Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday, December 14th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Acts 27-28.
Today's scripture focus is Romans 14:1-4.

14 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The previous couple of chapters have been a call to purity.  And I love how MacArthur puts it... because sin is not the proper response to justification by grace through faith, righteousness is... 

The church must be pure. We have to deal with that. That's why we have church discipline. That's why we call for confession of sin. That's why we read the Word of God that we may be exposed. That's why we pray that the Spirit of God may reveal to us anything in our life that isn't right. That's why we go to one another to give rebuke or a reproof or instruction or guidance or wisdom, to assist in the spiritual growth and purity of the church.

But another major thing the church needs to deal with, something that can also cripple a church just like the infestation of sin can, is the unity between strong and weak believers.  And Paul now devotes 1 1/2 chapters to that very issue.

The fact is that we are all so very different from each other - in our backgrounds, cultures and religious experiences.  The Church body (and likely your own home church as well) is filled with people that have come to Christ from incredibly diverse situations - out of legalism, out of Orthodox, out of cults, out of conversatism, out of liberalism, and everything in between.  Some have been believers for 50 years and some for 50 hrs.  And so you have people who have very differing opinions on things ranging anywhere from what type of hair people "should have" to whether to drink alcohol to whether to go to movies to what type of music is used in church and again, everything in between.

And believers are called to love each other.  That's how the world will see that we are believers.  How can we love without unity?  We cannot.  Amidst all that diversity we need unity, we need love.

Let me just give you the simple scene as its existing in the mind of the Spirit of God in the passage. The temptation in the church is this... you've got the liberated brothers and sisters out here who really fully understand what it is to be free in Christ, they're not hung up on old tradition, they're not hung up on old ritual, on old routine, and old forms of religion. They understand fully they are free from sin and death and hell and Satan and they understand the freedom which they have in Christ no longer involves religious formats and rituals and holy days and ceremonies and candles and all of that kind of thing and they are very free to make choices dependent on the Spirit of God's moving in their heart. Those we will call the strong. Strong in faith in that they understand their freedom, they understand their liberty.
On the other hand, you have the weak in faith who are still so close to the pass that they can't quite let go, they can't quite move away from what it is that holds them down. And so they can't believe that they have the freedoms they really have. They really do have some freedoms but they can't believe it, they can't accept it, they can't handle it because of preferences that have been brought to bear on their life in the past. And so they can't enjoy that freedom and they stay huddled in the middle in a sort of faint-hearted way, maybe making some crawling efforts toward that understanding of freedom.
The temptation then is this, the strong will be tempted to look down on the weak as legalistic faithless weak pitiful people who just get in the way of these people trying to enjoy their liberty. And some guy comes in and says, "You can't do that, that offends me, that makes me stumble, that's a sin." And your reaction to him is to despise that person or look down on that person as one who doesn't understand his freedom, who hasn't grown up to understand what liberty is available in Christ, who is bound by needless preferences and so there's a tendency on the strong's part to look down on the weak. Conversely, the tendency on the part of the weak is to condemn the strong for what they read as an abuse of liberty and to condemn them for freedoms which they feel they shouldn't exercise. And so you have the weak wanting to condemn the strong and the strong wanting to despise the weak and therein lies the problem.

we do have freedom in Christ. We are free from sin in terms of its ultimate penalty. We are free from death in terms of its ultimate power. We are free from hell in terms of its ultimate punishment. And we are free from Satan in terms of his ultimate persuasion. We are free in those areas, free to worship God, free to love God, free to be forgiven, free to go to heaven.
But there's another dimension in which we enjoy freedom, too. And that is this, we are free as new covenant Christians from all the Old Testament laws that were strictly external and ceremonial. We are not free from the Ten Commandments and we are not free from any moral laws given in the Old Testament, because God is the same God. But we are free from external ceremonial rules and rituals that were attached only to a period of time and a given people, the people Israel. We have entered into a liberty that is cut off from ceremony and ritual and routine that was part of the old economy...
The legalistic believer sees liberty as sinful. The liberated believer sees legalism as sinful.

Obviously Paul is not talking about sin issues here.  The believer is free yes, but not free to sin.  So, these are not moral or sin issues.

Now remember, these are not Judaizers, these are not people who are making Mosaic ritual and ceremony a matter of salvation, these are people who know salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. But they're just hanging on to some old patterns that are external. And that's why he doesn't condemn them here as he does in Galatians and Colossians where they make the Mosaic ceremony the means of salvation. They're not doing that here, they're just holding on to some old tradition.

He's also not talking about some people having weak saving faith.  They have faith, that's not the issue. The weak part of their faith is being able to believe that they are no longer bound by externals or rules or ceremonies.  It doesn't mean they will always be in this state either.  But right now, they have not been able to accept their freedom from these things yet.  The strong believer knows he's not bound by these things, but the weak believe doesn't have that "figured out" yet.

So, who's responsibility is it to make the "first move" in unity?

The strong.

The strong need to be wiling to sacrifice their liberty for the sake of loving their weaker brother.  We shouldn't offend the weak, we should be sensitive to them, embrace them and love them.  We shouldn't force them to "catch up" to our superior knowledge as pushing them too hard will only injure them.  Rather, we should encourage them on their journey.

Paul uses the example of food here.

The strong believer knows that he is free to eat anything.  Is he right?  Yes, he is.  We are not bound by the Mosaic law or any other dietary restrictions.  Believers are free to eat any type of food.  But just because we are right doesn't give us the right to force anyone else to see things our way, or to condemn or criticize or belittle them for not agreeing with us.  The strong believer should not despise the weaker.

And the weak believer should not condemn the strong believer.

Rather, we should receive each other in love.  Why?
First, because God has received or accepted both the weak and the strong (v3b).  If God has received them, who are we to do any different?
Secondly, because it's none of our business (v4), it's God.  God is the Master of both the weak and the strong and it's His business to enable the believer to stand, to hold him up, to prevent him from falling.

It is not up to us to be someone else's Holy Spirit.  God will take care of it.  Our job is to love them and to do our part in promoting unity between our fellow believers.  Anything else is none of our business, it's God's.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Romans 14:5-8
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Colossians, Philemon

No comments: