Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Romans 14:13-23; Having Unity with Liberty Minus Authority

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on April 3, 2015

Originally published December 28, 2014

HF Potters House (2)

Last week, we once again reminded ourselves of the importance of interpreting the book of Romans via the “mystery of the gospel.” This is the full revelation concerning God’s plan to make the Gentiles part of the commonwealth of Israel. This unification of diverse cultures with the Jews puts the power of God on display, so we should pursue unity vigorously. Certainly, a diverse group of people working in unity for a common cause, the gospel, is a powerful message in our day. If diversity will come together for that cause, it is assumed that the cause is of paramount importance.

If putting unity on display is of paramount importance, we concluded that using home fellowships to evangelize is a really bad idea. Unity can be difficult enough among believers without adding unbelievers into the mix. Believers should be equipped to evangelize outside the fellowship of believers.

We also looked at the Jewish tendency to judge because the Jews were the keepers of the law, and the idea that Christ came to end the law was a difficult transition for them. There is NO law in justification—the law cannot justify—it can only condemn—that’s why Christ came to end the law…for justification.

But the role of the law in regard to the born again believer is another matter.  Love, obedience, and faith are now fused together. We will soon see this in the text this morning. In the Christian life, the law is not only the Spirit’s sword, it is HIS law. He is the Spirit of life, and He uses the law to sanctify, and that law is TRUTH (John 17:17). In the Bible, as we will see, love, obedience, and faith are synonymous.

Last week, we also learned the importance of clarifying the gospel of first importance as a basis for fellowship. Past that, opinions about the law can cause fellow believers to “stumble.” This is where we will pick up in verse 13:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (ESV).

Actually, I prefer the KJV interpretation of this:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Remember from last week, we all serve under one master, and he will judge what we have done in the body individually. This is a judgment for reward, not condemnation. Presently, there are only two types of judgment in the church: self-judgment (1Cor 11:31,32), and the Lord’s discipline (Heb 12:5ff, Prov 3:11). There is no such thing as the church judging a believer. Christians enjoy protection from the world while in a fellowship of believers, but if fellowship is broken because of sin, God may use the world to correct the believer. We must remember that in the only actual example we have of so-called “church discipline” in the Bible, the apostle Paul assumed the individual to be saved (1Cor 5:4).

In situations that turn out bad according to Matthew 18:15ff, we are to “treat” such an individual “like” an unbeliever, actually, “Gentile and a tax collector.”  The Jews did not associate with Gentiles, and had a steroidal disdain for tax collectors who were usually Jews in league with the Roman government. But keep in mind, there were saved Gentiles and tax collectors. This is a matter of fellowship, NOT “declaring someone an unbeliever.” My three favorite questions in regard to Matthew 18 are, “Where does it say “discipline?” and “Where does it say “unbeliever?” and “Where does it talk about elders declaring someone as unbelieving?” It is remarkable to me how all of these are assumed.

So, Paul writes in verse 13 that all judgment is to cease except a judgment concerning what might make a fellow Christian “stumble.” Paul begins to develop that in verse 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.

Christians come into fellowship with all kinds of baggage, especially in our day because Christians are doctrinally dumbed down regardless of the information age. Rome kept the Bible away from people; Protestantism has merely mandated interpretation via orthodoxy which has become synonymous with truth.

Heterodoxy means you disagree with some counsel where “Divines” dictate interpretation making heterodoxy synonymous with heresy. In the same way, Jewish Christians were dragging orthodoxy into the home fellowships, and judging the Gentiles which resulted in the Gentiles despising the Jews.

But aside from orthodoxy, good old fashioned family tradition can play into this as well. Also, for example, a converted Adventist may be newly convinced of the true gospel, but is in the habit of abstaining from pork and caffeine. We are creatures of habit, and such a person may not be ready to just jump into their new found freedom where, as Paul stated, “nothing is unclean in itself”

Let me just cut to the chase here: there needs to be agreement on the gospel of first order, but past that we need to do three things: 1. Emphasize teaching and rightly dividing the word 2. Let each be what? Remember from last week? Right, let each be CONVINCED in their own minds 3. DON’T JUDGE.

Why is it extremely important that one be convinced in their own mind, and not hit over the head with the fact that Christ ended the law, and therefore everything is clean? Because many different things in life inform the conscience of an individual and though it would be mighty convenient if all Christians had a biblically informed conscience—that’s not reality. We are to teach, not judge, and let each person be convinced in their own minds.

The primary crux follows: if that person thinks it is sin, even if it isn’t, “it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Why? Because the person thinks in their own mind that he/she is sinning. The fact that it is not technically a sin is neither here nor there; the person thinks it is a sin. So, this also means that the person will also violate their conscience when in fact it is against the law—in their own minds they think they are disobeying. This speaks to motive.

In contrast, if they obey their conscience, their motive is to please the Lord. This was Paul’s exact point from last week:

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 (verse 6).

The motive is to please God either way. Yet, if we insist that the one who is unconvinced get with the law program, this is where we cause stumbling. Paul taught the importance of keeping a clear conscience throughout the New Testament while also warning about a pattern of violating conscience. This results in searing the conscience and making it indifferent to sin.

On the other hand, guilt can be a very destructive emotion. O. Hobart Mower, president of the American Psychological Association in 1954, attributed most mental illness to the violation of conscience, and started therapy groups that inspired AA. Hobart’s therapy has probably helped more people than any other discipline, as witness by the success of those who follow his principles of therapy such as Dr. Laura Slezinger and Dr. Phil McGraw. If this approach is effective among unbelievers, it is more so among believers.

I can offer an example here from real life. After being consulted by a Christian lady regarding a situation in her marriage, I advised her that she was free to divorce according to Scripture.  She informed me that her convictions would prevent her from doing so. In other words, it would have been a violation of her conscience.  To that I replied that she indeed should obey her conscience. As Christians, we never cause another Christian to violate their conscience.

Also, we should be willing to prefer the unconvinced by abstaining from what offends others while fellowshipping together:

For 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 (verse 15).

There is no law in justification, and as Andy Young said in last year’s conference, the law is really for sanctification as far as the Christian is concerned. However, the express purpose of the law in sanctification is love. If a Christian flaunts their liberty before Christians who are not yet convinced in their own mind, that Christian, while understanding the law of liberty, is violating the primary purpose of the law which is love. Paul states that this kind of flaunting of liberty can actually “destroy” the one that Christ died for. That’s a pretty strong emphasis. And more than likely, Christ had young believers in mind when He said this:

Luke 17:2 – It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

As the apostle John said, there is no fear in love because perfect (mature) love casts out fear. Though we as Christians have no fear of eternal condemnation, there is plenty to fear for those Christians who walk like fools and not according to love—let us take heed.

16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

1Timothy 4:1-5 is a striking, thought provoking text:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Note verse 16 in context of 1Timothy 1-5. Flaunting of liberty can actually cause the good things created by God to be spoken of as evil. And in fact, if you make the good things of God controversial, you are paving the way for that to happen. Hence, in the company of the unconvinced,

22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.

Yes, liberty can become reason for self-condemnation—this should be avoided at all cost. Also, the primary work of the kingdom is much more than a matter of what we eat and drink. Of course, there are many other issues that can be added to this issue. I recently heard about a church split over the recognition of Halloween, and whether or not the church would display what some refer to as a “Baal tree” during Christmas. Remember verse 5 from last week and contentions over…

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.

Again, as stated in verse 18, both parties serve God, and therefore, verse 19, both should seek what edifies and builds up. Controversy over opinions does not build up. There needs to be room given for everyone to be convinced in their own mind and reinforced with a clear conscience.

 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Verses 20-22 make a nice summary that we have no need to expound on further, but a point needs to be made on verse 23. Those who succumb to peer-pressure and eat when they have doubt as to whether it is sin or not have in fact sinned. Actions that don’t come from a convinced mind free from doubt do not proceed from faith. I think this is the double minded person that James wrote about.

This is an interesting definition of faith; apparently, faith is what we are convinced of. When in doubt, it is probably best to error on the side of safety and wait until we are convinced with a clear conscience. We see the connection now between faith, love, and obedience.

And, the importance of sound teaching. Faith is founded on the things we become sure of in Scripture, and obedience/love flow from that.

Next week, on to verse one of chapter 15.

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