(Open the assembly with reading of Romans 14:1-12.)

Please remember tonight's lesson is a continuation of the thought in last Sunday evening's lesson.

As a movement, we have deep roots in protest and confrontation. Our first layer of historical roots sink deep into the Protestant Reformation. In what I realize is an oversimplified observation, the Protestant Reformation was a religious movement that ultimately protested against the Roman Catholic practices in the late middle ages by rebelling against Roman Catholic control in Europe.

As a historical movement, the roots of the Church of Christ in America began just before 1800 as a number of people in a number of different places were distressed by the forms of control that were expressed in different Protestant churches. In different places, back-to-the-Bible movements began as a means of seeking unity. In time, most of these movements merged into a single outcry.

However, from early in the American back-to-the-Bible movement, there was strong disagreement. In time it became a part of the nature of the movement to be critical. In time the movement divided in three primary directions. One group became the Disciples of Christ. One group became the Christian Church. One group became the Church of Christ.

I say this to make a single point: it is in the nature of our back-to-the-Bible movement to be critical. There are some who believe being critical even among ourselves to be an evidence of faithfulness. Being critical is so ingrained in the basic character of our movement that we even form a concept of unity that recognizes and sometimes encourages confrontation among ourselves. It is literally impossible for some of us to realize that God gave much indication that He is not as critical as we often are. We expect every follower of Christ to be exactly like us. God does not expect every person in Christ to be identical.

Let me use a humorous illustration from this week in this congregation. Each morning this week our campus ministry has offered a free pancake breakfast to any student taking his or her finals at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith. John Priester and Patti Anderson were the cooks and greeters. Every morning this week the whole office complex was filled with the pleasant aroma of cooking pancakes! Every morning when I walked through I had to resist the temptation to eat free pancakes!

Each time I passed by, there was the hot griddle, the pancake batter, several breakfast beverages to go with the pancakes, and a line of toppings to place on your hot pancakes: syrup (okay), jelly (okay but questionable), and peanut butter (yuck!). You see, I am from "the old school"--where I grew up, you just did not eat peanut butter on pancakes. In fact, the first time I ever saw peanut butter offered as a topping for pancakes was this week!

Then I learned that people have been eating peanut butter on pancakes for generations! I may even be in the minority! It is possible that "the right way to eat pancakes" is not with syrup! The fact that I cannot imagine eating peanut butter on pancakes (and I love peanut butter!) does not exclude combining peanut butter and pancakes for breakfast!

Allow me to focus your attention on something far more serious.

  1. I am convinced that we have failed to realize the enormous conflict between first century Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians over the "right way" to approach and serve God.
    1. There were major differences in the ways Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians did things as children of God.
      1. Jewish Christians often looked upon the ways of Gentile Christians with disgust.
      2. In numerous ways Jewish Christians often tried to intimidate Gentile Christians.
    2. To illustrate how deep and serious this conflict was, consider Galatians 2:11-14.
      [I am quite aware that the illustration involves a confrontation between two mature Christians. I direct your attention to three things: (1) the conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians was significant and prominent; (2) Cephas [Peter] who knew God's intent to save Gentiles let himself be ruled by fear instead of faith in God's objectives. Romans 14 does not involve God's objectives in Christianity. (3) Cephas [Peter] did the thing Romans 14 declares must not occur.]
      But when Cephas [Peter, the same Peter we discussed last Sunday night] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
      1. Paul publicly said, "Peter your are wrong in your behavior."
      2. When Peter first came to Antioch, he ate with [had total fellowship including table fellowship] Gentile Christians.
      3. But, when a group of Jewish Christians came to Antioch from Jerusalem, Peter stopped eating with Gentile Christians--and he encouraged other Jewish Christians [including Barnabas!] not to eat with Gentile Christians.
      4. Paul declared this attitude to be hypocrisy!
      5. Why did Peter act that way in those circumstances? Because he was afraid of the Jewish Christians!
    3. This conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christ was the major reason that Paul sent the letter we call Galatians and an important reason for Paul writing the letter we call Romans.
      1. In the mostly Gentile congregations of Galatia, this confusion created a major problem.
      2. In the congregations in Rome, this confusion was an important problem.

  2. For a moment, allow me to focus your attention on Romans.
    1. The book falls into three obvious parts.
      1. The first part is contained in chapters 1-11.
        1. It focuses on God's part in human salvation.
        2. In that part Paul definitely includes in that focus the fact that God always intended Gentiles to be saved in Christ--without converting to Judaism!
      2. Listen to two statements from Romans 11.
        1. First, to Jews including Jewish Christians: Romans 11:1-6--I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." But what is the divine response to him? "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
          1. The fact that God extends salvation to Gentiles through grace does not mean that God rejected Israel.
          2. This is not the first time God opposed Israel!
          3. Do not interpret God's love for Gentiles as abandoning love for Israel!
        2. Second, to Gentile Christians: Romans 11:17-24--But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
          1. If God grafted you Gentile Christians in the tree, He can surely graft Israelites who believe in Jesus back into the tree.
          2. Do not be conceited! Do not believe God loves you more than He loves them!
        3. I called Romans 11 to your attention for this reason: I wanted you to see this conflict between Jewish believers in God and Gentile Christians was a real, prominent problem.
      3. The second part of the book runs from chapter 12 into chapter 15.
        1. This section discussed how a person lived or behaved because he understood God's actions in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        2. It is in this section that we encounter Romans 14, the first part of which you heard read as we began.
      4. The third section is the ending contained mostly in Romans 16.

  3. For a few moments, I want to focus your attention on Romans 14.
    1. I want to begin by calling your attention to the fact that Rome had very different groups of Christians.
      Some Jewish Christians:
      Religiously, complete vegetarians
      Religiously, observed special
      holy days: Sabbaths, Passovers,
      Pentecosts, etc.
      1. They were so fearful of idolatry and eating a meat that was used in a sacrifice to an idol, they ate only vegetables to be safe religiously.
      2. They were so conscientious in not wishing to offend God that they observed Jewish holy days as was Israel's practice for generations.
        Some Gentile Christians:
        They ate anything (God sanctified it all--1 Timothy 4:4,5)
        To them, there were no holy days.
      3. A sacrifice to an idol was a sacrifice to nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4).
      4. Observance of holy days does not bring a Christian closer to God.
    2. It should be obvious that these two groups were fundamentally different.
      1. They expressed faith in God differently.
      2. It was because of their faith in God they behaved differently.
      3. One group literally did things the other group did not do--and for religious reasons!
    3. Today, who would we say were the most conscientious, the most committed?
      1. Those who were vegetarians, who refuse to buy meat from the market.
      2. Those who observed holy days to be certain they did not offend God.
      3. But Paul classified them as the weak!
    4. Today, who would we say were the least conscientious, the least committed?
      1. Those who ate anything.
      2. Those who said there were no holy days.
      3. But Paul classified them as the strong! Why? Because of the faith they had!

  4. Listen to Paul's instructions:
    1. God did not save you to pass judgment on Christians who disagree with your position.
    2. God knows your motives, why you do what you do.
    3. God in Christ can and will make each of you stand--He can and He will!
    4. Your responsibility is to see that you do not discourage each other by judging each other!
    5. When a Christian is doing something to honor God, encourage him, do not find fault with what he is doing! He or she will answer to God, not to you.

As I said last week, this is a difficult time of the year for some. Honor your conscience in what you do, but do not pass judgment on your fellow Christian. God can and will make stand those who honor Him. You do not prove the superiority of your faith by confronting those in Christ who disagree with you.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 19 December 2004

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