A. Where do we draw the line in being sensitive to other’s interpretations of the Bible or to their traditions when they conflict with our own? How do we handle those things the Bible is silent on?
B. Do we have to change our lifestyle or beliefs on some matter just because someone else believes differently?
C. I’m sure we all have encountered people who we thought had some strange beliefs and we wondered where they came from.
D. In my experience, I have found they often are passed down through the family until someone breaks the chain by saying, “I don’t see it that way.”
E. They can also come from a misinterpretation of Scripture. I think one of the more common things I’ve encountered in my years of ministry is the matter of selling things in church, whether it is members doing it or perhaps singing groups. I pastored one church where a gentleman actually left the church over us allowing a singing group to sell their music.
F. I would venture to say if we took a poll here we would find the same difference of opinion. Normally the instance of Jesus casting the moneychangers from the Temple is the background for this interpretation. But others have examined the historical setting of this and concluded it doesn’t apply to what it is normally applied to. So this is just one example of how our beliefs can negatively influence others and even cause conflict if not handled correctly and with sensitivity.
G. Handling things such as this is the subject of chapter 14. Some were eating meat sacrificed to idols that was now being sold in the markets. Some Christians had no issue with this since idols were not real, but their doing so offended other believers. Should they abstain?
H. Immature and legalistic believers can be very nitpicky, so how far does God expect us to bend when we encounter these situations?
I. It takes a great deal of God given wisdom to make that call but we do know God wants unity among his people and this requires sensitivity.
J. Little if any good is ever served when God’s people divide over issues that aren’t doctrinal.
I. Remembering We Will Stand Before God Fosters Sensitivity (vv. 11-16)
A. In the middle of his discussion of eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul gives a quote and makes a statement concerning our bowing before God and our personal responsibility to him.
1. It may seem out of place, but I think there is a reason.
2. Bearing in mind our personal responsibility and accountability to God helps us see things in a different light.
3. What is most important? For me to force my opinion about some matter on other believers that is only my opinion or for me to work together in unity with them to fulfill Christ’s Kingdom work?
4. We’ve already mentioned some things believers have differed over in the previous study, so I’ll not rehash all those. There is, however, more that evangelical Protestants agree on than differ over, and what we differ over is not pertinent to our salvation or eternity.
5. I’m not proposing we do away with denominations, though I think that will happen in heaven since they are man created (Baptists have not descended from John the Baptist), but we should work together as much as possible.
B. Thus we should not condemn others or put obstacles in their path since we know we are not perfect either.
1. Though believers are no longer under condemnation and will not face God’s judgment as it relates to salvation, our works will be judged.
2. Jesus reminds us of a similar thing when he tells us to quit worrying about the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a beam in our own. We must take personal responsibility for our failures before we start pointing out the same to others.
3. It is not only the mature believer who can cause the immature believer to stumble as they live out their freedom in Christ.
4. Mature believers, if not careful, can become insensitive to issues immature believers are dealing with and thereby offend them. It is much better to give God time to deal with these matters than to be insensitive.
5. On the other hand, the immature or scrupulous believer can try to hem the mature believer in by petty rules and regulations.
6. Both of the above scenarios can cause division and dissension in the church.
7. This is not to say the more mature believe has to sacrifice their liberty just to pacify the immature believer. It is to say our focus should be on following Christ as closely as we can, letting others do so in the way they understand as well. Our fight is against the forces of evil not each other.
C. Paul’s conclusion.
1. He is sure, based on the authority of Jesus himself, no food is wrong to eat.
2. However, if a person believes it is then it is wrong for them.
3. Sometimes our convictions come out of personal struggles we’ve had and validates what Paul is teaching.
4. Let me give you an example. Take the Internet. It is my opinion there is nothing inherently wrong with the Internet. I had a discussion with a person some time ago and when we were through I asked him for his email address. He proceeded to tell me his wife checks and screens all his emails, giving him the info he needs. He has email and Internet but does not use them. Why? He once had a problem with pornography, and he knows it’s in his best interest to stay away from areas he is weak in.
5. Is it right for this person to take his beliefs and impose them on me when it is not an issue of moral right or wrong? No. Should I tell him he is being overly sensitive and needs to get in the groove by using the Internet? No.
6. Listen to what Paul says, Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.
7. Paul himself is an example. He was at the Jerusalem Council where the Jewish church in Jerusalem determined what responsibility if any the Gentile church had to the Old Testament law. They asked the Gentile church in Antioch not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul accepted this, even though he admits eating any meat is acceptable. Why did he accept this? He did not want the Gentile believers to offend the Jewish believers. He, like Christ, wanted unity in the church.
8. Our actions and sensitivity is governed by love. If a particular action is distressing another Christian and we continue to flaunt the action or our opinion, we are not acting in love.
9. I suppose then that it’s possible to sin against others, cause them to sin against their consciences and even to sin against God because we are sinning against a fellow believer, even though the thing we are doing is not actually sin.
II. Remembering What Defines The Kingdom Fosters Sensitivity (vv. 17-23)
A. Paul states the Kingdom is not defined by religious scruples believers have differed over.
1. It is not a matter of what we eat and drink or don’t eat and drink.
2. It is not a matter of what we should or should not do on the Lord’s Day.
3. It is not a matter of whether the regulations of the Jewish Sabbath should be transferred to the believer’s day of worship.
4. It’s not a matter of whether it’s acceptable to allow selling in church.
5. It’s not a matter of what music is permissible or acceptable.
6. It’s about living a life of goodness, peace and joy in the Spirit.
7. We are instructed to walk by the Spirit so we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.
8. Life in the Spirit results in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
9. When we serve God and others with these attitudes, we won’t divide over miniscule issues of little importance. We will keep the larger matter in mind.
10. Kingdom living is about harmony and building each other up.
11. Division comes when we focus on the speck and tear each other down.
B. Division can tear apart God’s work.
1. Their difference of opinion over what should or should not be eaten carried the potential to do that very thing.
2. Some of our personal agendas have the capacity to do the very same.
3. Is it ever worth splitting a church or damaging God’s kingdom work just to make a statement? Not if it doesn’t involve a doctrinal matter.
4. Some churches have split simply because people couldn’t get along, but sin causes that not God.
5. Unity is the goal. Avoiding causing a fellow believer to stumble by our actions is the goal.
6. Paul gives good advice in verse 22. If you feel the action is not wrong, keep it between yourself and God. Don’t flaunt it before the immature believer who has a problem with it. There are some battles that aren’t worth fighting. The fall out would be greater than the dividends.
7. Example. As mentioned already, believers differ over the matter of drinking. So take two believers who do. One thinks total abstinence, the other believes in moderation is permissible. Would it benefit anything for the one who believes in moderation to invite his friend over and then drink in front of him just to make a point? Hardly. But neither should the one who believes in total abstinence constantly berate the one who accepts in moderation. Unity not division is the goal. Again, we’re not talking about those things God’s Word clearly forbids.
8. If it’s an issue that God’s Word is not clear on but one that your conscience bothers you about, Paul says leave it alone. Better be safe than sorry.
9. We sin against our conscience when we do something our conscience is bothering us about.
10. Sin is a private matter but it’s also public. Our actions have a bearing on others.
A. Love should guide our actions.
B. When it does, we will avoid those things bringing disunity in God’s church. We will strive for unity even when it means agreeing to disagree.