Getting Along in the body, Part 1

 

 

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 6, 2003

Getting Along in the Body, Part 1

When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, there was a family
of Vietnamese refugees that lived in next door to us. It was an
eye opening experience as we tried to understand one another. As
a welcome to our neighborhood, my mom gave them a plate of
cookies. That began a series of gift exchanges of various food
items. I am still not sure what some of them were. The most
elaborate was a roast duck they brought over one time, but I did
not get to try it. My mom didn’t want to eat a duck that
still had its head attached. We gave it to the neighbors on the
other side of us, who said it was quite good. My dad and I went
next door once for a meal celebrating the grandfathers’ birthday.
We learned that day that they did not use much sugar, if any at
all, even in their deserts. That made me wonder what they had
thought of all the cakes, cookies and other sweets we had given
to them. Perhaps about the same as my mom thought of a duck with
its head on.

Cultural differences such as these might cause some polite
gagging as you attempt to eat what another culture considers a
delicacy, but other cultural difference can cause great
conflicts. There are not only differences in foods, language and
dress, but there are also personal practices and customs we do
not understand and may think odd or even offensive. Societies
often deal with these conflicts by isolating from each other, but
that is not a Biblical option in the church, though there are
many churches that do, segregating themselves along cultural or
ethnic lines.

The gospel is to be taken into all the world, and as different
people respond, they are added to the church. Paul is clear in
Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the church.
In Ephesians 3 Paul tells us that these ethnic barriers have been
broken down. All people are one people in Jesus Christ. But this
increases the opportunity for conflict. There are many matters
that are not directly addressed in the Scriptures. How are
Christians to deal with one another when they find their
personal, often cultural, standards are in conflict with one
another, and there is not a Bible passage that directly addresses
the reason for the conflict. This is an issue that strikes at the
heart of the very nature of the church. It can be very personal
and very subtle in its effect on us.

Paul deals with this issue in Romans 14, for the church in
Rome was made up of a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Paul needed to give them specific instruction on how they were to
apply the principle of being living and holy sacrifices to God
into their relationships with one another when there arose
cultural differences in acceptable standards of conduct.

Cultural conflict was not a new issue to Paul. In Acts 15 we
find that some men from Judea went to the churches in the Antioch
area teaching "unless you are circumcised according to
the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Paul &
Barnabas stood against this teaching, so eventually the church
there determined to send them "to Jerusalem to the
apostles and elders concerning the issue."
When they
arrived in Jerusalem they found a certain group of Pharisees who
had believed in Jesus but who were saying that "It is
necessary to circumcise them, and direct them to observe the Law
of Moses."

At issue was both 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. What about
what might be called "table fellowship" or the social
contact between Jewish and Gentile Christians? The Gentiles did
not need to follow the Mosaic standards of conduct except in four
specific areas to preclude offense arising from them. Those
holding onto Jewish social customs were not to trouble the
Gentile believers (vs. 19). "Trouble" from parenoclew /parenoxle 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 epanagkeV
/ epanagkes – "necessary," lit. – "on
compulsion."

There have been those that have tried to use Acts 15 as a
basis for saying that the church is free to set up any standard
of conduct it wants. There are three major problems with 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 contained in the Mosaic Law
were abhorrent to God. These Jews would have an extremely
difficult time trying to overcome that and believe they now had
freedom in these areas of social contact. From their view, eating
meat polluted by idols would have brought them into the worship
of such idols and therefore in conflict with the Exodus 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 / porneia
– whether taken in the narrow sense of sexual sins or the broader
sense of conduct in relationships, was clearly forbidden in the
Mosaic law as well (Lev. 18, etc.).

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 them
and the Jews. We will find here in Romans 14 that this was so
they 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.

2) Acts is an historical book of transition. The working out
of the doctrine on how Christians with differing personal
standards are to relate to one another is found in Romans 14 and
1 Cor. 8 & 10. We do not develop doctrine for the church
based on things that happened in Acts. We go to the Epistles for
that.

3) The 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. 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 must believe and how we must 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 &
Discipline"

"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 as well 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 increase endtime 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."

What then does God’s Word say about how Christians are to
treat one another when there are differing standards of conduct.
How do we keep cultures from colliding in the church? Turn to
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, 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 you
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 /
proslamban, means
to "receive." The connotation is of personal and
willing reception of the other person. Paul begins his discussion
of what it means to accept one another by using the example of
dietary restrictions, a common area of life that could cause
conflict between Jewish & Gentiles Christians.

"Weak in (the) faith" does not mean weak in
spiritual trust of salvation, but weak in understanding the full
truth of the gospel message and the freedom it allows. It is J0 B4FJg4
– "the faith."

A Jewish believer at this time would have grown up under the
Mosaic Law with its many dietary restrictions. Some of these were
already pointed out in the discussion of Acts 15. It would be
difficult for Jews to quickly abandon those restrictions and feel
comfortable eating things previously banned. Remember that even
Peter struggled with this. Acts 10:9-16 records that Peter had a
vision of an object like a great sheet being lowered from its
four corners coming down out of the sky. It was filled with all
sorts of different animals and a voice called for him to "Arise,
Peter, kill and eat!"
Peter’s response was, "By
no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and
unclean."
The voice then called out again saying,
"What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."
This
vision occurred three times in preparation for Peter to
understand that the gospel message was also for the Gentiles. God
was teaching him that he was to no longer consider the Gentiles
unholy or unclean. Immediately after this, God used Peter to take
the gospel to the Gentiles. My point here is that Peter’s
initial negative reaction to the idea of eating food pronounced
unclean in the Mosaic Law would have been common among all the
Jewish believers of that time. Paul’s comments in Galatians
2:11 tell us that Peter still struggled with the issue of diet
many years later.

Those who were "strong" in faith, in the sense they
had come to the understanding that "everything created by
God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it received with
gratitude"
(1 Tim. 4:4) were not to pass judgement on
those who had not matured to that point yet. "Not for
passing judgement"
means to not regard with contempt.
The sense here is receiving someone "weak" in faith,
and then ridiculing him for his thoughts on the subject. If he is
weak, then he needs to be taught, and such teaching is to be done
with love and sensitivity to build him up in Christ (Eph. 4).
Passing judgement and ridiculing him does not help. The
"strong" are not to look at the "weak" as
someone to be either despised or pitied. The "strong"
are not to be self-righteous and consider themselves to be
superior to the "weak." The "weak" may not
have freedom of conscience in an area yet, but they are not
second class believers.

At same time, the "weak" are not to "judge,"
the strong for practicing their freedom. "Judge" is
from krinw / krin, meaning to
"condemn," as in "guilty of a crime". The
tendency, as we saw in Acts 15, would be for the "weak"
to demand that the "strong" restrict their freedoms and
live by their standards, which they considered to be more holy.
Those who ate only vegetables thought themselves to be better
than those who ate all things (vs. 2). Refraining from certain
foods may be a healthy diet, but it is not a more
"holy" diet. Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 that those
who demanded abstention from foods were paying attention to the
doctrine of demons. If God does not forbid something, then
neither can we based on our own preferences. If God allows
something, then so must we. The "weak" are not judge
the "strong"as being less holy or even less concerned
about holiness than themselves.

Paul gives four reasons in verses 3-12 why this judging and
condemning should not be done, and that both the
"strong" and the "weak" are to accept each
other. God accepts both. Each is God’s servant and God
sustains both. Each is to live for the Lord. God judges both.

REASON 1 for mutual acceptance: The end of verse 3 – God has
accepted both. He accepts both those that eat, and those that do
not eat. He accepts those who practice their freedom and those
who do not. If God accepts the person, then there is no godly
basis on which we can reject or judge the person. The only basis
left then is our own selfishness and self-righteousness which
elevate our personal preferences into a demanded standard of
holiness.

REASON 2 for acceptance: Both are servants of the Lord, and
God sustains both – 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 ones to make a condemning
judgement 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.

Those who restrict themselves have a tendency to think that
those who do not follow such restrictions are too selfish and
practicing what they consider to be worldly things. They believe
that such "wordly" practices would hinder, if not
preclude, them from serving the Lord. At the same time, those who
practice their liberty tend to think that those who do not share
in that freedom are legalistic and self-righteous. They believe
such legalistic people lose out on the joy of being a Christian
and also restrict themselves from usefulness to Christ because
their legalism keeps them from being gracious and merciful.

The truth is that God uses all kinds of people with all kinds
of different failings. He uses the libertarian as well as the
legalist. That does not mean that God approves of their current
state or that He will leave them in that condition. As the master
of all His people, God will use His servants as He sees fit even
as He continues to change and conform them to the image of
Christ.

None of this precludes you from asking with love why a person
does or does not do a certain thing, nor should it stop you from
lovingly sharing your own thoughts on a subject and why you do or
do not do certain things. However, if God does not condemn a
practice, then neither can you. That fellow Christian is also a
servant of the Lord, even though you do not share the same
strengths and weaknesses, and the Lord is using him in a
different way than He is you.

REASON 3 for acceptance: Each is to live for God – 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 over each believer, and each believer is to
live for Him. The inner motivation of the believer is not easily
seen, yet that is what is important in his practice before the
Lord. Men judge the outward appearance according to their own
personal standards and thus sin themselves in their condemnation
of others. Such was the condemnation against Jesus by the
Pharisees. Jesus did not do the outward things they required as
evidence of true godliness, yet they themselves did those things
from the wrong heart and were thus ungodly people.

In matters not specifically commanded or forbidden in
Scripture, each person must follow the dictates of their own
conscience. For them to do otherwise would be to go 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 cultural or personal standards.

Paul uses several examples to illustrate this principle that
it is the motivation of the heart that is important. Those coming
out of a Jewish heritage would have been taught to honor the
Sabbath in certain ways. They considered the time from Friday
evening at Sunset until Sunset on Saturday evening to be a
special day that was to be set apart for the worship of the Lord.
Other Christians, who came from different backgrounds, believed
that everyday was the same and all of them were for the worship
of the Lord. Early in Church history, another practice began in
which Christians would gather together to worship on Sundays, the
first day of the week, in honor of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts
20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). There is no New Testament command that any
one particular day is to be observed for the Lord. The seventh
day Adventists are wrong on this in demanding that Saturday is
the Sabbath and must be kept by Christians, but so are Christians
who demand that Sunday is the only proper day. There is nothing
wrong with those who worship the Lord on Friday nights, as do
Messianic Christians, nor is there anything wrong with those who
worship the Lord on Saturday nights, which is occurring in many
churches that have space problems. It really is a matter of the
conscience of the individual being fully convinced in his own
mind of whether he will observe a particular day for the Lord or
every day.

Paul makes the same case in verse 6 regarding a person’s
diet. Whether the person chooses to eat something or not, the
real issue is their thankfulness to God (1 Tim. 4:1-5)

As Paul later said in Colossians 2:16,17, "Therefore
let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in
respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things
which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance
belongs to Christ
." We are to be concerned about the
reality, not the shadow. As Paul points out in verse 7, we
neither live nor die for ourselves. We are to live and die for
the Lord for we belong to Him. He is our master who redeemed us
from our sin by His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18,19).
Jesus’ death and resurrection has made Him our lord whether
we are alive and serving Him on this earth, or we have died to
this life and are now alive to serve Him in heaven. Our proper
response for our salvation is to be living and holy sacrifices
acceptable to God. We are to accept one another because every
true Christian belongs to the Lord.

REASON 4 for acceptance: God alone is judge – vs. 10-12

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. For it is written, "As I
live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue
shall give praise to God." 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 so called
"gray" areas that the Bible does not specifically
address. 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.

The real issue here is not our outward behavior. It is the
inward motivation that drives that behavior. Doing the right
thing for the wrong reason is as sinful before God as not doing
the right thing at all. Why do you do what you do? Why do you
refrain from the things you do not do? As those who are to be
living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, the Christian is to
be motivated in everything by their love for God and desire to
serve Him. What motivates you? We would all be less judgmental of
each other if each of us became less concerned with what others
thought of us and more concerned with what God thinks of us,
because only His judgement counts in the end.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply
God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear
during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at
lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following:
1) Count how many times "weak" and "strong"
are mentioned in the sermon 2) Discuss with your parents how to
get along with those who do things differently from you, but do
not violate God’s laws

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the
sermon with others. What conflicts have you had with others
because of cultural differences? Explain. What were some of the
cultural difference between the Jews and the Gentiles of that
time? What were the specific problems that resulted in the
Jerusalem Council of Acts 15? What was decided at that council
and why? Can the church make up any standard of conduct it
desires? Why or why not? Who are the "weak" and on what
basis were the "strong" to "accept" them? Who
are the "strong" and why are the "weak"
instructed not to "judge" the "strong?" What
are the four reasons Paul gives in Romans 14:3-12 that we are to
accept and not judge one another? What fallacy do
"weak" people usually hold about the
"strong"? What fallacy do "strong" people
usually hold about the "weak"? Do any of these things
mean that we are to never express our convictions to those whose
practice is different from our own? Why or why not? Why is the
motivation so important in the Christian life? What gives
evidence of true godliness? How can Christians with different
practices help each other toward true godliness? What day of the
week does God command the Christian to worship Him? Explain. What
is God’s concern about what you eat? How does God what you
to dress when you gather to worship Him? Who is the true judge
and what will the basis be of His judgement? What will He say to
you?

Sermon
Study Sheets

 

Sermon Notes– 4/6/2003 am

Getting Along in the Body of Christ, Part 1 –
Romans 14:1-12

Cultural Conflict Acts 15

Do Gentiles have to become as Jews to be saved?

How were Jews and Gentiles to overcome conflicts over
social customs?

Acts 15 cannot be used as a reason for churches to set up
any standard of conduct they desire

1 – The historical setting does not allow this broad
application.

Restrictions out of consideration for the Jews:

Eating meat polluted by idolatry (Exodus 20:3-6).

Eating blood (Leviticus 17:10,11).

Eating strangled meat (Leviticus 17:13; Genesis 9:4,
Deut. 12).

Fornication / sexual sins (Leviticus 18, etc.)

2 – Acts is an historical book, not a doctrinal book

3 – The Church is an institution of God, not an
institution of man

Accepting, Not Judging One Another- Romans 14:1-12

Accept, proslambanw /
proslamban =

Weak in (the) faith =

Peter’s Struggle – Acts 10:9-16, Galatians 2:11

The Strong =

Not for passing judgement =

Judge, krinw / krin, =

Four Reasons to Accept and Not Judge Romans 14:3-12

1) God has accepted both – vs. 3

2) Both are servants of the Lord, and God sustains both –
vs. 4

3) Each is to live for God – vs. 5-9

Acts 20:7: 1 Cor. 16:2

Colossians 2:16,17

4) God alone is judge – vs. 10-12