Friday, February 28, 2014

Unhindered Worship (Romans 15:5-7)

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5–7, NASB95)

I know when I am struggling with someone it is difficult to be of one mind with them and united in worshipping God together. There is this thing burning in my heart and mind that I won’t shake and in closing myself off from them I also put up some walls with God. These walls don’t move God away from me, but they do affect my ability to have a worshipful relationship with Him.

This is true of church relations as it is also true in the home. This is especially true in the marriage relationship, but sets even in this a powerful example for our interactions with all other believers. In 1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB95)

We have just spent some time walking through a consideration of how we are to walk with believers who might have a conscience issue over which they might be struggling in relation to other believers who might not have that same concern. We read and considered that we are to look to them and their concerns in an understanding way. Similarly, as we look at this passage we find Peter referring to women and specifically wives as weaker vessels. There has been much discussion on the exact meaning of what it means to be a weaker vessel, but for sake of today’s consideration let’s look at it from the context of Romans 14 and 15 where things are viewed and approached differently.

In 1 Peter 3:7 we are told that husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, meaning taking the time to really know them, knowing that they don’t view everything the way men do and they don’t even approach many things in the same way. For example, a husband might compartmentalize things and focus narrowly on a problem and its solution(s), whereas the wife might view things more broadly and be strongly desirous of taking other factors into consideration. The husband might be about fixing things, and the wife might be about understanding and being understood and maybe not even setting them right. While these are generalizations, let’s for sake of argument acknowledge that men and women are different and they approach things differently.

In Romans 15 we are told to be of one mind, not because this is automatic, but because we are committed to the principles and practice of endurance when things are tough and encouragement when things get messy. We are to be of one mind, and that mind is to be the mind of Christ revealed to us in Scripture realizing that we have been united as one by God and as such we are to live that way. It is in this that the parallels of how husbands and wives relate to each other that we see a broader instruction to the entirety of the church. None of us are the same. Not all of us see these flexible things in the same way. And not all of us approach issues with the same approach. It is in these differences that we are to focus and rely on the example and instruction of our Lord and His Word, instructions like 1 Peter 3:8 and others.

And with this in mind, as the husband can come before God in intimate fellowship so can we in the body come before Him in unified worship and glorify Him for the proof of what He has done in those of us who apart from Him would be so far apart from one another. So, again we have the critical body command to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” … “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Philippians 2:1-2, 10, NASB95) 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Learning from the Master (Romans 15:3-4)

“For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:3–4, NASB95)

In verse 3 we one of many New Testament quotes from Psalm 69, which was written by David and reflects the cry of those who were being persecuted not for anything they had done wrong (for crimes they had committed), but because they stood for God. This may have been a personal cry of David or a national cry written by David on behalf of the people who were faithful. In this there is some difference of opinion, but where there is consistent agreement is that our Lord Jesus Christ was the ultimate sinless One who was persecuted not for what He had done, but because he stood in opposition to the ways of many. He rocked their boats in many ways with His message of repentance and humble submission to God. He rocked their boats by being the One who had come as the Messiah when they were not ready to accept Him or the way in which He came. He rocked their boats in so many ways with His message of truth, an ultimately they moved to place Him (the totally innocent One) on a cross and crucify Him for these things.

What they intended to satisfy themselves, God had long intended to bring about something totally different—to bring salvation to man. Jesus, as fully God could have at any time put a stop to the whole thing and brought about any form of instantaneous judgment upon His accusers. But this was not according to the plan. Rather as God who was also fully man, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father to follow the plan perfectly. And because He knew the intention He had no need to fight it happening at the perfectly appointed time. This is an incredible tension which as merely man we easily can struggle coming to terms with. How can God be fully man and fully God and not be lessened because of the other?

Theologians have termed Jesus God-man oneness as a “hypostatic union” or the joining of two natures into one. John Piper describes it this way, “Jesus has two complete natures—one fully human and one fully divine. What the doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches is that these two natures are united in one person in the God-man. Jesus is not two persons. He is one person. The hypostatic union is the joining of the divine and the human in the one person of Jesus.” Neither is Jesus schizophrenic going between the two, as if turning on one switch while simultaneously turning off the other. John Piper goes on to add, “…beyond just gazing at the spectacular person of Jesus, there is also the amazing gospel-laced revelation that the reason Jesus became the God-man was for us. His fully human nature joined in personal union to his eternally divine nature is permanent proof that Jesus, in perfect harmony with his Father, is undeterrably for us. He has demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, he took our nature to his one person and died for us.”

Jesus was not merely man who did a good thing for us. While we have many instances in history of individuals who have marked us this way, Jesus was uniquely different. He also did not remain only God who, while He created and knows mankind fully, related to mankind from heaven above. No, it was the plan of our triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that the Son become man for us, and in so doing we also benefit from having known God in a real and personal way. He did what no man could do, and He did it 100% according to God’s plan and 100% under God’s control at the exact right time to fully and perfectly satisfy what no man can do for himself or anyone else.

And to mark it for just how God had determined all of this in advance we have written for us the specific prophecies of Scripture and the even greater number of portrayals of our God, His character, and His intent. All of these things were written for our instruction and they point us directly to Him.

As the psalmist in Psalm 69 endured harsh treatment for His faith, and as our Lord endured being reviled and even nailed to a cross, we ourselves are called to endure the same, and in our enduring we do so with the same great hope—hope revealed in the record of truth and directed toward our eternal promise.

who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:22–24, NASB95)

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.” (Psalm 69:30–34, ESV)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Give a Hand (Romans 15:1-2)

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1–2, ESV)

Our acceptance of one another extends to our doing good toward one another and even helping those who are struggling. This is what it means to build others up. In this passage it says that those of us who are strong have an obligation toward those who are weak. The amazing thing is that strength and weakness may vary in each of us depending upon on what is going on and how we are dealing with it. But generally speaking when Scripture refers to being strong it means being strong in the Lord and able to stand in the midst of some trial or spiritual attack.

In Ephesians 6 we read about our need to prepare ourselves for spiritual battle by dressing ourselves in the armor of God, Who makes it so that we can indeed stand strong. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV) Knowing this battle to be real for us, we are able also to encourage others as they engage the battle as well, knowing that our God is faithful toward all of us. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12–13, NASB95)

How this helping one another with struggles works its way out varies dramatically, knowing that we all struggle in many ways. In regards to areas of temptation and sin Galatians 6:1-3 tells us, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:1–3, NASB95)

There is not one of us still taking breath and this side of the grave who has “arrived,” and as such we are to deal with each other with that same recognition that God is doing a work in them just as He is in us. And for sake of argument or let’s call it spiritual maturity, a real sign of maturity is not haughtiness but the fruit of the work of the Spirit in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95) Notice that each of these has a relational component. Galatians continues, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24–26, NASB95)

A mark of spiritual maturity is looking to the needs of others. This reflects a heart attitude that has moved from one of being self-focused to others loving. This is the summation of the second greatest commandment which springs from our observation of the first—Love God and love one another.

So, according to our passage and those which have preceded, if we’ve seen God victorious in a particular area in our life and we find our brother (or sister) struggling, we are to come alongside him or her and help them, build them up, and encourage them knowing that while it might seem inconvenient it is what we do as family in which we are children who have learned how to give from our Father.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Living with a Happy Conscience (Romans 14:20-23)

“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. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:20–23, NASB95)

Chapter 14 of Romans has been about walking in our liberties in the midst of those who struggle with the same. It has been about matters of conscience being laid up alongside matters of love. It has been about not using our liberty in such a way that we walk over someone else who might struggle with that same liberty because of a matter of their own conscience. The context for this has been a consideration of things which God has declared clean and in which we are given varying levels of freedom, but in which believers vary in their own conscience affecting their own individual ability to observe or not observe.

We have read that the priority in our relationships with one another is our love for them in response to our love for God. This, according to Scripture, is the summation of the greatest and the second greatest commandments which are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and mind, and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is about preserving peace and joy in our relationships and not letting them be injured by harshness, judgementalism, and insensitivity.

God put us together into the body of Christ in which we are to build up one another, and being considerate of one another in these things goes a long way in preserving this unity. It is a unity that goes far beyond eating and drinking and days of worship. It goes to the very body of Christ and those who Christ’s sacrifice was given for and who God calls to be his own.

Early on this was largely a matter of either being a Jew or a Gentile (Though there were more distinctions, this will suffice for now). As people trusted Christ for their salvation there grew a tension between the Jewish believers and the non-Jewish believers concerning their merging and how they went about it. The Jews held to much of their ceremonial worship which included their regulations concerning eating, and the Gentiles had no such restrictions. Coming together could be difficult, and there could be pressure to conform to one or the other or maybe even more to remain separate to save the tension.

Peter was set straight on this by God, and in so doing was given an instructive lesson for all of us. In Acts chapter 10 we read of a non-Jewish believer who had come to faith who was given a vision by God (verses 1-8).

“Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” (Acts 10:1–2, NASB95)

In this vision he was instructed to send men to Joppa to retrieve Simon who is called Peter, which he did. At the same time, while they were on their way, God gave Peter a vision also, and along with the vision came a specific instruction which was given three times (There is something about Peter and three times. God is so neat in this).

“On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” (Acts 10:9–16, NASB95)

Think of this, as a non-Jewish believer was sending his men to retrieve Peter, God was giving Peter a vision that rocked his dietary world. All that he had believed was unclean to eat, God was now declaring clean because He had cleansed it, and beyond that God was instructing Peter that he no longer had the right to call it unclean. Verse 17 goes on to tell us that Peter was inwardly perplexed, and I can just imagine the confusion. But this confusion did not remain long. In verse 19 and 20 as Peter was pondering the vision, the Holy Spirit spoke to him and told him that these men had been sent by God for him and that he was to go with them. And so he did.

After Cornelius had greeted him, even bowing down to him in reverence, Peter spoke these words which showed the link between the freedom from observing the ceremonial rules concerning eating and even the various days of worship to which the Jewish believers held. God’s work was now seen as bigger. The whole world was now being blessed by the King of the Jews.

“And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10:28, NASB95)

God could have thrown out all of these observances, but He didn’t. Rather He granted liberty both to the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. He granted liberty for the Jewish believers in deciding how to observe what had been such a part of their lives as the chosen people of God, and He granted liberty for the Gentile believers to refrain from taking on these observances and also to abstain from anything which reminded them of their former idolatrous system of worship. These were all things that were placed under this area of conscience before God, and as such as fellow believers they were called to be sensitive to one another in these areas.

Today, we continue to have areas of conscience over which Scripture is largely neutral or maybe cautious. These are areas in which some believers sense they have the freedom before God to partake while others are convinced they need to need to refrain. The biblical priority of love for one another dictates that we be sensitive to these things in our relations with one another. Similarly, we are to be honest between ourselves and God and not indulge in those things which God has made clear to us that we should not indulge. For while it may not be a sin for others, violating our conscience in this way is indeed sin for us.

These have been difficult verses, because it means that there are numerous areas in our lives as we relate to God and one another where we have to walk wisely and sensitively, not on egg shells, but also giving heed to our conscience before God and treating each other as valuable members of the body of Christ.

“The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Necessity of Prayer (E.M. Bounds)

I didn't write today, but rather spent a portion of it reading E.M. Bounds book, "The Necessity of Prayer." I've selected a few small (okay, big) titbits (well, mouths-full) from my reading to share.

"There is bound to be much delay and long days of waiting for true faith, but faith accepts the conditions--knows there will be delays in answering prayer, and regards such delays as times of testing, in the which, it is privileged to show its mettle, and the stern stuff of which it is made." ...

"Delay is often the test and the strength of faith. How much patience is required when these times of testing come! Yet faith gathers strength by waiting and praying. Patience has its perfect work in the school of delay. In some instances, delay is the very essence of prayer. God has to do it." ...

"Faith is not believing just anything; it is believing God, resting in Him, trusting His Word." ...

"We need to be constantly reminded to be reminded that faith is the one inseparable condition of successful praying. There are other conditions entering into the exercise, but faith is the final, the one indispensable condition of true praying." ...

"Our eyes should be taken off self, removed from our own weakness and allowed to rest implicitly upon God's strength." ...

"Trust is faith become absolute, ratified, consummated." ... "But trust is firm belief, it is faith in full flower. Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are sensible." ... "Trust see God doing things here and now. Yea, more. It rises to a lofty eminence, and looking into the invisible and the eternal, realizes that God has done things, and regards them as being already done." ... "We know when we trust just as we know when we see, just as we are conscious of our sense of touch. Trust sees, receives, holds." 

"Yet, quite often, faith is too weak to obtain God's greatest good, immediately; so it has to wait in loving, strong, prayerful, pressing obedience, until it grows in strength, and is able to bring down the eternal, into the realms of experience and time. 

To this point, trust masses all its forces. Here it holds. And in the struggle, trust's grasp becomes mightier, and grasps, for itself, all that God has done for it in His eternal wisdom and plenitude of grace. 

In the matter of waiting in prayer, mightiest prayer, faith rises to its highest plane and becomes the gift of God. It becomes the blessed disposition and expression of the soul which is secured by a constant intercourse with, and unwearied application to God.

Jesus Christ clearly taught that faith was the condition on which prayer was answered." ...

"Trust grows nowhere so readily and richly as int he prayer chamber." ...

""Have faith in God," "Trust in the Lord" form the keynote and foundation of prayer."

(E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Be About Building and Not Breaking (Romans 14:13-19)

"(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. (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. (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. (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 to God and approved by men. (19) So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:13–19, NASB95)

The last several posts we have been looking at the issue of judging fellow Christians in things which God has given them liberty to either partake or not partake or to observe or not observe. The focus has primarily been on food and the special days including the days we set aside to worship God. They might seem like things that most of us would easily pass over and have no issue with people having different positions or principles of conscience. Where the rub comes in is when we actually interact with each other and we strive to accommodate those issues which are of the greatest concern to others and maybe even ones with which they might greatly struggle.

As we have progressed through this instruction we are reaching a point where it is being summed up and the greater priorities are being clearly laid out. The Bible may give believers the freedom to drink alcohol, but because of matters of conscience and not wanting to put a point of stumbling before believers you won’t see most churches allow the serving of alcohol at their gatherings. Similarly with cigarettes, while it is generally known not to be a healthy practice and is regularly discouraged, there are many Christians who do smoke. They are just expected not to do so around others who are more sensitive to the issue. It might even include taking into consideration any particular dietary needs or restrictions which might be known for participants in an event such as offering no/low sugar, gluten-free, or nut free foods at group events.

It can extend to church events and what we might call some of these events. We have long hosted at a safe and fun alternative event for Trick-or-Treating on Halloween. We set up game booths and give away a lot of candy, while encouraging costumes that don’t push the darker or risqué side of dressing up. In promoting this we had used the term “Family Carnival” for years. Then one year we were approached and told that some were struggling with calling it a carnival because it reminded them of the term “carnal,” which is living according to the flesh and not the Spirit. I do not have this struggle knowing that I have freedom in using this word and also knowing that the origin is not “carnal” but “carne,” which has to do with meat and was a celebration period prior to the Roman Catholic Lent where they would leave meat (Latin: carne levare) for a season. But even knowing this there was room to see that while some were free using the term in a church event, others really might have a struggle concerning it, and educating everybody just to use a word was not worth the friction that it might cause. So we switched to using the term “festival,” which is used in Scripture and proves to be less of a struggle. In the end we were still able to reach out to our extended church family and those in our neighborhood to offer a safe and fun time for our children’s volunteers to do something for the kids and for the church as a whole to contribute to making this happen by providing lots and lots of candy and plenty of cupcakes. At the same time those who choose not to participate, know that they have full freedom in not doing so and that no one would think any differently of them for not doing so.

As our passage for today says, these things pale in comparison to the overwhelming purpose for which we are brought together in Christ. “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:17–19, NASB95)

It is a tragic thing when the church is split and believers are walked on for these minor things. Not only does it thwart the work for which we are called and set aside for service, but it also darkens the example that we are setting before the world around us.

We read that we are to be about righteousness. We are righteous not because we are good, but because Christ’s righteousness has been credited to us. As such we are called to live according to what He has made us. Our words and our actions are to accurately reflect our identity in Him.

We are also to be about peace. Before trusting Christ for our salvation we were enemies of God. But Christ’s blood shed for us settled that account when we trusted by faith in Him. We were no longer enemies and as such we are not to be at war with Him. Rather peace has been made and we are to live knowing that peace and extending that same to others. Because we are at peace with God we can live at peace before Him and with one another in the body and as best as we can with all people.

We read that the kingdom of God is also about joy. Joy comes from assurance and hope, knowing that everything is under God's control and He will work it out. Our God is totally sovereign. He tells us to trust Him in all things and to work toward the building up of one another in Christ. Knowing His good purposes and submitting to His will with the hope for eternity brings joy even in the midst of turmoil. Righteousness, peace, and joy—these are the things that we are to be about, not arguing and dividing over things that God has declared of no real significance.

Sure there are things about which Scripture has made a clear declaration of right and wrong, but the stuff we have been looking about is not that. And the bigger principle is that of making sure we have our priorities right, and that is as we relate to one another in the body of Christ we are to pursue peace and the building up of one another with the end that we all might reach maturity in Christ.

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13, NASB95)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Accountable to God (Romans 14:10-12)

"But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will 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 will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10–12, NASB95)

It’s an interesting thing that happens when we slip into having a critical spirit toward others. We shut ourselves off from the forgiveness and patience of God and we embrace our own standard of performance. Sure, the standard may include principles we learn from Scripture as good and right, but the way we hold them is as if the person(s) we are having this attitude with is not acceptable because they….

Usually this happens when we are disappointed or let down, when we don’t get something that we desire. Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries charted out in his book “Peacemaking for Families” what he refers to as the progression of an idol. Along with his progression he spent some time considering James 4:1-2a, where we read, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” (James 4:1–2, NIV84)

Here we read at the core of the contention that we most frequently have between other people is competing desires which go unsatisfied. Our desires may be for good things and things that are thoroughly biblical in themselves, but there is a difference between having that desire and having that desire satisfied. When the desire goes unsatisfied and we don’t deal with that lack of satisfaction properly or as the Bible says, with contentedness, we start to become more forceful. We refuse to give up on it not being met, and we next start to make demands of the one that we either perceive can meet the desire or at least may be standing in the way of the desire, and sometimes even on those who are easy targets as bystanders. We have moved from “I desire” to “I demand.”

And if we don’t stop there the next step is to start to think harshly toward that barrier person. We start to make judgments concerning them as being unloving, uncaring, unorganized, undependable, or inept. This is just a few of the things that I thought of, but I’m sure you might have some of your own. Because they did not do what they could to satisfy the demand of our desire we now judge them and find them guilty. This moves us from “I desire” to “I demand” to “I judge,” and the only thing left is to punish the guilty culprit (I punish). And in doing this we can be very, very creative.

In our relations with others and even in our relationship with God there are going to be times when our desires are not satisfied. This just goes with the territory. But to move ourselves from the position of one who depends to the one who sits in judgment is a grievous response, and in so doing we take on ourselves something that really belongs to God.

Sure, in our relationships we can be open about our desires and even our disappointments, but there is a big difference between this kind of openness and taking it to the point of sitting in judgment over someone else—including, though we may not want to admit it, God.

As we’ve worked through Romans this subject of leaving the judgment of people to God as the only one who ultimately is the Righteous Judge and the One before whom all of us will kneel one day. At that time we all we be given to praise as to who He is and we also will give an account for what we’ve done. For some this account results in eternal judgment because there is no one who stands in their defense having rejected the salvation given freely in His Son. But for others it will be for a consideration of the works done as beloved, saved, and secure children of God in Christ through whom we have been adopted.

Notice in this passage that Paul is speaking of judging our brothers. This is a reference to other believers in Christ who each and every single one of us belongs to Christ. We have been bought by Him by the price of His shed blood paid on the cross. There is only one God and He is the Judge. It has not been given to us to play this for Him.

Reinforcing that this is not a new concept which might catch them by surprise, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah. I’ve added just a bit more of the context where we read, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:22–23, NASB95)

Rather than being focused on the speck in our brother’s eye and seeking to be the judge who deals with it, Scripture tells us that God is our Judge and He will do rightly with all men. This includes us who personally need to deal with the log in our own eyes first so that we might better see and put in perspective the struggles that others are having as well (Matthew 7:3-5)

Scripture tells us that we indeed, though fully forgiven, will have to go before God at His judgment seat. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 reads, "each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13–15, NASB95)

Just making it to heaven is a great thing, but to know the pleasure of our God for our faithfulness to that which He has laid before us and to receive His reward for it is beyond imagination. John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans wrote, Our responsibility is not to judge, to despise, to criticize, or in any way belittle our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will not be called on by our Lord to give account of the sins and shortcomings of others, but rather “each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I’m Not Mine (Romans 14:7-9)

“For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:7–9, NASB95)

One of the more recognizable scenes from children’s animated movies is where Nemo’s dad (Marlin) and Dory are floundering on a dock as Nigel the pelican was about to tell them that he knew where Nemo was. In their trying to escape, Marlin and Dory flopped themselves into the presence of a huge number of seagulls. The first word uttered then is “Mine,” and then it is repeated over and over as Nigel snatches the pair up and flies them off to safety. What sticks out in my mind is “Mine, mine, mine.” And all most of us have to say are those three words and others know what we are talking about.

While Nigel might have been thinking of others, the seagulls clearly had only themselves in mind. In verses 7 through 9 we are reminded that we were not saved to be selfish. In fact, while we were saved to be set free from the bondage of sin and given new life in Christ, Scripture also tells us that this new life comes with a new Master. Where once we were in bondage to sin as children of the devil, now we are owned by God. We belong to Christ as the One who paid the price for our redemption.

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NASB95)

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:15–17, NASB95)

We belong to Christ, and this is absolutely true whether we live or die. At the time we believed in Him as the One who died for our sins and rose again and we trusted Him for our salvation we were given eternal life. We were made a permanent member of His eternal family, and this applies to us now as we take breath and later when we die (or are raptured) and enter His presence forever. He is our Lord, and we are to live fully for Him. This is the responsive point of Romans chapters 12-15.

And the way that He calls us to live is in the power of His Spirit according to His ordinances as found in His Word loving one another. This kind of life is not a “mine” kind of life, but is one that is much more satisfying as we get to experience the love of God poured out on us and through us as we love others also. This was the summation of the first and second commandments, that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and soul and we love our neighbor as ourselves.

“And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40, NASB95) 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Observed for Him (Romans 14:5-6)

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 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.” (Romans 14:5–6, NASB95)

Over the years I’ve been asked numerous times, if Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, why then do we as Christians typically go to church on Sunday?

This not only can be confusing, but it might even become contentious.  Some churches insist that they maintain their worship on Saturday—the Sabbath. And other churches, as they have adapted their limited resources in response to their growth in numbers and the demands of some of their members (attenders) who work on Sunday, which is a relatively new thing in our history, they have added Saturday services. In addition, many churches have traditionally had a midweek study on Wednesday nights only to find in recent years that not only do the nights vary, but so do the locations as these times have moved into individual homes. And to make it even more complicated we also have questions surrounding why and how we celebrate or recognize Christmas, Easter, and even days such as Halloween or All Saints Eve.

The reality is that this is not a new struggle, but one that was even present during the early days of the church. This included Jewish believers who wanted to maintain their Sabbath observances and many others who had switched to meeting at other times and some who did both. Beyond that there were those believers who came from a pagan belief system which had specific days of festivals and observances from which they wanted to distance themselves only to find that some Jewish believers continued to worship their own special days. While some might not have had issues surrounding these days, clearly others did, sounding something like the eating issues from verses 2 and 3.

Here the instruction is the same, and that is the person who observes or even does not observe a day needs to do so in accordance with his or her conscience. And is so doing we were not to sit in judgment over each other for those decisions.

We read here in these verses and in the ones that follow that we are not to judge each other over the days that we observe, as we observe them for the Lord. In Colossians 2:16-17 we read, “Therefore no one is to 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.” (Colossians 2:16–17, NASB95) In these verses we read that we are not to act as the judge of another in regard to festivals (annual observances), new moons (monthly observances), and the Sabbath day (the weekly observance). We already saw that the ceremonial dietary restrictions had been lifted with the fulfillment of Christ’s coming. Here we also see that the ceremonial Sabbath observance also is not to be required of all believers.

In Mark 2:27-28, after Jesus had been confronted for picking grain to eat on the Sabbath, we read, “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27–28, NASB95) Jesus declares that even the Sabbath observance is subject to His Lordship. And in so doing He stated the priority that these observances were not put in place for the sake of having man jump through hoops, but for the benefit of man. And now that Christ had come, our benefit is found in Him. We moved from shadow to reality. This did not mean that man no longer was to worship on Saturday, but that it no longer held rule over him.

So the next question is, “Why Sunday?” Again recognizing that there is no mandatory day for all men and that all men are to be free before God in even their day of worship set aside for Him, there is a historical precedent for Sunday. First of all, it was on the first day of the week (Sunday) that Christ rose from the dead.

“Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” (Matthew 28:1–6, NASB95)

Then later on that same first day of the week as the disciples had gathered we read, “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19–22, NASB95)

Here we find them going from gathering in fear to gathering in rejoicing having seen their risen Lord and being commissioned to go in peace in the power of the Spirit to reach the world with this incredible good news.

Jumping forward in time we move to Acts 20:7 where we read of Paul gathering with believers, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, NASB95) Here we not only find them gathering for a sermon (so to speak), but for the breaking of bread which was the common meal associated with the communion service.

Then in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 we read, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–2, NASB95) The understanding here is that when they regularly gathered for worship on the first day of the week, that they were to take up an offering which then could be distributed at the right time.

We have no instruction that the first day of the week is mandated for gathering, but the passages we do have in the New Testament which mention a day do point to Sunday. And as we look to subsequent history, we know from church writings that the early church did indeed continue to meet on the first day of the week (Sunday) after the close of the New Testament period.

In Revelation 1:10 John writes to us of being given the Revelation from God. “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”” (Revelation 1:9–11, NASB95) This day we understand to be the day that they gathered to worship—the day that belonged to the Lord—the Lord’s Day, the day our Lord rose from the dead and brought to all of us new life in Himself.

So, while the majority of the church might believe it has a solid precedent for establishing Sunday as its day of worship, we also know that there is freedom in this as well. But in this freedom we are exhorted not to negate all days. “[A]nd let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NASB95)

What we never want to lose sight of is that we do all of these things for the Lord and in doing that we are to make the best choices for when we can do so sharing it with one another.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Becalmed (Psalm 46:10-11)

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:10–11, ESV)

A few weeks ago a friend asked how things were going in our search for a new position. My response to him was that since hearing back from one church in mid-November it has been as if I were sitting in the middle of a large body of water with no wind in my sails and no sight of the shore. Things have been very quiet and there has been no clear leading. The sailing term for this time of not having any wind in your sails is ‘becalmed,’ and it is a condition for which there is no answer until the wind returns unless you have another means of power, a strong current, or outside help.

We have examples in Scripture of times of great turmoil on the waters and of man panicking in the midst of it, and in them we also have the answers for how God worked in their midst. With Jonah the answer was throwing him overboard where he became filler for a fish’s stomach and thankfully did not remain to become food (Jonah 1). With the disciples it was when they had set sail after a big event and Jesus took a nap while a storm arose. When the disciples’ panic increased they woke Jesus who rebuked both the wind and the disciples. Both were calmed by His power (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). And then there is the example of Paul being transported to Rome in Acts chapters 27 and 28 where they ultimately were shipwrecked on the island of Malta where God saved Paul from the bite of a viper and listened to Paul’s prayer and restored health to the father of the chief man on the island. Even in James we have the intensity of the wind on the waves used to compare the person who is divided in his guidance and unstable in all of his ways (James 1:5-8).

But the situation I was speaking of to my friend is not one were things were flying by seemingly out of control, but of a season where things are quiet and even God’s guidance and direction is hard to see. What are we to do when we don’t know what to do? This is the question that plagues many of us when we are in times of searching and waiting.

One of the passages that came to my mind is the one quoted above (Psalm 46:10-11). It says to ‘cease striving’ (New American Standard) or to ‘be still.’ As I was looking at some sailing websites to find out what people do when the wind leaves their sails, I found some interesting responses. Some of them were practical and some were humorous. Some spoke of having an alternate power source such as a having a motor or even installing fans on the deck to generate wind to fill the sails. But not having them and not having any oars, a radio to call for help, or a current which will take you to shore, the more humorous responses seemed to become more popular. It is then that I read things like fire up the barbecue, sit back and read a book, or take a nap. It is during these times that you are left adrift and, short of some help coming to your side, you have nothing to do but wait.

One of the terms used to describe this period of time when you are becalmed and unable to move is to say that you are "in the doldrums." I had heard this term before, but never thought of it is a sailing sense. Besides being a specific convergence zone in the oceans (The Doldrums, as Robin pointed out to me), it is a general term used to describe this stale condition. In terms of us as people I’ve thought of being in the doldrums as being in a kind of funk or ill setting where you don’t have the drive or the energy to do anything, as in The Phantom Tollbooth where the Lethargarians live (which Robin also introduced me to and has made mandatory reading for the kids in our house). And when you look at it in the sailing sense, nothing could be more accurate. It is during this time that your power source has left and you are unable to move.

But this is not to be the situation for those who have trusted Christ for their salvation. We are children of our God who is all-the-time, everywhere present, and powerful. Even when we can’t feel or see Him leading or working, we can know with a certainty that He is. And just as we are to trust Him in the midst of the storm we are to trust Him in the midst of the calm.

In the psalm quoted we also read that “the Lord of hosts is with us.” This is a dependable truth. Our God is always with us, and He will not let go of us. Those things that He has started in us He also is faithful to complete. He will bring us through the storms and He will bring us through the calm. We are called to trust Him in all things, and if He has set us on a course then we are to follow that course and trust Him to direct the outcome. It He redirects us to an island because of a storm and shelters us there for a season then He will sustain us on that island.

This does not mean that we don’t stop searching or looking for that breeze of direction or even watching the course of the current or other help He might provide. What it does mean is that we are not to panic, knowing that He is always faithful and good. When it gets this quiet we are to get quiet ourselves and trust God to guide our steps. It was in the quiet after the strong storm, the powerful earthquake, and the raging fire that Elijah heard the voice of God (1 Kings 19:1-18) and was pulled from his doldrums and pointed to 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal.

There is no denying that times of great turmoil and times of extreme quiet and even doldrums are trying. But even in them we can know that God is at hand and He will work. James tells us to consider these times, times of various forms of trial, as joy. They are not joyful because they are fun and make us happy, but joy is found in them in knowing and counting on our God, His promises, and trusting His faithfulness.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:4–6, ESV)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

Still believing that the course that God set us on is the one He intends, we have to trust that even in the calm He is continuing to prepare our way in order to accomplish His purpose. At the same time, should He provide another way in our searching His leading and change that course, then we are purposing to keep our hearts soft and our steps willing to be set anew by Him.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Christ the Righteous Judge (Romans 14:4)

“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, NASB95)

If you are like me you’ve heard Christians and Christianity criticized by non-Christians as being judgmental. In some ways this may be quite true, especially when Christians take stands against biblically immoral activities and in so doing treat those engaged in those activities harshly. This has been true in some ways at some times with some anti-abortion activists. It also has been true in regards to the LGBTQ community. In the fervor to take a stand for morality some have done so in ways that are not consistent with how we are to behave as ambassadors for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. But even when these issues have been dealt with in proper ways there is a strong accusation generally made that Christians are judgmental, and in response many Christians are succumbing to not saying anything for fear that they might violate the instruction of scripture to “judge not.”

But let’s stop for a moment and consider what is really being said when we read warnings about judging others. There are several key passages, of which Romans 14:4 is just one of them. Here we read that we are not to judge the servant of another. This passage is written to fellow believers—Christians. When they, like us, placed their trust in Christ all of their sins were forgiven—past, present, and future and they turned over the ownership of their lives from the powers of evil (Satan) to the Lord of all creation (Jesus). They and we have a new master. They are no longer their own, for they have been bought with a price, and Jesus Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding on all of our behalf.

“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” … “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23, NASB95)

“who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34, NASB95)

Clearly we see from Scripture that God is the judge of all men. He holds their ultimate eternity in His hands, and the only way He has designated from passing from death into life is by trusting in His Son for our salvation. We do not have that power. It belongs to God alone, and for that reason we have no place trying to make those determinations. This does not mean, however, that we don’t speak up to one another and engage in the biblical one another’s of confrontation, rebuking, and correcting so that we each might be called to walk not as slaves of men but as children of Light. This is part of our one another activity, and doing so is not “judging” because we know God holds this in His hands, but it is encouraging each other more and more as the time of His coming draws near.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23–25, NASB95)

As I said there were numerous passages dealing with this issue of judging others. Another well known one is found in Matthew chapter 7 where we read, ““Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NASB95)

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NASB95)

Here we have a situation of critical living which is being confronted by Jesus. As we look at the fullness of these verses we see that we are called to deal honestly with the sin in our own lives humbly before God, and then we can see clearly to help our brothers to deal with the sin in their lives. This was a strong statement by Jesus as you can see evidenced by the references to the ‘log’ in the critical person’s eye as opposed to the ‘speck’ in his brother’s eye. Dealing with the issues of sin in another’s life means that we are people who deal rightly before God with the sin in our own lives, and then as we deal with others according to God’s standard (and not ours), we do so knowing just how much we have been forgiven and how merciful our God was toward us such that we deal in that same manner with others. Harsh critical judgment is always wrong. Correcting others as a part of our mutual growth in Christ according to God’s standard is something we are called to do.

Also in Luke chapter 6 we find Jesus speaking to this issue. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:36–38, NASB95)

Here we find that we are to be merciful and forgiving toward one another, not responding with judgment and condemnation. This is God’s standard and we need to adopt it as ours reflecting that we indeed are His. Backing up from these verses in Luke we find a number of instructions relating to how we are to take the higher ground in our interactions and in so doing, reflect the love of our God in dealing with those who either may not know that love or need to be stirred in walking in that love.

Paul was criticized by some and he had to grow in understanding how to live under that criticism, including even judgment that placed him in jail. He wrote for the Corinthians, to whom he wrote a very stern letter, that it is not the judgment of man that really matters, but rather the examination of his conscience and his actions by God. He wrote to them to not take upon themselves that role of passing in their own minds and actions some form of final judgment on others, but to leave this where it really belongs which is in the hands of God.

“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–5, NASB95)

There is a difference between passing judgment and confronting sin and immorality. Jesus spoke openly about the sinfulness of man as He walked the streets and met people in the midst of their messy lives. And in the next chapter of 1 Corinthians, right after the passage we just looked at, we find Paul instructing the Corinthians believers to take disciplinary action against one of those in their midst and even calling them to account for their own callousness concerning those actions.

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:1–5, NASB95)

There is only one Judge, and that judge is God. He is the One who holds eternity in His hands. We need to be constantly mindful of that, and as we walk with other believers we need to call each other to walking according to the standard of righteousness which He has given us. And as we walk in the world we need to be constantly mindful that they are slaves to sin, and we as His ambassadors, are to continually point people to God and not only declare their need of a Savior but show them the love of God that results from having been greatly forgiven and granted new life.

Speaking against sin may be received as judgmental, and there is not much we can do about that. What we can do is guard our own hearts, deal with our own sin, be constantly thankful for God’s forgiveness, and lovingly and honestly point others of their need to pass from the judgment of God to life in His Son.

“in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NASB95)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eating Together While Not Eating Alike (Romans 14:2-3)

“One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:2–3, NASB95)

In our culture there is a phrase which has been taken to great extremes, and that is, “It’s my body and I’ll do with it as I please.” This has led to great license and extremes in a number of varying behaviors. It has also led to the government legalizing some things which are very questionable at best and trying to restrict other things which seem quite invasive. We can now take an unborn life because women have this kind of control over their bodies, but in New York they don’t want businesses to sell soft drinks over a certain size. With all of it there is a rub over just how invasive and directive the government or anyone should be over what we do. And simple principles dealing with liberty in some areas have been broadened to cover areas which clearly cross the lines of biblical morality.

In addition to these governmental issues there is a growing movement among individuals and groups to police the producers of these foods and to challenge their practices. Some in this movement have become quite forceful and critical while others outside the movement live as if it is largely a non-issue. While we can be thankful that there are watchdogs over our food, we also need to guard that as watchdogs people are not belittled for not having that passion or for being thankful for the food which they do have. And for those who may not be as concerned, there needs to be a respectful awareness of those who are. Their conscientious efforts have brought about some significant change in the foods made available to us which have served us well.

My doctor and my wife both have something to say about what I eat, but in the end I am ultimately the one who makes the decisions about what passes into my mouth. This is true for a good diet and for a poor one. It is true for things done in moderation or in excess. And if I want to I can really get belligerent about it. On the other hand, my wife can choose not to prepare things she doesn’t want me to eat and she can shop in such a way that these things don’t enter the house. And my doctor can refuse to be my doctor if I don’t follow his encouragement. What I have to deal with is my conscience (and even the consequences for good and bad) in this matter and also how I treat those around me who might feel differently. These last two determinants are huge, and they should have a big impact on how I eat.

Being in a close relationship with others who feel differently about food necessitates that we walk sensitively with others, and sometimes it means backing down to a more agreeable standard for the sake of those involved and maybe even a healthier one for ourselves. This is especially true when that standard impacts the welfare of another such as in the case of food allergies which can even be life threatening. We have a responsibility before God to walk with others in love with a clear conscience, and both of these will impact what and how we eat around others.

In some countries people eat bugs, but not me. I like nuts, but I know people whose allergies are life threatening and around them I am very careful. I like pork, but I’ve had some Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ and other Jewish friends who don’t eat it for conscience sake. Some believers are free to drink alcohol, while others are either convicted not to drink alcohol or they may have a bad history surrounding it and they can’t go there any more. These are issues when license and love are laid together with love being the stronger determinant. At the time that the New Testament was being written there were those who maintained Jewish dietary laws and there were Gentiles who were not accustomed to these laws and who were free not to abide by them. There were also those who were once engaged in idol worship and the offering of sacrifices to those idols from which the leftover meat was sold in the markets. For these new believers there was a great struggle eating this meat. And for them it was much safer just to stay away from eating the meat at all.

When believers got together to share in meals this could become quite confusing and maybe even frustrating trying to combine all of their food choices. It could be quite easy to pressure conformity to one standard or another. It could be easy to try to normalize their dietary decisions, and in so doing violate the consciences of some. But Scripture makes it clear, on this matter at least, that God has given them freedom to walk through this area and to make responsible decisions based upon where they are in their understanding before their God who accepted them as His beloved children.

Now this also does not give us a blank slate in regards to our diet. Clearly the Bible does have something to say about taking care of these bodies which God has entrusted to us.

“Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.” (Proverbs 23:19–21, NASB95)

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

We do need to make wise choices for ourselves and we need to be sensitive to others. In our house I get a crab for my birthday from my wife, and she enjoys watching me eat it knowing that she herself would much rather have salmon. And I am learning about her special dietary needs and adjusting for them in our eating at home and in considering her best in choosing where we might eat when we go out. This is what love does.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4, NASB95) 

Monday, February 10, 2014

His Way is the High Way (Romans 14:1)

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” (Romans 14:1, NASB95)

Have you ever been in a situation where someone seemed to jump on you because of your lack of knowledge or maybe because you believed something that may have resulted from some of that knowledge? Or maybe you were intimidated to say anything because those around you seem to know so much more and they didn’t seem open to your input. I think this happens to all of us, and I think there are times where we may even be guilty of being the one who makes others uncomfortable or set aside.

This next section in Romans 14 has a lot to do with how we treat others when it comes to some of those growth areas or maybe what we might call biblical gray areas. These principles even apply to how we treat one another on areas where maybe there is clear truth which might need to be appropriately shared.

Romans 14:1 says to “accept the one who is weak in faith.” The first word here is accept, and it means to receive, to accept as one’s companion, to receive into one’s home, and to be kind to. In the English Standard Version it says to “welcome” this person. It clearly goes beyond tolerating and putting up with, but extends to a full hearted embrace.

This person who we are to take into our circle is described as one who is “weak in faith.”  We are not referring here to one who knowingly and willfully opposes a clear teaching of Scripture, but rather one who is struggling over some understanding of how they are to walk in relation to their faith in Christ. Specifically, as we will see in the next verses this is including those who struggle with eating meat which was left over from pagan temple sacrifices and was now being sold in the markets. There is nothing evil about eating or not eating the meat, yet some struggled over it and some didn’t. It is these people who are wrestling with some aspect of their understanding and desiring to continue to grow in Christ that we are to accept, and we are to do this as the verse continues for whom they are as brothers and sisters in Christ and not people that we need to set straight.

We’ll get into this more as we move through the verses which follow, but the greater principle here is how we are to treat one another in the body of Christ—the church. We are not the gatekeepers who determine who trusts Jesus Christ for their salvation. God is the one who calls and He knows each and every single one of us from the beginning of time.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29–30, ESV)

God is the one who decides who comprises His church, and it is His Spirit who knits us together as one. Being one, we are to love one another and to engage in all of the one another’s of Scripture of which we looked at some in chapter 12. This might include teaching, and rebuking, and correcting so that we might be trained in righteous living (2 Timothy 3:16), and sometimes this might be difficult. But it is never to be about questioning God’s choices. It may mean helping to shape biblical thinking, but it doesn’t mean pressing someone to do something over which they struggle in their conscience just because we might be free in Christ to engage in that same activity. This might extend to dancing, watching movies, education of our children, types of music, and even what we eat. There is so much that we can divide ourselves over that really doesn’t rise to the level that Scripture has made a clear declaration concerning it and for which our opinions might vary.

Sure, there are times when we need to confront one another over things, and as we read Scripture, there may even be times when the church needs to take some disciplinary action. But even then the purpose in doing so is restoration and the subject behind it needs to clearly be that which God calls sin. But this is not the majority of our interaction, and it is not the subject of this passage. Here we are considering how we walk with one another when we don’t see biblically eye to eye on the small stuff (which is probably big to them), and here we are clearly to embrace them as fellow heirs in Christ.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:12–17, NASB95)