Good morning, everybody.
Wonderful to have you guys here. Hey, we want you to take a Bible and open it this morning, Romans chapter 14, the letter Paul wrote the Church of Rome. You know, in John chapter 13, Jesus said these words. He said, By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. We have a contemporary song today that's put this into verse and said, They'll know we are Christians by our love. Now, the truth is that so often the way the world knows that we're Christians is by our fights. And we said several weeks ago that what most of what we fight about in the Church of Christ has nothing to do with theology. It has everything to do with gray areas of the Christian life, that is, areas of the Christian life that the Bible does not speak to specifically with a thou shalt or thou shalt not. And what happens is we as Christians develop very strong opinions and very strong convictions on one side or another of these gray areas.
And then to make matters worse, we lose all tolerance for followers of Christ who have a different conviction than we have. Now, God knows that we're going to have disagreements on these areas. But God also is deeply concerned about us figuring out how to handle those disagreements in such a way that we don't damage one another and we don't damage the work of God in the process. And this is what we want to talk today about in our very last message on Christian liberty. We want to talk about how we can handle disagreements in the gray areas of the Christian life without harming ourselves and the work of God in the process.
But before we do that, let's review just a little bit. Remember several weeks ago we said that there are very few black and white areas that cover the everyday issues of our Christian life. Very few thou shalts and thou shalt nots. Most of our everyday Christian life falls into the gray areas. So, for example, drinking and dancing and playing cards and going to movies and listening to secular music, smoking cigars, having tattoos, nose rings, earrings, belly button rings, wearing bikinis, whatever.
There's no thou shalt or thou shalt not anywhere in the Bible for these issues. And we learned that God has given us Christian liberty when it comes to these gray areas in the Christian life. We also learned that God has two categories of followers of Christ when it comes to these gray areas.
You and I are one of these two categories when it comes to every single gray area we've mentioned and beyond. Category number one, the Bible calls the strong brother or the strong sister. The strong brother is a person who, A, understands his Christian liberty and B, who has the freedom of conscience from God to actually live out, exercise that liberty in some gray area or another. So, for example, a strong brother in the area of drinking wine can go to a wine tasting party with his Christian friends, even though he knows that there are lots of people in America who have alcohol abuse problems. His attitude is, hey, I look here in the Bible, I don't find a single verse in the Bible that says I can't drink wine.
And you know what? As long as I drink it responsibly, as long as I drink it in a way that doesn't dishonor God, then what difference does it make if other people drink it differently? You know, I can exercise my liberty here and I feel perfectly right before God about it. Now, the other category when it comes to these gray areas, the Bible calls the weak brother or the weak sister. And let me just reemphasize, when we say weak, we don't mean weak when it comes to their commitment to Christ. That's not what we're talking about. We mean that they're weak when it comes to the freedom they have to live out Christian liberty in some area or another.
These are people who either don't understand that they have Christian liberty, or even if they understand it in their mind, they're not able to live it out their conscience, just won't let them do it in some particular area or another. So if you're a weak brother or sister when it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages, you can't go to a wine tasting party with your friends. You can't go drink a beer after work with your friends.
You can't have champagne at a wedding. If you did that, your conscience would go on red alert. You'd feel terrible. You'd feel so guilty. You'd have to go home and confess it to God and ask to be forgiven. A person who's a weak brother or sister in this area, you can't even have cooking wine in your house. I mean, it just bothers you.
You can't do it. And it's not about what we know in our head theologically. It's about the freedom of conscience or lack thereof that we have in our spirit. So you say, well, I don't see, Lon, what the big deal is. Then the weak brother just doesn't drink. I mean, it's just that simple.
Oh, I wish you were that simple. See, the problem is that weak brothers and sisters in various gray areas, what they tend to do is they tend to measure everybody else's spirituality by the restrictions and the boundaries that they feel in that weak area. Or to put it in another way, if you were a weak sister in the area of drinking alcoholic beverages, not only could you not drink yourself, but you would judge the spirituality of every other brother and sister who did drink. And friends, that's where the fireworks start.
Now, Romans 14 is all about how to keep the fireworks from happening. And that's what we want to talk about today. And remember, this chapter is divided into two halves. In one half, God speaks to the weaker brother. In the other half, he speaks to the stronger sister. And we need both halves because there's nobody here in every gray area who's strong or weak.
We're all some combination. So we need both halves of this chapter. Listen carefully. Let me start by telling you what God says to the strong brother and sister about how to promote harmony, how to promote unity in the body of Christ, even though I feel free to exercise my liberty in a bunch of areas. Okay, what does God expect for me to promote harmony in the body of Christ? Verse three.
The Bible says the person who feels free to eat everything. This is the strong brother who doesn't care whether the meat came out of an idol's temple or where it came from. This is the strong brother who says, you know, I know that every T bone in the universe is from God.
And what difference does it make where it went before it got to me? I give thanks to God. And so I don't have a problem with it. This brother, the Bible says, must not look down upon the weaker brother who can't have that attitude, who can't eat that meat. The word here means to the Greek word means to despise, to disdain, to regard with contempt. And strong brothers, when we're a strong brother or sister in some area, it's always the case that we tend to get irritated with other Christians who aren't as free to exercise their Christian liberty as we are. We tend to resent them trying to lay their restrictions and their narrowness on us. And when it comes to us getting along in the body of Christ, what God asks from us as strong brothers and sisters is that instead of resenting our weaker brothers, instead we love them. Now there's a novel concept.
We love them. Look Romans chapter 15 verse 1 says, We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. And the way that we expressed that love and that deference, that concern for our weaker brother, the Bible says, the way we promote harmony in the body of Christ, in spite of the fact we feel liberties in certain areas, is by being willing to limit our liberties for the sake of our brothers. Now there are two situations here in this chapter where God expressly says to those of us who are strong brothers and sisters, I want you to consider limiting your liberty. Situation number one is situations where we can protect weak brothers and sisters from spiritual harm.
Now a little bit of this is review, but we're going to do it anyway. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 9, Be careful that the exercise of your liberty doesn't become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience in some gray area sees you exercising your liberty in that gray area, that person may be emboldened to do the same thing and may be destroyed by the way you exercised your liberty. When we sin against our weak brother and wound his conscience in this way, we sin against Christ. He said, Well, I don't understand.
What's he talking about? Well, maybe you invite a Christian sister over to your house who's just getting over a gambling addiction. And as soon as she gets there, you break out the poker chips and sit down and convince her to play a little poker with you. Well, she may go home and have to confess that to God and ask to be forgiven. Her conscience may be striking her to death or by doing that, it may reopen the door to gambling in their life. In this person's life, friends, when we do this, we abuse our Christian liberty.
We're not looking out for the welfare of our brother or sister. Or maybe we invite a Christian brother over our house who's going to Alcoholics Anonymous. And we know that. But we sit down to watch the game and we break out the beers and we invite him to have one. And he feels like, Well, gosh, I'm sitting here. Got all these people drinking.
I don't want to seem like I'm not part of the gang. So he drinks a few beers and at the next AA meeting has to stand up and confess that as a failing or worse. This opens up his life for a resurgence of a drinking problem. This is abusing our Christian liberty. Romans 14, verse 15. Do not by the exercise of any Christian liberty damage your brother for whom Christ died.
You say, Well, why should his issues limit my liberty? Well, we just read Romans 15 because God didn't put us here to please ourselves. God put us here to bear with the failings of our weak brothers and sisters. The other situation where God asks us in the sake of harmony to defer our liberty are situations. Number two, where we, by deferring our liberty, can protect the work of God from division, disruption, embarrassment.
Verse 19, chapter 14. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace in the body of Christ and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of some Christian liberty. Friends, is it worth damaging a church over your right to drink a beer? Is it worth damaging the work of God over playing a game of gin rummy or going to the movies or wearing a bikini? God says no.
No, those things are not worth damaging the work of God. First Corinthians 10 31. Whether we eat or drink, whether we play cards, go to movies, drink a beer, wear a bikini, whatever, do all for the glory of God. And when we use our liberties in such a way that we cause division and strife among fellow Christians, we're not using our liberties for the glory of God. I told you about my wife's hometown, where when I go there, there's not a lot of Christian liberty exercised in this town. I leave all my Christian liberties in Washington. I don't take any of them with me. They all stay here.
And you say, why? Is that because you're worried if you went to this town and you exercise your Christian liberties there, you would draw some of them into copying you and might spiritually harm them? Friends, listen, these people are intractable. I'm not drawing them into anything. Believe me, they are not moving.
They are set in stone with what they believe. No, that's not why I leave my liberties here. I leave my liberties here because I realized for me to go there and exercise them would upset these people. It would cause a breach in our friendship, a breach in our fellowship as Christian brothers and sisters. It would polarize them.
It would scandalize them. This is not using my liberty in a way that promotes the glory of God. So I leave them here in town. Did you realize that the members of our pastoral staff team here in Washington are prohibited from driving certain kinds of automobiles? You say, well, what are you talking about? No, that we have an internal policy that doesn't allow us to drive certain kinds of cars. We're not allowed to drive BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars or Porsches. You say, that's the dumbest thing I ever heard of in my life.
No, it isn't. We don't drive them because we know what you would say if we did. What you would say is, how much are we paying these people that they can drive automobiles like this?
What are we doing? Say, I would never say that. Oh, yes, you would. Oh, yes, you would. You talk about it over dinner.
Yes, you would. And we decided, you know what? Do we have the Christian liberty to drive a Porsche? Of course we do.
But is it worth causing trouble inside the church and damaging the work of God? No, Porsche is worth that. So we just don't drive them. You understand what I'm saying? They said, but Lon, wait a minute. There's got to be a limit here.
I mean, if you let people decide what you're going to do and not do, you wouldn't even get out of bed because some people wouldn't like how you did that. I mean, there's got to be a limit somewhere, doesn't there? Of course. I got a letter. And as you might imagine, I've gotten a lot of letters in the last several weeks.
I mean, I never knew anybody was listening that closely. But it's, you know, my mailbox is full. Anyway, this is what this one young man writes. He says, Lon, you spoke about a town where you felt fortunate not to live because to do so would mean to give up many things.
Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but that town is also the Washington metro area if you meet enough people. I had a person tell me that because I said, gosh, what I really meant was God. And therefore I had taken the Lord's name in vain.
Gosh, that's not what I meant at all, he said. If we are to change every time somebody is offended, then who are we? I mean, what percentage of offended people do we need to listen to? I hope you'll cover this in your series.
Why is it that we only need to be concerned about those who see things in black and white? Some of us walking in the gray areas need support, too. Well, all right. I hear that. Now, that's a good letter.
Now, I want to cover this. And with this, we're done talking to the strong brother today. He's absolutely right. At some point in our lives, we have to draw a line and say, OK, that's as much as I feel comfortable limiting my liberty.
That's as far as I'm going in this particular case. And you say, well, Lon, where is that line? Friends, I can't tell you because even where you draw that line is a matter of Christian liberty. God says you draw it wherever you and I feel together.
We should draw it. And it won't be the same as everybody. I mean, two of us could be in the very same situation and we could draw that line a little differently. Yes, it's OK to draw that line and say, OK, enough is enough. But on the other side of that line, there should certainly be things that we're willing to defer rather than damaging people and hurting the work of God. Now, I want to move on to talk to the weak brother because so far you all have escaped.
Those of us who are weak in certain areas, we haven't really talked much at all. And, you know, this idea of promoting harmony in the body of Christ is not just a one way street. It's not just about strong brothers limiting their liberty, limiting their liberty, limiting. There's a side for the weak brothers to play. And it's all found in Romans Chapter 14, verse three.
Here's what it says. Let him who does not eat. This is the weak brother who doesn't feel free to eat this meat that came out of an idol's temple. Let him not condemn, literally judge him who does eat. See, in those areas where we're weak in our exercise of liberty, we are all prone to make our views, our convictions, the standard of truth that we expect every Christian to live by. And when they don't live by it, man, we judge them.
We say things like, can you believe it? How could anybody who calls himself a follower of Christ wear a bathing suit like that? That woman, she could not be a Christian by the cathedrals I keep. Can you believe that man, that music he listens to? How can anybody be a Christian and listen to music like that? I don't see how God could ever use those people.
Those people are compromisers, they're liberals, and they're the reason revival has not hit America. Right over there, you're looking at it. So I've never said that. Well, you've thought it. Yes, you have.
We all have. And, friends, this kind of thinking, this kind of judgment on other people is what causes so much conflict and so much polarization in the work of God. This is what causes churches to split. This is what causes friendships to break up, this kind of judging of other people. In fact, the hardest thing for a weak brother or sister to do is to accept the fact that God can actually use somebody who feels more liberty than they do.
They have a very difficult time accepting that. So let's say that you feel, that you just really feel strongly about the fact that drinking alcoholic beverages is just wrong, that Christians just shouldn't do that. You don't see how God could ever use somebody who did this, and you go over one night to your small group leader's house for your small group meeting, and you open the refrigerator to get a Coke, and there sitting in the refrigerator is a six-pack of Budweiser. What do you do? Do you shriek? Do you leave the house and say, I'm not going to be in a small group with somebody that's got beer because God can't use anybody who's got beer in their refrigerator? What do you do?
Do you just talk about it all over church? What do you do? Do you know what I saw in his refrigerator? You will not believe what I saw in his refrigerator. I'll give you three guesses. Has horses that pull them.
I'll give you three guesses. Now, what do we do? Well, let me sum up what God says we should do. It's right here in this chapter, verse 4. It says, who are you to judge somebody else's servant? Verse 10, why do you judge your brother? Verse 13, therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. You want me to sum up what God says our response needs to be? Knock off the judging.
Cut your brother some slack. And you say, well, why should I? God gives three reasons right here in this chapter.
Number one, because the strong brother deserves the benefit of the doubt. I mean, verse 6 says, he who eats meat, he who exercises the liberty, does so as unto the Lord, for he gives thanks to God in doing it. Hey, the reason you don't drink any alcoholic beverages is because you really believe that this is what's pleasing to God and you're doing what's right before God, correct? You say, sure. Okay, well, why can't you grant to him that he can drink beer with the very same attitude and say, I think I'm all right before God.
I think this is okay and pleasing to God, and I'm trying to do what's right before God. Why can't we grant somebody the benefit of the doubt? You say, well, what if he really is a compromiser? Well, all right, reason number two. Reason number two is God will judge that strong brother if he really needs to be judged. Hey, verse 4 says, who are you to judge somebody else's servant? That strong brother who's drinking that beer is not your servant and it's not your job to judge him. He's God's servant and if there's any judging to be done, God will do it. And friend, reason number three, besides, you and I have got a much bigger job to worry about and that is, reason number three, don't forget, God says, I'm going to judge you too.
Verse 12, so then as a follower of Jesus Christ, each one of us will give an account of himself to God. He didn't say we'd give an account of our Christian brother. When you and I stand in front of Jesus, he's not going to discuss with us what was in the refrigerator of that small group leader.
He's not interested. He's going to discuss what was in our refrigerator and in all the other parts of our life and so we don't have time to go around judging our brothers. Folks, you and I have a full-time job just worrying about ourselves. Hey, anybody who's raised more than one child understands this principle. They come to us and they go, she did this and he did that. How come they got to do this and you did this for them? You didn't do this for me and I didn't do that and they got to do that and I didn't get to do that.
I didn't finite them. I'd nauseum. You know what I'm saying. And what do we say? What do we say to these children when they come to us like this? We say to them, don't worry about your brother and your sister. You worry about you. That's exactly right.
Now how come we understand that principle so well when it comes to our children and we don't understand it when it comes to our Christian brothers and sisters? Friends, God says you worry about you. That's a full-time job. You worry about you. You don't have time to worry about them and the good news is you're not going to have to give an account for them. What they do is between me and them, you worry about you. Cut them some slack. Let me say categorically, the most divisive force in all of Christianity.
You say, oh, I can't wait to hear this. The most divisive force in all of Christianity is an immature, weak brother who walks around laying judgments all over everybody, polarizing the work of God everywhere they go. Is it okay to be a weaker brother? Of course it is.
We all are. Is it okay not to have certain Christian liberties in certain areas that we feel okay exercising? Of course. Is the purpose of my series to try to talk weaker brothers into being stronger brothers?
Absolutely not. God doesn't really care whether we're strong brothers or weak brothers in any particular area. What he cares about is that we are mature in the way we relate to one another no matter whether we're strong or weak. And how does a mature, weak brother relate to a brother who's got more liberty in an area than we have?
Very simply. We grant that Christian brother the benefit of the doubt. We cut him some slack. And we grant God the option to use that person and love that person even though that person doesn't live in the little box we live in. We say, okay, God can use people outside of my box.
That may be revolutionary to me, but it's true. And so this is what we're after, maturity. The maturity on the part of the strong brother to say, I will limit my liberty rather than harming another Christian or hurting the work of God. And the maturity on the part of a weak brother that says, I will not judge people who have more liberty than me. I will grant them grace and charity and I'll worry about myself. And wouldn't it be wonderful to be part of a church family where everybody was relating to each other like that?
That'd be fun to be part of a group like that. And we wouldn't embarrass and disgrace ourselves in the eyes of the world if we could learn to treat each other like that. I want to close by telling you the story of two men, very different, on the ends of the spectrum who learned this very important lesson. The name of one of them was Ezra. The name of the other guy was Nehemiah. They're both in the Bible. And they both had the same task from God, which was to escort Jewish people back to Jerusalem a generation after they had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
Now here's what Nezra did, verse 22 of chapter 8. He says, I was ashamed to ask the king, Artaxerxes of Persia, for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from bandits on the way because we had told the king the gracious hand of God is on everyone who looks to him. Ezra had to cross hundreds of miles that were full of robbers and thieves and highwaymen, but he wouldn't ask for any armed escort. He wouldn't accept any armed escort because his conscience wouldn't let him. His conscience felt like this is dishonoring God. For me to take an armed escort implies God can't protect me. And I've told the king God can protect me, so I'm not even going to accept an armed escort. He was a weaker brother in this area.
His conscience simply wouldn't allow him to take that armed escort. Did he get to Jerusalem safely? Yes, he did. Then Nehemiah came along 11 years later, the same king, Artaxerxes, the same hundreds of miles to go across, the same group of people to lead, the same highwaymen in those hundreds of miles. Look what he did, chapter 2, verse 9. He says, the king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
Now, Nehemiah was a strong brother. He says, I'll thank God for every army man they give me. The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and if the Lord turns the king's heart towards giving me army troops, I'll take them and say, thank you, Jesus, for giving them to me. And the king did. Did he get safely to Jerusalem?
Uh-huh. Which one of these guys did God use? Answer, he used them both, as different as they were. And you see their differences again when we look at a situation that arose when they were together in the land of Israel.
There were Jewish men living there that had intermarried with Gentiles living in the land, which is what God had told them not to do. And how did Ezra handle it? Ezra, chapter 9, he tore his robe, he fell to his knees, and in the middle of the city square, he began to pray. You know how Nehemiah handled it, chapter 13? He jumped on these men, beat them up, and ripped their beards out by the roots.
True, read about it. Now, don't you think Ezra there on his knees in the middle of the square praying must have looked over and said, what is this guy? He's just a thug.
Look at this. He's beating people up and ripping their beards out by the roots. How can God use a common thug who's beating people up and doing this kind of stuff? I'm sure Nehemiah, beating these guys up, must have looked over and said, what are you praying for? Get up and do something. What kind of leadership is this? You fall on your knees and you pray? That's leadership? Get up, you wimp.
Do something. Well, which one of them did God use? He used them both. And as we read the story, they actually became wonderful friends and partners in the work of God together. Because Nehemiah learned the lesson that God is so desperately wanting you and me to learn. They learned that God didn't just use people and love people in their little box. That God could use people very different from them.
And that's okay. And if they could just grant some grace and some charity to one another, they could be partners in the work of God. They also learned they had bigger fish to fry than their differences.
And the bigger fish they had to fry was serving God and doing the will of God. And so friends, as we conclude, let me say this. Has the purpose of this series been to turn you if you're a weak brother into a strong brother? No, I don't care. Has the purpose of the series been to turn you into a strong brother if you're a weak brother? No, I don't care.
It doesn't make any difference. The purpose of the series has been to teach us how to be mature in the way we relate to one another. And what does that look like? Number one, it means learning to accept others in the body of Christ just for who they are. It means, number two, learning to appreciate God's marvelous ability to use all kinds of believers, even those who don't see gray areas exactly the way we do. It means, number three, to be a mature, strong brother, to put the welfare of fellow believers ahead of our own and be willing to limit our liberty.
That's maturity. And it means to be a mature, weak brother, which means to extend grace and charity to Christians who feel more liberty than we do. Friends, remember, we have bigger fish to fry than our Christian liberties. The bigger fish we have to fry is reaching this city for Jesus Christ.
And we can't afford to get hung up on Christian liberty. So I invite you, whether you're a weak brother or strong brother, let's be mature about it. And let's learn to rise above those differences and get on with the real job we've got to do in this city, and that's to reach this city for Christ.
I hope this series has been helpful for you. Next week, we move on to start talking about Paul's second missionary journey. And I hope you'll be with us.
Let's pray. Father, thanks for the opportunity for us to talk about areas where disagreements definitely happen, where followers of Christ have very strong differences of opinion. And I pray that what we've achieved, Lord, is not only a better understanding of why we act the way we do in these areas, why other people act the way they do, but also, Father, that we've achieved a definition of maturity and that we as a church family will aspire to rise to that maturity and demonstrate to an onlooking world that we can have differences, but we can also learn to relate to one another in love and harmony because Jesus Christ is a bigger issue with us than our liberties. And so, Father, change our lives, change our church family as a result of this study and grant that whether we're weak or strong, that we might be mature, both as individuals and as a church family. And we pray this in Jesus' name. In God's people said, Amen. Amen.
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