Let’s begin today with a quick recap on where we were last week because it is going to set some important context for at least the next two weeks. Last week, we talked about the centrality of the great commandment in the Scriptures: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” We saw that both Paul and Jesus tell us that this command sums up the law and the prophets. So, Paul’s counsel to the church in Rome, a melting pot of cultures and religious backgrounds, is that you need to love each other as you love yourself. Also, your love of each other is an act of worship in and of itself because it is an act of obedience.
The problem we saw, though, was that the Greeks had at least seven different words for our one word “love.” So, they differentiated among friendly affection, natural love for children, romantic love and so on. But, one of these Greek words dominates the New Testament, and that is “agape.” Agape is the word used to describe the love of Christ, and agape love is, by definition, self-sacrificial. In fact, it is a word that is largely defined by Jesus and his life. Agape is in contrast to ”philos”, which is friendly affection or what is sometimes called brotherly love. Philos is more feelings and emotion based, and it is how we, perhaps, more often think of love. Agape, however, is not just about what you feel, it is about what you do. So, when we read or hear the great commandment, we may perceive that the call is to be affectionate toward God and our neighbors. But, the word is not “philos,” it is “agape.” In other words, the call to love your neighbor is a call to sacrifice yourself for them. And, so, Paul wrapped up chapter 13 with this counsel, “put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh.” If we have any hope of doing this, we have to get up every day, set ourselves aside, and put on Christ.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
So, Paul shifts slightly from calling the church to display agape love towards each other and to putting on Christ to seemingly telling them to also just not be judgy. But, here’s the reality, not being judgy is an act of self-sacrifice. Rather than just tolerating each other or even just being kind to each other, Paul says, I want you to lay your prideful need to be right or superior on the altar. Any arrogance, any superiority, any better-than-ness that you may feel toward a brother or sister in Christ, you need to lay it down. You need to sacrifice it.
So, let’s take a moment and walk through the text, and then we’ll look at a tool that I believe can help us greatly as we pursue humble non-judgmentalism. Verse 1:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
So, Paul frames his argument in this way, “there are some who are strong in the faith and there are some who are weak in the faith.” But, both the strong and the weak have been thrown together in the Roman church and, in reality, into any local church body. But, one thing to note is that this is not simply a seniority thing. The amount of time that one has been a Christ-follower or has been a part of a local church, ideally, should indicate their level of maturity in the faith, but sadly, this is not always the case. Rather strength and weakness, maturity and immaturity are far more connected to submission than education.
A central conflict for the Roman church and for many within the early church had to do with religious customs. As we’ve said, an issue in Rome was that Jews and Gentiles were thrown together. The Jews came with some beautiful religious rituals and celebrations, but also with a lot of baggage surrounding those things. The Gentiles were more influenced by paganism and irreligion, so they did not have a lot of respect for Jewish customs or much of a desire to follow those things.
Most notably, what foods could and could not be eaten was an ongoing issue. This is a bit hard for us to fathom in 2020, but good Jews followed strict dietary laws which had been given to them by God, but had also been expanded and deepened over time. A central tension in the early church had to do with the religious system of Judaism itself. Many Jews felt that surely one would have to become Jewish in order to follow Christ. Whereas Paul, who was Jewish, asserted that we are now living in a new Covenant in which the Old Mosaic covenant with all its laws and regulations had been fulfilled in Christ. And, what we’ve already seen in Romans is that what remains of the Old Covenant is the moral law, such as the Shema and the 10 commandments, because those ideas predated even the Mosaic Covenant.
Look at verse 5:
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Another issue had to do with the significance given to certain days, perhaps, namely the Sabbath. Jews had for centuries observed a Sabbath, a day of worship and rest, on Saturdays. However, very early on in the Christian church, people begin to observe Sunday as the day of worship. Two reasons: 1. You have a big influx of Gentile believers who have no context for Saturday as a day of worship. 2. Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, and so Sundays come to be known as “the Lord’s day.” And, that happens very quickly. In fact, the Apostle John in writing Revelation some 40-50 years after the death and resurrection of Christ mentions “the Lord’s day.” So, by the end of the first century, Sundays were a significant day of worship for Christians.
So, as you can imagine, everyone doesn’t agree on everything. You have Jews looking down their noses at Gentiles for eating whatever and pushing for Sunday worship. And, you have Gentiles snubbing Jews for not experiencing freedom in their diet and for wanting to continue a myriad of religious observances. Quickly, the rhetoric becomes something like this, “I can’t believe someone would call themselves a Christian and do that.” Or “If you aren’t willing to worship on Sundays, I’m not sure you’re even a Christ-follower.” Things get judgy and the element being judged is the faith of other people.
So listen, I know this never happens today and we don’t know anything about any of this, but let’s maybe try to extrapolate this concept into today’s world. Here are some things I’ve heard.
“I can’t believe someone could be a Christian and ______.”
- be a democrat
- vote for Donald Trump
- drink alcohol
- smoke cigarettes
- go to a casino
- say something racist
- attend a gay wedding
- be divorced
- get pregnant outside of marriage
Now, listen, the intention is not to say that all of these things I’ve mentioned are positive or good or even acceptable. It is to point out though, that we regularly call into question the faith of other people based on nothing more than exterior signs. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m a follower of Jesus, and I still mess up and do sinful things, hence my need of a Savior. So, if your position is that, “I can’t see how someone could be a Christian and sin or mess up or make the wrong choice”, then you have perhaps left reality.
The Scriptures are clear on two points: 1. We cannot allow our opinion of another believer’s level of faith to change the way we love them; it is our place to love. 2. We are incapable of judging the part of a person that actual tells the story of their faith, their heart. So, any judgment we make of another person, no matter how right and wise it might seem to us, is inherently flawed because of our inability to see their heart. We never will have the whole story.
So, does that mean that we should never call into question the faith of other people based on their stated beliefs or actions, or call out obvious sin? Actually, no. Rather, we have to differentiate between issues of primary importance and issues of secondary importance, and we have to have the wisdom to know the difference. In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with issues of secondary importance, dietary restrictions and days of the week. But, you better believe they seemed like issues of primary importance for the parties involved.
We don’t have time to go into it this morning, but the Bible does call for the church to call out sin within the body. Just not for the purpose of condemning a person or even judging the faith of another person, but for the purpose of lovingly guiding that person into deeper maturity in Christ. The church is also called to be watchful for those who would seek to alter or downplay or denounce issues of primary importance, namely the gospel itself and the nature of God. Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
Now, this is a charge that is primarily given to pastors and elders, the shepherds of a body. But, we must all be watchful for this in our own lives. Early on, the church developed a tool that was meant to provide everyone with an understanding of what was of primary importance. A tool called the Apostles’ Creed. Remember, people did not have the Bible. So, creeds became incredibly important because they were easy to memorize and they helped everyone know what was true and biblical. And, I maintain that the creed is just as valuable today as it was then, because we live in an age where everyone has the Bible, but no one reads it. So, let’s stand and read the creed.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.