Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
24 September 2017
Romans 14:1-19 / Membership Vow 5
Love and Peace
In case you are just tuning in, we are at the end of our series on membership vows.
We have been covering one vow a week for the past three weeks. Those first three vows deal with our commitment to Jesus Christ. The last two vows deal with our commitment to his Church.
We will focus on the fifth vow today. The fifth vow asks: Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
As we have done through this whole series, we will turn our attention to the Book of Romans in order to shed some light the meaning and purpose of the vows.
So far, we have touched on Romans 1-8 in our coverage of the first three vows and Romans 12 in our coverage of the fourth vow. Today we will touch on Romans 14 in our coverage of the fifth vow.
I point that out is to high-light the fact that all these vows are rooted and grounded in the word of God and the story of the gospel.
If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word from Romans 14.
1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 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.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide not to put an obstacle or trap in the way of a brother.
14 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. 15 So 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. 16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not about food and drink but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And the church says, Amen.
The fifth vow asks, Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
As you probably noticed, the text we just heard says nothing about church government. It says plenty about purity and peace. But nothing about ministers, sessions, presbyteries, or assemblies. Plenty about unity and diversity. But nothing about discipline.
So now what are we gonna do?
I am going to make a case that this text says plenty about both church government and church discipline — implicitly not explicitly, indirectly not directly, subtly not obviously. This is exactly the way church government and discipline ought to work.
Here’s what I mean.
Government and Discipline of the Church
Everything in the Book of Romans comes to us from a minister of the word and prayer. At the beginning of the letter he says:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers…For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Rom. 1)
Along the way Paul lays down principles of government that apply to all Christians. In Romans 13 he says:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Rom. 13:1-2)
Granted, this is about our responsibility to secular-civil government, but the principle holds true even for spiritual-ecclesial government as well.
Broadening his scope he goes on to say:
Pay to all what is owed to them…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Rom. 13:7-8)
At the end of the letter Paul commends several other ministers of the word and prayer to the church. (Rom. 16)
The point is this: All the Christians at Rome had a responsibility to submit to the government and discipline which Christ had established for his Church. The governing and discipline of the Church are the responsibilities of ministers of the word and prayer. God gave them authority to direct, instruct, and correct the congregation of God’s people. They were called to love and serve the Church with a light hand and gentle touch according to the gospel. That is why Paul says later on in the letter, “We who are strong are obligated and indebted to carry the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1)
All that to say, the insights and instructions of Romans 14 did not just fall out of the sky from out of nowhere. They came from God’s Spirit through God’s gospel through God’s ministers to God’s people.
So God expects all his people to submit to this government and discipline, to this rule and counsel, for his glory and their good.
That deals with the first part of the vow, but we need to deal with the second part of the vow: Do you…promise to study the purity and peace of the Church?
Purity and Peace of the Church
Again, this text says plenty about both church government and church discipline — implicitly and indirectly. As a rule, this is the way church government and discipline ought to work as it applies the gospel of grace to real life.
Now, notice how the fifth vow assumes that the government and discipline of the Church will lead you to pursue the purity and peace of the Church and not push you away from it. That is what Paul is doing for the church at Rome as well.
In Romans 14 Paul applies the gospel to a cross-cultural church in a deeply pastoral way.
There are fault lines and fraction points between Jewish and Gentile Christians; that is, between Christians who wannabe Jews and Christians who wannabe Gentiles in the church.
On the surface it looks like all their problems of diversity far outweigh the potential for unity.
The church at Rome was diverse ethnically, culturally, and spiritually.
The church was made of Jews and Gentiles. Some members were more mature than others. See are less mature. Some members elevated their ethnicity and culture above the grace of the gospel. Some members elevated their traditions and preferences above the rest of the church and her needs.
Paul characterizes these factions as the strong and the weak.
The strong were the people who ate and drank anything and everything and did not keep the Sabbath day (or other holy days) the same way the Jews did. They acted more like Gentiles.
The weak were the people who did not eat and drink every kind of food but they did keep the Sabbath day* (and other holy days) the same way the Jews did. They acted more like Jews.
Each side believed it was right and the other side was wrong.
Yet Paul argues that positively, there is a way for both sides to be right in matters of personal opinion — and that there is a way to be wrong even if you are right.
How? By applying the gospel of grace.
There is a way for both sides to be right before God on these disputable matters of opinion —
(1) if people on both sides welcome one another just as Christ welcomed them.
Some translations read accept one another, but welcome is much better. Welcome means I receive you just as you are into my life, home, and fellowship, even if I don’t agree with your opinion on some matter. We agree on Christ, even if we differ on the best way to honor God with our diets and days. We welcome the person, not so much the opinion.
(2) if people on both sides are fully convinced in their own mind.
A person with a half-baked opinion is often more divisive and destructive than a person with a hard-baked opinion. Why? In his desire and effort to work through an issue and think out loud in community, he often causes more trouble than he means to by raising questions, doubts, and concerns.
As Paul points out, some unintended consequences are complaining about different perspectives and criticizing different practices.
When you face a disputable matter, do your best to work out with the Lord in private first. What edifies you might not edify others. (Ex. I started using the Book of Common Prayer to help me with my prayer life. I don’t expect others to use, and I won’t impose that on others.)
(3) if people on both sides stop passing judgment on one another, but rather decide not to put an obstacle or trap in the way of any brother.
Who are we to pass judgment on the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is before the Lord that we and they stand or fall, not before one another.
We gotta stop worrying so much about who’s doing what and when they do it and why. We gotta start giving each other the benefit of doubt, start loving one another as fellow servants in the Lord.
Instead of looking at each other with a critical, fault-finding eye, we should look at each other with a compassionate, faith-building eye.
Our purpose and goal is not to get others to do things our way, but to do things the Lord’s way — each in his own time, according to the grace and faith at work in them. We need to lay down our rights to travel together, not lay down traps to take each other out.
(4) if people on both sides keep in mind that each of us will give an account of himself to God.
This is a sobering thought. As we confess, Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. He will not appoint any of us as judges, but each and every one of us will give an account of himself to the God. You will answer for you. I will answer for me. Period. Only the Lord is able to determine who pleases him and who does not.
If the Lord approves of us, we will stand. If he disapproves of us, we will fall. And he makes it clear that what pleases him is not diets and days but devotion to him. What please the Lord is faith not works.
As it is written: “The kingdom of God is not about special diets and sacred days, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.
(5) if people on both sides pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
The default mode of most people is to do whatever is right and good for me, myself, and I. This holds true for Christians and non-Christians.
The Christian who eats meat and drinks beer by faith with a good conscience often shows little regard for the Christian who cannot do that with faith and a good conscience. Likewise, the Christian who keeps the Sabbath by faith and a good conscience often scorns the Christian who does not.
Each side wants the other side to change their perspective and conform to their practice. Both sides tend to forget that Christ alone is the standard, not my conscience, not my convictions.
On these matters (and all others!) we must strive to follow the example and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, go and learn how he treated diet and days (e.g., food and drink and the Sabbath) and do likewise.
I realize that pursuing what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding in the Church can feel like a death. And it is. It is a death to self for the life of others.
When we lay down our lives, and set aside our rights, and cast aside our preferences for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are taking up the cross and following in the steps of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Paul reminds us, “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
So, before publicizing your personal convictions on a controversial matter, ask whether it will promote peace or provoke division. Before promoting your personal conviction on a controversial matter, ask whether it will build up the members of body or tear them down. If you are not sure, ask your session for counsel. If they’re not sure they will ask the presbytery.
All this just part and parcel of dying and rising in union with Christ. And he showed us that there is only one hill worth dying on. And he already died on it for us, so we don’t have to die on it for him.
There is a way to be wrong even if you are right on matters of opinion —
Paul sided with the stronger brothers on matters of diet and days in a way that did not shame the weaker brothers.
vs 14 – I know and I am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Notice what he said. Here’s his pastoral counsel on this matter:
vs 15 – So 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.
He did not shame them, he sympathized with them. He gave them grace, not grief.
The word grieved means to make someone sad, to cause grief, to stir up distress.
The point is this: If the public consumption of your private convictions distresses your brother, you are despising and destroying your brother in order to delight yourself. That is not a demonstration of the way of the cross.
Paul was so serious about these things that he ended the book with this exhortation: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
Who were the ones causing division? More than likely, it was professing Christians who acted like wannabe Jews (who wanted to preserve a Jewish diet and days) and not like Jesus.
Think of some controversial matters of opinions.
Read the text as if you were the strong brother. What does the gospel require of the strong?
Next, read the text as if you were the weaker brother on this matter. What does the gospel require of the weak?
I believe you will discover that whether one is weak or strong the Lord requires us to welcome one another in love and do whatever we can to promote and preserve the peace and purity of the church.
* Note: The same principles apply to any day/s that Gentiles regarded as holy. But the context points more towards the holy days of the Jews and the Law of Moses (especially the Sabbath) than the holy days of the Gentiles. Paul used the same language to address the same problems at Colossae — “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)