May I begin by thanking you for the ways you responded to my last three Sunday evening lessons on Christian community, meals, and worship in the first century. Thank you for expanding your thinking.

In practical ways, I want to make some applications based on the insights from those lessons. We can be fascinated by the fact that Paul told Christians in Rome (Romans 14) that they could hold totally different conscience conclusions regarding meat offered to idols, and God would accept both persons conclusion. The requirement: they refused to judge each other or hold each other in contempt. However, if our fascination with that biblical fact is not translated into respect for each other, our fascination produces little benefit or meaning.

This congregation is composed of very different people. Few if any of us have even one thing in common with everyone in this congregation (excluding our love for Jesus Christ). May I use myself to illustrate this fact? I grew up on a farm years ago in a rural area known more for its past coal mines than for its farming. Many of you lived in a city environment all your lives. Does that make either of us good or bad? No. In no way does that give either one of us good roots or bad roots.

I was taught not to respect people who grew up in a city. Was that a good teaching? No, that was a horrible teaching. Any feeling of superiority produced by a rural childhood experience is pure arrogance. I have a first cousin who spent a week in my home when I was a teenager. Because we lived on a farm, I had daily jobs to do through the summer. My particular job when my cousin visited was to stack brush in a creek bottom that had been bulldozed and cut with a heavy disk. I was accustomed to the sun, heat, and dust. My cousin was not. When my cousin quickly wilted under the hot sun, I thought it was funny. I have no doubt that I reflected a superior attitude.

However, if you placed me in my cousin's city environment, I was scared to death. I could get around in the woods, but I could not get around in a city. I never wanted to spend a week with him in the city. Because he could not function in my environment, that was bad. Because I could not function in his environment, that was insignificant.

What was the tap root of my problem? A lack of respect for my cousin.

  1. In our society, little is done to teach the importance of respect.
    1. In our country, people in every distinctive sub-group struggle to respect people from groups who have distinctive cultural differences.
      1. To me it is fascinating to observe the changes since our September 11 tragedy.
        1. Suddenly all forms of bigotry have disappeared.
        2. Have you seen the television advertisement with a number of individuals making the same statement: "I am an American." There must be 12 to 18 different men and women who make that statement, and each of them is obviously from a distinct cultural heritage.
      2. But bigotry in the United States is not dead.
        1. Hate is still here, and its roots are disrespect.
        2. Racism is still here, and its roots are disrespect.
        3. Sexism is still here, and its roots are disrespect.
        4. Multiple forms of violence still exists, and their roots are disrespect.
      3. If you want to see and hear the enormous expressions of disrespect in this country, look at and listen to our humor.
        1. Note the ridicule in the humor you see and hear.
        2. Note the "put downs" in the humor you see and hear.
        3. Note the contempt in the humor you see and hear.
        4. Notice that "hilarious humor" degrades someone.
        5. What do ridicule, "put downs," contempt, and degradation have in common? They all begin with a lack of respect.
    2. If we could feel and see respect anywhere among any people, it should be among Christians.
      1. Why?
        1. Because Christians know what it means to be forgiven.
        2. Because we know the acceptance of grace.
        3. Because we know what it means to receive mercy.
        4. Because we have experienced receiving a pardon.
      2. Is that the actual experience Christians have when we are among Christians? Can we move among Christians with the confidence that we will be respected?
        1. Which is the more common attitude: "I know that you are sincere in your convictions and hold them honestly," or, "If you do not hold my conclusions, you deliberately choose to be wrong and know it!"
        2. Do you feel respect and understanding when you meet with fellow Christians, even when you have differences?
          1. Could you say, "Amen!" It was common practice in the church at Corinth in the New Testament.
            1 Corinthians 14:15,16 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?
            1. Paul did not tell them to stop speaking in tongues (see verse 39).
            2. He told them to use tongues in ways that were orderly and edified all present.
            3. Please note that one of his arguments is this: people cannot say the "amen" if they do not understand what they hear.
          2. Men, could you comfortably raise your hands as you prayed in public knowing Christians would respect you? Christians in Asia Minor could.
            1 Timothy 2:8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
            1. Paul told Timothy what he should instruct Christian men to do.
            2. This was appropriate Christian behavior.
    3. "David, are you suggesting that we have to say "amen" or have men raise their hands when they pray?"
      1. That is neither my point nor my emphasis.
      2. If that is your reaction to what I have said, that reaction well may illustrate my point.
      3. If a Christian sincerely, from heart and conscience truly dedicated to the Lord chooses to express faith, devotion, and praise to God in biblical, but different ways, will I respect him or her, or will I judge, condemn, or ridicule him or her?
    4. We teach Christians to react to other Christians in a lot of ways.
      1. We teach them to judge.
      2. We teach them to condemn.
      3. We teach them to ridicule and belittle.
      4. We teach them to express contempt.
      5. We teach them to control others.
      6. Do we teach them to show respect?

  2. God made great effort to get Peter to Cornelius' house to teach Cornelius, his family, and his friends.
    1. It took a lot to penetrate the apostle Peter's understanding.
      1. The roof top vision did not penetrate his understanding (Acts 10:10-16).
      2. The Holy Spirit speaking to Peter directly did not penetrate his understanding (Acts 10:17-20).
      3. The testimony of the men Cornelius sent to Peter did not penetrate Peter's understanding (Acts 10:22,23).
      4. Peter's initial introduction to Cornelius did not penetrate his understanding (Acts 10:24-27).
      5. "David, that is just your opinion." No, that is Peter's testimony--that is actually what Peter said to Cornelius.
        Acts 10:28,29 And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me."
    2. Finally, the message God wanted Peter to understand penetrated:
      Acts 10:34,35 Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him."
      1. The King James translation begins Peter's statement with these words: "I perceive that God is no respecter of persons ..."
      2. God shows respect for all people who reverence Him and do what is right.
    3. The greatest single problem in the church in the New Testament was getting Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jews to respect each other in their differences.
      1. The greatest single problem in the church of today is getting Christians who are in Christ to respect each other in their differences.
      2. In my personal judgement, that respect will be of enormous importance in the near future--just simple respect may well determine if we have the greatest opportunity the church in American has ever known or the most impossible mess the church in America has ever known.

Is one of the greatest blessings this congregation experiences produced by your ability to respect Christians who are not like you? Is one of the greatest heartaches this congregation experiences partially the result of your inability to respect Christians who are not like you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 November 2001

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell