Romans 14:1-23 | How to get Along in Church
I’m not sure who all was here for our Easter morning celebration of the Resurrection, but if you were, maybe you’ll remember some of the message about how Easter reminds us of the sobering reality that we can’t save ourselves. We reflected upon the fact that Jesus had to suffer, die and rise again to save us and how that fact clues us in to our weakness. We are too weak to rescue ourselves. There’s a lot to celebrate on Easter, but it’s also a rude awakening to the reality that Christianity is a crutch for cripples! We reflected together upon Jesus’ words where he told us that He didn’t come to save people who think they’re healthy, no, He came to save those who know they’re weak and in need of saving!
Now, I wanted to remind you of this because we’re going to chat a bit more about weakness this morning. And before we get into it, I want us all to remember how our God responds to and treats weakness! Thankfully, it’s different from our gut reactions to weakness.
Our weakness is not an affront to God’s sensibilities. He’s not offended or disgusted by our weakness. No, like a Doctor responds to sickness, so too our God responds to our weakness.
Think about that for a second. A doctor’s very existence, all his training, his purpose and calling in life is to heal the sick. So a doctor is not offended or put off when the sick show up to his office! No, that’s why he’s there. That’s what he’s worked so hard to do, what he paid all that money to get an education for! So too, God’s heart and desire is to offer His strength to cover our weakness! He’s not put off or put out when we come to him with weakness! No, He’s eager to be strong in the face of it!
And so weakness itself is not a problem for God, however, what we choose to do with our weakness, may become a problem for us and others around us if we don’t deal with it appropriately!
Thus, I’ve titled today’s message, how to get along in Church and we’ll be looking at Romans 14 together to learn the answer to the dilemma presented when the weak and strong get into the same room together. And we’re going to do things a bit differently this morning. I’m actually going to talk us through the text before we read it together so that when we read it, hopefully it makes more sense.
Ok so in Romans 14 Paul launches into a practical discussion that arises out of the Roman Church between people he calls “those whose faith is weak” and those who are strong. Here we find that Paul is addressing how the weak and the strong in the faith community, in the Church, how they should treat one another and get along.
And in vs. 1 of 14 He states quite clearly that it’s the Christians duty and calling to
Romans 14:1 (NIV)
1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.
And then the rest of chapter 14 outlines for us what it means to be weak, to be strong and how the 2 can learn to get along in the community of faith with one another.
As it turns out the biggest area of quarreling and squabbling comes from what Paul calls disputable matters or matters of opinion.
Now that may jog your memory a bit to last week where we looked at Love as God defines it from the last part of Romans 13. Does anyone remember the greek word for social media that we learned?
Dissension. Dissension is expressing differences of opinion, with a large measure of antagonism or hostility. Right, how we use twitter. Here’s my opinion and here’s why the rest of the world is stupid for not agreeing with my opinion!
And we said, that this sort of thing, dissension, expressing differences of opinion, with a large measure of antagonism or hostility is not a very loving way to conduct one’self. It’s not loving on social media and it turns out it’s not very loving in the context of the Church community either!
What Paul is explaining here in Romans 14 are matters of dissension for the faith community that stem from those whose faith is weak.
He illustrates several examples that you can read for yourself (vv. 2-3, 5-6, 14-17, 20-21)but we will simply summarize these as matters of food, feasts and fashion!
I know this is really hard for us to imagine, but there were people in the Church at Rome that had different opinions about what the Christian thing to eat and drink was and what the Christian holidays were to celebrate or not to celebrate and what the Christian things were to wear to Church or not! I know we could never imagine a Church having any issues about any of this stuff! Right!
Ha! It’s the Bible awesome! It doesn’t just tell us history and what happened. This book tells us what always happens for us humans! It’s crazy relevant!
So apparently in the Roman Church there were people who Paul calls weak in faith who are getting all worked up about these disputable matters of food, feasts and fashion!
Some think that the Christian thing to do is to become a vegan or vegetarian. While other’s think that Christians are meant to be carnivores! And they are judging each others’ spiritual maturity based on where they are landing this plane. The same thing is happening with feasts and holidays. Some are saying they should celebrate the Jewish feasts and others are saying that’s sinful! It’s happening around issues of dress as well. Wear this, not that to be spiritual and Christian!
And what I want you to see is that where one lands on theses issues of preference and opinion is not what presents the weakness of faith.
The issue isn’t with eating meat or not eating meat, the weakness of faith is presented in the reasoning that stands behind it and the passing of judgement that follows.
Weakness becomes problematic for the Christian when rather than turning to God with it and relying upon Him, we turn to ourselves and external rules to try and make up for it!
That’s what the weak in faith are doing here.
They’re looking to external cultural and ceremonial customs as being critical for Christian maturity and effectiveness! And while we are called as Christians to be fruit inspectors of our brothers and sisters, none of the factors theses weak believers are passing judgement about are defined as the fruits of Christianity in the Scripture!
Effectively they are saying, yes we’re saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus but we still need to keep these rules and regulations to really please God!
And here’s what I want you to see. Weakness itself is not problematic for God. No He welcomes our weakness. However, it begins to be problematic for us and to others when we try to rely on ourselves to make up for the weakness we feel rather than turn to God!
To put it another way, weakness begins to be problematic when we starting rowing our own boat!
To be strong in Jesus is to put up the sail and be carried along by the wind power of the Spirit. To allow and cooperate with God as our strength! But problems always come when we pick up the oars ourselves and start rowing in our own “strength”.
Weakness in God’s Kingdom is self-reliance —> rowing on our own.
Strength in God’s Kingdom is God-reliance —> sailing. being propelled by the power of the wind of the Spirit.
Here we see that the weak are trusting in their ability to conform to a set of cultural stands and rules and relying on that to be what makes them right with God. Because of this they are making a big stink about what the NIV calls disputable matters. They are making mountains out of mole hills! And they are doing this for 2 reasons:
Reason 1, They have an Insecure Identity in Jesus:
They don’t have a settled identity in Jesus and are still trying to prove their worth by following a bunch of rules that God has not clearly outlined for them in His Word. And they doing this for
Reason 2, they are Ignorant of Scripture
They misunderstand the gospel, grace and the character of God and appear to be clueless as to the absolutes of Scriptures and the ambiguous areas where there is freedom of conscience.
And so for them cultural matters of food, feasts, and fashion have become key indicators of a person’s spiritual maturity.
And to those whose faith is weak Paul says, inform your conscience! Think through your convictions about what’s right and wrong and determine what is a matter for discussion and what is a settled sin in scripture. If it’s a settled matter in scripture, if it’s a main thing and a plane thing, well then stick to your guns and make a stink of people aren’t adhering to those main and plain things, but if it’s a cultural issue of conscience that’s not abundantly clear in Scripture then keep your scruples between you and the Lord! (v.22)
Mind your own business about food, feasts, and fashion! Don’t condemn your brothers and sisters who dress differently, or eat differently or celebrate different holidays from you. They aren’t matters of salvation or eternal significance. Eating meat and not eating meat can’t save you! Right! v. 17 “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Follow your own holy Spirit informed conscience without making a stink for others!
To the weak, Paul would say, mind your own business, lighten up and live a little! There’s a lot of freedom to be had in the gospel of Jesus! He’s made all things clean and we can eat and celebrate by receiving the good gifts with gratitude to God!
And already I can feel the hearts of those of us who think we’re strong, nodding a hearty Amen in a agreement! Chill out you up tight Christians. Jesus set us free. If I want to have beer occasionally I’m going to!
Not so fast!
Remember the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking! And while this does mean that yes there is freedom with food, feasts and fashion, the second part of that verse informs us also that are our lives in Christ are not meant to be solely about enjoying these freedoms alone!
The focus of our lives is not to enjoy the freedoms of Christ for freedoms sake, but to live our lives in such away that brings about the righteousness of Christ, the peace of Christ and the joy of the Spirit in as many as possible!
This means that while the weak may be overly sensitive to the strongs’ use of their freedom in Jesus and view it as licentious living or living with a license to sin, the strong may error in not giving enough care to their weaker brothers and sisters! They may think, well “that’s your problem, or they need to just get over it and the strong in faith may view the weaker as being overly legalistic!
This is the dilemma and difficulty presented within the faith community where the weak and the strong in the faith both reside.
And the solution to get along with one another is to deal with weakness the way God does. Tenderly and patiently. The strong can help the weak learn to discern what are settled matters of true salvation significance and what are disputable matters of faith that we must work out between ourselves and God within our conscience!
Along with this and Romans 14 points out, both the weak and the strong would be wise to remember that neither of them is superior. Neither of them have the right to sit on God’s thrown as Judge. (v. 4, 10-12) The people of God’s Church our not our servants. They are God’s. He accepted them by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and so we don’t get to pass judgement on each other in disputable matters!
And if it is in regards to these disputable matters we would all be wise to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (v. 13, 19)!
To summarize if we’re going to get along in the Church, we need to aim to be more like Jesus.
The strong can do this by learning to accept the weak with the same tenderness and patients that God accepts all of us and aim to build the faith of the weak by making every effort to do what leads to peace by considering the interests of the weak as more important than their freedom in disputable matters.
And for the weak, they can do this by repenting of their dependence upon their ability to follow some cultural custom to please God and instead learn to rely more on upon Jesus’ finished work as well as working to grow in their discernment on what’s a matter for discussion and what’s a determined fact of faith.
Now with all that said, lets read Romans 14 together and hopefully it makes a lot of sense for you!
Romans 14 (NLT)
1 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. 5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance praise to God.’ ” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. 14 I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16 Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. 20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
Now, we’re going to move into a time of communion and it’s no coincidence that we are about to do so in light of what we just read.
Getting along in the Church community is hard. I often make the joke, Church would be a lot better if people weren’t a part of it! We are weak and judgmental aren’t we!
Now I know I’m biased, but I think we’re doing a pretty great job of getting along as a Church. I think we’re treating weakness tenderly and I think the weak do a great job of not majoring on minor issues. That said we don’t to grow to big for our britches!
The Corinthian Church is quite different from Crossroads however. They were not doing a great job of getting along and do you know what Paul’s solution was? Communion!
Listen to what’s going on at the Corinthian Church and then see what Paul’s solution is.
1 Corinthians 11:17–34 (NLT)
17 But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18 First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19 But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!
And What was Paul’s solution for all of this dissenssion and quarreling?
23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. .
Paul’s solution for the weak and the strong to get along at Church was to take communion! Why?
Because Communion reminds those of who think we are strong in our faith, we weren’t and never will be strong enough apart from the work of Christ to get to God! It was not our body that was broken. It was not our blood that was shed. It was Christ’s! Only He could do it!
And it reminds those of us who sometimes get bogged down in disputable matters that it isn’t about the food we eat, the feasts we celebrate or the fashion we wear that will ever save us. No it is only they finished work of Christ that we are made righteous! It’s by his wounds that we’ve been healed. It’s by his strength we are made strong!
Communion levels the ground for us in the Church! We aren’t as strong as we think and we would do well to humble ourselves under the tender and patient work of Christ, nor does our weakness cause us to ever fall out of favor with God. No, again it’s not about food, feasts or fashion. It’s only and all because of the finish work of Christ that God promises to give us grace. All because of Jesus, in spite of our weakness and failings, God says I will always be happy to see you!
If we want to get along as a community of faith, we would do well to remember humbly the death and resurrection of Christ often!
And so here’s what’s gonna happen. The band is gonna play and we’re going to pass the bread first and then the juice. I’ll as that you hold off from taking of the element until every has had a chance to receive it. Once everyone has the bread, I’ll pray for us and we’ll receive it together and then we’ll do the same thing with the juice.
If you aren’t in a place where you feel comfortable receiving communion today either because you have some sin you’d like to work through or you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, please feel free to let the elements pass right by.
This bread represents the body of Christ which was broken for you. Take and remember Christ’s strength that covers our weakness!
This juice represents the blood of Christ which was shed for you! Take and remember Christ strength that covers our weakness.