Hard Call: When the Bible Is Silent - Part 2

Romans 14:1-15:13

Tom Pennington  •  October 5, 2008
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It's with joy that we continue our study this morning from Romans 14 regarding issues of conscience. You know, I was thinking this week about some issues of conscience that are from other times and other places. D. L. Moody, for example, taught, and other Christians around his time thought that it was wrong for men to wear ruffled shirts. Let me look around and see if I see any ruffled shirts here this morning. Billy Sunday taught, and other Christians embraced his conviction, that it was wrong for women to chew gum. It was probably just satire, but in his book, "Lake Woebegone Days", Garrison Keeler, the National Public Radio host, tells the story of supposedly his home town where he grew up. And in that town there were a group of brethren who were known for the fact that they would only use cold water in their baths because hot water was considered to be too sensual and catering too much to the flesh. One place in Asia, where I've been—and this is not satire—this is true. One place in Asia where I've traveled, there are some Christians who consider it worldly and fleshly to wear deodorant. You know, I think there were some boys in my high school that bought in to that. Some of the issues of conscience, from a different place and a different time, can seem humorous. And yet, when they are the issues that are in your own family, or your own community, or your own church, they can be anything but funny. They can be so serious as to become a source of true division and disunity in the church. That is Paul's primary concern as he comes to this issue in Romans 14. He's not so much concerned about whether Christians do or don't. He's more concerned about what results—and that is the potential for disunity.

Now, as we begin our study this morning, there are a couple of issues that I explained last week that are absolutely crucial to our study this morning, and so I need to review them with you as we begin. First of all, let me remind you that the only biblical criterion for determining if something is an issue of conscience, or an issue of Christian liberty, is explained in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 23. This is what it says, "All things are lawful but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." In other words, Paul is talking only about those things, in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, he is talking only about those things that the law of God allows. If I could put it differently, I would say he is saying that if the Bible does not explicitly forbid a choice, chapter and verse, or if it does not explicitly command a choice, it is a matter of Christian liberty. It is an issue of conscience that every individual believer must decide.

Now, that's the biblical criterion. One other thing we need to review as we begin this morning, and that is, when we talk about Christian liberty, we need to be clear on what it is we're describing. When the Bible describes Christian liberty, it describes or lays out for us three expressions of Christian liberty. And it's important to keep these separate because Paul treats them differently. First of all, Paul teaches that we have Christian liberty from keeping the Law of God as a way to earn favor with God—as a way to earn a right standing before God. We have liberty from the Law as a way to earn our salvation. Paul deals with this in his book to the churches in Galatia. Because in Galatia, there were a group of people, Jewish people, who had come into the churches, said they were Christians, said they were followers of Christ, but they had added to justification by faith alone the requirement of keeping the Old Testament Law. You had to be circumcised before you could become a Christian. You had to keep the Law as a means to gaining a right standing before God. And Paul didn't allow any ground on this issue. If you look at Galatians chapter 2 verse 4, he says there were false brethren who secretly brought in—they sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus in order to bring us into bondage. They came in to steal that liberty from keeping the Law as a way to earn favor with God—as a way to earn our salvation. They came to bring that back in. How do you respond, Paul? Look at Galatians chapter 5 verse 1, "It was for freedom that Christ has set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery." You see, when it comes to this first expression of our Christian liberty—liberty from keeping the Law as a way to earn our salvation, God, through Paul, says don't ever, ever surrender that freedom or that right. In other words, if somebody who claims to be a Christian comes to you and tries to add something, whether it's in the Bible or whether it's not in the Bible—tries to add something to the gospel of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone, don't even think about tolerating it. Fight it for all it's worth. Don't be patient with that. Like Paul, be quick to condemn it. For those in Romans 14 who believed in justification by faith alone but were having problems letting go of their traditions, Paul says, be patient with them. Be tolerant toward them. But when the exact same issues come up in the churches in Galatia, but there, those actions were assigned salvific merit, Paul absolutely unleashes his fury. And in Galatians 4 he says this, "I fear for you that I have labored over you in vain." You might not even be Christians, he says. Very clear that we have liberty from keeping the Law as a way of earning our salvation. And don't ever give up that liberty. Don't ever give up that right. Don't let anyone ever undermine that liberty that you have. When that liberty is attacked, it's not time to be patient and tolerant. It's time to go on the offensive, as Paul did.

Now, there's a second expression of our Christian liberty, and that is liberty from keeping the Old Testament ceremonial law. This is the issue in Romans 14. It also comes up in Colossians 2. You remember in Colossians 2, Paul says when Jesus died it's as if all of those Old Testament ceremonial laws were nailed to His cross with Him. Therefore, he says, Colossians 2:16 don't let anyone judge you in respect to how you keep a certain day, in terms of your keeping the festivals and food and drink and all of those things. Those were mere shadows and now the substance is here. The body is here. Christ is here. So you don't have to do those things any more. You have liberty from keeping the Old Testament ceremonial law.

The third expression of our Christian liberty is liberty from having to keep any man-made spiritual rules, whether they appear to be connected to the Bible or not. Liberty from having to keep any man-made spiritual rules, whether they appear to be tangentially connected to the Scripture or not. This is the issue in 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. And the food sacrificed to idols. So, don't miss the point. When someone is adding non-biblical requirements to the gospel, we shouldn't even tolerate it. On that first expression of liberty, don't give in an inch. But on the second two, when the gospel is not involved, we are to take up a much more patient and tolerant and forgiving approach. When it comes to the moral choices that we all have to make that aren't addressed in Scripture, we have Christian liberty, but we are to not always exercise that liberty to the full extent. In fact, the point of Romans 14 is not go, exercise your liberty, but rather, here's how you should limit your liberty. Your Christian liberty in these areas is not without limits. The focus of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 is not in exercising your rights but on limiting them. You see, there are very real dangers connected to our Christian liberty. Some of the dangers have to do with us, and some of the dangers have to do with how they affect other people. So, we need help. We need help sorting through when to exercise our liberty on these second two expressions and when not to exercise our liberty.

And so, in Romans 14, Paul provides us with several foundational principles concerning the wise and biblical exercise of our Christian liberty. The first principle is found in Romans 14, verses 1 through 12. You follow along as I read this passage. Romans 14:1 through 12. Here, the first principle of how and when to exercise our Christian liberty is spelled out. Romans 14:1:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions, One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he give thanks to God; and he who eats not, [it's] for the Lord he does not eat, and [he too] gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God, For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praised to God." So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

In these 12 verses, Paul spells out for us the first great principle in deciding how to exercise our Christian liberty. The first principle is this: you must never allow your Christian liberty to cause disunity in the church. You must never allow your Christian liberty to cause disunity in the church. Now this morning, we will only be able to study this first principle, and follow how Paul develops it in these 12 verses. Over the next two or three weeks, we will example the other principles of Christian liberty that he unpacks in this passage.

This morning let's look at the first 12 verses, and this first great principle. You must never allow your Christian liberty to cause disunity in the church. And this principle, as he unfolds it, he does so in sort of two movements. The first movement I'll call the potential causes for disunity over Christian liberty. The potential causes of disunity over Christian liberty. And secondly, then, he'll also show us the biblical cure for disunity that happens because of Christian liberty. The biblical cure. So let's look, first, at the potential causes of disunity that arises because of the practice of Christian liberty. How does it happen? How does our Christian liberty translate into division in the church? Well, Paul here, identifies a couple of ways that Christian liberty can become a source of division or disunity in the church. The first potential cause is present in every church without exception. And that is, legitimate differences over issues of conscience. The first and clearest potential cause for disunity is that there are these legitimate differences among us. And there were significant differences of opinion and conviction over issues of conscience in the Roman church. In Romans 14, the specific issues were primarily about their liberty from the Old Testament law—that second expression. And there were specifically two issues that were really hot topics of discussion among the Roman church. The first one we find in Romans 14 verse 2. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. I love that. You notice what Paul says? He who is weak eats vegetables only. That's like my life's motto. No, actually, this is not an attack on vegetarians, alright?

To really understand what Paul is saying here, you have to look back at the historical context. In the churches in Rome, there were both Jewish believers and there were Gentile believers. Paul gets to this at the beginning of chapter 15 of Romans, where he talks about the place of the Jews and the Gentiles and how that's been a source of division. There were these Jewish believers and the Gentile believers in the church. Remember now, their whole lives, the Jews had hung out at the synagogue with other Jewish people, and the Gentiles had hung out with other pagans at the pagan temples, and all of a sudden, in a short period of time they come to faith in Christ, and they're thrown together. Now, the Jewish Christians, for the most part, still observe the Mosaic Law. You remember in Acts chapter 21 verse 20, the believers there in Jerusalem say, listen, thousands of Jews have come to Christ, and they are still all zealous for the Law. That's why they urged Paul, you remember, to take the vow and to go through that whole deal that got him in trouble there in Jerusalem. They were all zealous for the Law. So, all these Jewish Christians still observed the Mosaic Law. There may have been a few God-fearing Gentiles who, before their conversation to Christ, like Cornelius, were a part of the synagogue, accepted the God of Israel. They may also have observed the Mosaic Law. But most of the Gentile converts in the church in Rome had never darkened the door of the synagogue, had never practiced the Mosaic Law before Christ, and they certainly weren't going to practice the Mosaic Law after Christ. So, here was the problem. The Jewish Christians in the church were convinced that they still needed to obey the Mosaic Law, including all of those dietary restrictions. All of those clean and unclean foods and all the prescriptions about that.

So, think about the problems they ran into every day in the markets in Rome. There was no refrigeration so that meant that every day they went to the markets to buy their food—to prepare their food for that day. And when they went to the market each day, the meat that was sold in those markets presented them with a huge problem. First of all, they had to ask themselves, is that meat from a clean animal? Is that meat from one of those animals that was specifically prescribed back in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as acceptable to Jewish people. And even if it says it's from a clean animal, can I be sure? You know, it's a lot like the food that's being served down at the Peking Moon, you know, is that really sweet and sour chicken or is that some other kind of meat? They had to ask themselves this question. Then they had to ask themselves, even if it's a clean animal and I can be sure of that, has it been killed—has it been slaughtered—in a kosher way. Has the blood been drained from that animal. Gentiles typically didn't do that, but that's what the Old Testament Law prescribed. But they weren't done yet. There was another problem. Even if it was a clean animal and even if it had been slaughtered properly, had it been, as most of the meat was, in the ancient world—particularly in pagan cities—offered to idols? So all of these questions are running through the Jewish believer's mind when he's there at the market, and those questions could never be satisfactorily answered. So when these Jewish Christians, who were convinced that they had to keep the Old Testament kosher laws, went to the market, they just settled for the produce aisle. They just got vegetables. And while they were standing there in the check-out line with their arugula and brussels sprouts, they glanced back and they saw one of their new Gentile brothers in the church there at Rome putting into his cart full slabs of pork ribs. Now, imagine trying to have a church dinner with that going on. And it did. Remember, believers ate together often. This was a huge issue in the church. Undoubtedly, the church socials had been wrought with fierce discussions about these points.

Now this food issue was primarily about meat, but it also involved wine for the same reason. Notice verse 21. Paul says it's not good to eat meat or to drink wine. He probably brings that up because it was a problem there in Rome as well. You see, in the pagan world, wine was also offered to the gods as a libation. The guy who grew the grapes and had the vineyards and prepared the wine, he would bring that and other things that he produced to the gods. It was kind of like a superstition. You bring it to the gods. He's going to bless you know, your harvest and that particular cask of wine or whatever, and so you came with that idea. This was going to somehow be good so—it didn't cost anything to do it. You bring it. You lay it down there before the gods. You give it to them as a libation and, of course, the gods didn't drink much. So you take it and you sell it. For these Jewish Christians, then, they couldn't go for that. And so, they were reduced—these Jewish believers in the Roman church—were reduced to water and vegetables. Can you think about a biblical text they might have used to defend their view? You remember Daniel in Daniel 1. They undoubtedly said to their Gentile brothers—how could you? It's in the Bible. Look at what Daniel did.

So in the church in Rome there were definite differences—legitimate differences of what Christians should and should not eat. Now, let me ask you a question. Did the Bible allow them to eat non-kosher food? Absolutely. Of course it did. You remember Mark 7 which I mentioned to you last week. Jesus made this a pronouncement. He says, it's not that which goes into a man that defiles a man, but rather it's that which comes out of his heart. And then Mark adds this little editorial comment. He says, "He said this declaring all foods to be clean." And if that wasn't enough, a few years later, Peter is asleep waiting for dinner on the coast of the Mediterranean, and you remember that he's given a vision by God. And there's this great display of various kinds of animals, clean and unclean, and God says arise, Peter, kill and eat. And he says I can't do that, I've never eaten anything unclean. And in Acts chapter 10 verse 15, again a voice came to him a second time "what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy or unclean." God was not only showing Peter that day that the Gentiles were to be received, but he was also showing him that the Old Testament dietary restrictions had been done away with—that God had cleansed what was formerly unclean—that all meats were now allowed. And I hear an "Amen!" from you Texans! So their consciences were bothered. The weak consciences however, did not understand that, and they were bothered.

There was also another legitimate difference there in the church in Rome. Not only over food, but verse 5 tells us over the keeping of certain days. Notice verse 5, "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike." There's a lot of debate about specifically, what days are included here. Almost everyone agrees that it at least included the Jewish annual feasts. You remember when the children of Israel had to go down to the city of Jerusalem. I think it also included, as it does in Colossians chapter 2, the new moon festivals, which were held each month, and the weekly Sabbaths. I think what you have here is, there were those in the church in Rome split over whether or not all of those high and holy days that were a part of the Jewish calendar should be kept or should not be kept. And the Jewish believers had kept them their whole lives, said they ought to be kept. These are God's days. And the Gentile believers said, no, we think all days are holy unto the Lord alike. So on these two issues of conscience—kosher food, and keeping those Old Testament celebrations and festivals, there were significant differences of opinion among the Christians in the Roman church.

Now, before we leave this, it's important for you to understand something. I'm going to tread where only an apostle would not fear to go. And he goes there here, so we have to follow him. Alright? Paul in these verses defines what it means to be weak in faith and strong in faith. That is, weak or strong in reference to "the faith." William Hendriksen , the great commentator, puts it like this, "The strong were those who were able to grasp the significance of Christ's death for daily living. The weak were not." So the one who is weak in faith, in other words, has not come to a full understanding of the significance of Christ's death, of the faith, a full understanding of the completeness of grace, and the sufficiency of God's word. The weak brother feels like it's necessary and important to add obligations and restrictions that the Bible does not. He goes beyond the bounds of Scripture, but he does so claiming the authority of Scripture for what he calls his convictions. Now, in the context of Romans 14, the weak brother is the one who will not eat meat and the one who believes you must keep the Sabbath and the other Jewish feasts and festivals. So listen carefully. In Paul's language here in Romans 14, the weak brother, the weak conscience, is one that will not do, on religious grounds, something that the Scripture does not forbid, and who feels he must do, on religious grounds, something that the Scriptures do not require. Now, I think this is very interesting, because many, today, reverse Paul's assessment. They will not do something Scripture allows, or they feel they must do on religious grounds something Scripture does not command, and when they do that, they then refer to their choices and their decisions. And what do they say? I have strong convictions. Paul says they are weak in faith. In other words, strong convictions not based on the chapter and verse explicit statements of Scripture may be wrong convictions. Now, brothers and sisters, let me just say this. Let me apply this. If you add to what the Scripture clearly and explicitly teaches, and let me again give some examples, at the risk of life and limb. If you are convinced that a Christian should never, based on God's requirements, drink any alcohol, go to movie theaters, listen to secular music, send their kids to public schools, and so forth, you are by Paul's definition the weaker brother. Paul says that, I think, for a very specific reason. Those who hold those convictions that go beyond the bounds of Scripture can be very tempted to take pride in those convictions. And Paul, here, calls them the weaker brother, I think, not to shame them, but rather to encourage you not to take pride in your positions, but to be open to spiritual growth into maturity, where God's word is enough. Where you really believe that the word of God is sufficient, and we do not have to add to what God has definitively and explicitly said.

Also, in the interest of clarity, let me make one other important distinction. You are not weak in faith because you do these things or don't do them. You are only weak in faith if you believe that God requires them of you or forbids them from you. You see, there are many Christians who make self-imposed limits on their liberty. For example, I was talking with a man in our church just this week who has decided and determined, chosen all of his life, not to drink alcohol. That's not because he believes that Scripture forbids it, but it's because his father was an alcoholic, and he's afraid that he'll like it too much and find himself enslaved to it. That is not a weaker brother. That's not a weak conscience. That's biblical wisdom. Now if that same man saw that decision as required by God for him or others, then he would be weak in faith because he would be going beyond the Scripture.

So you can see then, how there was this potential for conflict. There were legitimate differences. There were weaker brothers and stronger brothers, and there was this potential for division and disunity. But for legitimate differences to descend into disunity and division, there also has to be a second cause. Not only legitimate differences, but there has to be sinful dissension. Sinful dissension over issues of conscience. You see, legitimate differences in issues of conscience can easily degenerate into sinful dissension and bickering. How does that happen? Well, it happens from both sides. Paul shows us here in Romans 14 how it happens. It can take a couple of forms. It can come, the problems of disunity, can come from the strong brother. Notice what happens. Verse 1. The strong brother is addressed in verse 1. He says, "accept the one who is weak." In other words, he's addressing the strong here, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Paul says, you might be tempted, stronger brother, to find your mission in life to convince your weaker brother—to quarrel and argue with him about the positions he holds. This is a very real temptation for the stronger brother. There's another problem with the stronger brother. Notice verse 3. "The one who eats [this is the stronger brother] is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat." There's a very real temptation, if you are the one classified here as strong in faith; you don't feel any compulsion to add rules and regulations beyond where the Bible is explicit—there's a every real temptation to regard the weaker brother with contempt. What does that mean? The expression he uses here in the Greek text comes from a Greek word for "nothing." It means, literally, to regard that person as a nothing and a nobody. To look on them in a condescending way. "Tch—can you believe some Christian would believe that?" It's a very real temptation.

There's another problem though, and it comes not from the strong brother's side, but from the weak brother's side. Here's how it happens. Here's how this sinful dissension happens from the weak brother. He, too, can be guilty. Notice the middle of verse 3, "the one who does not eat [now we're talking about the Jewish believers, the weak brothers here] is not to judge the one who eats." Verse 4, "Who are you to judge the servant of another?" You see, the weak can have this tendency to look at their standards, their convictions and see themselves as the one holy true remnant, faithful and true to God, and the rest of the church is abandoning God. They stand in judgment over those who disagree with their convictions. You can just hear the weaker brother saying something like this, as they see the stronger brother buying the meat. "Tch, is he even a Christian? And if he is a Christian, he's one of the most worldly Christians I have ever seen." They sit in judgment on the spirituality of the strong. If you think this is just hypothetical, look down in verse 10. This was already happening in the church in Rome. Verse 10, "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you, again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?" Those verbs in the Greek text are in the present tense. We could translate it like this: Why are you judging your brother? Why are you regarding your brother with contempt? You see, what happens is, there are these legitimate differences among Christian brothers over what to do when the Bible isn't clear. What decision to make. But what happens is, those legitimate differences descend into sinful dissension when the weaker brother begins to judge the stronger brother, and the stronger brother begins to look down his nose at the weaker brother as a nothing and a nobody. That's the cause. The potential causes of disunity over Christian liberty are those legitimate differences over issues of conscience that are allowed to degenerate into sinful dissension.

Fortunately, Paul doesn't just give us the causes of this disunity because of issues of conscience. He gives us the cure. Let's look at the biblical cure to disunity over issues of conscience—over issues of Christian liberty. You see, ultimately, when we allow our Christian liberty to cause division in the body of Christ, the problem is always with our thinking, and so Paul, here, sets out in this passage to cure the disunity over Christian liberty by correcting our thinking. He says, I got to remind you of some things that are very important. Here are the cures. Here are the reminders that will cure you of the disunity that has resulted in your church. Cure number one. Remember that you are not the one who accepts your brother, Christ is. You are not the one who accepts your brother, Christ is. And we find this in verses 1 through 3 of Romans 14. We are to accept each other. Look at verse 1. "Now accept the one who is weak in faith." This is the stronger brother being encouraged to accept the weaker brother As long as that person, that fellow believer, isn't adding to God's requirements, isn't attaching saving merit to his actions as in Galatians, then accept him. Receive him. But be careful. Notice the second half of verse 1, "not for the purpose of passing judgment." We're not to accept someone who disagrees with us just so we can straighten them out later. I know that never happens. I know we're never tempted that way, but Paul just throws that in here just in case. We are to accept our brother on the basis of his union with Jesus Christ, and not his agreement with us. Verse 3. "The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him." Here, the weak are urged to accept the strong. We're looking the other way now. Why? Because God has accepted him. He's your brother.

Now what does it mean to accept? It's what we're both urged to do. Everyone is urged to accept each other on these issues. It means literally to receive them. To receive them into a warm and genuine friendship. As one of the best of the Greek lexicons says, "as Christ has taken every member of the church into fellowship with Himself, so incorporate each other into your Christian circle (read clique) with no inner reservations." By the way, this same Greek word "accept" is used in Philemon when Paul says to Philemon, I want you to accept Onesimus as you would accept me. Look over in chapter 15 verse 7; here Paul brings it home. He applies it across the board. He says, "Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." We are all to accept each other—strong brother, weak brother—accept each other. Why? Because Christ has accepted us. Here's the point. You and I, in spite of any differences that we have over these issues of conscience, we are to accept one another just as Jesus Christ has accepted and received us. So the cure for disunity over Christian liberty is to correct our thinking. That brother you're having trouble with is a brother, and has been accepted by Jesus Christ. It's not your business to decide whether or not he's accepted. He has been accepted by Christ. Remember, that you are not the one who accepts him, Christ is.

There's a second cure for our thinking in this area, and for the disunity that can result from these differences. Remember that you are not his Lord. Christ is. Remember that you are not his Lord, Christ is. And we see this in Romans 14, verses 4 through 9. Notice verse 4, "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." The word "servant" here is the word for household slave. Paul's point is, one slave has no right to judge a fellow slave. His master, their master, determines whether they stand or fall. By the way, that expression "stand or fall" is equivalent to our English expression "to stand in one's favor, or to fall out of their favor." Jesus Christ is their Lord. They're His slave. He decides whether they stand in favor to Him or whether they fall out of favor. One slave doesn't have the power to disenfranchise another slave. By the way, note the graciousness of Paul here. We are tempted, aren't we, to look and await eagerly the downfall of those who disagree with any of our great convictions. See? I told you that would happen. Paul eagerly anticipates, instead, the sustaining power of God that is capable of making even those who disagree with us to stand. Look at the end of verse 4. The weak brother will stand. The strong brother will stand. Verse 5, "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person is to be fully persuaded or convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord does not eat, and gives thanks to God." You see, when true Christians make decisions about these things, they are always doing it with the Lord in mind. Whether they eat meat or don't. Whether they regard a day or not, their motive is to honor their Lord. Whether they're eating only meat or whether they're eating meat or whether they're eating only vegetables, they're still giving thanks to God before their meal. It's because their Lord is the one that matters, not you, not me.

Now, verses 7 through 9 build on verse 6. Notice what he says, "For [because] not one of us lives to himself, not one of us dies to himself; if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end died Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." Here's why we do what we do for Christ. it's because He's our Lord. And He's our Lord, verse 9 says, because of what He did. He's our Lord because He earned that right by what He accomplished in His death and resurrection. So, folks, remember, you are not the one who accepts your brother. Christ is. And you are not his Lord. Christ is.

There's a third cure to the disunity that is caused by Christian liberty. Remember that you will not be his judge. Christ will. You will not be his judge. Christ will. We see this in verse 10 through 12. " But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.' [Here, he's quoting Isaiah 45:23] So then, each one of us will give an account of himself to God." Why are you judging? Stop judging. Now, let me stop here. I'm not going to spend a lot of time, but let me make sure you understand that this does not mean what so many try to make it mean. This does not mean "don't ever call into question anything anybody does—after all, who am I to judge?" "Don't judge,", here, does not mean don't confront a brother who's sinning. The Bible commands us to. It doesn't mean we shouldn't confront error. The New Testament commands us to do so . What Paul means here is that we are not to decide on the morality of other Christians' choices in issues of conscience. Those things not explicitly addressed by Scripture. Why? Because we will answer directly to Christ at the judgment. Now, this is very interesting. Paul's writing from Corinth when he's writing to the Romans. He's there during that missionary journey, staying in Corinth for some 18 months. And in Corinth, there was a place in the agora there, called the judgment seat—the bema. I've been there. Some of you perhaps have been there. I've had the opportunity to see it. Part of it is still there. It was an elevated platform in the center of town where the competitors in the athletic games were evaluated and where the winners of those games were awarded their prizes. There were also legal decisions issued from the bema. If you had a particular court matter, sometimes decisions were rendered from the bema seat. And so, that earthly place of evaluation and judgment in Corinth was, for Paul, a kind of perfect picture of what will someday happen to every Christian. We will all stand before the bema seat of God, he says here. Paul's point is, we are not to think of ourselves as the final judge of each other's choices. Rather, we will all stand in the place of those being judged. Notice, this judgment is universal. Verse 10 , "we all." It is individual. Verse 12, "each one of us." And Christ Himself will be the judge. Here, it's called the judgment seat or the bema seat of God. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 10, it's called the bema seat of Christ. Christ alone has the right to judge. Listen, believer, when you sit in judgment on another believer's choices in these areas of conscience, you are taking to yourself the prerogatives that belong to Jesus Christ alone. That's Paul's point. And you better remember that Christ will judge. He will judge everyone's choices in these issues of conscience, and He will judge us for our attitudes toward our brothers who made those choices. So we better spend far more time worrying about our decisions and about our attitudes than about our brothers' choices.

Now, there are powerful lessons in these verses. And let me briefly bring them to bear. Let me apply them very personally. I want you to stay with me because this is very important. Let me talk for a moment to those of you here whom Paul identifies as "weak in faith." And I know that's hard to hear. But if there are moral choices that the Scripture does not explicitly detail, but you find yourself saying things like, Christians should do this, or Christians shouldn't do that, then according to Paul, you are the weaker brother. And I want you to listen for a moment. There are a couple of things you need to ask yourself. Number one. Are you finding yourselves sitting in judgment on the stronger brother? Do you find yourself, when the Bible doesn't explicitly detail—I'm not talking about something you can find a verse somewhere that has something to say about it. Remember, these believers were probably doing that. I'm saying, there isn't a chapter and verse that details your conviction. Are you sitting in judgment on those who take different perspectives—who do different things? Do you look down on them? Do you come to the conclusion that they're not spiritual people because they do those things? Paul says, don't. Don't let yourself go there. Let me ask you another question, if you're one who's classified here as weak in conscience. Are you taking pride in your positions—in your convictions, that are not based solidly on the text of Scripture? That's the very thing Paul doesn't want you to do. I'm convinced that's why he says "weak in faith." It's to keep you from taking pride in those convictions and, instead, to leave room to grow up into the maturity that sees God's word as completely sufficient. That is directed by what the Bible teaches and only by what the Bible teaches. Let this passage humble you as Paul intends for it to by calling you the weaker brother, and leave room to grow into the sufficiency of Scripture, and into the ramifications of the gospel.

Let me talk to those of you who are strong in faith. You're not tempted to add to the Scripture in some way. Let me ask you, do you look down on the weaker brothers among us? Do you see those who have convictions about things the Bible doesn't address, and sort of, have this condescending view of them? Do you receive them as you would receive Christ? Do you accept them to use Paul's word, into your circle, or do you keep them outside your group because they just don't fit. We all need to remember that we are not the one who accepts our brother. Christ is. We are not his Lord. Christ is. And we will not be his judge. Christ will. Brothers and sisters. Do not let issues of conscience cause division and disunity in this body. Let's instead maintain the perspective that Paul teaches us here. We all have one Lord. And we'll all stand before Him and give an account for the decisions we've made in these areas.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we thank You for how eminently practical Your word is. We thank You for how it corrects our thinking. Lord, we thank You for the liberty that we have in Christ. We thank You most of all for that wonderful liberty that we have from obeying the Law—the Law of God as a way to gain Your favor—as a way to gain salvation. Thank You that instead, we stand in grace. We enjoy forgiveness by faith alone, in Christ alone, in His work alone. Father we thank You and praise You. We thank You as well, for the liberty we enjoy from the Old Testament ceremonies and from all extra-biblical requirements and rules. But Father, I pray that You would help us to see the dangers. Help us to limit ourselves. And Father, especially, help us to pursue what we've learned this morning, and to guard against allowing these issues to become points of division and disunity in this place. Father may we receive one another as Christ has received us, for the glory of His name, and for the growth of His church, for it's in His name we pray. Amen.