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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 10, 1998
Cultures In Conflict
Today is popularly known as “Mother’s Day” and often on this day I like to focus on what the Bible says about mothers or women in general. This morning what I want to talk about certainly has application to mothers as they try to instill into the hearts of the children a love for other people, but the message is addressed to all of us as a congregation.
We need to be up front that our church is in serious trouble. I am calling for another special prayer meeting tonight, so bring your kneepads. This morning I want to address an issue that must be addressed otherwise all of us are in serious danger of causing shame to be cast upon the name of the Lord. The issue is how are those within the body of Christ to deal with one another in matters not directly addressed in the Scriptures. How is our love for Christ to be manifested toward one another when there conflicts in personal standards?
This conflict is not a new one, but one that rose very quickly after the birth of the Church in Acts 2. The gospel went out to the gentiles and many were saved but because of the culture difference there quickly arose conflict even about the nature of salvation. In Acts 15:1 we find the conflict coming to a crisis point when some men from Judea came to the churches in the Antioch area teaching “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul & Barnabas took issue with them and eventually the church determined to send Paul & Barnabas “to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning the issue” (vs. 2). When they arrived in Jerusalem they also found a certain group of Pharisees who had believed who were saying that “It is necessary to circumcise them, and direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
At issue was the nature of salvation and the manner in which the gentiles were to live. Were the gentiles required to become Jewish in custom in order to be saved or to live the Christian life? The answer from the council was “no.” As Peter related in verses 7-11 and James demonstrated from the OT in verse 15-18, the gentiles – like the Jews – were saved by God’s grace and not through keeping the Mosaic law. Neither did the gentiles need to follow the Mosaic standards of conduct except in four specific areas to preclude offense arising from table fellowship or social contact between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Those holding onto Jewish social customs were not to trouble the gentile believers (vs. 19). “Trouble” from (parenochlew) parenochleo meaning “to crowd in on,” “annoy.” Those who wanted to hear the Mosaic code could do so for it had been proclaimed in the synagogues from ancient generations in every city (vs. 21). The Judaizers and Pharisees had lost their case, but the gentiles were called to be considerate of those holding to the customs of the Mosaic law by burdening themselves to constrain their freedom in four essential practices. Essential from (epanagkes) epanagkes – “necessary,” lit. – “on compulsion.”
Now I understand some have sought to use Acts 15 as a basis for saying that the church is therefore free to set up any standard of conduct it wants. I have three major objections to trying to make this an application of this passage.
1) The historical setting of this chapter does not allow such a broad application. The historical setting is between gentile believers and Jewish believers that had been brought up for generations that certain practices were abhorrent to God – because they were in the Mosaic law. They would have an extremely difficult time trying to overcome that and believing they would have freedom in these areas of social contact. From their mindset, eating meat polluted by idols would have brought them into the worship of such idols and therefore in conflict with Exod. 20:3-6 prohibition against idolatry as well as the injunctions against touching dead things – which they considered such meat – and becoming unclean because of it. They would not eat blood because it was against the injunction of Lev. 17:10,11 that God would set His face against the person who eats blood and would cut him off from His people. They would not eat something strangled because of the blood. Lev. 17:13, Gen. 9:4; Deut. 12, etc. all required the animal to be slaughtered and the blood drained from the animal. Fornication – () porneia – whether taken in the narrow sense of sexual sins or the broader sense of conduct in relationships were clear in the Mosaic law as well.
My first point is this – Acts 15 occurs in an historical setting. The constraints placed on the gentile believers were straight from the mosaic code and given as a means to promote social harmony between Jews and gentiles, and as the principles are later clarified in Paul’s epistles, it was so the gentiles would not be a stumbling block to the Jews in enticing them to partake of something against their conscience. The principle here cannot be broadened to mean that churches can set any code of conduct they want.
Second, Acts is an historical book of transition as I pointed out last week. The working out of the doctrine on how Christians with differing personal standards are to relate to one another is found in 1 Cor. 8,10 and Rom. 14 – which we will examine a moment.
Third, Church is not an institution of man. Man made institutions can set any standard of conduct they want. They can require uniforms or that you wear some funny little hat. They are free to restrict what you do and how you behave. They can require you to pay dues and attend so many meetings a year. Man made institutions are free to set up any code of rules they desire, but the church is not a man made institution and therefore cannot be defined, structured or operated according to man’s thoughts and desires. I spoke on this last week. The church is an organism created by God for His glory as the body of Christ and therefore must be defined, structured and allowed to live, grow and function only according to His instructions. The Bible alone sets out for the church what we are to believe and how we are to behave.
When a church moves past the scripture to set out its own standards, it is no longer a church in the true sense, but rather a religious club. Let me read for you an excerpt from such a group that supposes itself to be church. Under “Rules & Disciple”
“Members shall not indulge in the world’s methods of pleasure seeking, amusements and entertainment, patronizing or taking in part in fairs, parades, circuses, moving picture shows, theaters, drama, public bathing resorts, organized contesting ball teams, dancing, card parties, races, various forms of gambling, scavenger hunts, mystery suppers, hayrides and such like.”
“Inasmuch as our automobiles, as well as all our possessions, are gifts from God, they should be in keeping with Biblical modesty and separation, and the use of them should always glorify God. The more expensive cars, cars with contrasting colors, sports cars and swell as sports features on regular cars, and all striped tires, shall be avoided. The appearance and use of all our vehicles shall be consistent with these principles and regulations.”
“Because of the effectiveness of the radio to propagate evil and increased end time deception, thereby destroying true spirituality in the home and church, its use is not permitted. Because of the evils of television, those who are responsible for the sale or use of the same forfeit their membership. Video cassette recorder (VCR) entertainment systems shall not be used. We likewise sense the dangers of the news media such as daily papers and magazines in the home. Ps. 101:3; Ps. 1:2”
This same church also states the following: “We believe that acappella singing is the form that most accurately represents New Testament principles. Because of the highly emotional appeal of stringed instruments, and their prominent place in modern sensual music, they are not permitted for actual use or in our recorded selections. Electronic keyboard instruments which can automatically simulate the rhythm and tempo of secular music are also objectionable, and are not permitted. We also sense the possible conditioning effect of the traditional keyboard instruments. Acappela singing and recorded selections that reflect the emphasis of modern “gospel song” performers with their entertaining appeal should be eliminated.”
Extreme? Yes, but once the line is crossed and man’s standards replace God’s, the error is already present and all you are left with is measuring the degree of error. Jesus gave a very serious warning in Matt. 17:9 & Mk 7:7 saying “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
Folks, this is a copy of our church’s statement of faith, constitution and covenant. It is better than some, not as good as others I have seen. I will leave it to you to decide which is superior – the Bible or this document. As for me, I stand with the reformers – sola scriptura – it is the Bible alone. Wherever this document or any other man made document is out of harmony with the Scriptures, that document must bend to the Bible. When anyone treats a man made document as superior to the Scriptures – then I stand in direct opposition to them, and as far as I am concerned the document is an idol and not worth the paper it is written on. Understand clearly that God will judge us all by how well we have kept His word, not by how we have kept a document produced by man.
What then does God’s word say about how Christians are to treat one another when there are differing standards of conduct. Turn to Romans 14.
The book of Romans is written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome – both Jew and Greek. Some have called Romans, “Paul’s Gospel Tract,” for in it he clearly demonstrates that everyone is unrighteous (Ch. 1,2 & 3) and in need of the salvation through Jesus Christ – which God imputes to us by His grace on the basis of our faith in Jesus’ work of atonement for us (3,4,5). The result of this imputed righteousness to us is sanctification – we are dead to sin, and alive to God, free now from the bondage of the mosaic law and now stand without condemnation having life in Jesus Christ (6,7,8). God’s promises to us are as true as his promises to His chosen people, Israel (9,10,11). In view of God’s mercies in this, there are practical applications in how we are to live (12-16). We are to have transformed lives of service to God and among others. We live in submission to authority which God has established (13) and we live in consideration of others (14).
That is the question of Romans 14. How are Christians who have such varied backgrounds and therefore varied standards of personal conduct supposed to behave toward one another in those areas Scripture does not expressly forbid or commend? Use of such things such as television, radio, computers, musical instruments – using guitars in a worship service, buying insurance, taking out a home loan, dancing, women wearing a pants suit to church, men having their hair over their ears, men having facial hair, women having short hair, cooking with wine, drinking wine in moderation, fishing on Sunday, mowing the lawn on Sunday, smoking, playing cards, putting your children in public school, playing sports, mixed swimming, etc. The list can go on and on. Some of those might seem humorous to you, but I can guarantee to that there are some people who will hold these differing issues as serious matters.
How do we deal with one another? The short answer is with “love.” Let’s see how that love is to be expressed.
14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in 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. Accept = (proslambanw ) proslambano – “receive” Connotation here of personal and willing reception of the other person.
Weak in (the) faith = not weak in spiritual trust of salvation, but weak in understanding the full truth of the gospel message and the freedom it allows. It is ( ta pistei ) ta pistei – “the faith.”
Not for passing judgement – regard with contempt: sense here is receiving him and them ridiculing his thoughts on the subject. He is weak and needs to be taught, but such teaching is to be done with love and sensitivity to build him up in Christ (Eph. 4). Strong are not to look at weak as someone to be despised or pitied either. The strong are not to look down on the weak.
At same time, weak are not to “Judge” – (krinw) krino – “condemn” as in “guilty of a crime” the strong for practicing their freedom. Weak are not to look down on the strong.
REASON 1 for acceptance – God has accepted both – vs. 3 whether they eat or do not eat – practice freedom or do not do so.
REASON 2 for acceptance – vs. 4
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. Each is the Lord’s servant and the Lord sustains both. We are not the one’s to make the judgement of condemnation about whether a person’s personal practice in these gray areas is right or failing before the Lord – that is between them and the Lord, and the Lord will sustain them as they individually seek after Him. Again, this is not to preclude you from asking with love why a person does or does not do a certain thing nor does it preclude you from lovingly sharing your own thoughts on a subject. But you may not condemn his practice. That is for the Lord.
REASON 3 for acceptance – vs. 5-9
5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike.] Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived [again], that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Jesus is sovereign to each believer and each believer is to live for Him. The inner motivation of the believer is not easily seen and that is what is important in his practice before the Lord. Men judge the outward appearance according to their own personal standard and thus sin themselves in their condemnation of others. Such was the condemnation against Jesus by the Pharisees – He did not do outwardly what they required as evidence of true godliness, while they themselves did those things from the wrong heart and thus ungodliness.
In matters not specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture, each person must follow the dictates of their own conscience. For them to go against that would be for them to practice against their belief of what is right before God. The conscience is to be trained through the word of God (Rom. 12:2), not through the imposition of other peoples personal standards.
REASON 4 for acceptance – vs. 10-12
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Every Christian should accept every other Christian because the Lord alone will judge. We are not to play God in determining what is right and wrong for other people in these gray areas. Each one of us will give an account of ourselves before God – and frankly, that is enough for any of us to be concerned about.
Paul has now issued the warnings to both the strong and weak to accept one another and stop judging each other. Starting in verse 13 he reiterates that again and then goes on to give further instruction about getting along with one another. As we will see from our cross-referencing to 1 Cor., there is a greater responsibility placed upon the strong, but the weak also still have a responsibility.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this– not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
Again – do not judge (krinw) krino – condemn one another.
Be determined to do this – do not put an obstacle: (proskomma) proskomma “obstacle,” something that would cause you to trip – or a stumbling block: (skandalon ) skandalon – the snare of a trap. Don’t put something in your brother’s way that would cause him to trip or to be entrapped – in what? Something that is sin for him.
I Cor. 8:9 clarifies the intent – But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. Those strong in faith must be careful in their practice of their freedoms lest they cause their brother to stumble.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Two important principles here in verse 14. One, by divine revelation Paul, who had previously been a Pharisee, knew that nothing is unclean in itself. This is what had been revealed to Peter in Acts 10 when the Lord told him in a vision three times to “kill and eat” and that included animals declared unclean by the Mosaic Law. What God had cleansed, was not longer to be considered unholy – and thus the door was opened to the gentiles for salvation. Paul makes the same point in 1 Tim. 4 stating that it was a doctrine of demons to “forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” Jesus was also plain on the point that it was not what a man ate that would defile him, but what proceeded from his evil heart that defiles (Mk 7:18-23).
The second important principle here is that what one person is free to do, another person would sin in doing the same things. There are differing standards of sinful conduct for different people. If a person considers something unclean, then for them it is unclean and would be sin to partake of until such point their conscience is changed – and again, that can only properly be done through the Word of God (Rom. 12:2). If you do not feel comfortable doing something, then do not do it or you will violate your own conscience – but remember, you cannot condemn those who do not share your feelings.
In verse 15 Paul addresses the stronger brother –
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. The stronger brother is to love the weaker brother and vica versa and out of that love the stronger brother does not want to hurt: (lupew ) lupeo grieve, make sorrowful his brother. He does not want to use his liberty to destroy: (apollumi ) apollumi – idea of ruin, loss of well-being.
What is this hurt, this destruction Paul is speaking of – again 1 Cor. 8 clarifies: 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
The hurt, the destruction comes from encouraging the weaker to do something they do not have faith to participate in and thus they fall into what is for them – sin. Out of love for one another, Christians do not want to be the cause of another Christian sinning.
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. The admonition here is the same as in 1 Cor. 8:13 – I love my brother more than any particular practice because the kingdom of God is not about dietary laws and such, it is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. I will gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of my brother and even more so for the sake of the Kingdom of God. I will not entice or encourage him to practice something against his liberty and thus end up having something that is a good thing for me become an evil thing for him. What is the reward for the stronger in faith to limit their freedom – 18 For he who in this [way] serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. The body is built up, the witness of the church is strengthened.
What should we do then – 19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
And what are those things – 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. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or [to do anything] by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because [his eating is] not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Paul repeats many of the same points he made earlier in the passage. The pursuit of peace and building up one another is a two way street. The weak and the strong must pursue it. Neither should tear down the work of God for either their freedom or their personal restrictions. The strong have a greater responsibility to be sensitive to the weak – as chapter 15 goes on to point out. They should be willing to gladly restrict their freedoms for the sake of their brothers in not causing them to stumble. Yet each is to have their own conviction before God. The strong brother can be happy in their freedom, those who are weak must be careful not to practice what they do not have faith for – or they will sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Chapter 15 continues this topic saying – 15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. Verses 3-12 gives Christ’s example of this and its effect.
There are a couple of key concepts out of this passage and from the example of Jesus’ life that you must understand lest you apply it in a way that tears down the body instead of builds it up.
1) Those with stronger faith, conviction that they have freedom to practice something must love their fellow Christians enough to limit the practice of that freedom so as not to cause those weaker in faith to do something against their conscience, something they do not have faith to do, and thus stumble into sin. They must exercise caution. They must become sensitive to those around them. They may need to ask questions -, i.e., “do you mind if I . . . “. “I am thinking about doing X, would that bother you?” They are in sin if they flaunt their freedom or practice it without concern for others.
2) Those stronger in faith must not look down on those weaker in faith as less spiritual or even like they are missing all the joy of freedom in Christ. There is not room in the body of Christ for spiritual pride. We are all wherever we are because God is gracious. We seek to be used by the Lord according to our gifts to build one another up in Him. Keep people focused on the Word and let the Holy Spirit change the conscience.
3) The weak in faith cannot judge or condemn those who have stronger faith and practice it. That is sin. They may need to express themselves to those with stronger faith about their feelings, but then it is left to that person to respond in love. They may request, they may plead, they may not demand.
4) The weak in faith are defined throughout this text and in 1 Cor. 8 & 10 as those that could be encouraged into a practice for which they do not have freedom of faith to do. If the practice of someone with freedom of faith would not entice them to the same practice, then they are not weak in faith, they are already convinced for themselves in what they should and should not do.
5) Jesus had his greatest conflicts with the Pharisees. A group that originally wanted to provide themselves additional protections against breaking God word by imposing on themselves their own standards of conduct. Tragically, those standards soon replaced God’s word and they consistently condemned Jesus for breaking their standards. There are modern counterparts – as demonstrated in the “Rules & Discipline” of the church mentioned earlier. Christians – strong or weak in faith – are not to allow their consciences to be enslaved by such men. The faith you have, you are to have as your own conviction before God. To refrain from a practice for fear that someone will condemn you for it shows the degree to which you have allowed yourself to be enslaved, and to the degree that you are enslaved, you are no longer operating on faith, but on law.
Jesus had complete freedom, yet He limited that freedom according to the context of the situation. He fulfilled the Mosaic Law, but not that of the Pharisees. He was therefore accused by these religious leaders of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners (Mt. 11:19). You may be accused of the same for not bending to the rules of such people. Do not be fearful of such, but rather follow in the example of the Lord.
We are called to follow the Lord and love our brothers in Christ. Be ready and willing to restrict your freedom for the sake of helping them to keep from stumbling into sin. But do not let your conscience before God be enslaved to men. We are to be God-pleasers, not men-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thes. 2:4). It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 6:1) that we might walk by the Spirit and on that basis therefore not carry out the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 6:16,17). Do not subject yourself to the yoke of man made rules which cannot quench the desires of the flesh, but only at most only contain them from free expression.
6) Finally, no one here should think they are only the strong, or only the weak brother. Everyone has areas of strong faith and freedom with it and areas of weaker faith with corresponding practices. Neither should any of us think that we cannot and are not like the Pharisees in certain areas. We all have areas in which if someone does not meet our personal standards we are quick to judge them – and that without ever talking with them to know their hearts.
Tonight we are going to spend the evening in prayer again. I would like you to prepare for that by examining your own heart in this area. Have you exercised your freedom in Christ without care and concern for those weaker in faith and caused them to stumble? Have you judged people who have a personal standard that is different from yours?
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