Accept One Another

Romans 14:1 - 15:7

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. Oh, and 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.

As I said, 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, 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 South East Texas and in every major city in America. You've been there many times. 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 costs extra, though. You can even rent their sermons and take them home if you don't feel like going out to church, but 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 bread and half-a-swallow of Welch's grape juice. It's free though. The contributions are free-will offerings. The unaccompanied 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-five 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 the guy talk about them to find out.

Read Romans 14:1-9

In these old words, Paul reveals how and why brothers and sisters who don't agree on emotionally charged issues can do better than just tolerate each other. He explains why we can accept one another. First, let's take a look at his examples. They need some explanation because they don't seem all that relevant because frankly, they aren't.

In vs. 2, Paul mentions the issue of food. Some people at Rome ate everything. Some ate only vegetables. I would have been in the eat everything group. From the looks of most the audience, so would you.

The other issue he mentions is in vs. 5. 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 HEB 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, knothead."

"Lamb, pork, beef, doesn't matter. It was slaughtered at the temple of Aphrodite and everyone who sees you with it thinks you are one of her adherents! Just wait till I tell the elders about this. You'll never teach Sunday School in this town again!"

So 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 a baby-back rib. Eating that food didn't tempt them to join in the fun down at First Church of Dionysius. 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, but I think that there might be a better translation. 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 and our modem theological sophistication, 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? As I mentioned, 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 long 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 as private property. But we can talk about this and be vague about it. It is no secret that we have several different types of folks in this family and we have our share of differences. And those differences have everything to do with the way we dress, to the types of songs that we sing, to the way we spend our time or money.

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. And there might be tolerance, but I believe that we are called to do more.

If Paul was here, and he is in this text, he'd be blunt. He would say we need to hush. 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.

1. If God has accepted someone, you and I must accept them, too.

That's verse 3; if someone measures up to God's standards, they certainly should measure up to mine. Or do we really believe that our standards are higher than God's?

Refusing to accept someone God has accepted is a dangerous form of idolatry. Idolatry is nothing less than 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.

What we're really saying when we refuse to accept one who is acceptable to God, is that what Jesus did on the cross and their faith just isn't enough. We expect them and God to do more. Folks have to 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.

2. You and I are not the judges.

Verse 4 "Who are you to judge someone else's servant?

Verses 9-12. "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written, 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God."

We'll come back to verse 12 in a moment. But I need to address the fact that some of us are forever trying to kick God off the judges bench and occupy it ourselves. We somehow think we'd do a better job than he does.

We like to take our limited knowledge and decide who is right and wrong, who get’s heaven and who get’s hell. We have forgotten 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 we would rather 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.

Jesus’ command in John 7:24 about judging the righteous judgment does not call you or I to judge people’s souls. We are, rather, the judged. And if we usurp what is God's role, the judgment we meet will be severe.

3. 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 make everyone else in the family just like them that fouls up the works. Did it ever occur to you that God put us into families so that we would learn how to accept people who are not like us?

He didn't just do it for laughs, although sometimes it's pretty funny. The family is the first place we run into the wall of differences. Not everyone is like me. But I share something important with these people. The same last name. The same house. We're in this together and our membership in the family is more important than the differences that threaten to divide us.

With Christians even more is at stake. We don't share the same physical gene pool, but we spring from the same spiritual father. We all have the same big brother. And there is, coursing through our spiritual veins, the same Holy Spirit of God. So since we are family we are called not just tolerate each other, but to lovingly, warmly accept one another.

So what's the difference between tolerance and acceptance? Just think of some of the synonyms we could use for tolerance or tolerate. There's endure, or stomach, or Suffer through it, or Put up with, Bear, Deal with, Swallow, or Abide. None of those sound very nice. Yet that's what our culture settles for.

In the passage we heard in the beginning, the Bible calls us to higher way of relating to brothers and sisters with whom we do not agree. It demands acceptance, not just tolerance.

Acceptance means to welcome someone into your fellowship and into your heart. It implies the warmth and kindness of genuine love. Tolerance on steroids. So which church would you rather be a member of? A church that puts up with you? Or one that embraces you with acceptance?

But the really important issue isn't whether we're going to accept one another or not. The really important question is, does God accept you? Remember the passage I said we'd come back to? Romans 14:12. "So then, each of us will give an account of himself, herself, to God."

Verse 11 says that One day, every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. But if you haven't bowed before him or confessed your faith in him before that last fateful day, it will be too late. I’d like to tell you that everyone in this room is ready for that day. I’d like to tell you that you should accept everyone in this room because everyone in this room has been accepted by God. But I can't say that. Because some of us in this room have not yet accepted Him.

God isn’t waiting for you to get your life all fixed up, straightened out, and tucked away before He can love you. He already does.  He already did. And now He’s waiting for you to love him back. Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, God loves you and longs to be loved by you.


Questions For You To Consider

Paul is writing about grey areas, matters of opinions where Christians have the ability to make their own decisions. What are the grey issues in our church family?

What does it mean to esteem one day above another?

Who is weak in the faith? Who is this?

When you consider these grey areas do you need to hear Paul say, “Don’t look down on others” or “Don’t condemn those with different convictions”?

How should the strong and the weak regard each other?

Why do we tend to make matters of opinion into matters of Scripture?

When you judge others is it because you need to be right or because you feel the need to make other people do right?

Instead of judging others, what should occupy our time and energy? 

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