Storeroom Sermons of David Chadwell

Unity: God Can Handle Our Differences (Pt. 4)

With all the differences God handled successfully in the first century, we need to allow God to teach us that He can handle ours. It was we, not God, that decided He could not handle our differences in the church. It was we, not God, who decided our differences were too much for God to handle.

Let us begin with a very brief review of our past lessons. First, we examined our concept of unity. We noted that God's concept of unity includes diversity. Second, to illustrate God's concept of unity, we noted the differences between Jesus the Son and God the Father when Jesus prayed John 17. Third, we noted from Ephesians 2 that even though Christians did not fully understand what God had done for them in Christ, God still did it. God's achievements in Jesus Christ do not depend on human understanding or human permission!

Today, we want to go to Romans 14 for a third illustration. We want to begin by reading Romans 14:1-23. Please read with me or listen carefully as I read. (I am reading from the New American Standard Translation.)  

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lordís. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ďAs I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.Ē So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine thisónot to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brotherís way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

  1. We want to begin by noting one of the disagreements between Jewish Christians called Judaizers and gentile Christians.

    1. Please understand that the understanding of Jewish Christians like Paul were the exception, not the common situation.
      1. People like Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, etc. were Jewish Christians who grasped what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection.
      2. They never taught Jews to abandon their Jewishness, but to see their past and God's promises to them in the past as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Consider such passages as Acts 21:19-24 and 22:3, 12, 17.)
      3. However, never did Paul teach gentiles that they had to adopt Jewish practices.
        1. Gentile salvation did not, in any way, depend on the Jews' covenant responsibilities with God.
        2. There was an unfolding of God's work, not a rejection of God's past work.
        3. Jews who believed in Jesus Christ were to understand this unfolding so that "all families of the earth" (Genesis 12:3) could find God's salvation blessings in Jesus Christ.
    2. Judaizers did not see how gentiles could possible come directly to God through Jesus Christ without first being indoctrinated into Judaism (the Jewish religion).
      1. Unconverted gentiles had the wrong concept of divinity--they worshipped idols, not the one true living God.
      2. Unconverted gentiles did not know the correct concepts of worship.
      3. Unconverted gentiles did not have the right values reflected in their moral values, in their concepts of right and wrong.
      4. Unconverted gentiles did not know the correct way to live.
    3. The Judaizers' solution:
      1. "Allow us to destroy their heathen concepts."
      2. "Allow us to teach then the right concepts of God."
      3. "Allow us to teach them the right way to live."
      4. "Allow us to circumcise them."
      5. "Then--and only then--will they be ready to come to God through Christ."
    4. The Judaizers' concept:
      1. "Let us destroy all that is wrong in them first."
      2. "Then they will be prepared to learn how to be alive to God through Jesus Christ."
    5. To show you parts of this view from scripture, I direct your attention to Acts 15.
      1. In Acts 15:1, 2, some Jewish Christians came from Judea (the area of Jerusalem and the first church) and taught gentile Christians (the brethren) in Antioch: ""Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
        1. Note circumcision is a salvation issue.
        2. Note this was taught to gentiles who were Christians or brethren.
        3. Note that not even Paul and Barnabas (who has just converted gentiles to Jesus Christ) could stop this incorrect teaching.
        4. Note the question had to be referred to Jerusalem and to the apostles and elders.
      2. In Acts 15:5 when the issue arrived in Jerusalem, some Pharisees who believed in Jesus Christ said: "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."
      3. After a thorough discussion of the matter, after James announced it was unnecessary for gentiles to be Jewish proselytes before becoming Christians, James suggested that the Christian leaders write gentile Christians a letter to confirm the decision.  In the letter (Acts 15:24) this statement is declared:
        "Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls . . ."
        1. Note there were some Jewish Christians who claimed to represent the Jerusalem church leadership, but did not.
        2. Note these people said that those who were not circumcised according to the custom of Moses could not be saved.
        3. These people were saying it was not enough to come to God through Jesus Christ.

  2. I hope you have your Bibles and can follow me in your Bible--turn to Romans 14 and first consider the first 12 verses.
    1. Verse one introduces us to two different kinds of Christians Paul wished his readers to consider: the Christian who is weak in the faith and (by implication) the Christian who is strong in the faith.
      1. First, consider the Christian who is weak in the faith.
        1. The purpose of possessing knowledge is to judge others by his or her understanding and the standards that come from that understanding.
        2. He or she is a vegetarian; for faith reasons meat is not eaten.
        3. To him or her, there are special religious days--like the Sabbath, or Pentecost, or the Passover.
        4. He or she thought his or her evaluation of other Christians determined if the other Christians were acceptable to God or unacceptable to God.
      2. Second, consider the Christians who were strong in the faith.
        1. He or she understands that the purpose of knowledge is to provide the person a lifestyle--another person is not acceptable or unacceptable to God because of another's opinion.
        2. He or she eats anything, including all meats, and we are talking about the person eating anything for faith reasons.
        3. To him or her, no day had religious significance over any other day--what a Christian does on the Sabbath, or on Pentecost, or on the Passover was not religiously significant.
      3. Basic understandings affirmed by Paul:
        1. Rule one: one is not a Christian for the purpose of passing judgments on another Christian's religious conclusions.
        2. Rule two: we are not judges of other Christians, but servants of the Lord.
        3. Rule three: God understands why a Christian does what he or she does, even when his or her behavior differs from other Christians. God through Christ can and will make both Christians endure--even if they differ from each other.
        4. Rule four: understand the motive prompting the act of the Christian.
          1. If a Christian is a vegetarian or a meat-eater, even thought they act differently, they do what they do for the same reason--to honor God!
          2. If a Christian observes a special religious day or does not, both do it for the same reason--to honor God!
      4. Paul's conclusion is powerful: the Christian's objective is to be alive in Christ (remember Galatians 2:20--"I have been crucified with Christ . . . and Christ lives in me.")
        1. The objective is to die to self.
        2. The objective is to die to my former lifestyle.
        3. The objective is to be alive in Christ.
        4. God will take care of the judging, so you take care of the serving by being alive in Christ.
    2. "Paul, what is going on?"
      1. First, you need to understand worship practices in the first century (and before).
        1. Worshippers of a god, including Jews, sacrificed to the god they worshipped.
        2. As a part of the worship act, the worshipper ate part of the sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 1:4-8, and also consider the Passover lamb).
        3. Evidently, what happened in Rome was the fact that Jewish Christians did not know if the meat at the meat market had been sacrificed to an idol or not, so to avoid sacrificial meat, they became vegetarians.
        4. Gentile Christians said what one ate did not matter because idolatrous gods did not exist, so they ate anything sold in the meat market.
        5. God knew why both did what they did.
        6. What we would regard as an expression of spiritual strength (vegetarianism for faith's sake) Paul said was spiritual weakness.
      2. Second, we need to understand how difficult it is to leave past religious practices.
        1. We all carry some baggage from our religious past into our practices as a Christian.
        2. For the person in Judaism, it was demanding to give up 1500 years of acts and standards when they became Christians.
          1. There were important religious reasons for living as they lived--they kept the Sabbath and Passover at God's instruction, there were certain things they did not eat because of God's instructions, even their clothing (such as the wearing of tassels) was influenced by God's instructions.
          2. How do you go against God to obey God? That understanding was not simple! To understand Jesus Christ as a divine fulfillment of divine promises was not simple! It is easy to trust one's obedient acts rather than the God behind the acts!
      3. So Paul told the Christians in Rome to leave each other alone!
        1. God knew why they did what they did! (Is that not wonderful--even for us?)
        2. So Paul said serve Christ instead of judging humans in Christ!
    3. Now consider Romans 14:13-23 and note Paul's stress.
      1. "If you want to judge someone, judge yourself!"
        1. How?
        2. Do not let your actions make it harder for another person to be a Christian.
      2. One is not better or worse spiritually because of the food the person eats.
        1. However, that is not the point.
        2. Christianity involves something much more important than what you eat.
        3. Love, righteousness, peace, and joy are much more important than food.
          1. So do not tear down God's kingdom for foods' sake.
          2. Devote yourself to encouraging other Christians.
          3. Do not cause other Christians to stumble even if what you are doing is correct.
          4. Encourage Christians to live in honor of their conscience.
          5. Do not allow your convictions to cause trouble for other Christians.

If we treated each other with respect within our congregations, how much more would we be respected in our communities? If we allowed other Christians to disagree with us but honored their consciences, how much internal peace would we experience?

Our Christian conscience differences do not trouble God. God in Jesus Christ reveals such differences will not prevent Him from saving us. Those differences trouble us. God can handle our differences and make all of us stand. We are the ones who cannot handle differences.

The matter that deeply concerns God among Christians is judging each other. Our conscience differences do not trouble God if we do not use conscience differences to judge each other.

In the early restoration movement, a common statement made was: "In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all things, love (charity)."  Can you still declare that? How well do you know the difference between a faith matter and an opinion matter? How do you show love when differences exist?

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