Keep the Unity of the Spirit
Thistletown Baptist Church
November 16, 2008
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Last week we considered the matter of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as that is commanded in Ephesians 4:1-3. Christians, in a world torn by strife and hatred and cruelty and war … are to be a people who show the world that they are Christ’s disciples by loving one another. They work hard at keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace … . This is not a small matter. It is a crucial matter. The first thing Paul says to the Ephesians after he says that God can do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, is that we be humble, patient and loving with each other, keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Commenting on this chapter of Romans 14, Matthew Henry, a 17th century commentator, said:
It is certain that nothing is more threatening, nor more often fatal, to Christian societies, than the contentions and divisions of their members. By these wounds the life and soul of religion expire. Now in this chapter we are furnished with the sovereign balm of Gilead; the blessed apostle prescribes like a wise physician. … This chapter, rightly understood, made use of, and lived up to, would set things to rights, and heal us all.
Powerful stuff. And he was right. And it is just as true today as it was in Paul’s day and just as right as it was in the 17th century.
We saw last week that it is of the utmost importance that Christians love one another and keep true spiritual unity and peace. This is not an incidental issue. It is crucial to our honouring Christ and to the propagation of the Gospel.
II The Issue
This chapter is about how we should be toward fellow believers in Jesus Christ who disagree with us in
matters that are non-essential. It is about what it means to really love your fellow believer. Loving people who always agree with you is easy. It is more difficult when they don’t see eye to eye with you in everything.
A) One of the keys to understanding this chapter is to understand that Paul is talking about things that are
neither right or wrong. The Bible is abundantly clear. Some things are always wrong and the Scriptural command is “Thou shalt not”. Some things are always right and the Scriptural command is “Thou shalt” . Some things are neither right nor wrong in and of themselves and the believer must decide for himself how he is going to handle such things before God. This is what Paul is talking about here. This is the message in Romans 14 that God has for us.
The existence of behaviours that are neither black nor white. They are grey. They are neither right nor wrong. The Bible recognizes such things. The problem with some Christians is:
Over restrictive – there is hardly anything that is permissible. If they don’t do something it is because nobody should and what God has convinced them is wrong is wrong for everybody. There is to them no such thing as “disputable matters”. They live in a black and white world and what is right is what they say and what they disagree with is always wrong. Such people cannot conceive that God would call them to do one thing and call others to do something else. They cannot understand how God can receive what they do in good faith and also receive something that disagrees with that from somebody else. It is a true conundrum but it is what is testified to in this text. See verse 5 – one of the most mind blasting things ever inspired by God to be written down in all of Scripture. “You make up your own mind.” God says “I am not going to tell you what side to land on here. You make up your own mind.” And someone makes up his mind and follows what he thinks is right and someone else makes up his mind and his decision is the opposite of the decision that you made and God is pleased with both of you. Make no mistake. This is not the way we are to make all our decisions. There are more things that God says exactly what we are to do and believe. God does not say “make up your own mind” when it comes to how many gods we will worship or whether we should believe in the trinity or murder the neighbour who let his dog dig up our tulips. He does not say “this is up to you” when it comes to worship or compassion for the needy or loving your enemies. But He does say it in matters of indifference, things that are not crucial, things that you have to figure out for yourself. And what is crystal clear in this chapter of Romans is that there are such things.
Over permissive – there is nothing that is wrong beyond what is expressly forbidden. There is hardly anything that is not permitted. They do not do what is expressly forbidden, but outside of that their lives are not marked by sacrifice for the sake of Christ. They are those who want to know exactly what is sin and what is not because their attitude is to walk as close to the edge as possible without falling off, not realizing that their very attitude in that regard is displeasing to God. They do not need to obey verse 5 (make up your own mind) because if it isn’t written down and expressly forbidden or commanded they do not need to make up their minds about anything.
Both extremes are wrong and are sinful. The point that needs to be stressed here is that there are such things as practises that are neither right nor wrong.
There may have been both types of these Christians in the Romans church. And certainly, what this chapter says will address both sides. But when he writes this part of the Letter to them he is focussing on three main issues that are threatening to divide this church. He is not talking about people who see the world in just black and white terms. He is talking to two groups of Christians who disagree about the rightness or wrongness of three specific matters.
B) Note the three issues in Romans 14
Meat versus vegetables – verse 2. …
All days equal versus one day better than others – verse 5
Drinking wine versus abstaining from wine – verse 21
And what is happening in the Roman church is that teams are forming. There are those who know that it is OK to eat meat and not make certain days more special than others and drink wine. These Paul calls throughout this chapter – those who are strong – verse 2. The weaker brother in Romans 14 is the one whose conscience will not allow him to do certain things that other believers are free to do, even though there is nothing wrong in and of themselves about the things they have a problem with.
This does not mean that the weaker brother is weaker in every instance. Paul is not saying that people who honour Sunday above other days are all immature and weak. He is saying that in this matter their conscience is weak and therefore they are not able to do certain things, in this matter. It does not mean that he is barely hanging on to Christ, or that he is a baby Christian. It means that in the area of eating certain foods he is not strong enough in faith to eat everything, even though it is perfectly legitimate to do so. (See Mark 7:18-19, Acts 10:15, 11:9)
C) It is the non essential things that we disagree about that threaten to destroy us.
a.Look at the language of this chapter – verse 3, 4, 10, 13 (despise/pass judgement)
b.15 (not walking in love)
c.15 (destroy the one for whom Christ died)
These are not trivial charges. These are very serious matters. So here we have Christians despising other Christians, judging other Christians, not demonstrating love to other Christians and destroying the faith of other Christians over things that do not matter; the small things; the kind of things that love overlooks. More church splits over the colour of the carpet than the truth of the Gospel. How sad is that? But it is the way we are isn’t it dear ones? There were three issues in the church at Rome and we have many more today don’t we.
2.What would some of these types of issues be today?
a.Certain entertainment choices (not pornography, excessive violence …)
b.Drinking (not drunkenness)
c.Environmental issues (not a misuse of the planet)
d.Politics (not self serving, dishonest …)
e.Smoking (not addiction)
g.Bling (not the mark of one’s beauty)
i.Worship music (not entertainment)
j.Secular music (nothing immoral, blasphemous, etc.)
m.Inter-racial dating/marriage (I hope no one here has that bee in their bonnet)
“I can’t worship with him, he dances when he sings”
“I can’t stay at that church, he lets his kids go out on Hallowe’en”
“I have to leave and go elsewhere, … … …”
He list just seems to go on and on. We are willing to fight and divide over the most stupid things, non-essential things, things that are more opinion than the Word of God – much more.
It is these non-essential things that are the test of our faith and of our love for God and one another, dear ones. It is in these things that we are tempted to lose our tempers, form teams, refuse to bend. And that is what Paul is addressing.
II The Instruction
A) Welcome the one who disagrees with you
Verse 1 -Welcome him. Welcome those who disagree with you in these matters. The word means- to receive, to take to oneself. The way the word is used here suggests a special interest on the part of the one receiving the other. How do you handle those who disagree with you in matters that are non-essential? We are to eagerly receive them.
Welcome him because God has welcomed him. This is what we see in verse 3. The word welcome in verse three is the same word as the one in verse 1. God has welcomed him. Shouldn’t that settle it? You want to know what to do with that Christian you just don’t see eye to eye with on this issue and that one? Issues that are small and open to interpretation and which sound believers from both sides of the issue have taken stands ever since Christ left the earth. You have prayed over it. You have done some study in the matter. You have worked hard to find out what you should believe. Someone else has done the same thing and has come up with a different understanding than you about it. What are you going to do? If God has welcomed him what should you do? Eagerly receive him.
The point of verses 3 and 4 – the people who eat and the people who do not both do what they do out of a desire to please God and God honours the faith of both. He lovingly approves of the Christian who does not eat certain types of food out of conscience and out of faith in Christ because the man is living out the dictates of his conscience before God. He lovingly approves of the Christian who does eat the food that some Christians cannot because the man enjoys the liberation that the Spirit has given him and thanks God that there is nothing that God has created that is to not to be received with gratitude and great joy.
If God accepts them both how can you say that one is more acceptable to God than the other? The only question to be raised is – are both parties doing what they do as an act of faith in Christ? Any Pharisee can abstain from food, stop doing certain things on certain days and never drink wine or … or … …. Any libertarian can drink and eat and treat all days alike simply because there isn’t the slightest degree of sacrifice for the sake of Christ in his heart.
Why has God welcomed him? God has welcomed him because Jesus died for him. God has welcomed him because his faith is in Jesus Christ who loved him and gave himself for him. He has welcomed him for the sake of the glory of His own Name and the finished work of Christ in living, dying, rising form the dead, ascending to the Father and now interceding for him at the Father’s right hand until He returns to get him and perfect him.
Dear one – that one you are tempted not to receive. That one you look down on because he won’t eat blood pudding, or watch TV on Sunday or have a drink of wine with his meal. That one is welcomed by God because of Jesus Christ. That one you judge because he isn’t a vegetarian, or enjoys a cold beer on a hot day, or thinks that a cigar under a star lit sky is a gift from God – God has welcomed him because of Christ. This is keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
To not welcome him is to say that you know better then God. It is to charge God with making a mistake. It is to have a stricter sense of right and wrong than the Almighty who knows everything. Know this dear ones. Our refusal to treat people as God does in this matter is first and foremost a slander against God. And when that happens we have turned a non-essential thing into committing the greatest sins of all – not loving God and neighbour. And that is tragic beyond description.
This is not maturity. …
B) Love the one who disagrees with you.
Note the pre-eminence of love throughout this whole chapter. It is summed up in verse 15. But see love in verse 1, 3, 10, 13, 13 (the stumbling block concern – you will never do what causes a person to sin if you really love him), 15 (do not destroy the one for whom Christ died), 19.
This is about love, not tolerance. (The world does not understand the concept of tolerance. Tolerance means to tolerate, to put up with, to not bother even though we disagree with. When we hear cries from certain people for tolerance it is not tolerance they really want. They want acceptance. They want approval. I am willing to tolerate adulterers and blasphemers and … but I am not going to agree with them or approve of their behaviour. So, just in case there are any here who think that tolerance means what it has come to mean in our culture, I throw that bonus point in.) Paul is not saying here – just put up with each other. He is not saying, “grin and bear it for some larger cause”. He is saying, “such attitudes toward those who disagree with you on non-essential matters is unloving and you must love each other. You must demonstrate a love that helps and prays for and prays with and aches for people when they hurt …” The love we see Paul encouraging us to show when he writes Romans 12:9…, 10…, 13…, 16…, and Phil. 2:3…, 4…., . Get this dear ones. The solution to the problem of disagreements in the area of non-essentials is not avoidance. It is not a truce – an agreement not to fight even though you still hate each other. The solution is to love the one you disagree with.
How do we do that? Welcome him!!… See I Corinthians 13:4-7.
Then see verse 20 – “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God”. How does a disagreement about vegetables destroy the work of God? What work of God is this talking about? It’s talking about a fellow believer. When you insist on your rights at the expense of the scruples of another believer you destroy a work of God. That Christian is a work of God. See Eph. 2:10.
The demonstration of love? Don’t put up a stumbling block. See verse 13. Don’t use your freedom to hurt someone else … .
III A Closing Question
Why does God allow these types of issues to exist?
1- The Bible would be far too big!! There are too many such issues to address in one book!
2- God is in the business of making us think things through
3 – God wants us to live by faith
4 – God intends to test our faith
5 – God intends to test our love for one another
The glory of God is at stake here. The sanctification of brothers and sisters in Christ is at stake here. Let us love one another deeply from the heart.