Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 8, 1991
Purpose: To keep us from judging one another in the gray areas of life, and to help us decide how God wants us to live in those areas.
It seems to me that life would be so much simpler if everything were black or white. But unfortunately, it will never be that way. Life is filled with grays. As Christians we want to do what's right, what honors the Lord. We want to do what the Bible tells us to do. But the Bible doesn't address every issue, and we're just not sure whether some things are right or wrong. And to complicate matters, some Christians are convinced they're right and other Christians are just as sure they're wrong.
Let me give you an example. In one of my previous pastorates, a member of my church bought me a membership at an exclusive club in a local hotel. It entitled me to use the swimming facilities as well as the excellent members-only dining room which served outstanding lunches at reasonable prices. He told me it would be a good place for me to take my guests for lunch when I needed time with them. Now, the problem was that in the evening, in that same dining room, there was live entertainment: nearly nude exotic go-go dancers. Now obviously I was not going to use my membership at night. I hope you know me well enough to know that I would not use the membership at night. But the question was, should I even use it in the daytime? Everybody in town knew what went on in that place at night. Would it jeopardize my Christian testimony if someone saw me coming out of there, even though it was in the middle of the day?
What do you think? How many of you think it would have been unwise for me to have used my membership in that club? How many of you think it would have been perfectly acceptable for me to use it? It looks as though trying to please everyone at Emmanuel Faith Community Church would not have been a very good way to decide that issue.
We all face ethical and moral decisions daily, and for many of them the Bible gives us clear-cut guidance. For example, it is never God's will for us to get drunk. You don't have to pray about that. It just isn't His will that you get drunk; the Bible makes that very clear. It's not God's will for you to be controlled by any kind of food, drink or drug. We are not to be controlled by outside substances, but by the Holy Spirit. It is never God's will for us to commit adultery. The Bible is very clear about that. And it's very clear that we are not to lie, or steal or murder.
But the Bible does not give us clear commands to guide us in every decision we face. And good Christians disagree about what is right and what is wrong. Some of them feel very strongly about their opinion. If you step outside their bounds, they are liable to come down on you--hard!
For example, is it right or wrong for Christians to use alcohol in moderation? To attend movie theaters? To dance? To listen to secular music? To work on Sundays? Is it right or wrong to live in an elegant house and drive an expensive car when that money could be used to take the gospel to the lost and feed starving multitudes? What about things that happen right here in church? Is it right or wrong to have drums in the service? To applaud a rousing and exciting choir number? What about dress? Is it necessary for men to wear coats and ties to church? Is it permissible for a woman to wear pants? It may come as a surprise to you, but many Christians actually disagree about those things--strongly disagree.
Paul wants to talk about those gray areas. But he isn't going to tell us what is right and what is wrong. In fact, he doesn't even mention the things we've just listed. Instead he's going to suggest some general principles that will help us decide what to do. But more importantly, he's going to show us how our attitude toward each other is far more important than what we do or don't do. The major theme of this final section of Romans has been love, and love must govern our attitude toward each other in the gray zones.
A Description of the Proper Attitude
Romans 14:1-3. "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things."
Imagine yourself a first century Jew in Rome who has come to know Christ. All your life you have tried to obey the Old Testament law. You have carefully followed its dietary restrictions, and that is one of the things that has identified you to the pagans around you as a worshipper of Jehovah. It was part of serving God. But now you've come to know Jesus as your Messiah and Savior, and you are meeting regularly with some Gentiles who have likewise accepted Him as Messiah and Savior and want to please Him. One day in a casual conversation you mention the high price of lamb, and one of them says, "We're not eating lamb much these days. We're eating pork. It's much cheaper. And we found that if you buy it outside the temple of Jupiter, it's even cheaper. And it's the best meat money can buy."
You are absolutely horrified. Pork, of all things. The law says that pork is unclean. And besides that, how can you be sure any meat bought in a public place has been killed in the kosher way, with all the blood drained out of it. And worse still, meat bought at the butcher shop outside a pagan temple has been dedicated to the pagan idol inside. You answer rather indignantly, "I don't eat any meat at all. How can you claim to be a Christian and eat meat?"
And your Gentile friend laughs at you: "You've got to be kidding. That idol is no god. It's just a piece of stone. Loosen up. Don't be such a kill-joy. Don't you know that Christ has set us free from all those picky little rules and regulations."
Do you see what is happening? You're allowing your differences of opinion in this gray area to drive a wedge between you and disrupt the oneness that is yours in Christ. The person with scruples against eating the meat is condemning the person who eats it. And the person who eats it is ridiculing the one who doesn't. Before long they're going to get so upset over this that they'll quit talking to each other. And that's anything but Christ-like love. What should they do? Paul tells us.
Welcome Each Other
Read Romans 14:1 again. "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things."
Being weak in faith doesn't mean that their personal faith in Christ is deficient, or that they're any less spiritual. It says literally "weak in the faith." In other words, they don't understand the truth of the Christian faith, the truth of the freedom we enjoy in Christ. For them, the Christian life is a matter of rules and regulations. Their faith won't permit them to do certain things that other spiritually minded Christians can freely enjoy.
It would be the natural for those who understand their freedom in Christ to want to exclude such over-scrupulous, legalistic Christians from their fellowship. They have a tendency to throw a wet blanket over every activity and hang a negative cloud over every get-together. "Don't do it," says Paul. "Welcome them enthusiastically" (proslambano). Don't merely tolerate them grudgingly, but receive them with warmth and friendliness. Not with the idea of arguing with them about their views on these doubtful things and trying to change their minds, but just as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The first thing we are to do is welcome each other. The second is resist despising each other.
Resist Despising Each Other
Read Romans 14:3a again. "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat."
The word despise (exoutheneo) means "to make nothing." The Christian who exercises his liberty in these gray areas would be tempted to look down on the one who refrains and treat him as nothing, not worth the space he takes up. We struggle with that today as well. For example, the Christian who feels free to have a glass of wine with his meal may poke fun at the poor, stuffy legalist who doesn't have that liberty. But his ridicule exposes a self-righteous arrogance that shows him to be just as weak in the faith as his scrupulous brother. And his actions demonstrate anything but love.
So welcome each other, resist despising each other, and thirdly, resist condemning each other.
Resist Condemning Each Other
Read Romans 14:3b again: "And let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him."
Those who hold to a more narrow standard often accuse the person with the broader view of sinning, since they would consider it to be sin for them to indulge themselves. You can almost hear them: "I would never eat in a restaurant that promoted any kind of lewd behavior. Only a carnal Christian would do that. I'm certainly more spiritual than you are."
There's that same self-righteous arrogance showing up on the other side of the fence. And it's anything but Christ-like love. If God can welcome people with diverse opinions about things, then we can certainly welcome them too, without despising them and without condemning them. That's the proper attitude in these gray areas.
But what are the reasons for maintaining this attitude? Why is it so important? Paul moves from a description of the proper attitude to a defense of it.
A Defense of the Proper Attitude
He offers three reasons why we should reach out with warmth and grace to Christian brothers and sisters with whom we disagree in these questionable areas.
They Belong to the Lord (Romans 14:4)
Romans 14:4. "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand."
You have every right to criticize your own household servant if he isn't doing the job the way you want it done. But it would be out of place for you to criticize the butler who serves the meal at a dinner party you attend as an invited guest. He isn't in your employ. You have no authority over him. In the same way, other Christians are servants of the Lord. They belong to Him, not you. So He has the right to judge their actions, but you don't.
We do like to play master, don't we. Even though a matter is not dealt with in Scripture, we think we know what's right, and so we criticize those who feel differently. And sometimes we insist that their actions are going to lead to their spiritual fall, as if we were God and knew everything. "If you listen to that Christian rock it's going to lead to worse things." But the same God who called His children to liberty will give them the grace and strength they need to stand true to Him.
This obviously does not mean that we shouldn't confront erring believers who are living in disobedience to the clear commands of Scripture. We would be remiss in our responsibility to our Lord if we did not confront them (Galatians 6:1). But matters not addressed in Scripture are between them and the Lord. They belong to Him. That's the first reason for maintaining a proper attitude.
They Live for the Lord (Romans 14:5-8)
Paul uses another issue that was dividing the early church in order to teach this principle. Romans 14:5. "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind."
Some of the Christian Jews living in Rome felt it was essential to worship on Saturday, the Sabbath, as well as to keep the many Jewish festivals and holy days. Gentile Christians, on the other hand, felt that any day could be set aside as holy, and that every day, in fact, should be consecrated to God and treated with the same serious dedication that the Jews would give to a holy day.
So who was right? "Both are right," says Paul, "so long as they think it through carefully and prayerfully and do what they believe God wants them to do." But don't just do something because it's traditional, or because that's what others are doing. Be convinced in your own mind what God wants you to do. And then don't criticize those who come to a different conclusion than you do.
So, is it important to worship on Sunday? Or Saturday? Or any other specific day? Or can we worship equally as well on any day of the week? Some of us think of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, and we insist that it is the only proper day for worship, and we're just as rigid about it as the Jews were about Saturday. But Paul has taught us that we are no longer under the law. It isn't the day that matters so much as our motive for observing it. And the proper motive is to do it for the glory of the Lord.
Romans 14:6-8. "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks."
If a person does what he does as unto the Lord, in the service of the Lord, with a sincere desire to honor the Lord, then who are we to criticize him? We don't know what is in the other person's heart, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that our fellow Christians have a genuine desire to please the Lord, in life or in death. And let's treat them accordingly--with patience, tolerance, love and acceptance (even if they choose to worship on a different day that we do).
And let's use this same principle to help us decide what we should do in our gray zones. What clothes should I wear? Which ones will best honor the Lord? What music should I listen to? What choices will best honor the Lord? What books should I read? What movies should I see? What videos should I rent? What TV programs should I watch? Should I buy this new car? Should I build another room on the house. Should I buy a larger home? Should I eat lunch in a restaurant that features exotic dancers through the evening hours?
Whatever issue we face, let's be fully convinced that our decision will please God, honor Him, and bring Him glory. Nobody will be able to fault us for that. And let's not fault others for their choices. They belong to the Lord; they live for the Lord; Paul suggests one other reason for accepting others in spite of their differences.
They Answer to the Lord (Romans 14:9-12)
Romans 14:9. "For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living."
That's a review of the truth we have already learned: We are not each other's lord and master. Christ alone is our Lord and Master. And He is Lord over all--whether people living in this world or people who have passed on to the next. He has that position of authority because of His substitutionary death for our sins and His and triumphant resurrection from the grave.
But here's the new point: If Christ is our Lord and Master, then we shall answer to Him alone for our attitudes and actions. We don't answer to each other; we answer to Him.
Romans 14:10. "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." We answer to Him. And we will stand before Him someday and answer to Him for the things we've done in our bodies.
Paul reinforces that truth with another great Old Testament quotation from Isaiah 45:23. Romans 14:11. "For it is written: 'As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.'"
And here comes the punch line: Romans 14:12. "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God."
You won't give an account to God for me, and I won't give an account to God for you. We shall each stand alone and give account for our own lives--what we did and why we did it, how we felt toward other Christians who disagreed with us and how we treated them, whether or not we looked down on them or criticized them. We're going to answer to God for that, each of us individually.
We won't be able to blame our actions on anybody else--not on parents, friends, pastors, teachers, the devil, or anyone else. We can't blame it on the way we were raised or say it was our friend's fault. No excuse will be acceptable And we won't be granted mercy for the sake of anybody else as we sometimes are in this life--by husbands, wives, children, and some others. We won't get off the hook because of who we are, or who our parents are, or who we know.
We will stand alone and answer to God for ourselves. As somebody put it, "In the choir of life, it's easy to fake the words; but someday each of us will have to sing solo before God." And we shall be rewarded or not rewarded in heaven on the basis of what comes to light on that occasion.
So I guess the obvious question with which to conclude this message is: What will come to light when you stand before God?
I would like you to consider two things right now. First, think of one issue which is not clearly addressed in Scripture, but which you consider wrong and for which you have condemned other Christians who do that thing. You've thought, "How can they be a Christian and do that?" Would you think of one? Would you be willing to stop playing God, playing Master over those Christians? Can you trust God to work in their lives in whatever way He chooses, even if it is different from the way He works in your life? Can you trust those Christians to respond to God's leading in their lives, even if they decide to choose a different course from yours?
That's what God wants us to do. Now, will you covenant before God to reach out and welcome them warmly into your fellowship? You see, that's God's Word. That's what this passage is teaching us. If that's the Word of God, friends, then this is how God wants us to live. Are you willing to do that?
Second, think of something in your life that you do to which you have never applied the question, "Am I doing this to honor the Lord?" Something that you've never considered. You've never thought about whether it honors God, you just do it. But there is that guidance in God's Word for us, isn't there? Are you willing to honestly confront that issue before God?
Maybe it's the way you spend your time. Maybe it's the way you spend your money--the things you choose to buy. Maybe it's something you do for recreation or entertainment. Something about which you've never asked, "Am I doing this to honor God and bring glory to Him?" But you're willing to make that decision because you know that's the way our lives are to be lived as believers. It's the first thing that was said this morning when worship began: "Jesus is here. He is among us, so let us live our lives to honor His name." Is that the way you live your life: to honor His name? If you will make that decision today, then your life will count for something beyond time, something eternal. And I have to tell you, the judgment seat of Christ will be a much happier experience for you.
By the way, I did use my private club membership once. I had the freedom to do that, and nobody had the right to criticize me for it. But I never used it again. Because God gives us another principle to help us determine how we should live in the gray zones of life. I'm going to be away next week, but two weeks from now in the next message, I'll explain the principle and tell you what happened when I used that membership.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
I have to tell you as we wrap up this message, heeding this passage of Scripture will affect our reward in heaven, but it has nothing to do with how we get into heaven. Nothing. The Lord Jesus Christ is the way by which we get into heaven. That's why He came to earth: to die for our sins and pay the penalty we deserved. And He rose again to prove it, and then to impart to us His own eternal life. That's what fits us for heaven.
If you've never trusted Him, you're probably thinking, "What in the world is this all about? This is not something that interests me." That's probably because you've never settled the basic issue. You're not even sure you are a child of God and that heaven will be your eternal home. But you can make sure right now, because the Bible holds out that assurance to us.
Are you willing to put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? To turn from your sin in faith to Him? If you will, and if you will trust Him as your Savior, He'll forgive your sins--all of them--and give you eternal live and the assurance of heaven. Why would you not want to receive that? Oh, He's going to make some changes in your life. Maybe that's why. Are you afraid of that? Are you willing to risk eternity for a few little things right here and now that you're afraid He might change? I wouldn't think that's worth it. Won't you open your heart to the Savior?
Let's bow our heads prayerfully in His presence. With our heads bowed, let me ask you whether you know for certain, that you are a child of God, that your sins have been forgiven, that heaven is your eternal home. You say, "No, I'm not sure, Pastor Strauss. I just don't know that." Then settle it right now, will you? Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Receive Him as your Savior from sin. "And as many as received Him, to them gave He the authority to become the children of God, even to them who believe on His name." That's God's Word.
So would you settle it right now just in the quiet of your own soul?
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and paid for my salvation. Lord Jesus, I'm putting my trust in You right now. Come into my life and save me from sin."
Christian, are you willing to interact with these two issues that God's Word brought to our minds today? Have you been judging someone because they've been doing something that's different from your standard, even though it's not spoken about in Scripture? Would you be willing to commit them to the Lord and trust God to work in their life in His way? Are there things in your own life about which you've never really applied the question, "Does this honor the Lord?" Will you apply it? Are you willing to make your decisions on that basis? That's the life that really counts.
Father, work in us to accomplish Your own good pleasure. Wherever we are on our spiritual pilgrimage, help us to take a few steps forward today. Lord, I pray that as a result of interacting with You and Your Word, we would be brought a little closer to that goal that the apostle Paul laid down, "presenting everyone complete in Christ Jesus." For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to ROM 32: Am I My Brother's Keeper?