘believers in Christ who lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.’” <Jason Bonnicksen; retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jason-bonnicksen-statistics-holidayscivic-79109.asp on 5/23/15.>

As we memorialize all who have made a sacrifice of life itself for our benefit, it’s important we remember the One who shed the purity of his blood for freedom’s cause. For without the sacrifice or our Jesus on the cross, we would have no means of celebration today.

Stand, then call out simultaneously the names of anyone you’re memorializing today.

VETERANS

MARTYRS

MISSIONARIES

DEPARTED SAINTS

“One of the great preachers in U.S. history is D. L. Moody. He pastored in Chicago and there is still a wonderful Bible College there that bears his name and values. Mr. Moody was a successful minister, but by his own admission, he lacked the power in his ministry. One day two women came up to him after a service. They said, ‘We have been praying for you.’

“‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’ he asked.

“‘Because you need the power of the Spirit.’ “In relating the incident years after he writes, ‘I thought I had power. I had the largest congregation in Chicago, and there were many conversions.’”

“Moody also said that in a sense, he was satisfied. He was in a comfort zone. But these two praying women rocked the boat. They told him that they were praying for an anointing by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Moody could not get this off his mind and he wrote, ‘There came a great hunger in my soul. I did not know what it was and I began to cry out to God as never before. I felt I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service.’”

“Rev. Moody began crying out for God to fill him. He withdrew, prayed, and sought it over a period of time. He writes the following: ‘Well, one day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day! — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be put back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world.’”

<Ken Pell, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ken-pell-stories-blessing-curse-esau-81534.asp on 5/22/15.>

(Please read Romans 8:1-4.)

Message: Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the sin nature and its deadly outcome.

  1. The outcome is NO CONDEMNATION!

THEREFORE indicates a new section beginning.  This is the third time this far in the book of Romans that Paul has made this kind of transition.  It covers chapters 6+7, where Paul’s written about slavery to sin.  We are all born with a sin nature.  That is the legacy of Adam.  The sin nature is an appetite for disobedience to God; it makes us especially vulnerable to temptation.  On our own, we can only hope to restrain the sin nature.  The sin nature carries so great a degree of influence that we are ultimately powerless to resist it – we are in “slavery” to it.

Though the sin nature is deadly, the situation is not hopeless – God provided a way out!

Let’s go out of order a moment and note the condition – FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This condition begins with confession – admitting that sin is a personal problem.  It continues in the personal belief that Jesus Christ is the sole solution to the problem of sin and accepting Him as my Savior.  It is perpetuated and validated by the ongoing decision to live for Jesus as Lord; submitting all my days and ways to Him.

Before explaining how it’s possible, Paul sets forth the good news: THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION!  NOW indicates the situation has changed.  A new possibility has emerged: NO CONDEMNATION.  We are no longer condemned to death as law-breakers (see 6:23).  There is only one condition and no qualifiers, no exceptions to the rule!

So who are we to bring condemnation against those beloved of God when HE has chosen not to?  How false it is to say that we are too far gone, too guilty of evil to be forgiven by God?  Faith brings us to the point where there is NO CONDEMNATION.  In both these examples, the Enemy wants to distract, discourage, and disable believers, but his accusations are false, because God has said there is NO CONDEMNATION.

  1. Jesus made that possible by His death o/t cross.

Verse two makes it plain; this was accomplished THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.  He is the means of our salvation.

Verse three tells us, WHAT THE LAW WAS POWERLESS TO DO… GOD DID BY SENDING HIS OWN SON.

– THE LAW WAS POWERLESS means that there was no permanent solution here. God provided t Law for 3 reasons.

— To define his standard (everything outside what God approved is sin).

— To motivate restraint of the sin nature.

— To provide forgiveness when we fail, through the blood of the sacrifice.

While the Law was effective for those purposes, it was unable to destroy the sin nature.  It was a temporary fix until Jesus came.

– The sin nature weakens the Law by making it impossible for us to keep it; our nature condemns us to always fall short of God’s standard.

– GOD SENT HIS SON…

— IN THE LIKENESS OF SINFUL MAN.   Don’t let the word LIKENESS make you think Jesus was anything other than fully human.  He lived in every way as we do, with the exception of sin – He was not guilty of sin (see Hebrews 4:15), nor did He have a sinful nature.  (This is because He had no earthly father to pass it on to Him.)

— TO BE A SIN OFFERING. Since sin brought the penalty of death, a life was due.  God, in His mercy, did not require the life of the sinner, but allowed a substitution.  When an animal was sacrificed, the pouring out of its life was in the loss of its blood.  Blood symbolizes life, a life wasted by defying God.  Jesus’ blood was the ultimate sin offering that once for all time paid the debt of the guilty sinner.

– HE CONDEMNED SIN IN SINFUL MAN.  Notice He condemned SIN, not the sinner.  Sin is a defeated enemy; new life is available.

Verse four explains the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice: THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US.  Jesus, being fully God and fully man, fulfilled with His blood, what the Law required for the forgiveness of sin.  Notice three particulars:

– The requirements of the Law are RIGHTEOUS.

– The requirements of the Law were FULLY met.  Again; no conditions, no exceptions.

– The requirements of the Law were fully met IN US – or for us – but not by us!

  1. The Holy Spirit provides a new life for us.

Verse two shows that THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE SET ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.  The main contrast here is between the old and new covenants. But there is another contrast here, between the LAW and LIFE.  While the LAW gives regularity, LIFE gives the flexibility to show grace.  This shows the superiority of the Spirit’s operation.

According to verse four, being thereby freed from the death penalty, we DO NOT LIVE ACCORDING TO THE SINFUL NATURE BUT ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.  Paul will spend the rest of this chapter detailing what life ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT is like.  For now, what’s important to us: We are NO LONGER under the influence of the sin nature but are under the influence of the Holy Spirit instead.

For the believer, the goal of life changes from self-satisfaction to satisfying God under the direction of the Spirit.

“There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors – one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung and the maid answered, the inquirer would often ask for “the doctor”. The interesting reply was: “Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?”

We know the theory of Christian living but what we must do is to practice it!

<Owen Bourgaize, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-owen-bourgaize-humor-holyspiritbaptism-pentecost-2971.asp on 5/22/15.>

What we’ve learned is that the Holy Spirit makes all the difference.  We can’t preach or practice with any eternal effectiveness apart from the indwelling Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the agency of salvation, the part of God that resides in us and provides the information and power we need to live beyond what is merely natural and merely normal; to experience God in living moments, great and small.  The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to truly LIVE!

On Pentecost (known to the Jews as the Feast of Weeks), God’s promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled.  On this day hundreds of years ago, the first disciples became the Church as they received the Spirit as Jesus had personally guaranteed they would.

Personally, I like the fact that Memorial Sunday, Pentecost Sunday and Graduates Sunday have all come on the same day.  One aspect of Memorial Day is to celebrate our freedom as Americans.  In a similar but more important way, Pentecost is a celebration of our freedom in the Holy Spirit. These are both celebrations of past events, while our graduates remind us that we have reason to celebrate the future as well.  It’s been a fulfilling experience. But in the midst of it all, remember: under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the sin nature and its deadly outcome.