I’m a teacher and it’s my gift. It’s a cool gift. I get a microphone. I get a broadcast. I get a pulpit. I get to talk (or write) and you get to listen (or read). And when I’m teaching, it’s especially cool when I see “lights” go on all over the place.
The downside of the gift of teaching, though, is that I can’t stop being your mother. I keep trying to correct you, fix you and make you like me.
Someone has said that “where two or three people are gathered in the name of Christ…there are problems.”
In Romans 14:1-19, there are problems in Rome. Let me give you the context. In the first century there, the killing of animals and preparing them for the market was often connected to ritual sacrifice, often a sacrifice to a pagan god. So when you went to the supermarket, the available meat was probably meat from a pagan sacrifice.
The issue was this: Can a Christian eat meat that has been offered to pagan gods? Some said, “of course not.” Some said, “those gods don’t exist at all, so of course you can.” Others said, “it depends on how hungry you are.”
Then there were other issues of division. One specific Paul mentions is about days. You had Seventh-day Adventists, Sabbath breakers and Sabbath keepers. You had high holy days and you had people who didn’t get the holy days at all.
Over these issues and others, as a result of all this, there were evidently some painful church splits. The weak judged and the strong despised those who disagreed. With great wisdom and insight, Paul addresses those divisions.
Paul’s words to Rome are just as relevant to us today. Christians disagree over everything from baptism…to communion, to speaking in tongues, to worship, to The Shack. And the devil loves every bit of it.
Frankly, Christians have their underwear on too tight!
Let’s look at what Paul had to say. It’s surprising and profoundly wise. Some basic principles that ought to be a part of how we “do” a healthy church…
THE CURSE OF CONFORMITY
“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. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?...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” (Romans 14:3-4,13).
We are called to be radicals, not conformists.
One of the hardest lessons I ever learned was that I can’t please everyone. I want to; I want to be what everyone wants me to be; I want everyone to love me. The problem is that it simply can’t be done. We believe spurious doctrines, refuse to ask questions, are afraid to confront, stifle protests, keep quiet when we ought to speak, allow ourselves to be manipulated—all because we are afraid that people won’t love us if we don’t please them.
Radicals rarely appear to be radical. They are like pool hustlers who appear to be inadequate to the game until one realizes that one’s wallet is empty and the hustler is grinning. It is why evil radicals aren’t stopped before great damage is done. It is also why God’s radicals are often missed until one sees God glorified and God’s people changed.
God’s radicals speak with truth—and all of it—gently, lovingly, kindly, clearly and with great grace.
We are always surprised when unbelievers get angry with Christians. We shouldn’t be. In fact, if they aren’t angry sometimes, then they simply haven’t understood what we’ve said (that is, in fact, if we said it). And that’s the point, isn’t it?
You will remember the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the emperor has been conned into believing that he is dressed in fine new clothes when, in fact, he is as naked as a jaybird. Everybody, because of their fear, tells the emperor how good he looks in his “new clothes”…except for one little boy who says, “He is buck naked!”
That is our calling as Christians. We are to speak truth to our culture, our nation, our friends, our politicians, our church, our family, our neighbors and to ourselves. We are, as it were, to be Christian radicals.
Contrary to popular opinion (irony intended), we’re not called to conformity.
THE TRUST OF TOLERANCE
“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” (Romans 14:4).
I’m a cynical, old preacher and I trust you. Then, you say, you’re not so cynical if you trust me.
I trust God’s Spirit in you. And that is Paul’s point.
This is the principle: I don’t have to be your mother…because God is your Father.
I spend part of each week interviewing people with whom I disagree. All types of people from leaders of the emergent church…to uptight Pharisees. (And I really am civil to them!) But do you know what I’ve discovered? It is quite rare for me not to smell Jesus on them.
Of course you should have convictions, but when you’re dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, trust the Holy Spirit in them.
Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, said, “When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust his heart.” It is the same with Christians.
I don’t trust people at all…but I do trust God.
Because God is your Father, I don’t have to be your mother.
THE LIBERALITY OF LOVE
“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” (Romans 14:14-15).
Someone told me that at a recent conference on grace, one of the main speakers (you would recognize his name) was asked if he drank alcohol. He answered no…unless he was around uptight Christians who thought that anybody who did so was going to hell. In that case, he said he would partake because he loved his brothers and sisters enough to irritate them.
The bottom line is love.
Sometimes love demands that I offend. Sometimes love demands that I hug. Love is the measurement.
Where do you get the love? You allow God to love you until it overflows to everybody else.
When I meet Christians who can’t deal with Romans 14—and you wouldn’t believe the letters I get!—I know their problem is that they need to be loved. Until you’re loved, Romans 14 won’t make sense.
What’s my point with all this?
Stop trying to fit the mold of being a Christian and copying everybody else.
Be the Christian God created you to be.