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When Earnest and I were young we disagreed…frequently and sometimes loudly.
One day, Earnest and I were having a “disagreement”…I looked over and Christy was horrified, tears on her face…Earnest and I shut up…and we have not disagreed like that since.
We were trying to convince one another of our position on certain issues…though we agreed on most things.
Funny when we stopped trying so hard to be understood we learned how to better understand each other.
It seems that our nation has lost its ability to disagree.
Those of us who claim the name of Jesus…must do better.
It can be exasperating when something that seems to be vitally important to you is just not that important to someone else…especially if that someone else is friend, or family, or in your church or small group.
How can this not matter to them when it matters so much to you?
Any fool can see how important this is or what is true here.
I had a seminary class with a very kind and gracious professor, Dr. Munn…Greek and NT scholar.
One day a student was desperately trying to convince Dr. Munn to see things their way.
With tears of frustration the student finally said, “It is obvious from Scripture that this is what is true!”
Dr. Munn, with softness and compassion said, “It is obvious that is what you believe, but it is not obvious to me that that is what Scripture teaches.”
What was obvious to most of us…was that Dr. Munn knew what he was talking about, the student didn’t.
But Dr. Munn was kind and patient…even then he was unable to convince the student to being open to seeing things differently…I never saw that student at school again.
The conclusion when people disagree is often:
-They are not as smart as I am
-They are not as mature in the faith as I am
-They are just sinful and don’t want to know the truth
-They are just wrong on this…and I must compel them to agree.
Dr. Munn modeled grace in how he disagreed with a very frustrated student.
-What was most striking was that Munn was the expert, the student a novice…and yet Munn had a more humble stance than did the student.
-But Dr. Munn was known for living the NT not for trying to win arguments about it.
Convictions are like the boundary markers on a football field.
-Stay inside these lines and you can run any number of plays.
-Step outside and no plays are legit…you are out of bounds.
Everyone has boundary lines:
-Some have lines that shift to fit the situation:
-Some lines are way too big (a field the size of Texas)…when conviction boundaries are drawn that large it is essentially like having no convictions.
-Some are drawn too small (the size of a postage stamp)…impossible to do anything in that small space.
Convictions, for those who take the Scriptures seriously generally fall into two categories:
A biblical conviction is something that you believe would apply universally to all people.
This would include things that are prescriptive (commanded) and things that are prohibited.
-I must only worship God
-I must not commit adultery
Personal convictions would be things you believe you personally should or should not do but they do not necessarily apply to everyone.
-I should homeschool my children
-I will not drink alcohol
There are times when people feel so strongly about a certain personal conviction that they believe it must apply to everyone.
But what if others (who also take the scriptures seriously) disagree?
Paul called some of these things “Disputable matters”.
They have also been called “adiaphora” “things indifferent.”
-Not that we are indifferent about them but that Scripture is
One of the things that causes problems among people is the disagreement over what things are essential and what are not.
In elections…people decide to vote based on what they believe to be essential and non-essential issues.
The disagreement is not over whether some things are essential and others are not…the disagreement is over what things are essential and which are not.
What is disputable is often disputed.
Today we are in Romans 14.
I think it is one of the most practically helpful chapters in the NT in terms of navigating the differences between people in the church.
He is not going a totally different direction here that where he has been in his letter:
-The explanation of the gospel (11 chapters)
-The gospel applied in various relationships…faith expressing itself in love (12,13)
-Now disputable matters…how does this fit?
The test of love among family and friends is when they disagree not when they agree.
This is Paul’s deep dive into the application of the gospel when differences and disagreements among believers occur.
He goes straight for the heart of what was dividing the church at Rome and how “Philadelphia” brotherly love and a confidence in God could be applied relationally.
Today we will look at verses 1-12
The background for this passage is the fact that the Christians in Rome were standing in judgment over one another.
There were two main groups…Jewish background believers (and their sympathizers) and Gentile background believers (and their sympathizers).
The Jewish believers took pride in holding to Mosaic law
The Gentile believers took pride in their freedom from Mosaic Law
Both of course, were missing the point…which is faith expressing itself in love.
In this chapter Paul addresses the two groups:
-The weak: those who believed they had to continue to keep the law
-The strong: those who believed they were free to not keep the law
This is not superior and inferior…The term “weak in faith” is a descriptive not a derogatory classification.
Paul is using “faith” here is a specific way…not as in one’s faith generally but as in one’s convictions about what faith allows him or her to do or not do.
The weak in faith are not lesser Christians, they just don’t believe their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do.
The core of the dispute had to do with observance of the Jewish Law.
The weak were those who not could not bring themselves to abandon the practice of the Jewish ceremonial law they had observed all of their lives.
The strong, by contrast, felt no need to observe these laws that had never been a part of their lives.
The weak condemned the strong for dismissing God’s laws, while the strong looked down on the weak for clinging to the old ways when new freedom had come.
Paul sides with the strong on the basic issues, but his main concern is to get them to stop judging each other and accept one another in love and unity.
We will see this clearly in chapter 15.
15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God.”
Paul makes it clear in his letters that Jewish Christians have the freedom to continue to observe the law if they want to…but they must not think it is necessary for salvation and they must not try to impose it on others.
He also says that believers have no obligation to observe the Law of Moses…so celebrating special days and eating certain foods are non-essentials.
But those who understand that they are free in Christ must not look down on others who do not yet have this understanding.
Take this section in three bites:
- Stop judging one another
- You have one master
- God will be God
14:1-3: Stop Judging One Another
Rom. 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 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.
There is no disputing that there are disputable matters.
Sometimes people want a simple and neat system that tells them how to live without having to struggle to know what is right and best:
-Tell me how to eat, educate my kids, worship, vote, buy, be entertained…just tell me all that is right and all that is wrong.
-I don’t want their to be disputable matters…make it simple for me.
Its not simple, because its real…there are some essentials and there are some non-essentials…there are disputable matters…takes work to not what is what.
And grace to get along with others who disagree.
And there are ways believers are to deal with each other in regards to these issues:
Paul illustrates one of these disputable matters in verse 2…some believed you should not eat meat; others believed you could eat anything.
We know from reading ahead in this chapter that it was the weak that would eat only veggies and the strong could eat everything.
In verse 3 Paul tells both groups to change their attitude towards each other.
The strong must not “look down on” the weak…the word is ridicule or to have contempt for.
-The strong believed the weak were “ridiculous, immature”
The weak on the other hand must not “judge” the strong…the word is to condemn.
-The weak thought the strong were “unspiritual” or worse…not Christians at all.
That’s why he wrote, “You can’t condemn them, because God has already accepted him”
Which leads to verses 4-9…they have one master and it is not you.
- 14:4-9 You have one master
4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 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. 9 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 elaborates this fundamental principle…personalizing it…”Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?”
In condemning the strong believer the weak is in effect claiming to be that believer’s master…but we have only one master…the Lord Jesus.
Then Paul introduces a second disputable matter, judging certain days to be more sacred than others.
Paul doesn’t say here which group is right or wrong but that each person must decide and then live decided…come to a conviction then live out your conviction.
Its not that Paul doesn’t have an opinion about these things because in Colossians he writes…
Col. 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
He doesn’t believe celebrating certain days or eating and drinking (or not eating and drinking) certain foods make you more or less spiritual.
But his point in Romans was that since these things don’t ultimately matter…don’t make them into a major issue…certainly don’t let them divide you.
So decide for yourself…then live that decision without trying to push your personal decision on others.
Paul then returns to his theological principle…quit judging each other on secondary issues, you each have a master…follow him yourself and trust him to lead others…let God be God.
Trying to play the role of God at any level is dangerous and unhappy business.
The epic fall of Harvey Weinstein has dominated the news this week.
The reason he has fallen so hard is because he fell from so high.
He allowed himself to be called “God” by Meryl Streep at the Oscars…and to be treated like one by many.
When humans are treated as a god or who try to act like him it makes them into terrible humans.
Judging people’s hearts, motives…is the domain of God, not humans.
To judge someone in an inappropriate way is as absurd as it is wrong.
- 14:10-12 In the end, God will be God.
10 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. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
He now turns to each side and asks them a specific question…
You who have all these convictions…”Why do you judge your brother?”
You who believe you have all this freedom…”Why do you look down on your brother?”
Both are engaged in activities that belong only to God.
“We will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”
What he means is that every believer is ultimately answerable to God, not to others, for their conduct in this life.
Here are the key principles in Romans 14 regarding disputable matters:
- Accept one another. 14:1
-Doesn’t mean any behavior is acceptable, specifically refers to disputable matters
- Come to a conviction and live that conviction. 14:12
- Keep your personal convictions to yourself (next week) 14:22
Important to remember: Paul is discussing disputable matters. He is not saying all things are disputable. They are not. Immorality is universally wrong. The gospel is universally true.
There are things that are biblically “neutral”…and here is how you demonstrate gospel love in regards to those things.
- Two ways to be wrong about this: drawing the field too small or drawing it too large.
*Too small: Making disputables into absolutes
-Is this truly a biblical conviction, or is it personal conviction or preference?
*Too large: Making absolutes into disputables
-We cannot say that those things that are clearly out of bounds are acceptable.
To demand more than what God has said is to “add” to his word.
To demand less is to “subtract” from his word.
Deut 4:2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.
Prov. 30:6 Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
Do your best to let the Scriptures speak for themselves…Major on the majors.
- What happens when we cannot agree on which things are disputable?
*I had a discussion at another church years ago with a lady who served with me on a team whose task was to select a new staff person.
*She believed that a certain issue was essential in the selection; I believed it was not.
*We could not come together on it…we never did come together on it.
My position won out…but I am convinced years later I did not handle it in a way that honored God and her.
*Some thoughts on dealing with differences.
- Try to understand what is making this issue so important to them (or you).
-Man who was addicted to alcohol may have a strong conviction about it…it is very hard to separate personal experience from a biblical conviction.
- Try to ask if this truly is foundational…because if you take a stand on something that is not essential you might undermine what actually.
-Years ago a man I knew, very publically declared that a specific cultural issue was a “hill to die on.”
-The problem was, the issue didn’t change…neither did he die on the hill.
-So the “hill to die on” talk was hyperbole.
And the impact was a loss of credibility on the really important things of the faith among some in the Wichita community.
*If you major on things that are important to you, but not required by Scripture…you might undermine confidence in the things that are actually required and important:
–Parents need to pay special attention to this fact.
It you are pushing personal convictions (which you have the right and responsibility to do)…make sure your kids know the difference and why they are both important.
*We had certain dating standards but we never presented them as “Biblical requirements”…we did give principles and practical reasons for them.
- Try to figure out what level you can continue to work together.
-Find points of agreement, when possible.
– Is this really about truth or about the need to be right?
-Are you only interested in being understood or are you open to understanding.
-Is there really no point of compromise on this?
Sometimes it can be about control and insecurity:
-Control: I want to try and control the beliefs and behaviors of others
-Insecurity: If others don’t agree with me, I feel insecure about what I believe and how I behave.
- Disagree in a God honoring way…if you are convinced someone is wrong…here is what it is to look like in practice.
2 Tim. 2:23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
- Remember the primacy of love:
13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt of love.”
Paul addresses some divisive issues in his letter to the church at Corinth.
He specifically speaks to the fact that the strong should be willing to submit their freedoms to serve others.
1Cor. 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1Cor. 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Surrender your freedoms, if necessary, for the good of others.
- Even if you can do something, should you? (how should you use your freedoms in Christ?)
The fact that you can do something does not indicate that you should….is it helpful?
Be sure that as you measure and enjoy the liberties there are in the life of a believer with a strong faith…that those very same liberties don’t serve to weaken your faith and undermine your resolve to honor Christ with your life.
- Ultimately love is the indication of spiritual maturity
-Some are very proud of their liberty…all the things they are free to do
-Others are very proud of their disciplines…all the things they not free to do
In Galatians Paul addressed Christians who were trying to add to the gospel…in this case they were saying you had to be circumcised according to Jewish law then you could become a Christ follower.
Paul said this is absolutely wrong…
Gal. 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
There is a path laid out for us when we disagree…because disagreement is a real test of love:
What does it look like in practice to live the gospel?
“Faith expressing itself in love.”
This includes when there is disagreement among us.
It is said that some people “just want to be right all the time.”
That should be true for all us…but not in order to look smart or win arguments.
The reason we want to be “right about things” is in order to love God and others well…anything around reason is silly.
Know the truth in order to bless not to impress.
Know the truth in order to win hearts not in order to win arguments.
Know the truth because of love for Jesus who is the truth.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity (love).
Don’t demonize those who disagree, don’t misrepresent their positions…hold fast to your own convictions while demonstrating love to those who disagree.