The great Christian irony: the greatest grief and discouragement experienced by Christians is caused by other Christians. The person who responds to the merciful God declares war on Satan. God's forgiveness is accepted for all past evil. He or she commits self to struggle against evil in his or her thinking, emotions, attitudes, and behavior.
What courage! Declare war on Satan? Battle evil in one's thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behavior? Of course, the Christian individual should realize only God's mercy expressed in grace and continuing forgiveness enables him or her to fight Satan and resist evil. Before conversion to Christ, the person was no match for Satan. After conversion, the person is no match for Satan. Mere flesh and blood cannot prevail against evil. The difference between the "before" and "after" conversion is God's merciful forgiveness. Before conversion, the person did not live in God's forgiveness. After conversion, the person lives in God's forgiveness. (See 1 John 1:5-10.)
One evidence that a Christian continually must live in God's forgiveness is seen in the way Christians treat each other. Fighting Satan generates enormous heartache. Fighting evil in our thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behavior produces daily heartache. Seeing what Satan does to those we love deeply troubles us.
When Christians declare war on Satan, only God's grace and strength enable them to endure. Satan's discouragement is gut wrenching. Christians never need to discourage each other.
Yet they do. They always have. Many Christians are faithful in spite of another Christian. Many Christians serve in spite of another Christian. Many Christians endure in spite of another Christian. From the first century until today, Christians discourage Christians. If we asked Christians of any age for a frank answer to this question, "Specifically, what is the most common source of spiritual discouragement in your life?" the answer would shock us. In each age a high percentage of Christians would cite the same source of discouragement: another Christian.
God is far more merciful to Christians than other Christians tend to be. God forgives; Christians tend to judge each other. God justifies; Christians tend to make other Christians live with their past. God accepts repentance; Christians tend to doubt repentance. God sees a Christian's heart; Christians tend to measure other Christians by subjective expectations. God sanctifies; Christians tend to handcuff other Christians to their past failures.
Remember: the context of the letter to Christians in Rome included a struggle between Jewish Christians and Christians converted from idolatry. In Romans 14 Paul made it quite clear God expected Christians to encourage each other, not cause each other to be discouraged.
The emphasis is striking. Verse 1: accept the Christian who is weak in faith. BUT do not accept him for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Evidently his weak faith expressed itself in his opinions. Strong Christians were not to accept this Christian to point out his error.
Verse 4: They had no right to judge the conscience of the Lord's servant. Only the Master could judge his servant's conscience. Only the Master's approval or disapproval "counts." The Lord enables a servant weak in faith to stand even as other servants declare him a spiritual failure.
Verse 7,8: No servant lives for himself. He does not live for his purposes, objectives, or agenda. He lives for his Master's purposes, objectives, and agenda. Each servant lives for and serves the Lord. The Lord and only the Lord is capable of evaluating His servants' service and conscience. To the Lord [not another Christian] each Christian is accountable (verse 12).
The problem among the Christians in Rome is evident. Some Jewish Christians were vegetarians. The Jews lived by dietary guidelines commanded by God (Leviticus 11). If they were "clean" [pure] and qualified to worship, they must eat by those guidelines. At that time, Jewish people had observed those dietary guidelines for almost 1500 years.
Jewish Christians and some Christians converted from idolatry regarded eating meat offered to an idol to be especially ungodly. Since eating part of a sacrifice was worship in Judaism and idolatry, these Christians regarded eating part of a sacrifice to an idol as an act of idolatrous worship. Since priests serving idols commonly sold their portions of animal sacrifices in the city's meat market, some Christians were vegetarians. By being vegetarians, they could not unintentionally worship an idol. In devotion to God, as an act of conscience, they ate no meat.
Some converts correctly understood God sanctified all food. (See verse 14; 1 Corinthians 8:4,6,7; 1 Timothy 4:l-5.) With a correctly informed conscience, they could eat any meat. While the Christian vegetarian was weak in faith (verse 2), the meat-eating Christian must not hold him in contempt. Neither should the vegetarian Christian judge the meat-eating Christian (verse 3).
The same principles governed Christians' treatment of each other in regard to holy days. This likely is a reference to Sabbaths, Passovers, Pentecosts, and such like occasions [days God commanded Jews to observe].
When a Christian honored God by following his conscience, do not give him grief! Do not discourage him! Each Christian's behavior was the result of identical motivations--a desire to honor the Lord (verse 6).
While eating meat seems to be a trivial religious issue to us, it was a major religious issue to them. Their past spiritual experiences were rooted in religions that offered animal sacrifices to God or to the gods. Eating meat would not be a trivial issue to us if animal sacrifices were an important part of our spiritual past!
The point: the Lord knows hearts, motives, and consciences. The Lord and only the Lord is qualified to pass judgment on a Christian's expressions of devotion. Encourage each other! Do not hold another Christian's expressions of devotion in contempt! Do not pass judgment on another Christian's expression of devotion! A servant is not another servant's Lord.
Thought question: Why do Christians discourage Christians? Why do Christians tend to be insensitive to each other's consciences? Why is one Christian's expression of devotion often irritating to another Christian? Private question: How do you discourage other Christians?
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 9
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