What Shall We Pursue?

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Back in the 19th century, a young boy had watched his dad become a great inventor and businessman. He and his family had moved from Stockholm to St. Petersburg, Russia to be with his father Immanuel who had moved there some time before in order to get his business off the ground and running. It was a great success. Immanuel had become an arms manufacturer for Russian army, and had invented a new underwater mine that had caught the eye of Tsar Nicholas I and so had made Immanuel and his family a very well-to-do family. However, at the end of Crimean War, the manufacturing plant closed, and Immanuel struggled to make ends meet. But his son, he had caught his dad’s inventive mind. In fact, so had his brothers. Eventually, while Ludvig, one of the brothers was the John D. Rockefeller of Russia having figured out how to refine oil and so becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world, Alfred became the most famous of his brothers. His invention changed the world. Having created a much safer way to mine, Alfred’s invention was soon used in war to kill and maim people. When Ludvig died, a paper in France had publish an obituary, thinking it was Alfred who had died. With the obituary was the headline, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It is believed that having read how at least one columnist saw his life and work, Alfred changed his will. He was obsessed with how the world would remember him; not as a merchant of death, but as a giver of life and peace. So this man, who loved both science and literature and who had invented something for good but also used for war, bequeathed nearly his entire fortune to be given year by year as prizes in those fields. The Nobel Prize in Physics, in Chemistry, In Physiology or Medicine, in Literature and of course the Nobel Peace Prize are awarded because one man saw that his good work, the invention of dynamite, had been used for evil.
Christian liberty, a great good, can also be used as a terrible evil. Those who are strong in faith must be strong enough to keep that from happening as it has always been incumbent upon the strong to protect the weak.
As we open up our text this morning, I hope by the end, we will see three interrelated ways that the strong in faith serve Christ and then two results that come with such faithful service. The first is that we serve Christ when we listen to the Lord’s teaching. The second is that we serve Christ when we love the Lord’s people. Finally, we serve Christ when we live by the Lord’s Spirit.
Listen to the Lord’s Teaching
Love the Lord’s People
Live by the Lord’s Spirit
Romans 14:14–19 ESV
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Listen to the Lord’s Teaching

The first way that we serve the Lord is when we listen to the Lord’s teaching. Notice what Paul wrote in verse 14.
Romans 14:14 ESV
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Here is a Jew writing this to the Roman church. I bring that up because as a Jew, he would have had dietary laws that he would have lived by his entire life. There were certain clean and unclean animals. Some he was allowed to eat and others he was not. But here, Paul wrote that he knew and had been persuaded that nothing was unclean in itself. His mind was changed. What he had learned his entire life, and rightly so, had at some point changed. How? He had been persuaded in the Lord, or better yet, “by the Lord Jesus.”
It is critical for us to understand that when Paul wrote that he was persuaded, he wrote it in the perfect passive indicative. The perfect tense of this means that this was something that occured in the past; it’s a completed thing. So the persuasion was completed in the past. Paul was not coming up with this on the fly. He was already persuaded at some point in his past. But the perfect also is used when the past event affects the present. So it was that Paul was persuaded in the past and that persuasion affects the way he lives in the present. He doesn’t ignore his persuasion. The passive voice indicates that Paul was the recipient of this persuasion. He didn’t come up with this on his own. There was an authority in his life that had the power to persuade him. That authority is named: the Lord Jesus. And the indicative just simply means that this was a reality. This isn’t a fantasy. It isn’t a hope or a wish. This was reality.
Jesus had persuaded Paul that nothing was unclean in itself and so Paul listened and believed.
However, the contrast comes in the next clause: “But it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Not only is the word “think” an altogether different word than persuade (they’re not synonymous), it is written as a present, middle, participle. In other words, it is a continuous action taking place in the present tense. But it’s middle. Technically, it’s a deponent, but it still acts in the middle voice. In other words, this thinking, this reckoning or convincing, is done by the self or for the self’s interest. So, I am thinking through this issue at this moment and think it best for me not to eat certain foods.
So, one has been persuaded by the Lord and the other is convincing themselves. And hearing that, some of us may be tempted to look down upon those who are not persuaded by the Lord but are convincing themselves otherwise. But we are told not to do that. Not with matters that aren’t sinful. What we eat and drink are not sinful things, unless we’ve convinced ourselves that some are. It is at that point then that they become sinful. But as Paul wrote, they are sinful only to that person. What Paul literally writes is, “the one who considers something to be unclean, to that person, it is unclean.” "That person,” is a word of emphasis. It would be like pointing to that one there.

Love the Lord’s People

Now, it may be that those strong in faith in this place are feeling pretty good about themselves. Perhaps they think consciously or subconsciously, check! I am listening to the Lord’s Teaching. But before we get too far, we need to get to the second way we serve the Lord. That comes when we Love the Lord’s People. This is the crux of the next verse:
Romans 14:15 ESV
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
The word grief here is a hard word to define. Some want to equate grief to the next word used in the argument “destroy” as if they are synonymous. They aren’t. Some want it to mean even the slightest hint of offense. It probably doesn’t mean that either. Let’s give a quick look to how this word is used in Scripture.
John 21:17 ESV
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Matthew 19:22 ESV
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Ephesians 4:30 ESV
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
What it would appear to be saying then is that this grief, this sorrow of the brother is not a slight offense, but a deep-down emotional hurt. It’s, as one lexicon put it, “severe mental or emotional distress.” To disregard such an emotional pain is simply unloving. We are not loving those for whom the Lord died. For us to stick to our eating and drinking, or whatever those scruples may be, knowing that it is tearing our brothers and sisters up inside, shows that we care more about our Christian liberty, more about our food and drink or cigars or movies or whatever, than we do about those for whom the Lord died.
And Paul gives the command not to destroy those for whom Jesus died. Again, that’s a strong word. Paul goes from severe emotional distress to destruction. If you have ever read the Left Behind Series, you’ll probably remember one of the titles being, Apollyon. That means “destroyer.” This is the verb equivalent. In essence, we don’t want to be the destroyer of the people for whom the Lord died. Jesus loves those for whom he died. But if he died for them, how can they be destroyed. Have we not seen over the last two weeks that the Master, our Lord is strong enough to uphold them? He certainly is and he certainly will. So, this destruction is not an eternal destruction. It’s a temporary one.
Remember that to “that one” some food is unclean (that scruple is unfit!). To partake in it goes against conviction and is sinful for them. And what happens when we engage in that which we know full-well is sin? Many things could happen. We could be ensnared by it. We believe it is wrong yet we cannot help but continually engage in it. We hate ourselves for it. We become a shell of who we once were. We are, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. We immediately feel shame and regret. We bask in the shame rather than the grace, and again for at least a little while, our spirit (not our soul) is destroyed. In essence, we feel lost. We are lost. Can we find our way back? If you’ve ever gone against your convictions, you know what I mean.
But notice, you who are strong in faith, that Paul does not put the eating, the engaging in that which goes against their scruples, on them! It isn’t that you have caused them to eat what they think is wrong. It is that you are eating what they think is wrong and so grieve them and even bring them to destruction. It tears them down. It makes a shamble of their lives; it causes them to live in the ruins of who they once were. The Lord gave up his very life; ought we not give up __________?
If we are serving the Lord, we will love the Lord’s people.

Live by the Lord’s Spirit

Which leads us to the third way of serving the Lord. We live by the Lord’s Spirit.
Romans 14:16–17 ESV
So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The reputation of your Christian liberty and God’s kingdom is at stake. Alfred Nobel made mining a lot safer by harnessing the power of nitroglycerin. It was a good that was used for evil to the point that he was regarded as “The Merchant of Death.” Is that the reputation we want for ourselves and our Christian liberties? “The Merchant of Destruction to those for whom the Lord died”? That’s not service to Christ!
Paul literally says, “Do not let your good be slandered.” Why? “Because the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.” Your good, your Christian liberty is not about eating and drinking. It’s not about what you can now get away with! It’s about righteousness. It’s about living right, doing right by our brothers and sisters in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s about living in peace, being at peace so far as it depends on us, as Paul wrote in Romans 12:18. We do this by the power of the Holy Spirit. We seek joy, our joy and the joy of our brothers and sisters. We don’t seek their grief. We don’t seek their feelings of lostness or destruction. We seek joy by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what the kingdom of God is about.
Whether we are consciously belittling the kingdom of God to food and drink or cigars and movies or dancing or whatever—whether consciously or not—when we put those things over those for whom Jesus died—we are allowing our good to be slandered; we’re allowing the kingdom to be blasphemed.
But when we live by the Lord’s Spirit, we live rightly with our fellow-Christian, we live in peace, and we live in joy. What service to Christ!

Results of Serving Christ

Which leads us to the results of serving Christ in this—this sacrificial, non-judgmental way.
Romans 14:18–19 ESV
Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
I’m not sure if the word acceptable is the best word. “Pleasing to God” is how I would put it. God accepts us by his grace. Nothing we do makes us acceptable in any salvific way. But if we can grieve the Spirit, then certainly we can displease God. Sin displeases God. That does not mean he loves us any less. It means that our action was not pleasant to him. But serving his Son in such ways, does please him and it causes humanity to respect us. Again, “approved” is a legit translation, I think “respect” gets the point across better. Rather than slandering our good and God’s kingdom, there is a certain amount of respect that they have. That we live according to the two great commands: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Most people do not remember Alfred Nobel for his invention of dynamite; they remember him for rewarding efforts in peace. He could not allow his legacy to be maligned, so he pursued that which made for peace and mutual upbuilding in the sciences and literature. How much more important is the kingdom of God than this world? Let us pursue peace with one another, not grief. Let us pursue mutual upbuilding, not destruction.
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