One of the most difficult discoveries in the Christian life is that life is not always black and white; it is often colored in grey. Many of life's daily questions aren't answered in Scripture . . . at least not directly. So in this message Stephen lays the groundwork for dealing with difficult issues as he investigates the highly explosive topic of Christian liberty.
One of the most enjoyable things I get to experience as a pastor is to welcome a brand new flock of sheep into the wider pastureland of this church.
We call that welcome the GreenHouse class, a course where for 12-13 weeks, I get to teach what we believe and where we stand on a number of issues and what they are to expect as they consider joining Colonial.
We named it the GreenHouse because that word stands for a nurturing place where growth can occur for so many different kinds of plants and flowers.
It’s always thrilling to see where people have come from – this particular class is a huge number of people and our adult chapel is packed to the walls. And they’ve come from all over the religious landscape of our country and other parts of the world.
We have people coming from backgrounds in Roman Catholicism and Mormonism. We have Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists, United Methodists and Episcopalians.
We have Presbyterians and Assemblies of God in there too. Imagine that – I have to tell the Presbyterians to wake up and the Charismatics to settle down.
People are in that class from all walks of life. Some have come from a long line of believers, while others have only recently come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Some come from small churches where they knew everybody and some have come from large churches.
Some grew up in the South and some have moved here from the North. This winter has them totally disoriented. They are loving it, but they’re deeply confused.
Some come from churches that had little concern for doctrine, while others come from churches that took a doctrinal stand.
Some come from churches where there was a high level of liturgy and predictability, while others come from churches with unstructured and spontaneous worship styles.
Some are used to pastors preaching through popular topics and issues of the day while others are used to pastors preaching through a book of the Bible, um, for several years. So many pastors do that, you know!
Some have come from churches that do not allow musical instruments, while others allow only certain instruments, and others using everything from banjoes to spoons.
Some have come from churches that sang only hymns, while some have come here, having never sung a hymn before.
Some have heard the gospel often while some are hearing it for the very first time.
Some want more music, others want more preaching (amen?).
We have people carrying King James Bibles and NIV’s and NLT’s and NEB’s and the truly spiritual with their New American Standards.
Some know 100’s of verses by heart, while others have only recently learned that the Book of Genesis is at the beginning of the Bible and the Book of Maps is at the end.
Some are mature in the Lord, and others are brand-new, infant believers.
In this session of the GreenHouse class we have people coming into our church, natives of Washington State, Florida, California, New York, Australia, the island of Guam, and India.
How do we ever hope to get along?!
How do we ever hope to keep it together?!
So many backgrounds . . . so many histories . . . so many cultures! How do we make it together?
Without a doubt, one of the greatest witnesses to the world of the power of the gospel is the fact that we can . . . and we do!
The power of Jesus Christ binds together dissimilar people in a fellowship of genuine and profound unity. [John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 273]
There is perhaps nothing more remarkable than the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
No wonder Jesus Christ said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you belong to me – because you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
If that’s true – and it is – no wonder the Apostle Paul was deeply concerned with the fellowship of the brethren and the unity of the church.
As Paul moved into the more practical part of his letter to the Romans, he has spent, thus far:
2 verses on the necessity of the transformation (12:1-2)
6 verses on serving one another through spiritual gifts (12:3-8)
5 verses on how to act in church; (12:9-13)
8 verses on how to respond to your enemies (12:14-21)
7 verses on how to respond to civil authority (13:1-7)
7 verses on how to live in light of Christ’s return (13:8-14)
[Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker Books, 1995), p. 1723]
Now, Paul will spend time telling the believer how to get along with one another in spite of differences – and it will run from chapter 14 verse 1 through the first part of chapter 15.
Not 2 verses, or 6 verses or even 8 verses, but 36 verses in all on how to get along with people who are different from you!
Paul begins this section by bringing up one of the most difficult of subjects to agree upon.
Now accept the one who is weak in (the) faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.
You read that and maybe you’re tempted to think – c’mon, how divisive could this be for the believers in Rome – surely they can figure this out and get along?!
I mean, how difficult could this be?
Just think for a moment, what it meant for a Jew, steeped in his religious, Jewish tradition – with its ceremonial and dietary laws, to enter the church of grace and freedom.
I can remember spending only 3 years in Detroit, Michigan – earning my first master’s degree – just 3 years surrounded by the factories and automotive plants – the pride of American made automobiles – and in just 3 years I came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with Volvo’s and BMW’s and Mercedes and other foreign cars – I wouldn’t own one. Okay, I couldn’t afford one – but even if I could, I’d still rather have a Ford or a Chevy pick-up truck.
That just seems right! Better!
There would be people in the New Testament church who had been influenced by the Essenes – a strict sect of the Jews who had special meals together – meals for which they prepared with special bathing rituals and then wore special clothing.
The meals had to be prepared by priests or they wouldn’t eat them. That just seemed right . . . better!
Think of the Gentiles who were being saved – coming out of pagan idolatry, now sick of the lives they had lived and wanting to break free from any connection to the false gods of their past.
There would be Christians coming out of or influenced by Pythagoras – who taught that the soul of man was a fallen deity confined to the body. He, much like Hindus, believed in reincarnation where you might dwell in a man, an animal, or a plant in an endless chain of being. The only way to break the chain was through absolute purity and discipline – silence, study, self-examination and abstaining from anything enjoyable. The less you enjoyed life, the quicker you could leave planet earth.
Pythagoras would never be caught eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut!
What does this have to do with Romans 14?
Nothing, unless you think Dunkin’ Doughnuts is better. We’ll never get along – you need to find another church!
It might seem silly to you, but this issue of food in the first century was far more significant than doughnuts . . . or American made cars.
Today we might find a closer analogy to the divisive issue of differing opinions if we talked about fashion, or make-up, or sports, or movies, playing cards or playing golf on Sunday afternoon; perhaps it is political opinions regarding the environment, drilling in Alaska or gun control; perhaps the temptation to divide is over the education of children, or the use of money and wealth, or the choice of college or a career . . . I could go on and on.
And I intend to for several weeks as we dive into the issue of things that are not explicitly forbidden or even addressed in scripture.
Paul refers to them in verse 1 as “opinions.” We can call these issues – doubtful things.
We refer to this arena of living as a “grey area.”
One of the most difficult discoveries in the Christian – particularly for the new Christian – is the discovery that the Christian life is not always black and white – it’s often colored in grey.
The discovery that there are so many areas in life where the answer is not found in a verse of scripture – where the answer is not cut and dried, black or white . . . but grey.
Fritz Ridenour, How to be a Christian Without Being Religious (Regal Books, 1967), p.122
There’s a portion of a road near my home that travels down rather quickly between two ridges – creating a valley. At the bottom of the valley, off to the left is a large pond. Often, in the early morning, fog covers the bottom portion of that road – it’s like driving into a cloud – a grey mist.
The truth is, Christianity is often like driving through a grey fog. It’s difficult to see the road in front of you, much less stay in between the lines. You have to slow down and stay alert.
Evidently, helping Christians not only find their way through the fog, but learning to travel with others along the way was important to the Apostle Paul, given the fact that he will literally slow down and spend more time on this one subject than just about any other.
Evidently, to the Apostle Paul, grey matters.
Just ask a church if it mattered whether or not they used a guitar in the service – or passed an offering plate – or canceled Wednesday night prayer meeting for another program – or supported a divorced missionary – or replaced the organ with a synthesizer. Ask them if it mattered.
Leslie Flynn writes in his book about the variety of disagreements that deeply divide Christians . . . grey matters that create hurt and division:
“A Christian from the South may be repelled by a swimming party for both men and women, but then offend her Northern friend by wearing a pant-suit to church. At an international meeting for missionaries, a woman from the Orient cannot wear sandals indoors with a clear conscience, while others think her silly for coming barefoot. A Christian from Eastern Europe thinks it terribly worldly and wasteful for a Christian acquaintance to have a wedding ring, yet a woman he knows from further south would consider it a scandalous thing to be in public without her wedding rings on. A man from Denmark is pained in his sprit to watch British Bible school students playing soccer on Sunday afternoon, while the students, in turn, are grieved when he lights his pipe on his porch.
Adapted from a quote by R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Volume 2 (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 259
Issues that certainly don’t determine your future in heaven or hell, but can determine fellowship on earth.
What do we do in these areas? Who’s right? And who’s wrong?
Paul, answer the question for us all – can we eat meat or not?!
Notice verse 2, “One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.”
Evidently, some of the Roman Jews had become vegetarians – not because they thought killing animals and eating them was morally wrong – in fact the Old Testament never required abstinence from meat. The problem, more than likely, was their inability to trust whether or not the meat was kosher – killed and prepared in the presence and direction of a Rabbi.
Since they couldn’t be sure the meat was kosher, acceptable, they refused all meat and ate only vegetables.
So there is division in the church between the meat-eaters and the vegetable only eaters.
You have meat-eaters who don’t care if it’s kosher – meat-eaters who want kosher meat but don’t care if it’s been offered to idols: and then you have the vegetarians who won’t eat meat offered to idols – and the vegetable eaters who won’t eat meat, not because it has been offered to idols, but because you can’t be sure it’s kosher.
The church is deeply divided . . . you have the salad side and the steak side.
This is a food fight!
And it’s taking place, not in the cafeteria, but in the church.
We need a referee!
Paul . . . can you help us out?
And Paul’s answer will come, buried near the end of his letter – and his answer will initially stun most of them – and irritate all of them – on both sides of the argument. Neither side will feel vindicated by Paul.
Both sides will be challenged.
I like to call these first few verses,
Four Ways to Stop a Food Fight from ever Starting:
- Start with acceptance!
Notice verse 1 again, “Now accept the one who is weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
Accept! From proslambano – a strong word which means to take to one’s self, to receive into fellowship or companionship.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT (Regency, 1976), p. 379
It’s always used in the middle voice to communicate a personal welcome – a warm reception of another person.
The word is used by Paul as he exhorted Philemon to receive Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway servant, back to himself as a brother – to welcome him home as if he were receiving Paul himself. (Philemon 12)
It’s also used in Romans 15:7 of Christ receiving the believer to Himself.
The starting point is that you are brothers and sisters in Christ. You belong to one another.
Accept the one who is weak in the faith – definite article in the original text indicates this person is not weak in their trust or faithfulness to God, but in their understanding of the full truth of the faith – the fullness of the gospel message.
MacArthur, p. 275
By the way, you need to know that these Jews, and, perhaps Gentiles who had come out of idolatry and wanted nothing to do with their former lives – they were not insincere believers. They were not trying to be petty . . . they were deeply conscientious.
So concerned with offending God they had chosen to eat vegetables only and stay away from meat, altogether.
The word translated vegetable comes from a verb meaning “to dig.” In other words, they were only eating those things that grew out of the ground.
Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker Books, 1974), p. 208
These believers were young in their faith – but passionate in their lifestyle . . . the problem was simply not yet realizing that their acceptance into the family of God had nothing to do with what was in the oven and what was on their plate.
For those believers who knew – be patient . . . resist the temptation to withdraw the welcome mat . . . accept them into the fellowship.
So, if I can paraphrase the first part of Paul’s answer it would read, “Welcome into your fellowship the one who is weak in his understanding of the gospel of grace . . . don’t bring him in just so you can straighten out all his opinions, but welcome him to yourself, just like he is.”
What I find fascinating is Paul doesn’t say. You would think that Paul would do them a favor by just sending them a menu and saying what a waiter once said to me, “If you don’t see it on the menu, you can’t have it!”
Why wouldn’t Paul just say, “If it’s not on the menu don’t eat it!”
Because handing the church a menu would never produce maturity – in young believers and old alike.
Handing them rules was not as important as helping them develop relationships with principled minds and unified hearts and gracious sprits.
Everyone has a place at the table for their favorite food.
Start with acceptance.
Here’s the second way to stop a food fight . . . simply refuse to argue!
That’s another way of saying, for those of you who know the difference, don’t major on the minors.
Recognize the difference between orthodoxy and opinion - don’t divide over opinion!
Which means you just might have to keep your opinion to yourself.
I read recently of an occasion where Charles Spurgeon, the famous British pastor of the 1800’s, was traveling to meetings in a first class railway carriage. Another preacher saw him board and got to the first class section. This other preacher was back in third class carriage. He finally decided to give Spurgeon a piece of his mind, and he made his way up to Spurgeon and demanded, “Mr. Spurgeon, what are you doing up here? I am riding back there in the third class carriage taking care of the Lord’s money.” Spurgeon replied, “And I am up here in the first class carriage taking care of the Lord’s servant.”
I have decided from now on to fly first class.
And if somebody complains, I get to quote Spurgeon!
Accept . . . don’t argue.
So why do we argue? Because we like to!
Yesterday I called my wife into my study and said, “I need help with my sermon title.” It’s not an uncommon thing to get my sermon titles from her. In fact, my best titles are usually hers.
I explained the text – and discussed the issue of arguing over food.
And then she said, “How about something like, “Food Fights.”
I said, “That’s it! That sums it up perfectly . . . Food Fights. From now on, you can fly first class too!”
I love it – food fights.
And just as I said that, my 12 year old daughter, who was half-way down the stairs heard me and said, “Food fights? I love food fights.” I said, “You do?” at that moment questioning the value of her education. “Sure,” she said, “Food fights are fun.”
What a classic admission – and revelation. Food fights are fun!
You would think Paul would say, “The salad people need to start their own church” or the “steak people need to go to another church.”
But no – he simply says, in verse 2. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables. And back in verse 1 Paul said to accept him, not argue with him.
But it isn’t enough to not argue – simply because Paul is about to go to the matter of the heart.
And the third way to stop a food fight will involve much more than not arguing.
- The third way to stop a food fight is to seriously adjust your attitude!
Notice verse 3. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat. The word contempt means to view as worthless; to disdain or disrespect someone because of their personal preferences or viewpoint.
You might not be arguing with them in public, but you despise them in private.
Paul goes on to say in verse 3 as he addresses the other side of the argument: notice, “and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats.”
You see, it works both ways.
Both sides are judgmental, censorious, critical, and, truth be told, downright hateful.
Those who do look down their nose at those who don’t. And those who don’t separate from those who do.
The word, “krino” carries the idea of isolation – or separation.
I was talking to a pastor not too long ago – we both had a mutual friend who was also in the ministry – and had been for a number of years. I asked him if he knew about our mutual friend and about his ministry and he responded, “Oh yes, he has really become a disappointment.” I thought, oh no, he’s left his wife; he’s gotten involved in sin; I said, “Really? Why?” And he said, “Oh, he’s started singing choruses in his church.”
It had become a matter of separation – krino – censorious judgment in the arena of grey matters.
He was literally doing what Paul said not to do.
Both sides need an adjustment of their attitude.
And by the way, both sides have valid points and concerns.
What is lost in the heat of the argument is balance.
Someone says, “Christianity has nothing to do with what you wear – so wear anything you like.”
Someone else says, “But wait, doesn’t what you wear communicate a message – can’t what you wear and how you wear it cause someone else to think something regarding you they shouldn’t be thinking.”
Both sides can be right . . . in fact, in the mind of Paul, both sides might be necessary in order to arrive at the best conclusion.
One minister found out the hard way. He was personally convinced that it was a sin to eat chocolate . . . among other more obvious vices. So he decided to have a visual demonstration that would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon and teach his congregation a lesson they’d never forget.
As he began his sermon, he placed four worms into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol; the second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke; the third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup and the fourth worm was put into a container of rich, clean soil.
Then the preacher preached away against the sins of all the above. At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister showed his congregation the following results:
-the first worm in alcohol – dead;
-the second worm in cigarette smoke – dead;
-the third worm in chocolate syrup – dead;
(As an aside – I think that worm had a smile on its face)
-but the fourth worm in the good clean soil – alive!
So the minister asked his congregation, “What have you learned from this demonstration?”
A little old woman in the back quickly raised her hand and said, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat plenty of chocolate, you’ll never have worms.”
Here’s how to stop a food fight:
Start with acceptance
Simply refuse to argue
Seriously adjust your attitude
And the last step:
- Stop and remember your authority!
Notice verse 4. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul is literally saying, “Stop and think! What right do any of us have to judge the personal opinions of other believers.”
He’s not talking about doctrine . . . he’s not talking about explicit sinful behavior which we are commanded to judge and discipline in the body.
He’s talking about grey matters . . . questionable areas . . . matters of conscience and personal conviction.
Who are you to play the judge in that: especially if they are the servant of the living Lord?!
How can we judge another in the fog?
We aren’t omniscient – so we don’t know all the fact. We are unable to see into people’s hearts, we can’t read their motives.
We’re finite, so we can’t see the big picture. We have poor spiritual eyesight, we live with blind spots - most of all, we are inconsistent and imperfect!
Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening Study Guide (Insight for Living, 1991), p. 72
Fortunately we don’t answer to one another in grey matters of conscience – we answer to God.
Then, in order to stop a food fight from ever starting is to be willing not to have the last word – but to remember that God, our final authority will have the final word!
That’s why Paul will take us eventually to the Bema seat – later in this chapter – the judgment seat of Christ where the believer will give an account of everyone of his choices – both major and minor – both secret and public – both actions and motives.
God will have the last word.
The key word of this entire 36 verses is the word acceptance. You ought to circle it in verse 1 – then draw a line down to the last part of verse 3 where it appears again. Then over to verse 18 – then down to chapter 15, verse 7 where it appears twice.
Accepting others in the Lord will go a long way to stopping food fights from ever happening in the church.
His name was Bill. He had wild hair, wore a T-shirt, jeans and was barefoot the day he visited our church. We were located near his university – and although he was a brilliant student, he had adopted the wardrobe of his college. He became a Christian while attending college and decided to try out our church – he’d never been to church in his entire life. He walked in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt and long hair. The service was well under-way and completely packed, and as Bill made his way down the aisle, he couldn’t find a seat. When he reached the front row, all eyes were on this young man – wondering what he was doing and perhaps, what was he doing in here? So, Bill got all the way down the front – no seats?! So he just sat down right on the carpet. It was how many of the kids sat in their college fellowship during packed meetings, but this certainly wasn’t the way you sat in church! By now the people were uptight and tension in the air was thick. About this time, the pastor saw one of his deacons making his way down the aisle. Now, this deacon was in his seventies, had silver-gray hair, a suit and necktie cleaned and pressed. He was a godly leader in the church – the epitome of dignity and quiet godliness. As he got closer to the young student, everyone was saying to themselves, “Well, you can’t blame him for what he’s about to do. How can you expect a man of his age and dignity and background to understand some college kid sprawled out in the aisle by the front row? When the old man finally reached that younger man, the church was utterly silent. All eyes were focused on him. You could hardly hear anyone breathing . . . even the pastor stopped what he was saying and they all simply watched as this elderly man, with some difficulty, lowered himself down and sat next to Bill, patting him on the back and whispering, “Welcome here.” He would sit next to him for the rest of the service. When the minister finally broke the silence and spoke again, he said, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember . . . but what you have just
seen, you will never forget!”
Adapted from syllabus/notes of Tony Beckett from Romans 14, 2002
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.