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When Christians Disagree (Part 4)

Charlie Boyd - 10/28/2018

We are in the last part of the book of Romans—in a four-part mini-series entitled, “When Christians Disagree” and we’re looking at how we’re to live with and love fellow believers who come from different background and traditions—who have different personalities and different personal convictions about what the apostle Paul calls “disputable matters” (14:1 NIV). As we’ve seen over the last three weeks, different Christians have different opinions about all kinds of things like—worship styles, music, movies, Halloween, alcohol, parenting, politics, end times prophecy, gambling, lotteries(!!), how often you observe communion, altar calls, smoking cigars, tattoos, the use of antidepressant medication—this list goes on and on. Again, we’re not talking about the indisputable matters of fundamental doctrines or things clearly defined as right or wrong in the Bible. We’re talking about issues where good, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving people disagree. 

The main question in Romans 14-15 is this—How can Christians whose beliefs, practices, values, and views differ from one another in these “gray” areas get along with each other in the same church? And to take it one step further here in Part 4—How do we exercise Christian freedom in a way that takes into consideration believers who don’t feel free to exercise that freedom?

Read Romans 15:1-2 — Going all the way back to the start of this whole discussion (14:1), the primary focus has been on those the apostle Paul calls the “strong”—on those who know they have freedom in these “disputable matters.” And basically, he’s saying—the primary responsibility for protecting and preserving the unity of the church is laid on the shoulders of the strong. He’s saying in no uncertain terms that the “strong” are to limit the exercise of their freedoms, at times, for the sake of the “weak”—for the sake of the community—by not simply living to please themselves, but for the good of others. The best translation of v.1 might read like this—We who are strong have an obligation to be patient with the “weaknesses” of the weak and not just live to please ourselves.

(1) If you are serious about following Jesus, there will be times when you voluntarily give up your freedoms  and lay down your rights for the good of others (Rom 15:1-2; 1 Cor 8:1-3). 

The question then is: Who are the weak and what are the “weaknesses of the weak” that we’re to be patient  with? And to answer that question, we need to look at 1Cor 8 because Paul gives much more specific detail about what characterizes a “weak” believer and what their weaknesses might be. 

Read through 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 — One very important point Paul makes to the “strong” as he describes  the “weak” is this. Having the right to exercise a freedom doesn’t mean you should always exercise that freedom. Or said another way, knowing you are free to do something doesn’t mean you’re always free to do it. From what Paul tells us here in 1Cor 8, we see that a truly “weak” believer is someone who might be young in the faith—maybe a recent convert who’s just put their faith in Jesus—who doesn’t know a whole lot or maybe they’re someone who’s just plain young—someone who doesn’t know what you know or it’s hard for them to embrace what you know because of the background they’ve been saved from. A truly weak believer then is someone who when they see you exercise your freedom, it could cause their conscience to be defiled or wounded—it would be someone who could be led to stumble—to spiral out of control spiritually—or someone whose faith could even be destroyed. This is important because a weaker believer is not anyone and everyone who says they are offended when you exercise your freedom.

(2) If you are serious about following Jesus, there will be times when you voluntarily give up your freedoms  and lay down your rights for the good of others and the good of the Gospel (Romans 15:3-13). 

Read 15:3-13 This whole passage—which is really the bookend of the whole book of Romans—is aimed at  bringing Jews and Gentiles together in unity in this divided church. It’s about how Jesus brings together different people, from different backgrounds—who have different opinions about what it looks like to live the Christian life and how he brings us together so we can with one voice glorify God—it’s about Gospel-shaped community.

You see, the Gospel doesn’t just shape your life—it shapes our lives together. To just think of yourself and how you have the right to exercise your Gospel-given freedoms independent of others is not biblical. The whole focus of vv.3-13 is about how the Gospel is put on display in the person of Jesus. Who did what? Who didn’t just consider his own interests, but also the interests of others—who gave up the rightful use of his God-powers in order to become one of us—to live as one of us—to die as one of us and for us—who did not come to be served, but to serve (compare v.8). Gospel-given freedoms express themselves within a Gospel-shaped community. In this way, the unity of the church can be protected and preserved and this broken, divided world can see in a united church what Jesus is really like—all kinds of different people singing and praising and worshipping God together for the glory of God.

13 May the God of hope fill you all with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.