[This post was in progress until 29Jun09]
One man's meat is another man's poison. So it's often said by my primary school teachers. This morning I had the privilege to preach the Sunday sermon at Ipoh Garden Baptist on this passage Romans 14. When I was first given the text, this old adage came to mind.
On closer inspection, however, it became more like,
"One man's meat is another man's vegetable"!
Here's the text to my sermon this morning:
Some things are practised differently among some Christians in Church.
At an International Students' Conference at UM back in 1982, I met an Indonesian brother who thought it was necessary to wash, bathe and change into clean clothes each morning before keeping his Quiet Time. He was somewhat unhappy seeing me do my Quiet Time before washing up!
Some Christian communities, e.g. Indian Christians, feel strongly that they should be well dressed for worship service in church on Sundays. The men and boys would invariably put on long sleeved shirts with neckties. To them, it is disrespectful to God to wear casual clothes on Sundays.
Similarly, there was a Church in Bidor town which my family attended back in 2002, which encouraged all the brothers to wear ties during worship. Again, failing to do so indicates a lack of respect for and honour to the Lord.
At one time, in some Baptist Churches, e.g. in USA, women were discouraged from wearing pants, and only skirts were allowed. This was done out of concern for the command in Deuteronomy 22:5, "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD your God".
And here, in our own country, there are some churches like the Bible Presbyterian, which do not use musical instruments during worship. There's even a church in Bukit Beruntung which does not sing any hymns or choruses, but instead uses only the Book of Psalms for singing during worship.
And the list goes on.
This morning let us look at the apostle's teaching on disputable matters in church.
Verse 1 in Romans 14 tells us, "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters". The KJV translates disputable matters as "doubtful disputes" while the TEV uses the term "personal opinions". Let us see how we can accept one another's persuasion and conviction in such disputable matters.
Let us ponder over how we can accomodate our individual differences, on matters that don't really matter!
I Some of us are different from others
verses 2, 5 and 21
Some of us are stronger in our faith:
v2: his faith allows him to eat everything. These are people who can drink some wine, eat some meat and regard some festivals as the same as other days. And they can still live with a clear conscience.
Others among us are weaker in our faith:
v2b: his faith is weak, he eats only vegetables. In contrast to the stronger in faith, these are people who cannot bring themselves to accept a broader interpretation of some disputable matters. For such people, it is wrong to eat meat, it is not right to treat special days, feasts or celebrations as the same as other days in the year. And for some, it is an ungodly practice to drink wine.
In this morning's passage, the terms "stronger" or "weaker" should not be seen as referring to "superior" or "inferior" Christians, as we often tend to see. Instead, the apostle Paul was referring to some people whose conscience were troubled (the weaker in faith) when they see others apparently taking liberties in some matters of Christian living (the stronger in faith). It must be emphasised here that the stronger in faith are not to be seen as better Christians that those who were weaker.
What really mattered here in Romans 14 was not what some people believed or observed in such areas of Christian living. Whether they were "stronger" or "weaker" in their faith was not a cause for concern in this passage. Instead it was how these people treated one another that caused problems. The Apostle Paul pointed out that those who were weaker judged those who were stronger in faith. At the same time, those who were stronger despised those who were weaker in faith.
It was this issue of Christians' passing judgment and showing contempt to one another that is being addressed in this morning's scripture passage. Here, and also elsewhere in the NT, the apostle Paul teaches clearly on how Christians should be careful about not offending one another on such disputable matters.
Let us look more closely into two examples.
Firstly, the example of taking food. In 1 Corinthians 10: 25 - 33, the apostle Paul instructed at length, how some Christians who were stronger in faith could actually give thanks for food that were served to them when they eat at the homes of non-believing friends, regardless of whether they had been offered on the altars of idols prior to dinner time, believing that "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (1Cor10: 26, Psalm 24: 1).
Yet, Paul taught them that they should be mindful of the presence of others, including Christians who were weaker in their faith, whose conscience would be badly troubled if they saw fellow believers taking such "offered" food, usually meat. Furthermore, the non-believers conscience may also be affected, when they see Christian friends apparently violating their own beliefs about idol-worship. So, out of consideration for people with weaker faith and conscience, a precaution is necessary:
But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake— the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. 1 Cor 10: 28, 29
Secondly, the example of observing sacred days. "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike", verse 5 says.
In Jewish practice of OT times, the first day of each month, the New Moon, was to be regarded as a holy day. The New Moon was associated with the sabbath (Isaiah 1: 13). It was celebrated as a new beginning and was marked by sacrifices to God (Numbers 28: 11-15), and by the sound of trumpets (Number 10:10, Psalm 81:3). The most significant New Moon was that of the seventh month of the year, (Lev 23: 24, 25 and Numbers 29: 1-6) when no work was to be carried out. Also, in Ezekiel 46: 1, 3, the new moon is to be regarded as a special day of worship.
It was not surprising, therefore, that there were Christians in the NT, probably the Hebrew Christians, who would hold strongly to the view that holy days such as the New Moon should be strictly observed in the Christian church. These were the "weaker in faith", in contrast to others who were stronger, who would regard everyday as equally holy to the Lord. On this matter, in comparison with the matter of taking food, the apostle Paul teaches those who were weaker to show some consideration to those who were stronger. In Colossians 2:16, 17, the apostle Paul wrote:
. . . do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The TEV translates Col 2: 16 as "let no one make rules about what you eat or drink, or about holy days, or the new moon . . ." The weaker in faith, while being fully convinced in their persuasion that they should observe certain days as sacred, should refrain from "making rules" out of their persuasions and from imposing such rules on everyone else.
Some eat meat, others eat only vegetables. Some regard certain days as sacred, others regard everyday the same. Some drink wine, others abstain from wine. (N.B. In 1 Tim 5: 23, Timothy was urged to take wine to alleviate his stomach ailments.)
Let us accept that some of us will be different from others.
II Each of us is to decide for himself
verses 5, 6 and 12
Each one decides his own convictions:
v5 - he is to be fully convinced in his own mind. Each one of us is to "make up his mind firmly", the TEV translates. Let not anyone be doubled minded over disputable matters. Instead, let each one decide and make up his own mind and uphold his own persuasion and convictions on such matters.
Each one decides his own commitment
v6 - he is to regard, eat or abstain etc to the Lord and to God, with thanksgiving. Each of us is to live out his convictions thankfully towards God. Each member in the church lives to the Lord, not for his own self, but, instead for the sake of God. We are reminded by the Psalmist in Psalm 23:
He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake.
An old French version of the Bible translates this verse as " . . . for the cause of his name". So, whether we observe certain sacred days, or observe all days; whether we eat meat or refuse to eat meat; and whether we take wine or abstain from wine, each of us does it to the Lord, for the sake of His name.
Each one decides his own conscience
v12 - he is to give account of himself to God eventually. Each of us is to decide how we are going to explain to the Lord on judgment day, to give an account of our choices, our persuasions and our convictions on such disputable matters, and on how we have maintained a clear conscience in observing such convictions.
. . . all of us must appear before Christ to be judged by him. Each one will receive what he deserves, according to everything he has done, good or bad, in his bodily life 2 Cor. 5: 10 TEV
III All of us are destined for God
verses 7, 8 and 10
All of us live and die for our Lord
v7,8 - all live, and all die to the Lord. In v9, we can read that our Lord Jesus died and lived again to be Lord over both living and dead. None of us are to live for our ownselves in our Christian lives. Remember Paul's testimony in Philippians 1: 21,
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
All of us belong to our Lord.
v8 - all belong to the Lord. The word "belong" carries the sense of a servant or slave in this passage. Recall that v4 says (TEV) "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? It is his own Master who will decide whether he succeeds or fails. And he will succeed, because the Lord is able to make him succeed."
All of us will be judged by God
v10 - all will stand before the judgment seat. Note that v11 is a reference to Isaiah 45:23, "will kneel and confess (vow, or swear) that He is God"
Isaiah 45: 22, 23 KJV:
22Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.23I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear*.
* The LXX translates verse 23 as " every tongue shall confess to God"
(A Greek translation of the OT, including the apocrypha, dated around 300 BC, about the time of Alexander the Great. Traditionally believed to involve 72 scholars who translated the Pentateuch for Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285 - 246 BC. Septuaginta (LXX) means 70 in Latin)
Also, in Philippians 2:10
"so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth"
Two noteworthy questions are asked by Paul here: To the weaker in faith, "Why do you judge others?" and to the stronger in faith, "Why do you look down on others?".
Christians, if we believe that all creation, whether in heaven, on earth or even under the earth, will kneel at the name of Jesus, and that all will confess (vow) to God, and affirm that He is God, and that there is no one else, let us refrain from passing judgment and from showing contempt.
(1) Our meditation this morning is on matters that don't really matter e.g. eating certain food, observing sacred days and abstaining from wine. They are called "disputable matters" in v1 (NIV) or "doubtful things" (NKJV) or simply "personal opinions" (TEV). On such matters, what really matters is to let each one be fully convinced "in his own mind" v5.
. . . let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon festival or the Sabbath. Colossians 2: 16 TEV
(2) At the same time, let us also remember Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor 10:23 NIV on being sensitive to those whose conscience may be troubled by our "strong" faith:
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
(3) Finally, let us remember that we shall all appear before our Lord Jesus Christ, to be judged by him. Each of us live and die to the Lord. We all belong to the Lord, as slaves to a Master. And each of us shall have to give account of our lives to Him.
So, why do we judge our brothers? Or why do we despise our brothers?
(4) Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us accept one another's beliefs, persuasions and convictions on disputable matters. On doubtful disputes, let the stronger bear with the weaker in faith. And on matters that don't really matter, let the weaker refrain from passing judgment on the stronger.
May God help us all.