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The older I get the better I was…is a well-known joke regarding mis-remembering your youth.
However there is truth in it…not in the fact that we actually were better, but in the fact that our memories are not fixed, they can be fluid.
People often distort their own memories in a positive or prestige-enhancing direction.
There are some Interesting studies where people would “remember”
-Their grades were better than they were
-They gave more to charity than they did
-Their kids walked and talked at an earlier age than they really did.
These are distortions that occur in the minds of people who are otherwise trying to be honest.
I heard a radio talk given by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor who studies memory.
She works, among other things, with people accused of crimes based on false memories.
In one project, information was gathered on 300 people who were convicted of crimes they didn’t commit…they spent between 10 and 30 years in prison until DNA testing proved their innocence.
225 of those 300 people were convicted because of false memories.
There are many interesting experiments with false memories where researchers have been able to successfully plant memories that then became real to people.
Things like, maybe a false memory of getting sick eating potato salad at a picnic when I was 8 and suddenly I am less likely to go for the potato salad at future picnics.
The movie “inception” is sci-fi and far fetched, but it does have this theme of planting memories and how they can impact our lives…which is not far fetched.
A quote from the movie I think is accurate, “An idea is like a virus, once it has taken hold of the brain its almost impossible to eradicate.”
My point of all this is…humility…the need for it.
We really do have good cause to be humble…and pride, is really dumb.
Its dumb because its out of touch with what is real about us…we are so very vulnerable, limited, easily broken, deceived…we are not smart, strong, or good.
Even something as basic as memories…things we believe are sure things…can be wrong.
I have seen this over and over in working as a mediator between two otherwise normal, intelligent, and good people…both are convinced about what happened and what didn’t, often neither is entirely correct.
We are just not as smart or as objective or as rational as we think we are.
Pride is also dumb because it keeps us from loving one another like we could and should…its just bad for us…and bad for relationships.
Pride can make us resolute in thinking we are right and refusing to admit we are wrong…or at least being open to the possibility.
Pride keeps us from doing what is best for others…even when we really are right.
Even if we are right about something…what are we to do with that “rightness”?
Will we simply be right, or will we do “right”…love others well with truth.
A friend told me recently that something that has transformed his key relationships is a simple principle: “Even if I believe I am 1% wrong, I try to take 100% responsibility for my 1% and leave it there.”
That is wise…but it also takes humility.
Do I really want to be right or do I want to love?
Do I really want to be right or do I want to have peace, and righteousness and joy in my life?
I’m not saying it’s always a binary choice “be right or love others”
I mean when it comes down to situations where I can push my position or I can choose a path of love…which will I do?
I’m not talking about compromising on essential truth…we must not do that.
But that is rarely what is at stake…most often it is my preference, my convenience, and my pride that is at stake.
Last week we looked Romans 14:1-12, disputable matters.
There Paul discusses how to keep them from ruining what is good in our relationships…how to disagree in a God-honoring and “others” loving way.
This week we pick up in verse 13.
Rom. 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Walk through this in three sections.
- Don’t be a stumbling block: 13-16
“Therefore” sums up his point thus far and prepares for what is to come.
Stop passing judgment one another…you are supposed to be loving one another.
But what if we disagree? No doubt you sometimes will…then do so in the right way.
Instead of judging, fix your attention on not putting stumbling blocks or obstacles in the way of others.
Your life should be about clearing the path for others to know and love God…it should certainly not be about putting obstacles in the way.
When babies are learning to walk…adults will clear the floor in the room to make it as easy as possible…since walking is hard enough for them without having to worry about stumbling over things.
Maybe their siblings will put toys in their way to see them fall, understandable…they are children.
But only a childish adult would do so.
Mature Christians desire as much as possible to clear the way for the less mature
In verse 14 Paul agrees with the ones that he has designated the “strong”…the ones whose faith allows them to eat and drink things the “weak” will not.
He agrees that some of the things that might make a weaker Christian stumble are not in themselves wrong.
However, Paul says…if a weaker Christian believes eating certain food is wrong, then for them it is.
So the strong should not flaunt their freedoms in a way that distresses the weak…if they do then they are not acting in love…which is after all, the bottom line in relationships.
How can the strong’s actions “destroy” someone?
It is startling language but perhaps the strong could lead the weak to betray their own conscience because of peer pressure or just become disillusioned and walk away.
- The Values of the Kingdom: 17-18
The strong are not wrong to believe they are free to eat and drink…they are free.
But they need a reordering of priorities where Kingdom values are more important than personal freedoms.
Faith expressing itself in love is priority.
The values of the Kingdom are righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
A mature adult will often limit his or her freedoms for the young or the weak.
My daughter has latches on cabinets…those things are a nuisance…but they are examples of limiting her own freedom for the sake the young.
The list goes on and on…and for the adult who loves the young ones…limiting their own freedoms may at times be tiresome, but it is done without question.
Because their love for their children is more important than the exercise of their own freedoms.
This is how the “strong” in faith are to respond to the “weak.”
Important: What Paul is not and what he is saying.
- He’s not saying you must alter your life to adapt to the opinions of others.
Good luck with that if you want to try.
Sometimes believers just disagree on issues…sometimes people don’t like what you believe or do.
You do not have to limit your freedom just because someone disagrees with you.
There are those who are not really weaker brothers, they might be older Christians with lots of opinions for everyone including you.
You have an obligation to love them, but not to comply with them or to agree with them.
You cannot do what everyone believes you should do…don’t even try.
- This is about spiritual stumbling blocks. Not personal problems, addictions, vices, opinions.
For example: Someone is a recovering alcoholic and therefore cannot drink at all because of their addiction. You might choose to not drink around them in deference to them but that is not what Paul is addressing here.
Sure the concern for the well being of others is valid but the weak here are not people who have addictions…their weakness is spiritual.
They do not know the full liberty they have in Christ.
Their potential problem is not that they might drink too much but that they might drink even when their faith is telling them not to.
Background on eating and drinking:
Perhaps you are wondering why Paul is using the examples of eating and drinking.
It was common practice at the time to offer food and wine as sacrifices to the gods of Greek and Roman mythology.
The goal was to earn their favor of the gods and turn away their wrath.
This meat and wine was then sold in the temple marketplaces at a discount…it was used but still good. (These god’s didn’t actually eat or drink the offerings.)
So the more mature Christians were enjoying the bargain.
They knew the pagan gods were nothing except the inventions of men’s minds and superstitions so they were happy to eat the less expensive meat and drink the cheaper wine.
However others felt like the food and wine had been defiled by its usage and so they refused to eat or drink and could not see how any believer could do so.
In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians listen to what Paul wrote:
1Cor. 8:4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 …and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ…7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
So that’s the background…it is not about addictions or the different opinions people have.
It is specifically about people with certain faith convictions (even if they are not accurate)…being tempted to defile their own conscience by the freedoms of those who have a fuller understanding of the gospel.
Don’t get wrapped up in the details of the example…pay attention to the point.
The point is love…that is the question we ask ourselves…”What does love look like here?”
Love will do its level best to watch out for the good of others.
III. Don’t cause your brothers and sisters to stumble: 19-23
We live the values of the kingdom by acting in ways that lead to peace and “mutual edification.”
An “edifice” is a building
Mutual edification means to “build one another up”.
Our interactions should “brick by brick” be making one another’s faith strong.
So…DO…what will build others up.
And…DON”T DO…what will tear others down.
“Its foolish to destroy what God is doing in a person’s life for the sake of food.”
Sure, their is nothing wrong with eating the food…you may have it right in principle…but you have to get it right in practice.
It is would be better to not eat meat or drink wine at all…or to do anything else for that matter that will cause your brother to fall.
Again this is about stumbling blocks related to the gospel, not personal addictions and habits and opinions.
Verses 22 and 23 are really important points in this whole discussion:
–22 is for the strong
-23 is for the weak
- V. 22: For the strong. Don’t promote your freedoms in a way that might cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble.
This doesn’t mean we should not teach what full gospel liberty looks like.
We should…but do not tempt people to violate their conscience if they do not yet see that they have certain freedoms.
If you have freedoms, enjoy them…but do not flaunt them and certainly do not encourage others to go against their own conscience.
You don’t have to give up freedoms you believe are legit…you would just be careful how you exercise them.
- V. 23: For the weak. If you have doubts, don’t do it. Just because others are, doesn’t mean you should.
If you cannot do it in “faith” in confidence that this is what God wants for you…then don’t do it.
Romans 14: The whole chapter is about love when there is disagreement over Christian lifestyle boundaries or choices. Specifically about things that are biblically disputable.
The first 12 verses were more aimed at the “weak” than the “strong”
It was a challenge to those who had more limitations, that they not judge or condemn those who did not share their convictions.
The second half of the chapter was aimed more at the “strong.”
They are encouraged to limit their freedoms if need be in order to serve the weak.
Both groups are to love others…and what is interesting is there are situations where a person may be the weaker one and in another situation the stronger one.
We all have our ideas of what is allowable and what is not…they may or may not be accurate.
It’s important to be humble, and to listen carefully to one another.
Under no circumstances are we to judge, talk about one person to another (gossip or slander), or become angry about all this.
The point of chapter 14 is the “good news of Jesus” applied to differences among family members.
Disagree in a God-honoring, people loving way.
If you are the “strong” and yet you treat others without love…you are the immature.
If you are the “weak” and yet you treat others with love…you are the mature.
Remember: “Weak” and “Strong” here has to do specifically with what a person believes their faith will or will not allow them to do.
The weak have unnecessary limitations
The strong better understand their freedoms.
But this has to do mostly with “information”…what you know or don’t yet know.
Maturity in the faith is about “application”…whether you live what is true.
Unfortunately in the church(and outside it) the person who “knows stuff” is seen to be the most advanced.
So Christian maturity becomes the “information game”…how much data can I get into my brain?
While in reality Christian maturity is “Christ like” love for others…how much will I lay my life down for the good of others?
1Cor. 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
See what he was saying?
You “strong” who have fuller knowledge of gospel freedom…that knowledge by itself just puffs you up…makes you proud.
Love builds others up.
The reason to have gospel knowledge is in order to love God and others well.
So again…the “weak” (the one with less understanding but more love for others) might very well be more mature in actions than the “strong” who understands freedom in Christ…but does not use that freedom to love others.
We walked across the bridge (time, culture) from our time and thoughts to Paul’s, to understand what he was saying.
Now let’s walk back across the bridge and try to apply what we have learned to our situation.
The scriptures cannot mean what they never meant.
But what they meant then…can be applied now…that is the important work of taking Biblical truth and principle and applying to our lives.
Am I the “weaker” or “stronger” brother (sister)?
Good question…maybe both depending on the issue.
- S. Lewis wrote back in the 1940’s that “British Christians were appalled that American Christians smoked so much while American Christians where appalled that British Christians drank so much.”
“But Terry, clearly smoking is wrong” “Or drinking is wrong”
No, clearly smoking is physically unhealthy, as is drinking too much… but so is over eating, and drinking soda, and not enough exercise, and unforgiveness.
Let’s use movies as a template to understand some of these principles:
There are movies that scare my grandkids…so when I am with them, I don’t watch those movies.
Sometimes its different even between the 5 year old twins what is scary and what is not.
Furthermore what scares them changes as they get older…you have to keep up, almost month to month. (Ninja Turtles…stopped scaring them)
This doesn’t mean I never watch a show that wouldn’t scare a 5 year old…I just don’t watch it with them.
When I babysat last week…we watched “The Mother goose club” although I would have preferred to be watching “Saving Private Ryan.”
Lets go another step…there are other movies you may watch, that I would not…for me they are wrong (its sin for me if I watch them)…or I just choose to not watch them because they are not helpful.(personal conviction)
Then there are movies that are wrong for you or me to watch…we might disagree over what they are…but certainly there are movies that are evil and should not be watched by believers.
This illustrates the differences between us and how are to deal with those differences.
- I am the strong in regard to a 5 year old and weak in regards to you.
- I have biblical convictions that will not allow me to watch (sin) and I have personal convictions that I choose not to watch (not helpful)
Remember the main points:
- Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters: 14:1
- Each one will give an account of himself to God: 14:12
- Whatever you believe do…but don’t push on others: 14:22
-Because if it is not from faith it is sin: 14:23
Whether you are the “stronger” or “weaker” is not the issue…sure it is important to understand what gospel liberty means…but the main point of that liberty is maturity.
Maturity is faith expressing itself in love.
Satan knows the scriptures front to back, he could teach a Ph.D. theology class…he appears to be a super intelligent being (not omniscient) so I assume he knows Greek, Hebrew as well.
But though he has this knowledge; who would classify him as “spiritually mature?”
He is a hateful, murderous, evil creature…clearly knowledge is not the point of maturity.
Knowledge is a vehicle that is useful to taking us where we need to go…to the place where we can intelligently love God and others well.
If others disagree and they are wrong…gently instruct them…love them.
But be humble, perhaps you are wrong.
In either case…make love primary.
I grew up in a church were dancing and drinking were wrong.
I heard sermons about how Jesus turned water into grape juice…because drinking is wrong and so clearly Jesus would not make wine that could be used at a wedding.
This is of course not true.
We were also not allowed to have dances.
That didn’t bother me because I hated to dance…but it did undermine my confidence in Scripture.
Because I heard the arguments against these things and they didn’t seem like rational arguments.
They seemed like attempts to control internal things (addictions, temptations) by adding external rules (that were not clearly given in Scripture).
I thought about some of this when I saw the musical the “Music Man”…where the devious con man was trying to sale band uniforms to a community called River City.
He was pointing out the dangers of things like the local pool hall in order to convince the town to buy what he was selling and start a marching band.
“Trouble here in River City, Trouble with a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!”…terrible logic, but good emotional salemanship.
I was a teenager but I felt like what I was hearing in church was sometimes similar logic
The fact is that when you stick with the gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does and refuse to try and be his jr. partner…people do change.
They change from the inside out…he changes them…we don’t need to try to change them from the outside in.
The gospel is God’s offer of liberty…we don’t need to add or subtract from it.
Of course there are things we will not do and things we must do…but all of this is because of opportunity for liberty…we can grow in faith and love.
To be sidetracked by lesser issues is to miss the point.
If the Bible didn’t actually deal with is real…it would simply be a list of rules to follow.
It would be simplistic because it would not be dealing with reality.
But since it is about reality…it can be complex…the applications are not always easy.
People will disagree and so we must take what is beyond dispute…
“This is how we know what love is, Christ died for us and so we too must lay down our lives for one another.”
Then apply this to the issues that are disputable…show grace, love, patience for one another.
Rom. 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
It doesn’t answer every question related to disagreements…but it does answer the question as to how we are to disagree…we are to disagree in love.
It takes a lot of pressure off.
You only have to figure out how to love people, not how to change them.
God changes people…you just figure out how to love them…that’s complex enough.