Did you know you are a priceless enterprise of God? We are all "under construction" and God wants each of us to treat each other as a work in progress. Stephen calls this the "principle of consideration" and instructs the believer to live it out each day.
The other messages in this series are available here: Grey Matters
Romans 14:19-21 & 15:1
The protection and care of valuable things has become a world-wide industry.
A framed masterpiece painting now hangs in a gallery, linked to a wireless network that can instantly alert security if someone tries to lift it from the wall, touch it, or even vandalize it with a can of spray paint. The tiny sensor attached to the frame, also sends out hourly reports on the temperature and relative humidity of room.
Several well-known art museums, including a pair of Harvard University's museums, have adopted this growing technology to monitor valuable works of art – which can include sculptures and even furniture.
One museum has already seen it pay off . . . they had a sensor on a Louis XIV chest of drawers that had just come back from a $10,000 restoration, but every night around 8:30, the alarm would go off and tell security that someone was touching the object, even though the museum was closed. Upon investigating, the security staff discovered that the culprit was a member of the cleaning crew who thought he was only doing his duty by wiping down the antique chest with a dirty rag and spray of Pledge. The museum was not too happy about his casual treatment of a priceless work of art.
The Boston Globe, 4/12/2004
There are around 600 authentic Stradivarius violins in the world today. Many of them are never used at all, for fear of being stolen, while others play them only in special performances.
Antonio Stradivari, the 17th century violin maker from Cremona, Italy died without leaving anyone the secrets to the way he crafted his violins – each signed and also bears a special, unique name – like “the Duke of Alcantara.”. His methods remain a mystery to this day.
But many have analyzed his violins, made of 70 separate pieces of the finest maple – perhaps that’s what produces tones of richness and power. Some think it was his three layers of varnish which have been chemically analyzed. Some have even tested the water from his local village . . . others say it’s the way he carved each violin . . . no one knows for sure, but a Stradivarius violin is a class all its own with its crystal sounds and pure.
And if you have one, you are one of 650 fortunate people in the world.
If you’d like one for yourself, chances are no one will even sell it to you, because of its signature and rarity. One was sold some time ago for a little more than 3.2 million dollars.
The Amarillo Glob-News Online/02/27/01
But then again, if you had a Stradivarius, you’d probably stay up at night, afraid of what might happen to it. Several have been stolen through the years.
Most of these 650 violins are safely hidden away in bank vaults and private safes – highly insured, well guarded. They are priceless possessions of a handful of people.
Someone from our church sent me this email that tells the funny story of how one woman acted regarding this issue.
She walked into a bank in New York city and asked to speak with a loan officer. She explained that she had traveled to New York to meet with friends, but had to leave, somewhat unexpectedly for Europe and needed to borrow $5,000. The bank officer informed her that they would need some form of security for the loan. She had driven to the bank in her brand new Rolls Royce and she asked if they would accept that as collateral for the loan. She had even with her the title – and everything checked out – she was indeed the owner. The bank agreed – and as the woman left, the bank president and some of the officers enjoyed a good laugh at the woman who used a $300,000 Rolls Royce as collateral against a $5,000 loan. They had one of the bank employees drive the Rolls into the bank’s underground garage, where security cameras silently watched the automobile. Two weeks later, the woman returned as promised, repaid the $5,000 loan and the interest, which came to $15.41
The loan officer, and others gathered around her before she left and the president chuckled out loud and said to her, “Ma’am, we were happy to have had your business, but we are little puzzled. While you were away, we did a little more checking with your hometown bank and found out you are a wealthy woman. Why in the world would you borrow $5,000? She laughed herself as she responded, “Oh, I didn’t need the money . . . but where else in New York City can you safely park your car for two weeks – for only $15.41 and have it waiting for you when you return? Now, have a nice day.”
Without a doubt, mankind has come up with some rather complex and interesting ways to protect their prized possessions.
If the world, with such great care and tenderness – not to mention expense, protects and guards its valuable possessions, like cars that will one day rust and violins that will ultimately decay; how should we care for the people of God who will last forever?!
In Romans chapter 14 Paul is giving us instruction on how to treat people in the family of God – specifically, people who have different views than us on grey areas of life – that is, areas where the scriptures are silent or inconclusive.
Thus far, we’ve discovered two principles – the principle of protection and the principle of reputation.
Now, Paul delivers more instruction and practical advice that I’ve bundled together into this third principle I’d like to call, THE PRINCIPLE OF CONSIDERATION.
And I want you to notice something in chapter 14. Right in the middle of his remarks, in Romans 14 and verse 20, Paul makes an interesting connection. Notice where he writes, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.”
Now follow this – so far in this chapter Paul has been talking about:
- Accepting your brother who views life differently than you (v. 1-3)
- He’s told us not to condemn other believers or treat them with contempt (v. 4-13)
- Don’t put an obstacle or a stumbling block in the way of another believer (13b)
- Paul warns us not to hurt other Christians (v. 15);
- nor to destroy your brother with your food (v. 15b).
But now, for the first time, in verse 20, in fact, the only time in any of his letters Paul refers to these other Christians with this fascinating phrase – they are the work of God.
The ergon – the enterprise . . . the effort of God’s design; literally, “they are God’s project.”
Another use of this root word could be translated, “God’s business” or even, “God’s performance.”
Don’t tear down the business – the project – the detailed effort of God’s own design.
Christians are the masterpiece of God.
The care and effort put into making a Stradivarius is nothing compared to the care and effort God is putting into the making of a saint.
So, if we so carefully guard violins and cars and jewelry and art with such passion and expense and concern, how should the believer handle his brother and sister in Christ?
In the mind of the Apostle Paul – and evidently the Holy Spirit of God – the really priceless treasure on earth is the Bride of Christ.
Ephesians 1:14, Titus 2:14 and I Peter 2:9 all speak of believers as God’s special possession.
So, how should we treat the something so valuable to God as His own church – His own people – the Bride of His own Son?
In the next few verses in Romans 14 and 15, Paul will answer that question and give us at least four ways to treat other Christians – four ways to handle the priceless work of God.
The first way is this:
Number one: Handle other Christians with a spirit of surrender.
Let’s go back and read again, beginning with verse 16. Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil 17. for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable (pleasing) to God and approved by men. (approved: found to be authentic and genuine by men).
That’s the principle of Reputation we covered in our last session.
Now notice the next phrase in verse 19. So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace…”
The word pursue is a strong, passionate word. It can be translated, “to hunt down; to follow hard after.” Paul uses the word in Philippians 3:14 when he says “I am pressing toward the mark.”
Adapted from William R. Newell, Romans: Verse by Verse (Moody Press, 1938), p. 514
I’m pursuing the goal! Paul’s picture in that text is of a runner who’s turned the corner or the post and is now heading down the home stretch where he can see the finish line.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 558
Paul tells the Roman church and our church – pursue the things that will bring peace between you and other believers.
Surrender whatever necessary to capture – to win – to achieve peace. Don’t surrender doctrinal purity . . . or moral purity . . . this context is in the area of grey issues . . . live with a desire to make peace.
The truth is, we typically accept peace if someone offers it to us. Paul says, in effect, you become the one who pursues the offering of it! You be the one who carries the peace treaty around in your back pocket or in your purse. Have it ready as you deal with other Christians . . . have your signature on the peace treaty already signed.
One author put it this way, he wrote, “The only people you should ever try to get even with are the ones who have helped you.”
Steve May, The Story File (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 186
Hunting down peace is another way of getting even, only with those who treat us well.
Which is another way of saying we are to surrender our desire to get someone back.
Oh man, is that ever hard to surrender.
We live to stay even, don’t we?
Oh how convicting this text is . . . in large ways and in little things – we like to even the score.
This past Monday I left early for Pennsylvania to speak to the student body at Baptist Bible College and also the students at Baptist Bible Seminary. Drove the 8-9 hours up and then spoke 7 times and drove back after chapel on Thursday . . . hit a little afternoon traffic jam around the DC area . . . finally made it home Thursday night.
During the home stretch, I came up behind a driver in the left lane who was just dawdlin’ . . . that means they were going slower than they were supposed to – especially in the left lane. Other cars in the right lane had hemmed me in, and this driver was not passing them. So I tapped on my brights for a second to let him know I was behind him . . . he sped up and got over. As soon as I passed him – he swerved behind me and put on his brights – and just kept them on. It was blinding. I got over in the right lane, slowed down and as he passed me I honked – and immediately thought, be careful he might be bigger than I am.
I didn’t know what to do – obviously the spiritual thing to do was nothing – but I was not in a spiritual mood. As we traveled into the area where 440 split off, I could tell he was going to take the other interstate and as he bore off to the right, I turned on my brights.
I got him back! It felt so good . . . I got in the last word.
But then I thought, wait a second . . . I’m a pastor!
All I can say is, I hope you don’t go to church here. If you’re here I want you to know that I apologize . . . if you’re bigger than I am, I want you to know I’m really sorry!
As I began studying this phrase and knew I was the perfect illustration of how to do it completely wrong.
Maybe you’re struggling with something far more significant than highway rudeness.
I’ve read over 2,000 testimonies of current, active members of this church . . . some of your stories are filled with minor and major offenses. Some of you have been betrayed . . . abandoned . . . robbed . . . misused . . . abused . . . by others who call themselves Christians.
What do you do?
Paul tells us all . . . whether it’s a small hurt or a large offense – pursue . . . follow hard after the things which make for peace.
You can’t turn the clock back, but you can turn your heart forward – treating other Christians with a spirit of surrender releases you from being hemmed in . . . waiting for an opportunity to get back . . . to get even.
And those who do the offending, the misusing, the abusing, the robbing . . . they are truly the only lasting victims in your story.
Surrendering to others becomes your ticket to peace on the inside – and just maybe – peace with those on the outside.
Matthew Henry, whose commentaries have been read now for more than 150 years, was once accosted and robbed of all his money. That night he entered into his journal:
Let me be thankful for these things:
First – I have never been robbed before;
Second – although they took my wallet, they did not take my life;
Third – although they took all I had, it wasn’t very much;
And Last – because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
Stepping Stones, Volume 3 (Produced by the Bible Broadcasting Network), 2006
That’s a another way of living with a spirit of surrender.
Secondly, handle people with spiritual reinforcement.
Paul writes in verse 19. Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
What might seem repetitious is actually introduced for the very first time in this Letter. This is the first time Paul uses the word “building up” later translated in chapter 15 verse 2 as “edification”.
It comes from two words – oikos for house and demo – which refers to the process of building.
Put them together and you have the idea of building up a believer as you might build a house.
If you want the right kind of house you have to start with the right blueprints; you have to lay a good foundation; use the right materials, follow the best schedule and pursue the right goal.
Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker, 1995), p. 1789
Paul loved to refer to the church as the building of God. In I Corinthians 3:9 he wrote, “But you are God’s building.” In Ephesians 2, Paul becomes even more explicit as he writes, “But you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, begin fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22)
In Romans 14 Paul wants to remind us all that the believer is the building project of God.
And He intends for us to work alongside Him in the lives of other believers.
We are all called, as it were, to be construction workers.
What are we building into the lives of others – what kind of tools are we bringing to the project?
Everything might be permissible, but not everything is constructive.
After having spent time with you, does a person feel encouraged to live for Jesus Christ, or discouraged?
Donald Grey Barnhouse, who led his Presbyterian congregation for through a study Paul’s letter to the Romans, and then compiled his sermons into a four volume set, which I have the privilege of owning, illustrated this particular text by telling of a occasion where a missionary ransacked the scriptures, compiling a list of things that destroyed other believers, rather than edified or built them up.
Here were the things that brought destruction rather than construction:
- A pharisaical spirit
- Playing God for others
- Failing to appreciate others’ gifts
- Lack of patience
- Not sympathizing with others’ infirmities
- Evil speaking
- Assuming, without grounds, that others are at fault
- Suspecting the motives of another
- A domineering spirit
- A rebellious spirit
- Being nosy
- A sense of inferiority (that is not resting in the Lord, not being satisfied with the gift He has given you)
- Economic freeloading
- Lying and slander
- Thinking too highly of oneself
- A critical spirit toward others
- Carrying on controversy
The missionary also made a list of activities that edified the believer. Here are the tools we should work with, not only in our own lives, but the lives of others; trust me, it’s as convicting as the first list:
- Willingness to be in subjection to others
- Considering others better than oneself
- An understanding spirit
- An intimate relationship with Christ
- Not insisting on our rights
- Willingness to confess a wrong spirit
- A generous spirit
- A sympathetic spirit
- Trusting others
- Having faith in Christ, not necessarily in others
- A critical spirit toward oneself
- A gentle and quiet spirit
- Using our gifts for one another
- Remembering our own mistakes and not the mistakes of others
- Love, in word and deed
- Fair dealing
- Recognizing one’s place
- A forgiving spirit
- Doing things decently and in order
- Being responsible to perform the tasks assigned to us
- Not misusing our authority over others
- Being willing to follow those in authority over us
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 21
These are the tools of construction – bringing into the lives of other believers the instruments and equipment that edify.
Now, this doesn’t mean you never make someone feel poorly or accountable. Paul will rebuke Peter to his face when he learned of Peter’s hypocrisy before the Gentiles. The events are recorded in Galatians. Evidently, Peter was eating with the Gentiles until Jews arrived from Jerusalem and Peter began to avoid the Gentile believers for fear of being looked down on. Galatians 2:11 records that when Peter arrived in Antioch where Paul was serving, Paul opposed him to his face, for Peter stood condemned.
Edification doesn’t mean we all try to make each other just feel better – it means that we are committed to helping one another live better.
We are either in the business of construction or destruction.
Handle people with a spirit of surrender;
Handle people with spiritual reinforcement;
Thirdly, handle people with a sense of caution.
Paul writes in verse 20. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
In other words, “be careful . . . don’t tear someone apart – that God is putting together . . . over something as insignificant as food or drink.
All things are clean – that is – in this area of grey, all things are permissible, but not all things are constructive.
Some things can hurt, destroy, confuse and, here, Paul writes, offend another believer.
The opposite enterprise of building is demolition, right.
The Christian is to be careful with others – he is not in the business of spiritual demolition. And if you can imagine it, the wrecking ball, in this context is labeled liberty.
Here you go, swinging around your liberty . . . flaunting your freedom . . . knocking over young Christians right and left.
Paul writes in verse 21, It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
Listen, these weaker believers are the work in progress of God – be careful!
Treat them like an antique piece of furniture – or your brand new car – which for the first few months you will not park near any other cars, because you don’t want any dings in the doors.
You don’t buy a portrait by Rembrandt and toss it into the backseat of your car . . . you treat it carefully!
This is the principle of Consideration; handle people with a sense of caution.
Don’t give them something that can hurt them.
Like a wise parent, you don’t leave scissors on the ground where your 2 year old is playing. In fact, you’ve probably child-proofed your living room – your coffee table has absolutely nothing on it. There’s nothing in your house below 3 feet that can’t withstand hurricane force winds.
You don’t give your 3 year old a box of crayons and say, “The house is all yours.” There are protections and guidelines and cautions for the young ones.
You put sensors on rare items . . . you protect your valuables . . . you watch out for precious things . . . you guard your heirlooms.
Will we treat the precious treasure of Christ in one another rudely . . . or carelessly?
Part of our sense of caution is patience.
You’re willing to wait, while your brother or sister grows up. In fact, you’re wiling to adjust your life so they will.
Paul writes to the strong . . . because the strong can get frustrated and impatient with what they already know is acceptable.
Maybe there were some then and now who are muttering under their breath, “I’m tired of playing it cautious. I’m weary of reinforcing their lives when they offer me so little in return.”
Maybe you’re tempted to say, “Just give me 15 minutes alone with that weaker brother – I’ll show them in the word – I’ll teach them where they’re immature . . . just give me 10 minutes and I’ll give them the knowledge they’re missing!”
Warren Wiersbe, in his comments on this text, challenged my thinking when he wrote that children who are afraid of the dark are never helped by more knowledge.
Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1 (Victor, 2001), p. 560
I thought, that’s so true.
Paul never tells the stronger brother in Romans 14 to take his Jewish friends on a crash course in dispensationalism. Overload them with the distinctions between the Old Covenant and Israel, with the New Covenant and the church. Give ‘em essay questions to fill out . . . we’ll get them over their dietary restrictions so you can go buy meat from the pagan temple and never have to think another thing.
The answer isn’t knowledge.
How many of us Dads tried to solve being afraid of the dark with a lecture?
You went into your child’s room where they’re crying – “Daddy, I’m scared of the dark.” And you sat down on their bed and said, “Now listen sweetheart, the absence of light does not automatically mean the presence of danger . . . that’s pretty good isn’t it . . . here, why don’t you write that down on your etch-a-sketch; the absence of light does not automatically mean . . .
Has your child ever said, “Daddy, I’ve never thought of that before – but now that you’ve expanded my thinking about the neutrality and non-aligned status of darkness, I can go to sleep now.”
“You can turn out the lights now – even my nightlight – and you can even shut the door – I now know I am safe!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, you can’t take a young believer and say, “C’mon, let me give you the facts . . . write them down . . .”
No . . . they don’t need knowledge sometimes, as much as they need reinforcement, love and time.
That’s the principle of consideration.
-Handling people with a spirit of surrender;
-Handling people with spiritual reinforcement;
-And handling people with a sense of caution.
Paderewski, the world renowned pianist, was to play in a piano concert in America. He was both a respected statesman as the prime minister of Poland as well as the famous master/pianist.
The magnificent concert hall was packed; everyone was waiting in anticipation. One particular mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, had sacrificed dearly and bought tickets for them to attend the performance. They had found their seats near the front of the concert hall and were waiting, along with several thousand other people, the start of the concert. This young boy ws awed, of course, by everything. The massive theatre, the huge crowd and, not the least of it all, that 12 foot grand piano of a kind he had never seen before and certainly never played . . . there it sat, waiting on stage for the concert to begin.
During the wait, the boy’s mother was engaged in conversation with those around her and while she was talking, the boy slipped away. Suddenly, to the surprise of everyone, the sound of piano playing was heard. The audience immediately hushed and when they looked toward the stage, it was this young boy sitting on the piano bench, innocently playing, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” The crowd laughed at first, although his mother nearly fainted! At first the crowd went along with it, but then, recognizing the possible disturbance to the piano . . . the keys . . . who knows what all, they began to become somewhat agitated. Besides, the little boy could aggravate the great master who was actually back-stage at that moment, picking up on what was happening on stage. Finally a few people began to shout, “Get that boy off the piano.” Even before this mother had time to recover from her shock and find her way onto the stage, suddenly Ignacy Paderewski, appeared on the stage and quickly walked toward the little boy. While many thought the boy would be soundly rebuked and the mother as well, instead, he leaned over the boys shoulder and whispered, “Don't stop – keep playing.” Then, reaching around with his left hand, Paderewski began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obligato – beautiful music filled the hall – all spontaneously composed. Together, beautifully, the old concert master and the young boy held the crowd mesmerized. All the while Paderewski kept whispering, “Don't stop son, don't quit.” And when they finished, the people jumped to their feet with cheering and a long standing ovation.
What so moved this audience was not so much how the old master handled the piano, but how he treated the young boy.
The masterpiece was not his improvised composition, the masterpiece was what he did with that young student.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you happen to be the priceless enterprise of God . . . we’re all under construction. And what God wants from each of us is to treat each other as a work in progress.
No wonder Paul tells us to live out this principle of consideration; how do you live it out? By treating each other with a spirit of surrender; with spiritual reinforcement; and with a sense of caution.
Accepting the fact that we are His masterpiece in the making – each one of us, unique and original. We are under the direction and energy and work and effort of none other than the Master Builder . . . the Master Painter . . . the Master Composer – our Heavenly Father.
The one who has called us His precious possession and is making us able to bring forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.