“If we are to understand the point of this section as a whole, we must recognize that the phrase ‘whose faith is weak’ has a special nuance in this context. ‘Faith’ refers not directly to one’s belief generally but to one’s convictions about what that faith allows him or her to do. The weak in faith are not necessarily lesser Christians than the strong. They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do. What Paul wants the strong to do is not simply extend grudging tolerance to the weak, but to welcome them (the verb proslambano, used here, means to receive or accept into one’s society, home, circle of acquaintance). They should not allow differences over ‘disputable matters’ to interfere with full fellowship in the body of Christ.”
Romans 14:22 (New International Version)
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
HOW TO GET ALONG WHEN YOU DON’T SEE EYE TO EYE
It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.” (Daily Bread) Unfortunately, the same could be said for many Christians today. When God calls on them to do something great for Him they have nothing left to give for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints.
Throughout church history churches have split for the stupidest of reasons. Some have split over the issue of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Locally some have split over whether it is spelled Immanuel or Emmanuel. Some churches have split over whether to sit on pews or chairs. Surely there has to be something of more significance in the church today than what type of furniture we will park our “duffs” on. Surely there has to be for if there is not then the church is finished.
An issue of National Geographic included a photograph of the fossil remains of two saber-tooth cats locked in combat. To quote the article: “One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate.” The cause of the death of the two cats is as clear as the cause of the extinction of their species. They could not survive because they were too busy fighting each other and the same can be said of the church today. As the apostle Paul put it: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
Satan is a master at using controversial issues to distract the church from her true mission in the world. A former police officer tells of the tactics of a group of thieves: “They enter the store as a group. One or two separate themselves from the group, and the others start a loud commotion in another section of the store. This grabs the attention of the clerks and customers. As all eyes are turned to the disturbance, the accomplices fill their pockets with merchandise and cash, leaving before anyone suspects. Hours — sometimes even days — later, the victimized merchant realizes things are missing and calls the police. Too late.” (Tom McHaffie) How often this strategy is used by the Evil One! We are seduced into paying attention to the distractions, while our churches are ransacked. In this case we have lost not our merchandise, but our mission. And a church without a mission will soon be out of commission.
Paul tells us that we are to “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). But how can we live in harmony when there are so many controversial issues that divide us? Paul gave the church in Rome some practical, step-by-step instructions on how to be in H.A.R.M.O.N.Y. with one another in Romans 14:1-15:7. We can learn from this information because we today have much in common with the Roman church. The Roman church was not divided in their faith. They all believed that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life and that as such He was the only way to get to heaven. They believed that there was only one God and that Jesus Christ was His Son. They believed that Jesus died for their sins and that He rose again on the third day and that He was coming back again one day. However, they were divided on many nonessential details of the Christian life. There were some in the church who had some very strict convictions concerning things like particular days of worship and types of diets and they considered those who disagreed to be too liberal. Others, however, had an equally strong conviction that in Christ they were free from such constraints and they considered the others to be narrow minded. And so the Roman problem becomes all too familiar. Paul says that the solution to all of this is to stop condemning one another and start excepting one another. As we study today’s passage together we will discover Paul’s seven steps to H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.
SEVEN STEPS TO H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.
1.Hold Back Judgment on Disputable Matters. (14:1)
Here we see that the Bible forbids us to pass judgment on matters that are disputable. What is a disputable matter? A disputable matter is an issue on which scripture is not clear. The disputable matters to which Paul speaks are concerning diet and dates. Some believed that certain days like the Sabbath or other religious holidays were to be considered more sacred than others. They also held to certain dietary rules like not eating meat — probably because the meat in the market place had been offered to idols. The other group believed that all days were the same and that if you gave thanks to God for the food there was no problem with eating it and enjoying it. Who was right and who was wrong? Paul says that neither group is wrong because these issues are nonessential to Christian faith and practice.
What are some other examples of disputable matters? Frequency of taking the Lord’s Supper, modes of baptism, styles (of clothing, hair, music, ect.) and end times scenarios are all examples of issues that are nonessential to the Christian faith. And yet all of these issues have been sources of division among Christians. There was a time when Christians killed other Christians because they believed the others baptized incorrectly. One of my former pastors told me of a time a guest evangelist in his church taught that Christians would have to go through the Tribulation period and that another pastor from that town who was at the meeting became irate and insisted that he not allow the evangelist to continue his series of meetings. When it comes to styles you don’t have to like it, listen to it, or look like it but you cannot judge it. You don’t have to support it, agree with it, or propagate it but you cannot condemn it.
If the scriptures do not speak clearly on an issue it is because God has given us freedom to choose in this area. The Roman Christians were free to choose to keep the Sabbath as a sacred day but they were also free to choose to hold days as being the same. The Roman Christians were free to choose not to eat meat but they were also free to choose to eat meat. There are many things that Christians are free to do or free not to do, but the one thing we are not free to do is to pass judgment on disputable matters.
2.Avoid Looking Down on Those Who Don’t Share Your Convictions. (14:2-4)
Paul says that the one who is strong in the faith and therefore understands that he is free from legalistic constraints in disputable matters must not look down on those who don’t believe they have such freedom. He also says that those who are weak in the faith and therefore feel that they must follow certain rules must not condemn those who don’t follow their rules. Why not? Because the other person is not your servant, but God’s. And so they answer not to you, but to God. And furthermore we see that God has accepted them both. Therefore, we dare not look down on the one whom God has accepted.
Of course, it is man’s tendency to look down on those who hold different views than himself whether those views be religious or political. So the next time you are tempted to look down on someone either because they do not share your freedom or because they don’t share your strict convictions remind yourself that you are not better than them nor are they better than you. Remind yourself of what the apostle Paul had to say about himself. “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). “I am less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). If that was true of the apostle Paul then it is certainly true of you and so you have no right to look down on anyone.
3.Realize That You Must Live for the Lord Alone. (14:5-12)
It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and golf legend Arnold Palmer had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. He felt he was in pretty good shape. As he approached his ball, he saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. The friend motioned him over, stuck out his hand and said, “Congratulations.” Arnold later said, “I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus.” On his next two shots, he hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. He missed the putt and lost the Master’s because he had first lost his focus. (Carol Mann, The 19th Hole, [Longmeadow], quoted in Reader’s Digest) Arnold Palmer was not on that golf course that day to renew old acquaintances. He was not there to accept congratulations. He was there for one purpose and one purpose only — to put the ball in the hole.
We are not on this earth for the purpose of exercising our freedoms. Nor are we here for the purpose of adhering to strict religious convictions. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only — to live for the Lord. If we exercise our freedoms, we do so for the Lord. If we adhere to strict religious convictions, we so do for the Lord. If we live, we live for the Lord. If we die, we die for the Lord. And if we ever lose focus on that purpose then we, like Arnold Palmer, are in serious trouble. Arnold Palmer’s old friend may have been offended if Arnold had ignored him that day back in 1961, but Arnold would have fulfilled his purpose. Some people may be offended if you are more concerned with pleasing the Lord than you are with pleasing them, but at least you will have fulfilled your purpose. If you can please people and please the Lord at the same time, that is wonderful. But, if you can’t, make sure that you please the Lord. Paul said, “We make it our goal to please him [God]” (2 Corinthians 5:9). He also said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
4.Make Sure You Don’t Put Obstacles in the Way of Others. (14:13-18)
It is true that in Christ we have been set free from the law and legalism, however, we must not flaunt this freedom in the faces of those who are weak in the faith. Also those who have strong convictions are not to beat others over the head with those convictions. We are to exercise our freedoms and carry out our convictions in ways that do not cause our fellow Christians to stumble.
This section is primarily addressed to those who are strong in the faith and have freedom in disputable matters. You see faith results in freedom. The stronger the faith, the greater the freedom. The weaker the faith, the smaller the freedom. It is important to notice that Paul says that both groups have faith. In other words both groups have saving faith and are, therefore, true Christians. It is just that some are stronger in faith than others and those who are stronger in faith must be careful about exercising their freedoms in the presence of those who don’t have such freedom. The danger is that those who are weak in the faith may be tempted to participate in the freedoms of those strong in the faith when they themselves do not have that faith. This is dangerous because if anyone believes something to be wrong then it is wrong for them even if it is not something God’s word forbids. You see, it is a sin to violate your conscience. You must be, as Paul says, “fully convinced.” Because “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (v. 23). So if the exercise of your freedom causes a fellow believer to violate their conscience and sin you have “destroyed your brother for whom Christ died.” Paul includes himself in the group who are strong in the faith and have the freedom to eat anything, but he says that it is better to voluntarily restrict one’s freedom than to cause others to stumble by exercising it. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 he puts it this way: “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
Before we move on I want to share a word with those of you who may have had an obstacle placed in your way by someone. The greatness of our lives is often determined by the size of the obstacles we have had to overcome. If we can face an obstacle and overcome it, we become better, stronger people because of it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you can put an obstacle in someone’s way and justify it by saying you are just trying to make them stronger. What is does mean is that if someone has put an obstacle in your way then with God’s help find a way over it, around it, or through it.
Bette Nesmith had a good secretarial job in a Dallas bank when she ran across a problem that interested her. Wasn’t there a better way to correct the errors she made on her electric typewriter? Bette had some art experience and she knew that artists who worked in oils just painted over their error. Maybe that would work for her too. So she concocted a fluid to paint over her typing errors. Before long, all the secretaries in her building were using what she then called “MistakeOut.” She attempted to sell the product idea to marketing agencies and various companies (including IBM), but they turned her down. However, secretaries continued to like her product, so Bette Nesmith’s kitchen became her first manufacturing facility and she started selling it on her own. When Bette Nesmith sold the enterprise, the tiny white bottles were earning $3.5 million annually on sales of $38 million. The buyer was Gillette Company and the sale price was $47.5 million (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, pp. 3-4). When it was all said and done that was one obstacle Bette Nesmith was glad she had to face.
5.Only Do What Leads to Peace and Mutual Edification.
What is good is bad if it leads to disharmony and does not build up the church. In Romans 12:18 Paul writes: “If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” He says, “if it is possible” because he knows that it is not always possible to please people. You know the old saying: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Well it is also true of pleasing people — “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But the point is you need to do your part — the part that “depends on you.”
I would like to share a poem with you titled “A Builder or a Wrecker.”
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”
“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and labors be
That which will build for eternity?”
The only question is: “Will you be a builder or a wrecker?”
6.Never publicize your personal convictions.
Why does Paul tell us to keep our personal convictions concerning these matters between ourselves and God? Because our personal convictions are just that — personal. If they were meant to be corporate God would have put them in His word. But He didn’t. He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.
There was a woman in Charlotte, North Carolina who set a world record while playing a convenience store video game. After standing in front of the game for fourteen hours and scoring an unprecedented seven and a half million points on the game she was pleased to see a TV crew arriving to record her efforts for posterity. She continued to play while the crew, alerted by her fiance, prepared to shoot. However, she was appalled to see the video screen suddenly go blank. While setting up their lights, the camera team had accidentally unplugged the game, thus bringing her bid for ten million points to an untimely end! The effort to publicize her achievement became the agent of her ultimate failure. It is often unwise to go public.
7.Yield Personal Preferences for the Common Good.
Paul is saying here that we should not insist on doing things our way. Insisting on doing things my way is the world’s way, not the Christian’s way. Paul holds up Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of someone who, rather than pleasing Himself, gave up His personal preferences for the good of mankind. We know from the scriptures that it was not Jesus’ personal preference to suffer and die on the cross. When He was praying in the garden prior to His arrest He asked God if it would be possible for that cup of suffering to pass from Him. However, He also prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” If Jesus didn’t insist on His way, who do you think you are to insist on your way.
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction — or even thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late (Closer Walk, December, 1991). If we continue on our present course, we will share in their fate.