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)

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