Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Letting People Grow
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 14:13-19
What condition were you in when you got saved? For some of us that’s an easy question to answer because we’ve only known the Lord for a few weeks or months. But for others that encounter took place so long ago we hardly recognize the person we once were. We’ve changed so much over the years it’s like we’re talking about someone else. Memories of the old us start us laughing or blushing or cringing. We don’t want to think about those days anymore; we’ve moved on. Over the years God changed us. The process wasn’t easy. We often had to learn things the hard way… and then in some cases learn the same lesson again, and even over and over again until it stuck. And no one, no matter how old, would say they’ve arrived. All of us are painfully aware of how far we still have to go, and that’s the point Paul is trying to teach us in this passage. He’s reminding us that spiritual growth takes time and since God was patient with us while those changes took place, we need to turn around and pass on to those behind us the same grace He gave us. Their growth will take time just as ours has and being patient, as Paul will point out, doesn’t mean abandoning people and letting them go it alone. It means refusing to exercise our own rights in some cases and putting their good ahead of ours. In other words, it means loving them like Jesus loved us.

The problem
We tend to like people that agree with us, and to argue with and then walk away from those who don’t. Paul uses the term elsewhere (Titus 3:10) of a “factious man”. He warns Titus to “reject a factious man after a first and second warning”. A factious man is someone who forces people to choose sides. He or she divides the community using doctrinal arguments or gossip or by gathering people’s loyalty like Absalom did (2Sa 15:1-6).

It’s easy to spot those who do this in glaring, unhidden ways, but there can be a tendency to do this in all of us. When we encounter someone who doesn’t agree with us we may spend some time trying to convince them they’re wrong, and then if they don’t come to see things our way fairly quickly we’ll cut off the relationship and maybe even warn others to watch out for that person. These broken relationships can become hidden divisions within a church until it is full of “microfractures”. It may look whole on the surface but upon closer inspection it has become brittle. If any real stress comes along it will quickly fall apart. That was happening in Rome.

What is Paul saying (Ro 14:13-19)
• (vs13-15) Paul wants the Roman church to see that in light of the fact that the Lord Himself will judge each one of us it is unnecessary and wrong for us to judge one another. He doesn’t mean by this that the elders of a church have no responsibility to confront false doctrine or discipline immoral behavior. There are doctrinal truths which if distorted or lost will prevent people from being saved. And there are categories of immoral conduct which if persistently practiced will prevent even a person who claims to be a Christian from being included in the resurrection of the righteous (1Co 6:9, 10; 15:50; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-7). So his remarks should not be expanded into all-inclusive principles. He’s addressing non-essential matters where a person’s conscience is the deciding factor.

It’s important to remember than in this section (Ro 14:1-15:6) Paul’s comments are directed toward specific issues which had become divisive. He discusses whether or not to eat meat sold in the markets, whether people can designate certain days as special days for worship (sabbath, etc.), and he also mentions in passing the drinking of wine (vs17,21) which probably was controversial because of widespread drunkenness (Ro 13:13; 1Co 6:10; 11:21; Eph 5:18; 1Ti 5:23). He leaves no doubt about the correct theological perspective on these, but because they don’t rise to the level of being essential to a person’s salvation, he tells believers to be tolerant and make sure their own actions are guided by love.

In such matters believers need to respect a person’s freedom of conscience. We shouldn’t impose our own standards on someone else. Instead our attention should be focused on ourselves, examining our own motives and behavior to see if we are operating in loveless pride. Are we, by exercising our rights, doing something that negatively influences another believer? Might our example potentially cause someone who’s weak to fall back into unbelief or be reintroduced to an addictive bondage they had escaped?

• (vs 16-19) Paul is answering the question any mature believer might ask: why should I allow my freedom to be curtailed by someone else’s conscience? Why should I be forced to treat as unclean something I know is clean? And Paul’s answer is simple: Because as a Christian I have chosen to follow Christ’s example (Ro 15:1-3) and “walk according to love” (v15), and “love does no wrong to a neighbor…” (Ro 13:10). If I love as He loves my main focus will not be on pleasing myself, but rather on doing that which protects and edifies those who are weak. My concern won’t be to win theological arguments but to live in such a way that I can help as many as possible be saved (1Co 10:32-11:11).

God’s work on earth is not determined by whether a person does or does not eat meat or drink wine. What promotes salvation of the lost and the spiritual growth of believers is preaching the righteousness of faith, believers worshiping and ministering side-by-side in peaceful harmony, and teaching people to find relief from their suffering, not in alcohol, but in the joyful presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Those who serve Christ by doing these things are very pleasing to God, and as time passes they tend to develop a good reputation with unbelievers as well as believers.

Paul invites us to join him in choosing to do things that promote peace with other believers rather than strife, to seek to make people stronger in the walk with God rather than expose them to temptation.

Disagreeing agreeably
Paul’s teaching us how to relate to people we disagree with when we’re sure we’re right. If God’s work is to continue, the community of His people (church) must remain unified, walking together in love. And that doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not just a community which only nice people attend. It’s a decision that’s lived out relationship by relationship. It’s a choice each of us makes, especially when we encounter someone we consider weaker in faith or wrong on a topic. Here are six steps Paul gives us that will help us walk in love:
1) Don’t judge. If I discover a soul-threatening sin or doctrinal error that needs to be handled along biblical guidelines. Otherwise, I should change the subject and refuse to allow our differences of opinion to divide us.
2) Don’t abandon. I need to remember how long it took me to learn lessons. I need to be patient and stay in relationship with the person, not separate from them. Abandoning them isn’t God’s way to avoid arguing.
3) Don’t push. It’s a terrible mistake to cause someone to violate their conscience. The conscience matters even if it lacks knowledge. It’s our desire to please God that pleases Him, so if I encourage you to violate your conscience, in your mind you are disobeying God. I’m actually eroding your character and thereby making you vulnerable to further violations. Here’s what to look for: is the person trying to earn righteousness (stumble) or are they trying to please God (worship)?
4) Don’t be cynical. We must let people change and not hold them captive to their past. We need to remember God is at work even when we can’t see it (v4). Yes, trust takes time but there’s a difference between caution and cynicism.
5) Don’t mislead. People are watching us. They follow our example far more than our words. In whatever I do I must always consider the weak (people coming out of spiritual deception, idolatry, legalism, drunkenness, sexual addictions…). There are people who are still counting the days they’ve been clean and sober. There are people who’ve been raised all their lives to believe certain things are right or wrong. Is it possible that my example might encourage someone to do something that will cause them to fall back into unbelief or reintroduce them to an addictive bondage?
6) Don’t forget. That’s a person for whom Christ died, an eternal spirit profoundly loved by God (v15).

A radical reorientation
The Christian life isn’t a matter of a few small adjustments. It’s a radical reorientation of everything I do. No longer do I live to please myself. I now live to win every possible person to Jesus Christ. This is the way Paul lived and he invites me to imitate him (1Co 11:1), but even more importantly, this is the way Jesus lives and He demands that I pick up my cross and follow Him (Lk 9:23, 24).

1) Name someone who patiently helped you when you were a new believer.
2) Have you separated from someone over a non-essential matter? What step could you take to heal that relationship?

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