This lesson focuses more on "now" matters. When Christians develop and hold a correct, balanced, accurate view of God's work and purposes, that view includes a correct, balanced, accurate understanding of God's mercy. One pillar supporting God's purposes is God's mercy. God's mercy sent Jesus. God's mercy allowed Jesus do die. God's mercy atoned for our sins. God's mercy redeemed us from evil's consequences. God's mercy forgives. God's mercy saves now and in eternity. Any view of God's work that ignores or diminishes God's mercy is an inaccurate view of God's will.
No Christian knows a person God does not wish to save. No Christian knows a person God does not wish to forgive. No Christian knows anyone in Christ God does not want in His family.
How can Christians represent the God who wishes to save everyone (2 Peter 3:9) by discouraging and condemning people in Christ? The God who wishes to save everyone is represented by those in Christ who wish to encourage and nurture others in Christ.
Jewish Christians in Rome felt God's purposes were best served if they had contempt for those whom they considered weak in faith. Christians who were not Jews felt God's purposes were best served if they judged those whom they considered weak in faith. The result: many Christians believed they best served God's purposes when they discouraged or rejected other Christians whom they considered weak in faith. Their view of God ignored God's mercy.
Recall the context. Christians in Rome seriously disagreed about eating sacrificial meat offered to idols. Paul said they were to accept those with a weak faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on their opinions (14:1). They were to understand the Lord could and would make his weak servants stand (14:4). They were accountable to God, not to each other (14:11,12).
The final paragraph of Romans 14 emphasized a primary purpose in God's kingdom. It existed to encourage Christians who pursued God, not to hinder Christians who pursued God. "Do not judge each other. Instead of being consumed by judging the correctness of each others' spiritual practices, be consumed by a focus on your own example and influence. If you consider others weak and yourself strong, your responsibility is to them. Instead of judging them, do not cause them to stumble. Do not allow your influence to place the spiritually weak at risk."
Principle # 1: All food is good. In the beginning, God's total creation was good (Genesis 1:31). God created only good. Evil perverted the good God created. In Jesus' crucifixion, God purified His creation. The good that God created is good again. God redeemed it from evil.
Principle # 2: If a Christian did not understand God purified all food, if he or she regards meat offered to an idol as impure, then to that Christian the meat is impure. If he or she eats sacrificial meat, he or she sins even though God purified the meat.
The mature Christian understood both principles. By understanding, he or she was not required to eat sacrificial meat. He or she could understand correctly that God purified even sacrificial meat and never eat such meat. The concern of the spiritually mature was nurturing weak Christians, not eating sacrificial meat.
Therefore, when a mature Christian realized eating sacrificial meat hurt a weak Christian with an immature understanding, he or she ceased eating sacrificial meat. Love for weak Christians would not permit him or her to allow food to spiritually destroy a person for whom Christ died.
At this point we must note a truth: the weak were never noted for wonderful attitudes, marvelous spirits, and kind dispositions. Often the weak are obnoxious, difficult, and exasperating. The mature do not help the immature because it is easy. They help the weak because they love (agape) the weak. The mature love (agape) the weak because the mature understand the magnitude of Jesus' love shown them when they were obnoxious sinners. Understanding God's mercy transformed them into people who showed mercy.
In the matter of sacrificial meat, several principles governed the mature Christian's attitudes and conduct. (1) They refused to allow a correct understanding to destroy a person for whom Christ died. (2) They refused to allow a correct understanding to characterize them as evil people. (3) They understood priority matters in God's kingdom were much more significant than what he or she ate or drank. (4) They understood priority matters in God's kingdom concerned righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (5) They pursued peace and edification among Christians. They refused to allow food to tear down God's work.
Paul's point was disastrous to the "rules, regulations, and technicalities" approach to spirituality. It was catastrophic to the "black and white" approach wherein "right is right" and "wrong is wrong." In this approach, right and wrong have little to do with the individual's faith or understanding. Regardless of the Christian's understanding or faith, to be "right" his or her act must be correct. If the act is wrong, he or she has sinned. Conscience is a non-factor.
Paul said in the matter of sacrificial meat a Christian could eat something God purified, yet believe eating the sacrificial meat was an evil act, and sin against God. It was totally a matter of conscience. If he or she did something technically correct, but in conscience was convinced it was wrong, he or she sinned even though what he or she ate was pure.
How can that be possible? When a Christian violates his or her conscience, he or she rebels against his or her understanding of God's will. When a Christian violates his or her conscience, he or she knowingly, deliberately, by conscious choice rejects his or her understanding of the Lord's guidance and control. Never encourage a Christian to violate his or her conscience!
The weak were not placed in control of the mature. The purpose was to show sensitive, kind, loving respect for the weak. Jesus' treatment of all Christians is the supreme example. He is strong with total, correct knowledge and righteousness. Christians (even the most mature ones) are the weak with partial knowledge and righteousness that is often incorrect. Yet, even at our weakest, in his mercy, he is kind, compassionate, forgiving, nurturing, and merciful. However, he never gives us [the weak] control over him. He expects us [the weak] to learn, to grow in understanding, and to mature just as the weak are expected to mature. Only then can the formerly weak minister to those who are weak.
Paul's teaching to these Christians in Rome was not intended to place the weak in a position of power, authority, and control in which they made spiritual existence miserable for the mature. It was given to produce a relationship of love, joy, and peace by making them mutually sensitive to each other. Weak or mature must always function on the basis of individual faith. Weak or mature must always respect their own consciences--and each other's.
Thought question: Why should Christians respect each other's consciences? Discuss the challenges in doing that.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 11
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