Accept One Another
Let me tell you about two churches. Both meet regularly. Both communicate a message. Both offer communion and take up a collection at every meeting. They both have their own unique music which inspires and confirms their faith. And if you are wondering; there are hypocrites in both. You won't find a church of any kind, anywhere that doesn't have a few hypocrites warming the pews.
The first church meets in a state of the art worship center. It has padded, theater-style seating, a huge projection screen and a killer sound system. Instead of a preacher, they project amazingly produced parables on the screen, complete with sound tracks and the latest special effects. The music is all pre-recorded but it is strictly professional. In fact, it is some of the best music in the world.
The message they preach through their projected parables is really quite simple. You can sum it up in one word. Tolerance. You believe what you want to believe. I'll believe what I want to believe. I won't judge you. You don't judge me.
But remember, there are hypocrites among them. Because while they preach tolerance, they don't always practice it. Sometimes they are quite exclusionary. If you don't measure up to their standards, you can still come to their church, pay your tithe, but you won't be very welcomed. If you don't embrace their values, they won't embrace you.
Despite the failings of many of their members to practice what they preach, the church is quite successful. In fact, they have congregations all over Alabama and in every major city in America. You have even visited their churches several times, and some of you might have even attended one of their services this weekend. It's called the First Church of Culture and they meet in movie theaters everywhere. The contribution usually runs about $10.00 a head and is collected at the door. Communion consists of a bag of popcorn and a coke that will run you another $15. You can even pay to stream their sermons and attend their services in your own home if you don't feel like going out to church. In which case you'll have to provide your own communion.
The other church doesn't have the most comfortable seating. Attendees sit on pews. Communion consists of a small piece of stale tasting bread and half-a-swallow of Welch's grape juice. It's free though. The contributions are free-will offerings. The music is live, but by the standards of the culture, not very inspiring. Rather than communicating the message through a special-effects enhanced movie, a guy gets up, reads some words from an old book and talks about them for twenty minutes.
The message is compelling, though, even if the medium isn't. Instead of tolerance, this church preaches acceptance. What's the difference between tolerance and acceptance? Well, we'll need to hear the words of an old book and listen to a guy talk about them to find out.
Read Romans 14:1-9
In our text, Paul reveals to us today how and why brothers and sisters who don't agree on emotionally charged issues can do better than just tolerate each other. We are called to accept one another. We need to start by looking at his examples. They need some explanation because they don't seem all that relevant to us living in 2019.
In verse 2, Paul mentions the issue of food. Some people at Rome ate everything. Some ate only vegetables. The other issue he mentions in verse 5 is about the calendar since one man considers one day more sacred than the other; another man considers every day alike.
These were really big deals to the Christians in the first century. Meat wasn’t eaten daily in the first century, it was too expensive. So when Paul talks about disagreements about food he's probably referring to the fact that most of the meat people bought in the market had been sacrificed to a pagan idol, since it was cheaper. Some Christians, probably the Jewish Christians who had memorized the second Commandment about idols at a very early age, felt that eating idol meat would be nothing less than an endorsement of and participation in that religion. So they were vegetarians.
Other Christians, probably the Hellenistic or Gentile Christians were the meat eaters and they didn't have a problem with it all. They thought the vegetarians were too uptight. They'd see one of them in the express check-out line at the market with a basket full of green and yellow things and they'd say, "Hey brother. What's in the basket?"
"Oh, just some food I'm picking up for dinner tonight."
To which the Gentile Christian would reply, "Food? That's not food. That's what food eats!"
The Jewish Christian, on the other hand, thought the meat eaters were playing fast and loose with the will of God. They'd see a meat eating Christian walking out of the local Winn-Dixie with a leg of lamb across his shoulder and say, "What do you think you are doing with that idol meat?"
To which the meat eater would reply, "This isn't idol meat. It's lamb."
“Lamb or beef, it doesn't matter. It was slaughtered at the temple of Aprodite and everyone who sees you with it thinks you are one of her ... her disciples! Just wait till I tell the elders about this. You'll never teach Sunday School in this town again!"
You see, the problem at Rome was more than just a lack of tolerance. They weren't accepting one another. They were judging and condemning one another. Now before we talk about Paul's remedy, we need to look at two more words. Weak and Strong.
The strong of faith were the meat eaters. They understood that eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol was no big deal. God created all foods to be enjoyed. They said their prayers before they bit into their pulled pork sandwich. Eating that food didn't tempt them to join in the fun down at First Church of Zeus. It didn't violate their consciences.
The weak of faith, however, really struggled with anything that smelled like an idol. But when Paul calls them weak, that might not be the best way to translate that world in 2019. Paul doesn't mean that they were feeble in character or will or intelligence, the word here would better be translated sensitive. Their consciences were easily troubled. They had scruples. And that's not a bad thing to have.
We need to be careful here that we don't do exactly what this text warns us against. We are tempted, because of the distance in time to dismiss the people Paul calls weak. Their goal was to be as careful as possible when it came to being the people of God. And that's not a bad goal.
So what good does all this talk of idol meat and sacred days do for us? Remember those aren't really our issues. So let's put what Paul calls a disputable issue on the table. By disputable issue he means something that isn't clearly outlined in the will of God. Something good Christians can disagree on and still accept one another.
If I were a raging fool or a courageous crusader, I'd give you my list of things that I think are disputable issues and we fight about in the church. Since I'm neither, I'll follow Paul's advice in verse 22 and keep that between God and me. So, let me try to give you a more updated example.
Picture a married man named Joe who’s been taught all his life that if he ever takes off his wedding ring he’s breaking his marriage vows. While we might think that’s an odd belief, this idea that his wedding ring represents his wedding vows has been passed down in Joe’s family from generation to generation. He never took off this ring because to him it would be tantamount to revoking his vows.
Now imagine that Joe has a friend named Randy who’s doesn’t know anything about Joe’s association between his wedding ring and his vows. They get together on a Saturday to work on Joe’s car, and as they get ready to work on the engine, Randy takes off his wedding ring and puts it in his pocket so he doesn’t get any grease on it. Can you imagine Joe flinch as Randy takes off his ring? In Randy’s mind, he’s not even thinking about what he did because to him it has no association with how much he loves his wife.
That’s kind of like what the food laws were to newly converted Jewish believers. Tradition dies hard, and in their minds, to eat meat violated their vows to God. When they saw other Christians dining on filet mignon, they were horrified, because to them it meant unfaithfulness to God.
Now imagine that Randy tells Joe he has to take off his wedding ring so it doesn’t get snagged in the engine and he looses his finger. Joe gives in to the pressure and takes it off, but in his heart he feels as though he’s broken his marriage vows, and been unfaithful to his wife. When he goes home, he feels guilty because for the first time in his life, he’s crossed that line, at least in his mind.
Paul is telling us here that if we’re really serious about pursuing love, we’ll think about how our liberty will affect someone else’s spiritual growth. Once Randy knows about Joe’s beliefs about wedding rings, love would dictate that he keep his ring on, at least when he’s with Joe. Verse 16: Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. The bottom line, when it comes down to it, isn’t whether someone feels the freedom to eat meat or abstain, or take off a ring or leave it on, but that the kingdom of God, according to verse 17, is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
We’re not to emphasize our personal rights but instead we’re to focus on what really matters. It’s not the externals, but the eternals that must be first in our life. Keeping our eyes on God will keep us from being petty with one another. We remember that the grace of Jesus is the only reason we have a right standing before God. We have peace with God and peace with one another. And, we have the joy that comes from knowing Him. These are the things Christianity is made of.
The problem we run into all too often is that we get the urge to say one was right and one is wrong. If you agree with me you are a Conservative, if you don’t you must be a Liberal and those titles are thrown around like a dirty word. If Paul were here, and I believe he is in this text, he'd be pretty blunt. He would ask, who are you to judge your brother? Who are you to look down on your sister? There are some very good reasons for us to accept one another.
If God has accepted someone, we must accept them as well.
That's verse 3, If someone measures up to God's standards, they certainly should measure up to mine. Or are we deluded enough to think that our standards can be higher than God’s standards?
Refusing to accept someone God has accepted is a dangerous form of idolatry. Remember idolatry is when we making something or someone higher than God. In this case, it is making your litmus test for acceptance tougher than the test God has given. When we refuse to accept someone who God has called to Himself, we are saying what Jesus did on the cross and their faith in Him just isn't enough.
We believe that people must do things the way I do them. In other words, Jesus + my worship style or traditions = acceptance. The Bible word for that is false doctrine. Another is heresy. Or more to the point, sin. And you know how God feels about that.
I don’t have the responsibility to judge.
Verse 4. "Who are you to judge someone else's servant?
Sadly we have all had run in’s with people who wanted to take God’s place as the judge. They somehow think they would do a better job than He does. What they have forgotten is that our job is to teach, encourage, and love the people that God loves. To tell everyone the good news with our mouths and our lives. But, it’s easier to judge, and that, too, is idolatry. But instead of placing a system of belief above the Almighty, we're trying to put ourselves where only He belongs.
Even with our disagreements, we are members of the same family.
Six times in eleven verses Paul reminds us we are brothers and sisters of the same Father, God. Members of the same family are called to accept one another. Think about your own family for a minute. Are you all exactly alike? Of course not. That's why they drive you nuts. But it's not your differences that make you dysfunctional. It's when someone in the family tries to force everyone else in the family to think and act just like them that fouls up the works.
The truth is that there a hundred things, a hundred differences, that keep us apart. It’s not just education, social standing, preferences, color of our skin, culture, or economics. I admit those things exist. And I admit that I have made plenty of excuses, said that's not the way I was raised, or what would my grandparents or mom say. Stood behind the comment that they have their culture, and we have ours. They have their preferences we have ours. The truth is that we have allowed those differences to be a dividing line among us, to keep us from accepting one another. We forget that we were not called to come to Christ and stay the same. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (Matt 16:25-25)
Our inability to accept one another is a result of living in a small love. We have been loved greatly and called to love greatly.
Did it ever occur to you that we are supposed to have different cultures, different preferences, and different ideas? But even in the midst of all of those differences, we are drawn together because of God’s great love. We are called to live life together and our membership in the family is more important than the differences that threaten to divide us. We might not share the same physical gene pool, but we spring from the same Spiritual Father. We all have the same big brother. And residing in everyone of us is the same Holy Spirit. When we are called the family of God that does not mean we are called to just tolerate each other. In the family of God we are called to lovingly, warmly accept one another.
I believe the whole point of what Paul is trying to say in our text this morning is that the church’s ability to reach outsiders is tied to our ability to love insiders. When people walk into a church encounter a sense of acceptance and they witness love between members they want to go back.
But when they walk in and encounter a culture of negativity and see anger between members they search for acceptance somewhere else. God commands us to develop loving relationships with other believers. Nothing will destroy a community faster than an angry divided body. In the same way, nothing will build up a community of believers faster than a body that is united in love and purpose. Never forget what Jesus said in John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
That’s why it is so important that we make it our focus and goal to be devoted to one another in love. Be filled with God’s grace so you can practice forgiveness. Seek reconciliation. Confront sin. squelch grumbling. Applaud efforts. Congratulate successes. Honor, love, serve, pray for and encourage one another. Do what ever you must so that God’s great love will flow in this body. Do it so the lost will be won to Christ. Do it so God will receive the glory.