Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Many who run life's race are tripped up by the conduct of believers around them, conduct they feel is inappropriate. How should we judge the behavior of others? Or is it our business to judge it all?
The answers are coming up, so stay tuned. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, back in the day, movies and dancing were considered evil by most Christians. Times have certainly changed. Well Dave, not only have times changed, but they have actually changed remarkably. You know, I'm old enough to have observed this change, and of course there was a time when the younger generation said to the older generation, you are legalistic because you have all these rules.
Nobody accuses the church today of being legalistic. We're living at a time of license. It's so important for us to recognize that God has certain standards of conduct, and we as Christians should conform. As you listen to this program, I want you to be thinking about whether you would consider helping us get the ministry of Running to Win to an ever-expanding audience.
Listen carefully, and then at the end, I'll have some info. All of us know that we as Christians have disagreements when it comes to matters of conduct. Now of course we all agree that there are some things that are always wrong. It is always wrong to break one of the commandments. It is always wrong to be conformed to this world. It is always wrong to have unwholesome words come out of our mouths.
The list could go on and on. There are some things that are always right. It is always right to love one another, to set our affection on things above, to be honest, and to respect one another. But in between those two categories, there are some matters that are called matters of conscience, matters of debate, matters over which there can be legitimate, proper disagreement. And I have to begin by talking to those of you who are listening to this who are not members of God's family.
You are not a member of the family of Christ because you've never been saved and brought into the members, as a member into the family. And I need to say a word to you. First of all, I'm so glad that you are listening. But secondly, I want you to know that we're going to be talking about things which in your mind may be thought of as trivial. And you say to yourself, you know, why do these Christians get all hot and bothered about such silly, trivial issues? So I need to explain to you that we're concerned about trivial issues because as Christians, we're even concerned about trivial sins. And so that's why some of the matters that we talk about here will be trivial, but they are matters that instruct the body of Christ. So if you've never trusted Christ as savior, we invite you to become a member of the body.
But today what you're doing is you're kind of listening in on some family business. What I mean by differences of opinion is this, that if you go to Europe, you find that Christians very freely drink wine and other things along that line. That even rhymes, wine and other things along that line. We here who live in America, we say to ourselves, you know, in light of the fact that there's so much alcoholism, it might be best for us to abstain completely. So those of us who abstain completely, except perhaps for a sip at a wedding, we say to our friends in Europe, now why do you do this?
Don't you see the danger? And they look at us and they say, we just can't figure these Americans out. God has given us all good things to enjoy.
Why are they hung up on this issue? And so you have a difference because of culture. Let me say that there was a time when Christians did not go to movies and there was a good reason for that, even as there are some good reasons for that today, because in the twenties you had a lot of, a lot of sexuality in movies. And later on it perhaps straightened out a little bit. And then you have times when movies were censored and so forth. So the Christian church by and large simply said, let's not go. You're supporting Hollywood and so forth. And then movies such as The Sound of Music came along and Christians said, now these are really good movies to attend. As a matter of fact, The Sound of Music has a lot to say about how to raise children. And so Christians began to attend movies and today I'm sure that most Christians do at some time or another.
So you have differences not only culturally, but you have differences in terms of the time era. Now you already have guessed, I'm sure, that today I'm trying to tiptoe through a minefield. And one of the reasons that you have mines is because the unwary sometimes step on explosive which are there for the protection of other people. So this is kind of dangerous business, but we're on a journey here and I want you to hear me. All the way to the end. As I frequently say, it is my responsibility to speak, it is your responsibility to listen, and I hope to God we end at the same time. There are three problems that immediately we confront. First of all, we as individuals want to universalize our own personal convictions. I suppose this is very clearly seen in the styles of worship that we adopt. People say to themselves, we have the right kind of music. And by the way, here at Moody Church, I think we have the right kind of music.
But the, yeah, yeah, you can go ahead and clap. But if we were to go to other cultures, we'd find that there are some people who would say, you know, it's too wild for me. You know, we believe in the holiness of God. We just come and meditate and we don't want anything that's a little bit upbeat. Then you go to other cultures and they say, hey, we enjoy the joy of the Lord.
And so you get a lot of people who are clapping and using creative movement and they're really into it. And we want to say to ourselves, well, that's not us. Yeah, that's not us. But it may be a cultural matter. There may not be one right way and one wrong way. And our tendency is always to universalize the way we do it. There's a second danger. And that is we want to relativize sin.
There are some people who say, well, you know, if they can do one thing in this culture and they're getting by, then we can do it in this culture and we want to lower the standards. That also is a danger. There's a third problem, and that is sometimes we define Christianity in terms of lists. You and I know that we grew up with saying, don't do this, don't do that, don't do that. And some of those lists had real value. There is value in a list if you understand it. You know, it's usually epitomized by that saying don't drink, dance, or chew, or go around with girls who do. Some of you are reared with that, weren't you?
Well, if you understand these lists, they have value because they keep you from certain select sins. The problem is they don't necessarily generate life. Here in Chicago, when I was pastor of Edgewater Baptist Church, which is about 8 or 10 miles north of here, I phoned up one day the proprietor of this certain section of Chicago and I asked him how many inhabitants he had and he said about 160,000. By now I suppose it's around 200,000. Here's an area of the city where you have that many inhabitants, not a single one smokes. Can you believe that?
Would you like to move there? Not a single one drinks. Not a single one dances.
Not a single one goes to movies. What a place to be. One hundred and sixty thousand inhabitants. Now some of you are looking at me a little bit unbelieving here, but believe me, it is. It's just south of Peterson Avenue.
It's called Rose Hill Cemetery. You've got all those inhabitants who don't do any of that, but the problem is they lack one thing and that is life. And rules have benefits, but one of the things that rules cannot do is give life. You say, does somebody who really lives up to rules, who's really into rules, are they legalistic? You know, that word legalistic is a bad term. You know, when we call somebody a legalist.
Listen, my dear friend, they may be, but not necessarily. Legalism is not living according to rules. Legalism is the wrong use of rules. When you define the Christian life from A to Z as somehow keeping these rules, that is legalism. But if you look at these rules as a way to keep you and particularly young people from certain sins, they may have value. And so don't think that because somebody's really devoted and highly structured that they're necessarily legalistic.
That actually would be a separate message. Now what we're going to do today, as we always do, is to turn to the Scriptures. Because the Apostle Paul lays out for us four timeless principles that applies to any culture, any era, and any time of the Christian church. And he says, live by these principles when you have these kinds of disagreements. So take your Bibles and open it to Romans chapter 14.
Romans chapter 14, where you can see here, the Apostle Paul is dealing with a problem, a dispute that arose in the church at Rome. Specifically, what you had was there were some people who were still holding on to the old Jewish laws, the dietary laws. And then you had some people who said, in order to make sure that we do not eat meat that is sacrificed to idols or for some other reasons, they were into vegetarianism.
And so what you had was a dispute as to what they should eat and which was right. Notice what Paul says in chapter 14 verse 1. Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Let's stop there. Paul is saying, you know, the person who sees freedom in this regard, that he can eat meat or not eat meat, he is the strong Christian. But this weak Christian who thinks that there's some scruple that needs to be obeyed, Paul says, look, just let him be. Neither should judge the other. Don't judge in a matter that is, what shall we say, one of these neutral issues where you can have difference of opinion.
Just accept him. We can say, well, the person who goes to the theater should not judge him who does not, and the person who does not should not judge him that goes. You say, yeah, but. Hang on to your yeah buts. The point is, is a theater itself is neutral.
It's neutral. Paul uses an illustration here in verse 4 regarding various servants. He says, who are you to judge someone else's servant? If you're in a household and you're a servant among many others, it's not for you to judge.
Let the master do it, he says. Before his own master, he stands or falls, and he will stand for the Lord is able to make him stand. Paul uses the illustration of keeping days. The Sabbath, he says in verse 5, one man considers one day more sacred than another. Another considers every day alike.
Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat eats to the Lord. He gives thanks to God. He who abstains does so to the Lord. He gives thanks and so forth. For nobody lives unto himself, nobody dies unto himself. Paul says, we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
Wow. Does this have something to do with Sunday sports? Could I ask you a sensitive question? Whether you give me permission or not, I'm going to. Is it sin to watch a sporting event on television on Sunday? All that I can say is, I hope not, because if so, we've got a lot of sinners that I'm preaching to today. Well, if it's not wrong to watch on television, is it a sin to go? If we say yes, we're going to be into all kinds of hair splitting distinctions. You say, yeah, but Pastor Lutzer, aren't you concerned about the fact that Sunday is being misused? You've got all these sporting events. You've got people shopping on Sunday and the Lord's day is no longer sacred and people are doing whatever they want to do. The answer is yes, I am concerned.
I am very concerned. But the answer isn't to come up with a new rule. The answer is to teach people to love God more than they do sports.
That's the answer. You know, when I have a witness out there, I like it. I do better, so just keep it coming.
Keep it coming because there may be a time when it's very silent in here. We have to teach people to love one another more than they love sports. I believe that for many people, sports is an idol that needs to be repented of. But the real answer is not for us to come up with a brand new rule that covers all situations. What we need to do is to understand we have to accept one another because it is a means and is an issue by which we can have latitude. So Paul says, number one, don't judge one another, you super duper, and I want to say it here, Pharisees.
Ouch. Because sometimes it's possible to be a Pharisee about these things. It's much easier to develop a Pharisee than it is a true disciple, let me say. Number one then, don't judge one another.
Number two, don't cause a brother or sister to stumble. Paul says in verse 13, 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. He picks it up again in verse 19, 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. He says all food is clean but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
He says it's better not to eat if it's going to cause your brother to fall. What does it mean to be a stumbling block to somebody? Does it mean simply that we should never do anything that some Christian somewhere doesn't like? No, not at all. Not at all.
It's not a stumbling block. Can you imagine Jesus going by that principle? He was always doing things that the Pharisees didn't like. He was eating with Republicans and sinners. It's a joke, folks. He was healing the sick on the Sabbath. He was always irritating people.
That's not what it means. Imagine the bondage we would be under if we said we can never do anything that some believer somewhere does not like. When I was in seminary, there was a seminary professor. Now, this is a godly man. You just have to put this together who used to drive sports cars. I think he was probably normal in other ways. I mean, he was actually a good guy. But there was a student who said, Professor, your sports car is a stumbling block to me. Give me a break. What the student probably did is wish that he had won. The way we can understand this business of stumbling block the best is to realize that in the 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians, and you can turn there for just a moment, 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is confronting much the same issue, and it's interesting to see how he deals with it.
Specifically, here was the problem. You had meat being offered to idols, and some of the Christians said meat is meat. We can eat it after it's been offered to idols because we don't regard this idol as anything, and others were saying, wait a moment. That meat was given to an idol, and we can already hear the arguments. You mean you're eating meat that was offered to Zeus? Well, the other Christian says Zeus is no god.
What do you mean Zeus is no god? Behind these idols there are demons. Yes, I know behind these idols there are demons, but the point is I don't regard these demons, and Jesus is sovereign over the demons, and if Jesus owns the meat because he owns everything, I can eat it.
Can't you just hear the discussion? And so what Paul says is this to verse 9, and sometime when you have a moment, you should read the whole 8th chapter, but it says in verse 9, be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. Paul says, man, if you feel that you can eat that meat, go ahead and eat it, but don't let it be a stumbling block, for if anyone with a weak conscience sees you have this knowledge, namely that you can eat it, and he's seen you eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? Paul says to be a stumbling block means that you may be the cause of leading this person back to his former way of life.
That's very serious. Well, someone has well said that if we want people to believe in our Redeemer, we have to look and act redeemed. I'm holding in my hands a tremendous encouragement that comes to us from Egypt.
I say Egypt because the ministry of running to win is heard throughout the Middle East. This person gives a brief description of the fact that they have fallen into an addiction. And then he says, I came across your program, but here's the phrase that blesses me. I believe that you were sent for me from him, namely from God, to help me through. And so the man talks about how he has discussed this with his wife.
They are really starting in a brand new direction. I believe that the ministry of running to win touches the lives of those whom God has prepared to hear our messages. I want to thank the many of you who support this ministry. Would you consider becoming an endurance partner?
That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts. Of course, you need more info. Hope that you have a pen or pencil handy because this is what you can do. Go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com. And when you're there, click on the endurance partner button. Help us reach more people all throughout the Middle East. Or if you prefer, you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. We're so thankful for the many of you who joined the running to win family, as I like to call it, because you become a part of us as you support this ministry. Once again, go to rtwoffer.com, click on the endurance partner button, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Ah, the wonders of modern electronics, computers, and the internet. Scott listens to Running to Win and finds a potential dilemma in hearing teaching via high-tech means.
Here's his story. I listen to a number of sermons via podcast and often hear prayers included in these sermons. In a sense, these prayers are not active or live, yet I am spiritually drawn to pray along with the speaker. Praying along with a recording is not something that occurred in Bible times and hasn't been addressed in any council that I know of. Do you think it is spiritually wrong to be led in prayer through a recording? Well, Scott, the answer is no.
I don't think it's wrong at all. I hope that there are times when you listen to our broadcast and you pray along with me. Now, you know, of course, that this is a recording.
As a matter of fact, thanks to modern technology, almost everything that is done on the radio today has been recorded, and messages that I preach here and there occur in different parts of the country over the radio. So, feel free to pray those prayers. God knows that they are not live, but the speaker who prayed them felt them very deeply at the time that they were prayed, and you can pray along with him, and let that also be the desire of your heart. Think of it this way.
Even when you read a book, it's not real time, is it? Yet there are books that have wonderful prayers. Jesus taught us to pray the Lord's Prayer, and he's not praying it now, at least not in the way in which he prayed it when he was here on earth, and yet we can pray it along with him, so to speak. So, I personally am glad, and I'm sure you are also, for modern technology that can be used of the Lord and that can put our voices in many, many different places all at the same time or at later times. Take advantage of them all.
Pray all the prayers, and God will bless you. Thank you, Scott, for your high-tech question, and thank you, Erwin Lutzer, for your high-tech answer. If you'd like to hear your question answered, go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life.
Life is a race. Helping a brother or sister stay on track is more important than flaunting your Christian liberty. Don't be a stumbling block. That's one key principle involved in judging our conduct. Next time, tune in for more principles on evaluating behavior. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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