This is the sermon my dad, Mike Cleveland, preached today at The Fountain of Grace Church:
How Do We Love
First Scripture Reading: Isaiah 45:22-25 22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”
Let’s sing together:
Second Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12 1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let’s pray together:
Well as we begin to look at this new chapter, Romans chapter 14, I think we all understand that the Bible is very clear on certain things: for instance, we saw in Romans 13 that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities, we are to pay our taxes, and we are to respect authority, and we are not to commit adultery, or murder, or steal, we are not to be involved in drunkenness, sexual immorality, or strife and contention, because all of that violates the law of love. According to vs. 10 we are to “do no harm” to our neighbor. These things are abundantly clear in Scripture.
But there are some other things that are not so clear, and that if not careful, Christians can end up arguing about them. The Bible calls these things “disputable matters” or “doubtful matters.” And where we find Christians, in any church, who are distracted from Christ and are off arguing about disputable matters we soon find an unhealthy church, a church that is languishing and is sickly. But in this passage of Scripture that we’re looking at today, God gives us the remedy, the medicine, that will make for a healthy and loving and growing church if the instructions are followed.
Now just a little background on our passage: in Rome there were some converted Jews who were raised under the Law. In Leviticus chapter 11 and other Old Testament places, it strictly forbids the eating of unclean meat. And in Leviticus chapter 23 there were 7 special days, holy days, that the Jews were to keep, such as the Passover, and Feast of Tabernacles, and the Day of Atonement, etc.. These were special days that belonged to the Covenant God had made with Israel, and now some of these Jews had become Christians and had carried over part of their religious belief system into their Christianity. It’s very easy to carry the baggage of our past into our Christian life.
In fact, the apostle Peter did that. One day he was on the roof of his house and he had a vision of all kinds of animals being let down in a sheet and God told him “rise Peter, kill and eat.” Acts 10:14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” Peter, even though he was a Christian, still held to the Old Covenant dietary rules, where you wouldn’t eat unclean meat, and worse yet he wouldn’t accept “unclean Gentiles” as being believers. And so God graciously corrected him through this object lesson.
Some people today believe that those old Covenant dietary restrictions are still in place under the New Covenant, and that we are still to keep special days. I was raised as a Seventh-Day-Adventist and we were vegetarians and Sabbath-keepers. And that’s exactly what some were doing in Rome. We’ve seen in vss. 2-5 that some, who were weaker in faith, believed that they were not to eat meat and that they were to keep certain days holy. But those who were stronger in faith believed that you could now eat anything and that every day was alike.
So the question comes, “who is right? Are the Old Covenant dietary laws still in effect? Do we need to keep the Sabbath today?” But Paul tells us in this passage that those are the wrong questions to ask. The right question to ask is how do we treat fellow Christians who see things differently than we do? Not, “who is right?” but “how do we love each other?”
That’s the question that Paul is going to answer. And in His answer, God gives us four things to do to love each other. Four truths that will make for a healthy, loving, growing church family where there is unity and love and grace flowing freely, if we are careful to follow His instructions. Here are the four things, briefly:
- Accept each other (vss. 1-2).
- Do not despise each other (vss. 3-5)
- Do not judge each other (vss. 3-6)
- Consider how our lives affects others (vss. 7-8)
- Focus on Jesus Christ and the Gospel (vs. 9)
- Leave the judging to God (vss. 10-12)
First, vs. 1: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” In other words, if someone came to their church who believed differently than they did in things that are not clear, they were to receive him warmly, to accept him with love. In essence, they were to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14), and to welcome people into the church with open arms, just like Jesus opened His arms on the cross and died to make believers acceptable to the Father.
Romans 15:7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Maybe there are some here today who have not yet put their faith in Jesus, maybe thinking they won’t be accepted. “I’ve gone too far.” Well this verse presents Jesus as a receiving Savior. Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” He sure does. His heart is open to receive us and to fellowship with us. And that’s how we should be with each other.
Illustration: a lady by the name of Esther risked her life to save her people. She came before the King uninvited (against the law), and wasn’t sure if he would receive her or not, but then the king extended the scepter, lowered his scepter to her. Esther 5:2 when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. She was welcome, she was accepted. Well at the cross, God extended the scepter to anyone who comes to Him for forgiveness: we found favor in His sight. “You are welcome in my presence.” And you and I are to extend the scepter to people who do not believe the same way we do, when it comes to disputable matters.
Now if you notice in vs. 1 there are two groups of people addressed here. We can see it clearly in vs. 2: “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.” So Paul is writing to people who are strong in faith and people who are weak in faith. The strong one believes it’s ok to eat meat, considers every day alike. The weak in faith believes in only eating vegetables, and he keep certain days as special days, as holy days.
Strong faith needs nothing but belief in the gospel, whereas weak faith needs additional rules to help it believe. It needs crutches to help it walk, so it gravitates toward laws, rules, something tangible that we can do. It just needs a little help. And the Bible does not knock either one, but gives instruction to both as to how to love the other one.
A.Now notice the instruction to the strong in vs. 3: “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat.” Do not despise each other. So here’s the temptation for the one who is strong in faith: he knows more, he is more experienced, he has walked with the Lord longer, and his temptation is to despise his brother who doesn’t know what he knows. Despise means to treat with contempt, to treat as meaningless and utterly wrong. Here is how it would sound: “Don’t you know how ridiculous it is to put yourself under the Old Covenant when Christ brought in a New Covenant. 1 Timothy 4:4 “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;” It’s just foolish to keep special diets and special days, that’s ridiculous.” This one who is supposedly so strong in faith, has just despised his weaker brother.
B.But then notice the instruction to those weaker in faith in vs. 3: “and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” Do not judge each other. Here’s the temptation for those who are weaker in faith: it’s to judge others who don’t need the rules. Here’s how this would sound: “you don’t follow the Lord in the commands He gave us to separate ourselves from the world. You are a Carnal Christian who has turned liberty into license to sin.” You’ve just judged your brother.
So do we see the word pictures that the Bible paints for us here? Think about these portraits that Paul is painting here in both the strong and the weak Christian: there’s a man walking along the road in crutches. Another man walks up to him, kicks the crutches out from underneath him, says “you don’t need those” and walks away. He has violated the Law of love. What he should do is come alongside the man, with a heart of love and compassion, and say “brother, here put your arm around my shoulder, and let me just walk with you awhile.” And they walk together and strengthen each other. Isaiah 35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. Isaiah 40:29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Be very careful about a weak person’s conscience. The conscience has to be won over little by little through patient instruction, and gentle leading, not taken by storm.
Well here’s the other picture: the weaker Christian sees someone who attends his church having a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant. This weaker person, in his mind, walks up the stairs to the judges’ bench, puts on the judges robe, sits down in the judges seat and declares that other brother guilty of worldliness, guilty of being a Carnal Christian, guilty of not living a separated life, and he slams the gavel down. And in so doing he has violated the law of love.
Think of something for a minute: you know what we have to do before we put on the robe of the judge? We have to take off the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says “for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Jesus’ purpose was not to condemn, but to be condemned in our place. He didn’t come to judge but to be judged instead of us and thereby save anyone who repents and believes.
Notice vs. 4: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Every Christian would be wise to keep these two main thoughts from this verse in mind: “who are you?” and “God is able.” Who are you to judge? There’s the instruction about humility. Who are you? Who am I? Well we’re sinners. We were rebellious enemies of God, dead in our sins and trespasses. So now I’m a judge? No! Who am I? I’m nothing. But then God is able. God is able to make each person stand. God is able, we’re not. Jude 1:24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
Let us be very careful not to judge someone who believes differently than we do. Let’s leave it to each person to seek out the truth and to come to a particular belief. That’s exactly what vs. 5 says, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Let me just give some practical help in this matter. Look for just a minute at Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. Now let’s apply that to our subject today. You know what I’ve learned to do as I get to know someone: begin thinking on his or her good points. How are they like Christ? What are their good qualities? And run through these qualities in my mind. Play that tape over and over in your mind. That way, if someone came up to me and says, “so and so is doing this or that; they are a weak Christian or a carnal Christian” I can say “maybe so but they sure are humble, and faithful. And look how they love the body of Christ. Wow, I can sure see Christ in them.”
So the first instruction is to accept one another, don’t condemn and don’t judge. This even includes motives. Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. Don’t judge motives, because it’s entirely possible that whatever that fellow believer is doing is doing it unto the Lord.
Second instruction is “consider how your life affects others.” Vs. 7 says, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.” Maybe we shouldn’t have that drink with dinner so that we don’t trip somebody up. We don’t live just to our own selves, our own desires. Paul said, 1 Corinthians 8:13 13 if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Vs. 8 says “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
Third instruction: “Focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel.” The mature person has learned to get off the small things, the petty things, the disputable things, and focus on Jesus and what He did for us. Vs. 9 “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Christ died to be Lord over that brother we think is weaker than us. And Christ died to be Lord over that brother we think is living carnally. Focus on the fact that Jesus died for Him as well as for you. Ever wondered what is most important in the Christian life? The primary thing we should focus on? 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
And in so doing, Jesus won the right to be the Lord of all. Think of what He is doing there on the cross. Yes, He is bearing our sins in His own body on that tree. He is suffering under the wrath of God, He is despised and rejected of man. He is treated as if He were nothing, and worse than nothing, a criminal, a despised and hated man. He is being wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. Then He dies under the condemnation of God and is taken down from the tree and buried. Why is He enduring all of this scorn and hatred and ridicule and mocking and piercing and death? He is winning our worship, and our submission, so that as He rises from the dead on the third day, He now has the right to be both Lord. Vs. 11 “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” Psalm 72:11 Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; All nations shall serve Him.” He suffered all this for us, that He might be our Lord, exalted to the right hand of God.
Illustration. Joseph was loved by his father but hated by his brothers. His father sent him on a mission of mercy to check on his brothers, but when they saw him coming they plotted to kill him; they ended up selling him into the hands of Gentiles for pieces of silver. While he was there he was falsely accused and thrown into prison, down into a dark dungeon where he was placed right between two criminals. To one he brought a message of life, to the other a message of death. But then, he was raised up out of the dungeon and he was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh where he became lord and savior of all, providing bread to all who came to him. Notice what all the people were to do to Joseph:
Genesis 41:41-43 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt.
The depths of the dungeon to the heights of lordship. Treated as a criminal to sitting at the right hand of power. “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (Philippians 2:10-11). Have you bowed the knee? Have you received the Savior? Focus on this!
Well let’s close with our final point. Therefore, because Jesus died and rose to be Lord of all, we have the final instruction on how to love each other, which is, leave the judging to God. Romans 14:10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Vs. 12 says “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Picture that day when you and I are standing before God in heaven to give an account of what we’ve done on this earth. That is not the time to ask for mercy, and to be ashamed that we rejected the Son of God, that we did not surrender all and bow our knee to King Jesus. We do not want to hear the words, “away from me, I never knew you” and to be sent away from His eternal presence. If anyone wants to escape this judgment and God’s wrath, just surrender all to Him, receive Jesus and put Him on, and God will see that He has already judged you and you’ve already paid for your sin in Christ. Now if we are believers, we are not being judged for life or death, heaven or hell, Jesus was already judged for us, was declared guilty and was put to death in our place. We’re being judged for rewards. Do we get the gold, the silver or the bronze?
You are Loved!