Good Friday morning to you. Using Romans 14 we are continuing to examine how it is possible to having unity in the Body of Christ with all its diversity. How is it possible for the Church to be united, moving forward in purpose and relationship? There are several answers to this question but the one we are considering this morning is not all that difficult to understand. I said not difficult to understand, but we know that understanding is not doing and it is the doing part that gets us.
Yesterday we considered how we belong to the Lord; that everything we do we are suppose do for the Lord. We are not to look down on each other as followers of Jesus Christ. The passage continues:
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. v. 13
How is unity possible in such a diverse thing as the Church? By not doing anything that trips up the faith of another believer. Easy to understand, difficult to do. Paul uses the example of meat offered to idols and says that he is convinced there is nothing that cannot be eaten with a thankful heart. In other words he is saying that the mature understand that we have this freedom in Jesus. You can substitute the issue of food with any other disputable matter that you can think of that divides the Church. Now read this:
But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. v.15
Okay, so we have this freedom but Paul says that if we act upon that freedom with a brother who thinks differently from us we are no longer acting in love. If I like to dance and the brother I am in fellowship with thinks it is wrong and still I dance then I am hurting him and no longer acting in love. If I believe drinking is wrong and you know it and you choose to have a glass of wine in front of me then you are not acting in love.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. vv. 17-18
Try to take in what Paul is moving toward as the Spirit inspires him in this matter of love and unity. It appears that the emphasis is not on the one who does not understand the freedom but on the one who does. Is that not always the case? It is always the person of maturity that must bear the responsibility of that maturity. It is not up to us to change a person's conviction because it is the Spirit that does that. Instead the mature must accommodate those who are growing in the Lord by denying themselves the freedom they have come to understand. Why? Because the Kingdom is not about what we want to do, it is about righteousness, peace and joy and such actions on our part allows for these things to exist.
Not convinced? Then let us hear it planly:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. vv. 10-21
Self-denial for the benefit of others is a mark of spiritual maturity. Not done grudgingly but gladly because it is an act of love. So often we work hard to convince people of things so we can enjoy it but convincing someone of something without allowing them to grow into it is damaging. I am not about to allow my ten year old to drive a car. He might kill someone with it. In the same way someone is going to end up dead if we try to convince people of things with such a selfish motivation.
Denying ourselves the freedom we have matured into is ironic but it is not really our freedom that matters. The word tells us to consider others more important than ourselves. It tells us to not just consider our interests but the interests of others. We are to put other people ahead of our own desires. Without this attitude in the mature members of the Church we will not have unity. The actions of the mature must always be governed by love for other people. Can you see now why we struggle so much with unity in an age of "my rights"? Yet, by the power of Christ in us we are able to do all things and it is what he prayed for us, that we would be one. So let us not be simple listeners of the Word but also doers of the Word.