In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul confronts certain factions that had risen in the church at Rome. Some people considered meat that had been offered to idols unclean and others didn't. Also some regarded the Sabbath to be a holy day while others didn't. So who was right in these situations? Which group honored God more? In this message Stephen discloses that it wasn't the side who made the best argument . . . it was the side who gave the most grace.
The other messages in this series are available here: Grey Matters
^pp“Wearing ‘C’ on your Sleeve”
Roman artisans, skilled in working with precious metals, developed the ability to stamp coins with figures of emperors and the ornamental designs of fruit and vines; the images of thrones and animals.
Along with this artistic work came the development of special tools, used to create their metallic works of art. One special tool used for stamping the coins was known by a Greek word that passed through several languages such as Old French and then English. The word for that special tool used to make a stamp on a coin was the word “character.” Over time, that word actually came to stand for both the tool and the mark left by the tool on the face of a coin.
Medieval courts adapted the tool and used a character to literally brand lawbreakers so they would immediately be recognized by their crimes. The letter M would be branded into the cheek of a murderer . . . the letter T would be branded into the shoulder of a thief.
Anyone branded with such a symbol was literally marked for life. All you had to do was glance at his “character” and you would know much about his past.
By the 16th century, the word “character” was dissociated from the tool of a metal worker, and a brand letter on someone’s body. It came to refer to the sum total of that person’s qualities.
Adapted from Webb Garrison, What’s in a Word (Rutledge Hill Press, 2000), p. 37
Though harder to spot immediately, without the help of some mark, a person’s character represented who they were – the stamp of their disposition . . . the quality of their nature.
It’s interesting to me that we have similar expressions that reveal the visible quality of a person’s character
We talk about a person having a chip on his shoulder – an invisible block of wood that he balances on his shoulder, and as he walks around, he just dares someone to knock it off.
We also talk about a person wearing their heart on their sleeve – a reference to someone’s emotions that are always visible.
That phrase actually originated in the early 1800’s as young men wrote the name of their sweetheart on a piece of paper and pinned it on their shirt-sleeve. They would wear the paper pinned to their shirt-sleeve all during the week of Valentine’s. Everywhere they went, they openly revealed the girl who had, in effect, captured their heart.
I think that’s sweet don’t you?! I think that would be a lot more meaningful than roses and expensive restaurants . . . don’t you?! I’d like some guys to volunteer to do that and then tell the rest of us if it worked or not. I’ll wait to here back from you!
I think it’s fascinating that while a person’s character is no longer visible by means of a brand . . . and the affections of our hearts are not pinned to our sleeves, both character and heart are exposed just as clearly through our actions and reactions; our attitudes and feelings.
You don’t have to write a letter on your cheek or what matters to you on your shirt-sleeve for everyone who knows you, or works around you, or sits in class beside you, or lives under the same roof as you, to know the truth.
It’s time we admitted to ourselves that the condition of our heart is a lot more visible than we probably want to know.
More than anything else, the stamp of our character and the state of our heart is revealed by how we use our freedom in Christ; the things we choose to do and not do when they’re aren’t any rules.
What we choose to wear when there isn’t a dress code; what we choose to watch when ratings don’t matter anymore. The things we dream about when there is no record – at least on earth.
To the mind of the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest indicators of maturity in the faith was how a Christian exercised his liberty – specifically in grey matters.
You want to know the character and heart of someone – just watch how they treat this issue of grace . . . watch and see if they ever limit their liberty or restrict their rights . . . and why!
Paul has begun chapter 14 by opening the barn door with shocking words of liberty to all.
You are free in Christ.
I’ve already received comments from people who have said, “Stephen has really taken the lid off this thing . . . I can now do this or that . . . I no longer have to hold back here or cut back there . . . it’s wide open spaces.”
Well, hold the stampede.
If you don’t hear anything else today, at least hear this – you are now free in Christ – which doesn’t mean you are now free to do anything you want; you are now free, to do everything He wants.
And what does He want, in this wide open pastureland of Christian liberty.
In the latter part of chapter 14 and into chapter 15, he now gives principles whereby you construct brand new fences – brand new boundaries for your Christian liberty.
One of those boundaries is the principle of protection.
Paul says in verses 13-15, protect your younger brother or sister in the faith. Don’t put an obstacle or stumbling block in the path of the growth . . . they’re learning how to walk . . . don’t throw the debris of your liberty in their path.
You see, you balance your Christian walk with liberty on one hand, and love for your brother, on the other hand.
The second principle Paul delivers to help us know how to use our liberty, without abusing our liberty, is the principle of Reputation.
Notice Romans 14:16, Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.
The “good thing” Paul is talking about here is some act of Christian liberty. For you it is fine to do.
However, don’t do it if it can be used as a reason to diminish your reputation as a holy child of God . . . a person who is pursuing holiness and purity with great passion.
The key phrase translated here in verse 16 “spoken of as evil” is actually one Greek word – blasphemew (blasfhmew) which gives us our word, blaspheme.
We typically limit the use of this word to speaking irreverently of God, but the Greeks used it to refer to speaking irreverently of other people as well. What Paul is giving us is this principle of guarding your reputation – we should be concerned about the impression we make on others.
We are to remember that we’re wearing the letter C on our shirt-sleeves, as it were – the letter C which stands for Christian.
The person who says, “I don’t care what anybody thinks . . . I have the freedom to do what I think is right.”
The most important thing is not necessarily an issue of being right – it may be an issue of reputation.
Paul writes here:
- Don’t let your liberty create an opportunity for libel.
- Don’t allow your spiritual freedom create an opening for the slandering your testimony in Christ.
You might think it over the top for Billy Graham, but I have read that he would never be in an elevator alone if there was another woman on the elevator – so careful of any potential slander to his name and reputation.
I and all our pastors on staff do not ride in a car alone with a female staff member. That isn’t in any way an indictment on the character of the women on our staff . . . it has everything to do with the principle of reputation.
Do we have the liberty to do that? Of course . . . but the issue of grey areas is not so much what we think, but what others might think.
By the way, whether you are on a church staff or not, be careful in the work setting – a setting that by its very nature of close quarters and interdependence can easily turn friendship and comradeship into affection and the path to great ruin.
You might say, “Oh, c’mon, Stephen, lighten up . . . it’s only lunch with that married man or woman from the office . . . besides, we’re talking about the latest project at work.”
There can be a very thin line between a business appointment and a date . . . the development of a friendship beyond what it should be . . . be careful . . . be alert . . . not only for your own reputation’s sake and what might be whispered behind your back – and the damage to your testimony as a Christian, but for the safety of your own marriage . . . your own family . . . your own life.
Solomon wrote that a clean name – a good name – the stamp of a clean character is to be chosen above great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)
How much time do you spend earning your gold – with what kind of care do you guard your bank account?
Solomon said, increasing the value of a pure and holy name is more profitable than increasing your wealth.
Paul put it this way – don’t let something you have the liberty to do, cast a shadow on your reputation.
Let me give you some practical guidelines along this principle of reputation:
#1: accept the potential of being watched
Whether it’s younger adults or children, or younger believers in the faith . . . it would probably surprise you to know how carefully you are watched.
And not only watched . . . but copied!
Isn’t that the warning of Paul to Timothy where Paul wrote, “Timothy . . . in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:12)
That’s a nice way of saying, “You’re being watched!”
Therefore, be an example!
Along that same line is a second guideline:
#2: admit the power of being an influence
The truth is, you are not only being watched, but you are probably going to be copied, right?!
When our oldest daughter who is now 18 was only four years old, I was cleaning the garage one day and she was outside playing with her ball . . . we had a basketball goal that was lowered for the children – they were all extremely competitive – and she was evidently about to try a long shot when she suddenly knelt down on the driveway and loudly said, “Dear Jesus, help me!”
I went outside to see if any neighbors were around – they already wondered about the Baptists.
The truth is, those younger than us – physically and spiritually will often exaggerate what they see or hear us do.
More than likely, someone will take your actions further than you intended them to go in the first place.
Could this be why Paul had to tell Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:23) Which is a favorite verse for a lot of people – just ask them about it and they’ll more than likely quote that verse of scripture.
The only problem is, they put a period where Paul keeps writing. “Timothy, drink a little wine – no period yet – for your stomach’s sake and your frequent ailments (astheneia: asqeneia).”
Paul was telling Timothy to drink wine to clear up his stomach – evidently Timothy was drinking straight water – not a very wise thing to do in the first century, where water was basically purified by fermentation.
Adapted from Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT (Regency, 1976), p. 632
And Timothy had evidently developed the predictable intestinal problems because of it . . . Paul said, “You need the cleansing, medicinal power of wine . . . drink a little wine, Timothy.”
Every time someone quotes that verse to me I’m tempted to ask, “So how long have you had stomach problems from drinking contaminated water . . . is the water in your house that bad?”
What people do not ask is the obvious question . . . why had Timothy stopped drinking wine and only drinking water?!
He had the liberty to drink wine. The New Testament doesn’t command abstinence. In fact, the only caution given in the New Testament is drunkenness; “Don’t be addicted to wine,” Paul wrote to elder candidates in I Timothy 3:3.
Don’t miss this . . . Timothy is now an elder – we can easily conjecture that Timothy was so deeply concerned with fulfilling the qualifications of a spiritual leader in the church that he stayed as far away from wine as he could.
Even to the point of risking his health!
He understood the power of influence. He understood that he was wearing a “C” on his shirt-sleeve.
He was evidently limiting his liberty for the sake of godly influence.
It is this power of influence, by the way, and the example of Timothy, that causes us as here at this church to require that teachers and leaders and deacons and elders limit their liberty as it relates to alcoholic beverages – we accept the potential of being not only watched, but copied.
We don’t want a teacher of 5th grade boys to be seen by a 5th grader leaving Harris Teeter with a grocery cart loaded down with beer . . . that 5th grade teacher can argue, “I have the liberty!”
The trouble is, his liberty can become a loaded gun.
You see, that 5th grader might take a sip the next time someone offers it to him after school . . . “Why not . . . my teacher does – my Daddy does . . . my pastor does.”
Time magazine ran some statistics in an article dated, November 2004; research from the University of Buffalo which revealed that the younger their subjects were when they had their first drink, the more likely they were to abuse alcohol as adults. In fact, they were able to quantify the risk: for every year earlier that an adolescent took his first sip, the chances of becoming a problem drinker increased 12 percent.
I’ve had people tell me, “Stephen, it’s an issue of liberty – and furthermore it’s legal too . . .”
I would say, “You’re right . . . it is a grey area . . . since it’s legal it becomes even more an issue of Christian conviction and liberty.”
It’s something you need to address . . .
But Ladies and Gentlemen, if the only thought you put into these issues are that it’s legal and it’s your liberty, than whenever America legalizes – and it will – another dangerous substance known as marijuana, are you going to teach your children how to smoke it one day in moderation?
Listen, don’t turn me off here . . . if your only argument is legality or intoxication – I can argue the medicinal usage of marijuana . . . and the buzz that accompanies it, right? I’m not speaking from experience . . . but even if I were . . . certainly we can take our marijuana in moderation!
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s not turn our liberty into a gun and shoot common sense between the eyes!
When it comes to these and other issues, you can rest assured that I and every other leader in this church will by word and example encourage your children to stay entirely away from these things!
Accept the potential of being watched – and what that means
Admit the power of being an influence –and what that means
You are being watched . . . and you will probably be copied.
Someone in our church told me a few weeks ago about some family friends – and one of their children – a three year old who was being taught how to pray in Jesus’ name. She was also being taught the broader principle that everything we do ought to be in Jesus name . . . certainly praying. One day not too long ago her mother was telling her to do something she didn’t want to do and they were going back and forth until finally this little girl looked at her mother and said, “In Jesus name, no!”
I’m sure they had a theology lesson on prayer – right then and there!
Accept the potential of being watched
Admit the power of your influence
#3: acknowledge the priority of being a testimony
Notice the next verse (v. 17), for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking (that is, the kingdom of God isn’t represented by people who do or don’t eat kosher meat; the kingdom of heaven isn’t represented only by those who drink or don’t drink that which has been offered to idols – which is the context of this chapter. But here’s what represents the kingdom of God – Paul writes, righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
I mentioned in our last study how Charles Spurgeon, the famous English preacher of the 1800’s, smoked cigars – and he defended it as his liberty to do so – and he was right. But did you know Spurgeon quit – just like that one afternoon. Why? Because one day, as he was riding along in his carriage through the streets of London, he saw a billboard with a picture of a box of cigars and the words on the billboard read, “These are the cigars smoked by Charles Spurgeon.” And Spurgeon said [something to the effect of], “I will not allow the influence of my name to be used to promote anything other than the gospel.”
These three words are certainly loaded with theological truth – and we’ve covered each of these words in previous studies in Romans.
However, you need to understand that the issue in Romans 14 is not so much belief as much as it is behavior.
It isn’t the theological truth of these three words that Paul has in mind, I believe it is the practical truth that he has in mind – primarily because of verse 18. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable (or pleasing) to God.
Paul isn’t talking about salvation – he’s talking about service.
In other words, evaluate your testimony before others – can it be characterized by these three words, on a practical level.
Let’s ask the hard questions:
- Is what you are doing with your Christian liberty marked by righteousness or impurity?
Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “to be continually filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)
- Does your walk with Christ create peace or war?
Romans chapter 12 dealt with this entire issue of getting along with one another in the church.
- Third, does your lifestyle promote joy or gloom?
Paul refers to the believer’s joy in the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and the fruit of the Spirit which is joy (Galatians 5:22)
Is your life marked with joy?
One author remarked in his commentary how an overly pious man in his church came up to him one Sunday and told him that the New Testament never mentioned that Jesus Christ either smiled or laughed, and therefore believers shouldn’t do that either.
R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway, 1991), p. 269
The Bible never mentions that Jesus took a bath, or combed His hair . . . but He probably did.
That man needed a dose of joy.
Grimness is not a spiritual gift.
Some times the worst advertisement for Christianity is Christians.
William Barclay wrote, “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in the history of Christianity has done more harm than our connection with long faces.”
Quoted by Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, (Word, 1998), p. 323.
We forget that we’re wearing the letter C on our shirt-sleeves – for people to see who we belong to and what we represent!
Verse 18 could be turned into two questions:
Number One: Is your life agreeable in the eyes of God?
Number Two: Is your life authentic in the eyes of man?
Notice, verse 18 again, “For he who in this way serves Christ is pleasing to God, and approved by men.
That seems like an impossibility – pleasing both God and man.
I thought Jesus Christ told us we were gonna be hated by men.
Didn’t he say in Luke 6, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil . . . woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22 & 26)
Didn’t Peter write, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (I Peter 4:14)
How can you live for Christ and be approved by man?
For starters, even the most pagan unbeliever will secretly respect the testimony of an authentic believer.
You average unbeliever will appreciate the fact that you keep your word, pull your load, tell the truth and respect your authorities.
But there will be some who openly dislike you and mock you and revile you.
In either case – you are a pleasing testimony to God and authentic before man.
Donald Barnhouse balanced this application by saying it this way: If nobody thinks you are strange and out of step, you are probably not a good Christian; however, if everybody thinks you’re strange, you’re probably not a good Christian.
Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker, 1995), p. 1784
Notice, the word Paul used to speak of our reputation before men, is the word, translated approved.
In the ancient Greek world there was no paper money as know it today. In fact, until the Middle Ages, all financial transactions were in gold, silver or base metal coins. There were no standard coin presses, so in order to make coins the metal was heated until liquid, poured into molds where it was allowed to cool. After cooling, it was stamped with that special tool, known as a character.
In addition to that, the irregular edges of the rough coins were trimmed away. This was not an exact science of course. The metal was soft because it wasn’t mixed with alloys and people frequently shaved away at the edges and kept the metal, in time collecting enough to make up new coins. By the time of Paul, this had become such a common form of dishonesty that the city of Athens passed over 80 different laws intended to stop the practice.
People didn’t obey the law, and over time, so many coins had become so whittled down that the merchants would reject them as lacking their full weight or value. At that point, the coins were said to be adokimos – “disapproved.”
The word came to represent merchants who were upright and would therefore neither give nor accept these coins. And their coins were known as dokimos – honest merchants who dealth with honest money.
That’s the word Paul uses here in verse 18 - the word dokimos (dokimoV) - approved – honest – authentic – doesn’t cut corners – upright – genuine.
Paul is saying, when your life is marked by righteousness and peace and joy – you are an authentic testimony to name and cause of Jesus Christ.
In light of this context, Paul would be challenging us all, as you decide what you will do and what you won’t do – don’t overlook the principle of protection and don’t underestimate the principle of reputation.
With that in mind, some of the grey issues you may be wrestling over will simply take care of themselves.
As you wear the letter C on your sleeve – which stands for Christianity – for Christ – don’t cut corners . . . be honest, genuine, upright and authentic.
Wear it without reservation . . . or hesitation . . . with a sense of boldness and joy, telling the world – not just for the week of Valentine’s but all year long – whose heart you belong to and of the Living Lord who belongs to you.