Thursday, November 30, 2006

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother [Romans 14:1-15:13] (Part 5)

This is a multi-part series. You can catch up and get some context by reading the first four parts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

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In the last study, we saw that the positive action that must take place in order for real unity to be achieved is this: strong brothers must determine to never throw up stumbling blocks in front of weak brothers. They must not exercise their freedom in a way that pressures the weak brother to ignore his scruples and violate his conscience. Paul describes four crucial reasons (“motivations” if you like) why the strong must commit to this.

Four Reasons You Must Judge Rightly

(Never Condmen and Never Cause to Stumble) (:14-18)

A. First Reason: Everything is clean to the Christian, but not everything is clean to every Christian (14:14)

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself,

This is the idea that the strong have to get into their heads! Yes, everything is clean. But if you are coming out of a certain background, that may be hard to understand. Three times the Lord lowered the blanket of animals in Peter’s vision and three times he proclaimed, “Eat.”

Acts 10:10-15 And he [Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

There is nothing “common” or “unclean” to the Christian! This is staggering though! Imagine going to Hebrew school and learning which animal was which and what you could eat when! All that is out the window!

Mark 7: 14-19 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Everything is not clean to every Christian

“...but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Peter needed to hear it three times – and even then he fell back into his old ways of thinking in Galatia! Mark had to add an explanatory addition to his Gospel since this truth was so revolutionary!

Do you see what Paul is allowing for here? As long as a Christian is not looking to his eating or not eating as the grounds of his justification, then he is free to keep that diet. In fact, to go against his thoughts on this matter would be dangerous.

If a Christian man deems something unclean, even though it is not unclean, to him it IS unclean, because that is how he perceives it! He imputes to that thing or food or day a commonness that makes eating or drinking or participating... a violation of God.

So, when you find a brother has a different view on a secondary matter than yours, you must realize that if he is the weaker brother, for him to participate with you would be to violate his conscience. That is why you do not welcome “in order to” change him. No, you welcome him with an agenda-free reception.

B. Second Reason: Love demands it (14:15)

“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”

We have just spent a huge amount of time saying that authentic love is what ought to mark our whole Christian life. That is who we are and what we are to be and do. If we yap about love out of one side of our mouth and practice log-tossing at the same time – we show we know nothing of true love.

This is so very much at the foundation of the whole matter. Stronger brothers, you are to love your weaker brother. And here again, it is not some condescending, pat on the head, “one-day-you’ll-learn” kind of thing – this is hating evil, holding fast to good, self-denial, cross-carrying, Jesus-following genuine self-sacrificing love.

We ought to expect that such love would require us to deny ourselves or tolerate differences. If we are not willing to love in these ways, we will “grieve” our brother – put him in distress. And this is not just some minor embarrassment or inconvenience! In the very next phrase he warns that the one who parades his strength is liable to cause the weak “to be destroyed.” Whatever Paul intends by that word, it is not pleasant.

C. Third Reason: Logic demands it (14:15b)

“By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”

People do the strangest things. The picture Paul draws here is striking! It is a little bit like a poor slave man who always complains to his fellow slaves about the King. Then one day through ancient DNA testing, he finds out he is the King’s son! What rejoicing! He is free! He is wealthy! He is healthy! He is strong!

And the first thing he does is go back to his former slave-mates and show off his new clothes, and new servants and new power! He does not bring them food or help – he just rubs it in their face!

Some Christians are like this! “Look at my freedom! Look at my strength!” Paul says, “Are you kidding me? You are destroying others by your good!” That is illogical! It makes no sense.

Jesus died for him! And you want to shipwreck his faith by exercising your right to have a little glass of wine?

D. Fourth Reason: Kingdom priorities demand it (14:17)

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For, the one serving Christ in this is well-pleasing to God and approved to men.

What are we about? What do we aim for? Why do we live? Is it to drink wine, eat meat and treat every day alike? Is that what the Christian faith is all about? Is that why we are on the planet?

No, we are here to perform Holy Spirit-infused righteous deeds.

And we are here to help create a Holy Spirit-empowered peace within the church of the living God.

And we are here to find our joy in the Holy Spirit – not our diet or days!

These are the kingdom priorities. And this is the way that we serve Jesus, our Master. We do right deeds to other Christians, we pursue peace with other Christians and we experience joy with other Christians.

This is an excellent test of our church: Are the Kingdom priorities practiced here? Do we see righteous acts, genuine peace and real joy? And of course to answer that you must ask yourself the same question: are these priorities in my life? Or do I think I have been given the gift of laziness, disunity and strife?

What is your attitude toward those with whom you differ?