Consider Others

Explore the Bible Series

January 29, 2006

 

Lesson Passage: Romans 14:1-12

 

Introduction: All Christians must, from time to time, deal with “gray areas”—those doctrinal and ethical decisions that do not seem as clear as other issues.  Some folks have very deep convictions that other believers do not share.  Sometimes, these differences become so acute that the unity of the church may experience great strain.  Sadly, these disputes can escalate to the degree that people break fellowship with their brothers and sisters over issues where good people disagree.  This kind of discord brings great pain to the Lord’s people.

 

Please understand the nature of the disputes that this passage describes.  Paul did not, in this text, intend for believers to retreat from the clear and essential matters of the faith.  He did not call for doctrinal or moral relativism.  Unity that builds on an “anything goes” mentality must never characterize the Lord’s people.  We are, indeed, to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).  Once, I heard an eloquent minister claim that there are no secondary issues.  All things, according to this man, have equal importance and moral “weight.”  I disagree with this man.  Paul clearly indicated that he regarded certain issues nonnegotiable, while other issues demanded a spirit of accommodation.  Christians must pray for great wisdom to discern the essential matters from the areas where accommodation is necessary.

 

Disputes that arise over “gray areas” may prove very difficult to address within the context of complicated interpersonal relationships, in the local church.  Not all Christians, for instance, agree on the “clear issues.”  What appears clear to some may seem less crystalline to others.  Experience teaches that some persons have “black and white” personalities; that is, they see the world in very stark, clear ways.  These folks may prove very difficult in these troubling circumstances.  Other persons do not possess “black and white” personalities, and they may struggle with some issues very deeply.  Often, these are sensitive, reflective people who see many sides to complex issues.  They may prove less decisive than their ‘black and white” brethren.  Can these two types of people dwell peacefully within the same local church?  Yes, if the congregation follows the principles Paul expounded in this text.

 

 

Outline of the Lesson Passage:

 

I.                    Paul’s Principle Stated (14:1-2): “Now, we who are strong should bear with the weaknesses of others…”

A.     Paul regarded both parties in this dispute as believers in Christ.  The one who is “weak in faith” nonetheless has saving faith.  Some in the church at Rome have a hearty conscience (“the strong”), and they do not stumble over issues that cause others to struggle (“the weak”).  The weak ones had grasped the full implications of the Christian’s liberty in Christ, but they possessed a genuine experience with Christ. 

B.     The nature of the dispute in Rome: The weak brothers stumbled over three issues.

1.      the eating of meat (v. 2): Apparently the Roman church had an ascetic element that demanded its adherents follow a vegetarian diet.  Vaughan and Corley point out that these ascetic practices were found commonly in the Greco-Roman world, and these views occasionally surfaced in churches.  Similar difficulties arose in the churches of Galatia and in Colossae (See Galatians 4:10-11 and Colossians 2:16-17).  The apostle dealt quite harshly with this problem in these two cases; however, in Romans, Paul exercised greater gentleness.  Perhaps the situation in Rome did not seem as dangerous as the other two instances.

2.      the observance of Jewish feasts and fast days (v. 5): This phrase refers to ceremonial days in the Jewish calendar and not to the weekly observance of the Sabbath (Vaughan and Corley). 

3.      the abstinence from wine (vv. 17 and 21)

 

II.                 The Lord’s Prerogative to Judge His People (14:4-12): Paul outlined three reasons why Christians must not harshly judge one another on these non-essential matters.

A.     Christians must not judge another person’s servant (v. 4):  Paul drew an analogy from everyday life.  No man would presume to act as judge over another man’s servant.  The master has authority and prerogative over his own servants.  Christians are bondservants of Christ, and he alone will pass judgment on his bondsmen.  Verse Four contains a blessed reminder of the Lord’s preserving grace, “…and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

B.     Christians answer to the Lord alone (vv. 5-8): No one lives completely unto himself.  All must answer to another, and each should seek a clear conscience before the Judge of the universe. 

C.     Christians must submit the lordship of Christ alone (vv. 9-12)

1.      The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection was to assert his lordship over the living and the dead (v. 9).

2.      Harsh human judgment does not square with the reality that all men will stand before Christ’s seat of judgment (v. 10).  The reality of future judgment should produce genuine humility in God’s people.  They, after all, will not judge their brothers.  Christ will not abdicate his throne in favor of an inferior monarch.  He will exercise his divine privilege to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, Christians have no grounds for holding their brothers in contempt.

3.      All men will bow before the sovereign majesty of Christ (vv. 11-12): Paul quoted from Isaiah 45:23, and, in doing so, firm asserted that all men will stand before God for judgment.