Romans

February 23, 2020


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Liberties’ Limits 

This year we have been doing Romans Backwards. We started in the back of the book and are working are way to the front. For the last several weeks, we have been in chapter 14.  We have been working with Paul’s solutions to fellowship in the Church. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to have genuine harmony. Paul does not want them to divide up into different kinds of churches. Paul wants the Jewish and Gentile Christians, in Rome in 57 AD, to do church together! 

But that is hard. There is racial prejudice. There is theological disagreement. There are cultural disconnects. There are deeply held traditions in conflict with freedom in Christ. There are weak and strong who are suspicious of each other. But Paul understands the purpose of church is to be with those who are different. We become more like Christ when you are with the “others”. You need the struggle of fellowship to learn to love. 

So, Paul has a plan. Paul has four solutions to church fellowship. We have looked at two of these solutions already…

Paul’s first solution is… Live and Let Die. Live and Let Die honors the LORD. Whether in denial of a freedom or the expressing of a liberty in Christ, both the weak and strong do what they do to honor the LORD! We allow differences to be express in glory to God! 

Paul’s second solution is… Nudge. Don’t Judge! Judging is - what we do not do is -

1) Assigning lack of relationship with the Lord. “You don’t serve the LORD!”

2) Withholding our help from our siblings in Christ. “You are not worth my time.”

3) Despising; devaluing, writing off other Christians. “You are worthless.”

We are not to judge. Rather, we are to nudge each other, gently, to do right, to live better, to know the LORD more fully. Nudge! Don’t Judge is the second solution.

The rubber met the road, last week, with this assignment… Pick someone you are around this week. Every time you are internally judging their performance, say to yourself, in your head… “Nudge. Don’t Judge”. Pick a person. Don’t tell them you picked them. Whenever you catch yourself with an internal dialogue judging them. Stop and say to that voice in your head, “Nudge. Don’t Judge”.

How did we do? Did we say in our head the “Nudge. Don’t Judge”? Was it hard?

This morning let’s look at a third solution… Here is the catchy saying… This week it is alliteration… “Liberty is limited by love.”

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Let’s think first about our liberty in Christ. This is the fun part of the sermon. 

When Paul is writing the letter to the Romans in 57 AD. He may have in the back of his mind what he had already written to the Galatians 15, or-so, years earlier. This is fascinating. The church in Galatia had the opposite problem to the church in Rome. 

--In Galatia, the Jewish Christians were insisting that the Gentile Christians had to follow the law of Moses. In order to be a good Christian, you have to keep the Old Law. 

--In Rome, the Gentile Christians were insisting that the Jewish Christians give up the law of Moses. In order to be a good Christian, you have to give up the Old Law. 

Listen to the harsh words Paul had for those Jewish Christians who would limit liberty.

Galatians 5:1-6,13 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace… 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers.

Wow. If you attempt to enforce law into Christianity you are severed from Christ; you have fallen from grace. Law and freedom don’t mix. Paul is an advocate of living free in Christ! We are amazingly free in Christ! 

Paul has already said in Romans 8, which we haven’t studied… yet. 

Romans 8:1-2 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

We in Christ are not ruled by law. The law of Moses does not bind us. We are amazingly free in Christ. 

I advocate that there is no law that binds us. The only law is the Spirit at work in our lives. We don’t live under any law system. We are amazingly free in Christ!

But, in the letter to the Romans, those who were free in Christ, were destroying their “weaker” brother and sisters. Paul jumps to the other side of the fence by teaching that our freedom is constrained by our concern for Christians. 

The third solution to church fellowship is… Liberty is limited by love.

Let’s read how love limits our liberty. 

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Romans 14:13-23 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So, then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. 

Wow! Our love for each other; our desire to help each other; our peace and joy and faithfulness to each other… puts a boundary around our freedom in Christ. We are amazingly free in Christ. But, but, but that freedom must never be used in grieving a sibling. 

Let’s dig into this a bit deeper. Let me reorganize what Paul has said in this paragraph into a sequence of wrongs and rights.

Wrong 1) Doubting and Doing is wrong

Paul says twice in this paragraph that nothing is wrong with eating any food. Kosher or not, it doesn’t matter. But to the person…

--who was raised all their lives to never eat a BLT, 

--who could not see that it was ok, now 

--who would violate their faith by eating, 

--it is wrong for that person to violate their faith. 

Wrong 1 – Even if something is “free” in Christ, if a person violates their faith, that thing is wrong for them! 

Wrong 2) Doing which Destroys is wrong.

Paul uses two metaphors; a stumbling block and a trap. You are jogging along a sidewalk, there is a crack in the concreate, trip bam, bam, bam, faceplant. OR, you are a bunny in the woods and you see a carrot. But there is a loop of string.  Bam, you are hanging upside down. 

These are two different things. One is accidental the other is intentional. Both are wrong. If you inadvertently do/say something that trips a weaker brother or if you deliberately tempt another to get them to experience freedom… snare them. Both are wrong. 

Causing a sibling to violate their faith is wrong. 

With those two wrongs in place Paul turns to the right. 

Right 1) Putting first things first is right.

The kingdom of God is not about what you eat. The Kingdom of God is not about what you wear. The kingdom of God is not about a list of do’s and don’ts. The kingdom of God is not about the silly stuff of the world. 

The kingdom of God is about justice. When we are together, we treat every single person, no matter who they are outside church, here, they are people in the image of God.

The kingdom of God is about peace. When we are together, it should peaceful; a haven of calm.

The kingdom of God is about joy. When we praise God together, there should be joy pouring out of our pores.

The kingdom of God is about uplifting each other. When we leave church, we should feel better about our relationship with God and each other. We are better for having been here!

In the kingdom of God, we put the important things first… treating people right, peace, joy, building each other up. It is right to love each other! Right #1.

Right 2) Praising God by shutting our mouths is right.

“What? I thought we praised God by opening our mouths by singing and such.” We do. But sometimes, we praise God by keeping what we believe to ourselves. The faith that we have we sometimes just keep between me and the One Upstairs. Sometimes telling everything we know or believe or have done… is going to be harmful to those who are not in a position to receive it. There is praise to God in keeping it between us.

Two wrongs. Two rights

Wrong 1) Doubting and Doing is wrong. 

Wrong 2) Doing which Destroys is wrong.

Right 1) Putting first things first is right.

Right 2) Praising God by shutting our mouths is right.

Now watch the colors as we read our passage again from David Bentley Hart’s translation.

DBH Romans 14:13-23 So let us no longer judge one another, but let us arrive at this judgment instead: to place before the brother no stumbling-block, or a snare that causes one to trip. I know and have been persuaded by the Lord that nothing is profane in itself except to the one who reckons something to be profane—it is profane for him. For, if your brother is caused distress on account of food, then you are no longer proceeding in accord with love. So do not let the good be blasphemed by you. For the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but rather justice and peace and joy in a holy spirit; For the one who slaves for the Anointed in this is delightful to God and approved of by human beings. Let us therefore pursue the things belonging to peace and the things belonging to mutual edification. Do not ruin the work of God for the sake of food. Indeed, all things are pure; yet for the one who eats it is something evil because a stumbling-block—A good thing neither to eat meat nor to drink wine, nor anything upon which your brother stumbles [or is caused to fall or is weakened]. The belief you hold to for yourself, hold it before God. How blissful he who does not judge himself by what he approves of. But the one who has doubt has been judged, whether he eats or not, because it is not out of faithfulness; and everything that is not out of faithfulness is sin.

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“Liberty is limited by love.” Two rights. Two Wrongs. We all get this when it comes to the Jewish law stuff. We have no problem with these verses because no one, we know, follows the Kosher laws, anyway. How does “Liberty is limited by love” apply to now; to us; in 2020? 

“Liberty is limited by love” solution to church fellowship can be applied in several related but separate areas:

--Theological. Sometimes we have to be careful in what we teach. There are harder theological principles that need to be worked to. Kosher was functionally a theological question. As we work with each other… We need to be careful, in teaching at the appropriate level. 

--Behavioral. Sometimes it is our behaviors, that are a result of our theology, that can cause another to stumble in their faith. Exercising our freedom to do something outside the box may cause another to stumble. 

--Customs. Much of what we assume is right, may actually be a custom. These customs when broken by others can result in confusion. 

--Words. We need to be aware of the impact of our words. Words of prejudice; words of criticism. Words of cutting. Our words can discourage or even destroy a sibling. 

Liberty is limited by love. How do my actions, my teaching, my traditions, my words connect to other people is controlled by my concern for them?  We must constantly be evaluating how I am impacting another. 

On our banner “Help Others” The focus of our Christian life is the benefit of “others”. 

Rubber meets the road. I want to focus on Right #2… Praising God by shutting our mouths is right. 

My principle to live by #9… There is no such thing as constructive criticism. I learned this from my father-in-law. I call it the Bob Principle… This is closely related to the general principle of not eating yellow snow. Our attempts to “help” each other can often turn into discouragement. The critical word, the unsolicited advice, the teasing jab meant to correct, all can be destructive. 

We are called upon to correct each other. But we must be extremely careful that our “help” is not a source of quitting. Rubber meets the road this week… Go a week and speak “No Criticism.”

Let’s close with our theme verse. 

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Romans 15:5-7 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.


Tim Stidham

Los Alamos Church of Christ 

February 23, 2019