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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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I took three semesters of New Testament Greek while studying at Harding University - School of Biblical Studies. One of my fondest memories is of a road trip I took with a brother in Christ, a drive from Arkansas to Kansas and back. I don't recall the purpose of the trip, but what I do recall is that rather than listen to the radio, we opted to use our time on the road to translate the book of Colossians. (Remember that, Smokey?)

I'm sure our translational work was lacking in many respects, and laughable to genuine translational scholars, but the point is, we did it. We were able to do it. Now? Not so much.

Just recently, I purchased Jonathan Kline's Keep Up Your Biblical Greek in Two Minutes a Day. As I work through it each morning, I see how woefully inadequate my translational abilities have become through non-use. It is going to take genuine effort to get them back to the level they once were.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- 2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV

The Gift Needs Stirring/Fanning to Flame

Note what the apostle Paul is saying and not saying to Timothy. Paul is not directing Timothy to pursue new spiritual gifting, but rather to stir afresh what is already there, to rekindle the flames of his gifting. Over the years, I have worked with believers who obsess over chasing newer and better gifts, all the while neglecting the gifts already within them.

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. - 1 Timothy 4:14, ESV

Neglecting our gifts causes them to atrophy. The Spirit of God does not leave us (John 14:16), but neglecting the spiritual gift within us will cause its flame to wane, and to need "kindling afresh." Remember, friend, it is possible both to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The Gift is Not Timid

for God gave us a spirit not of fear - 2 Timothy 1:7a, ESV

The word for fear, δειλιος (deilios), signifies something along the lines of timidity or cowardice, rather than terror. Just as our spiritual gifting can atrophy, it is equally useless if we are too timid or cowardly to use it.

The Gift is Not Power, but it Comes With Power

It is easy to confuse the gift with the power. The gift is not power, but the spiritual gift comes with power. It is enhanced by power. It comes with everything we need to put the gift to effective use.

God has given us not a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of δυναμις (dunamis), power! This is the word from which we derive our term "dynamite." That's power, folks! Light that fuse and fan that flame. Let loose the spiritual power within you.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. - Romans 12:11, NIV-1978
Power and timidity polar opposites, as are power and cowardice.

The Gift is Not Love, but it Comes With Love

The gift also comes with love. As with the power, so it is with love. Love is not the gift, but the gift comes with love. The fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22).

Love regulates our gifting, because without love, we fall to the temptation to misuse the gifts, to distort them, and use them for personal glory and fulfillment. We go the way of Diotrephes who advanced himself and despised authority (3 John 1:9).

Love is the perfect answer to timidity and cowardice, becasue "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).

The Gift is Not Self-Control, but it Comes With Self-Control

The gift is not self-control, but the gift comes with self-control, and self-control regulates the gift. As with love, self-control, σωπφρονισμου (sophronismou), is fruit of the Spirit. It is a combination term, melding two verbs, to save and to control, thus safe control, or even control that saves. Whatever the case, with power, love, and safe control, believers can radically transform the world in which we live.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. - 1 Peter 4:10, NIV-1978

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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© 2019 Lilly Cantabile. All Rights Reserved. Pixabay.
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Two weeks ago, we looked at how love for our brothers and sisters in Christ governs our Christian liberty. Last week, we dove into what constitutes a "disputable matter." This week, we finalize our look at Romans 14 by examining the "stumbling block."

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. - Romans 14:13, NIV-1978

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. - 1 Corinthians 8:9, NIV-1978

The Skandalon

The stumbling block in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 is the same stumbling block. It is a σκανδαλον - skandalon. The skandalon comes into play when I engage in an action or activity that I know does not violate any biblical principle or precept, but which another brother or sister without such knowledge might imitate and thereby violate their conscience. We have seen in previous weeks, that the weaker brother or sister who imitates my action incurs condemnation because they cannot engage the activity in faith, and "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

Let's return to the previously used example of wine. I have partaken of a glass of wine in the presence of my pastor and his wife, despite the fact that neither of them chooses to partake. I can do this with a clear conscience, because I know that my partaking with thanksgiving does not place a skandalon in front of them. Neither of them is going to engage in something that violates their conscience thereby causing them to sin. Indeed, I do not even know that it is a matter of conscience for them. It may simply be a matter of choice, and I respect that.

Conversely, I have enjoyed a glass of wine with two of the three elders from my church family, one of whom partakes on a frequent basis, and one who does not, but who understands the concept of partaking "without asking questions of conscience" (1 Corinthians 10:27). The more common scenario, however, is for me to order iced-tea or water with my meal, because the brother or sister with whom I am meeting and sharing a meal is much younger in their faith, and has not reached the same conviction on matters of conscience. In that case, it is I who would be sinning by dropping that skandalon onto their path.

What the Skandalon Is Not

The current generation has mastered the art of being perpetually outraged, working diligently at it, honing our skills at identifying potential infractions and micro-aggressions at which we should be offended. Some have mastered the skill of taking offense with record-breaking speed, while others can successfully juggle seven or eight outrages while organizing boycotts of their respective perpetrators.

This posture of taking offense at everything not aligned with our personal preferences is not the stumbling block about which Paul writes. The fact that I don't care for the musical selections on a given Sunday morning, or that I'm offended by them, is not a skandalon for me. I'll not be sinning because the worship leader picked songs that don't fit my musical taste, or because I don't care for the room decor, the seating arrangement, or the translation used by the speaker.

But let's move from the obvious to the less obvious by returning to the wine illustration. Let's say you are deeply offended by the fact that I, a professing believer of almost 40 years, am consuming wine, and I am doing so with your knowledge, and perhaps even in your presence. And let's further hypothesize that I do so knowing fully that it offends you. Is that a skandalon?

No, it is not, because the depth of your conviction regarding the wine would never allow you to violate your own conscience by partaking in what you find so offensive. It might be unwise of me to do so, because it could result in friction between us, but I have not put a stumbling block in your path because you would never imitate my action.

The skandalon about which Paul writes comes into play when a mature believer exercises Christian liberty in a way that damages a younger (less mature) believer. This young believer ends up sinning because he or she engages in activity that cannot be done with a clear conscience.

Casual Disregard For the Skandalon

In the parallel passage, 1 Corinthians 8, there is indication that the supposedly more mature believers were deliberately flaunting their liberty before others with a casual disregard for their conscience. If I behave in this way, I am not acting according to love, and Paul even goes so far as to say that I am sinning, not only against this brother or sister, but against Christ! (1 Corinthians 8:12)

Jesus does not mince words when speaking of that brother or sister who acts with such calloused disregard for the conscience of his followers.

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. - 1 Corinthians 8:9, NIV-1978
Note that Jesus does not say it is "like," or "analogous to" having a millstone hung about the neck. No, Jesus said it would be preferable to have that be the case. Jesus is saying it is such a breach of faith to cause another to sin, that we will find ourselves in circumstances so dire that we will say, "Oh, if only I could have a millstone tied to my neck and be thrown into the sea. That would be so much better than this!"

Let Love Guide You

In the end, each of us needs to let love be our guide. In love, we can let our brother or sister eat their meat and observe their special day without judging them. In love, we can let our brother or sister abstain from eating meat or observing a day as special without judging them. In love, we can exercise our Christian liberty without putting a stumbling block in the path of another.

What a believer is commanded to do, he should do without regard to the response of others. What he is permitted to do, he may choose to do, but never is he compelled to do it. If he realizes his example could be imitated by younger believers not mature enough to do this without facing temptation they’re unprepared to handle, out of love he should be willing to forgo this action unless and until they are able to handle it.
- Randy Alcorn
Our first responsibility is to the Lord. If Christians would go to the Lord in prayer instead of going to their brother with criticism, there would be stronger fellowship in our churches.
- Warren Wiersbe
Paul gives Jesus as the perfect example. No one was more free to please himself than Jesus, and yet he always put himself out for the needs of others. This is the way that leads to unity and so gives glory to God.
- Andrew Knowles

And I'll leave you with this:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." - Romans 15:1-3, ESV

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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Last week, we looked at how love for our brothers and sisters in Christ governs our Christian liberty. This week, we take a similar, dangerous dive into what constitutes a "disputable matter."

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. - Romans 14:1, NIV-1978

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. - Romans 14:1, ESV

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. - Romans 14:1, NASB

The question arises regarding what constitutes a "disputable matter," or an "opinion." Conceivably, we could argue over anything. Does that mean any matter is disputable? I suspect any of us who is genuinely seeking truth would reject that idea.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a disputable matter. The preeminence of love is not a disputable matter. The inappropriateness of murder is not a disputable matter. But how do we know these things to be true?

The term in question is διαλογισμων - phonetically, dee-ah-log-ees-mown. It is thought, reason, imagination, possibly even doubt. It is the term used in Romans 1:21 to say, "they became futile in their thinking" or 1 Corinthians 3:20 where we read that the Lord "knows the thoughts of the wise."

In Philippians 2:14, we read that we are to do all things without grumbling or "disputing," and again, the term is διαλογισμων, just as we read in 1 Timothy 2:8 that men everywhere are to pray, lifting holy hands apart from anger and "dissension."

We can see from this handful of examples that the term is varied in its usage. It is a term indicating that something has been thought through, pondered, and as a result, has established within the mind of the ponderer, some scruples.

With this understanding, we are to receive the one whose faith is inhibited, but not for the purpose of passing judgment over his or her moral constructs, or scruples. So what is a scruple, and what is a matter that is indisputable? And how do we know the difference?

It is helpful in making this reconciliation to know that Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 are parallel passages. If you desire to study this subject in greater depth, you would do well to pause here and read the 1 Corinthians chapters.

Key to chapters 8-10 in 1 Corinthians is a foundation-setting reality found in chapter five where a man is sexually involved with his step-mother. The attitude of the believers in Corinth was 180 degrees out from what it should have been.

Rather than appalled, they were thrilled! Look how progressive and cutting-edge we are! I suspect they saw themselves as the epitome of Christian liberty. Yet, so grotesque is this sin that not even the pagans would do such a thing.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. - 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, ESV

There is no question in the mind of the apostle Paul that this is not a disputable matter. Bear in mind, also, that the man who wrote "expel the immoral brother," is the same man who wrote Romans 14:1, noting that some matters are disputable.

Further solidifying the principle that some things are indisputably wrong, Paul ramps up his condemnation, saying, "I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing." Not only does this not qualify as a disputable matter, this qualifies as something on which we should pass judgment. And when we must do so, this is not something we get puffed-up about, but rather something that causes us mourning and grief!

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." - 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, ESV

When the reader of this letter gets to what we call chapter 8 and starts reading about meat sacrificed to idols, this ugly scenario will still be fresh in his or her mind. It will be plenty clear to them that the immorality of chapter 5 is a completely different matter than the issues of Christian liberty discussed in 8-10. In chapter 5, we are directed to judge and condemn the sinning brother, while just a handful of chapters later, we are commanded not to judge.

There are matters that are explicitly condemned in scripture. Theft, lying, fornication, idolatry, carousing, etc. We can cite specific scriptures that call such behaviors out as sinful. Disputable matters are those that the Word of God does not explicitly condemn, and it is in regard to these matters that we are not to pass judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather, "each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5b, ESV).

When it comes to matters that are not explicitly prohibited by scripture, each of us must rely on the convictions we have in those matters. Part of this challenge is agreeing on what is expressly prohibited or condemned, and sadly, that often becomes the basis of the διαλογισμων. In many cases, believers see clear commands when the reality is, they are making extensions to commands, or are inferring conclusions from a command. Let me offer a few illustrations.

I have already shared with you that Alean and I frequently enjoy a glass of wine together in the evening. Some of you are not able to do so as a matter of conscience. I respect you for that, and would not put that temptation in front of you, because that would not be acting according to love. Likewise, you are not to judge Alean, or me. What is the clear prohibition? Drunkenness. Drunkenness is clearly prohibited, and scripture offers reasons for that prohibition. But to take that prohibition and extend it to a more stringent prohibition of drinking wine altogether is unwarranted and inappropriate.

About a week ago, I was involved in a conversation on Twitter wherein a believer asked if masturbation is a sin. Almost every responder to her question asserted and agreed that it is a sin, and many of those pointed to the sin of lust to support that extension. I did not answer her question one way or the other, but rather pointed out that the group was declaring as sinful something about which the Bible says absolutely nothing. What I can assure you is that for every person in that thread who said it is sinful, for them, it is sinful, because whatever cannot be done in faith is sin (Romans 14:14 ,23).

As recreational marijuana usage is legalized in an increasing number of states (despite the fact that it is still unlawful at the federal level) the question of its use among Christ-followers is increasingly prevalent. As above, this is something scripture does not address directly, and I personally know a number of Christians who make use of it. I, however, cannot do so with a clear conscience. For me it would be sinful, without question, because in my mind it is analogous to drunkenness, and a violation of Peter's instruction to be clear-minded and self-controlled so that I can pray.

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. - Romans 14:13, ESV

Next week, we will wrap this up by looking at what a stumbling block is (and what it is not).

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Twitter - @DamonJGray
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This lengthy blog post will bother some of you, perhaps even anger you. I understand that, and am used to occasionally finding myself in the hot-seat for my views on scripture. Feel free to comment, argue with me, debate, disagree ... but please do so politely.

Disagreements abound in the body of Christ universally, and within individual congregations, regarding what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and at times, acceptable and unacceptable beliefs. Self-persuaded believers stand in perfect circles with loaded muskets, all pointed inward, and on the count of three, everyone fires. The world has little need to attack and discredit the church, because the church does such a marvelous job of attacking discrediting itself through the lack of love we show one another.

When it comes to disagreements among believers, I believe the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Romans is one of the most intensely practical chapters in the entire New Testament. It has much to say to the contemporary church, particularly where we find disagreements over matters of practice, disagreements wherein one member of the body of Christ may be inclined to judge or condemn another member, and sometimes in very public ways. For that reason, during my years in full-time ministry, I made it my habit to study through Romans fourteen with every new Christ-follower.

Issues

Romans fourteen is about what we call "disputable matters," and it leaves no doubt that, from the church’s inception, the body of Christ has been burdened with such matters, many of which are not going to find any satisfactory resolution no matter how long they are debated.

Those who engage in the battles are often unable to agree even on what constitutes the "pertinent issues." Sometimes, what is a troubling issue for me is a non-issue for someone else, and a completely settled, non-disputable matter for yet another person. If an issue is debated effectively enough, for long enough, it becomes relegated to this realm we like to call the "Grey Area."

The Grey Area is that category of issues about which we cannot decide if it is Yea, or Nay. It may even be that each of us believes we are right while those with differing viewpoints are wrong, but they are either too obtuse to see it, or too stubborn to admit it. The concept of the Grey Area has historically been a challenge for me because, for most of my life my world was very true or false, yes or no, black and white; a strange reality for someone whose last name is Gray.

My world was well-defined, and I was comfortable in the conviction that there are truths, and there are falsehoods. A thing is or it is not. The battery has a positive pole and a negative pole. My world was binary; On/Off, 1/0.

The longer I am allowed to remain alive, the more Grey Area I am seeing; the more I am realizing that much of one’s life-view is shaped by the angle from which one perceives their surroundings. What we will learn from Romans fourteen is that something that is 0 for you can be 1 for someone else, and the unsettling part for the binary minded is that both of those are true.

With the Grey Area concept before us, it seems important to note that there are behaviors and activities that are always wrong and sinful, and which cannot be relegated to the Grey Area. Thus, in studying this chapter, I am not suggesting anarchy, recklessness, or an attitude that says, "Anything goes." Far from it.

The Bible has instruction for us wherein things are distinctly commanded. Do these things. (e.g. love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.) Similarly, other things are unquestionably forbidden. Do not do these things. (e.g. Do not murder our neighbor.)

Anything outside the clearly commanded or forbidden must be relegated to the realm of conscience, faith, and maturity. This is the realm about which the apostle Paul will say, "Whatever you believe about such things, keep between yourself and God" (v. 22). If God has not specifically addressed the issue before us, we are not to represent that he has done so, and we are not to ridicule, judge, or condemn a brother or sister in Christ who has reached a conviction that differs from our own in that matter.

Paul’s Teaching on Issues

To address this matters of conscience, the apostle Paul will employ two working examples. Using Paul’s framework, we can insert any particular issue we want to debate. The examples Paul uses are:

  1. Meat that has been sacrificed to an idol.
  2. Observance of special days.
As we work through this passage, any time we see a reference to eating, or to days, we can insert our selected issue, and we will see that the teaching of Paul applies.

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. - Romans 14:1-4, NASB

Keys from Verses 1-4

  1. The weaker faith is the faith that is the most restrictive (v. 2). The stronger one’s faith, the more one realizes that Christ is interested in freedom and loving one another. Too much of the body of Christ is defined as "those who don’t." Christians are seen as those who don’t do X, or who don’t do Y. The non-believing world laughs at this and jokes about our many don’ts. The stronger believer is the one who is free from rules and restrictions - the Law. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." Thus a stronger faith allows one to "eat all things," while the weaker faith does not eat.

  2. Neither believer is to judge the other (v. 4). For a practical example, let us inject a present-day hot-button issue - the consumption of wine. The one who does not consume wine may be inclined to judge the one who consumes. In the mind of the judging Christ-follower, the consumption of any such beverage is sinful. The apostle Paul says we who do not consume must not judge the one who does so. Similarly, we who consume are not to regard with contempt those who do not do so. Neither is qualified to "judge the servant of another," and every Christ-follower is a servant of, and belongs to God.

  3. God has accepted each faith, and God is able to make each faith stand (v. 4).

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. - Romans 14:5-9, NASB

Keys from Verses 5-9

  1. The convictions we hold regarding issues are individual matters (v. 5). I have known believers who are convinced that it is sinful for the Christian world to celebrate the birth of Christ because, in scripture, we are never commanded to do so. I have known others for whom the objection is even stronger, as they regard Christmas as a pagan celebration, and those of this persuasion would like to see it mandated by the church leadership that we not celebrate this day. Paul says each of us should be convinced in our own mind on these matters, and applying principle #2 above, I am not to judge one who holds such convictions, and they are not to judge me for holding different convictions (or no conviction at all).

  2. Each man/woman is striving to honor God with their convictions (v. 6). The family that does not observe Christmas is acting on that conviction to honor God. My family observes the holiday for the very same reason - to honor God. The man/woman who refuses wine, does so to honor God. When my wife and I enjoy a glass of wine together, we do so thanking God for the bounty of the earth, and the pleasant fruit it provides. Neither of us is in a position the judge the other, the servant of another master before whom each stands or falls.

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD." So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. - Romans 14:10-12 - NASB

Keys from Verses 10-12

  1. We are not to judge or hold contempt for our brother or sister in Christ (v. 10). I am not your master or your judge, just as you are not my master or my judge. I will bow the knee to God just as you will (v. 11). I will give account to God and no one else, just as you will (v. 12).

Summary Comments on Romans 14:1-12

In this chapter, the apostle Paul is discussing the proper way to deal with a conscience that is weak in faith, what could accurately be called ignorance, and he does so using the examples of meat that has been sacrificed to idols and observance of special days. In contemporary western society, identifying ignorance is considered insulting, but it should not be so. Ignorance is not a bad thing. It is not sinful, and neither is it something of which one must be ashamed. Ignorance should not be ridiculed, and those who do ridicule ignorance are dealing with their own issue of spiritual arrogance.

Each of us is ignorant to some degree and in any of a plethora of subject matters. Ignorant means only that I am untrained, unlearned, or unaware regarding a specific matter. I am ignorant regarding the stock market, whereas my son is an expert in that arena. I am predominantly ignorant on matters of diet, whereas my friend Tony is an expert in those matters. The fact that I am ignorant in these two (and many other) areas, does not mean I am uneducated, foolish, stupid, or unintelligent. It means only that I have not studied those specific subjects.

In Paul’s example, there were those who were ignorant regarding meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

Imagine a man who sacrifices a ram to his pagan deity. Not wanting to waste the meat, he takes it to the marketplace to sell it. Imagine further that you and I are in that same marketplace hunting for bargains and I end up buying this man's inexpensive meat.

I have no idea where the meat came from, and I really do not care. You, however, know that the meat was sacrificed to some pagan deity, and in your mind, that meat is unclean. Or, perhaps you are recently converted from Judaism, and you notice that the meat was not slaughtered in a way that complies with Judaic standards. What Paul is teaching (thus far) is that you do not judge what I am doing, and I do not judge what you are doing.

The teaching on special days is similar. If you regard a certain day as holy unto God, and I see that day the same as every other day on the calendar, each of us should glorify God with our observance or non-observance of the day, and be fully convinced in our own mind. There is no need to condemn one another.

When Paul's guidelines are not followed, we often find that the weaker conscience is allowed to legalistically bind its conviction on the entire body. Conversely, the stronger conscience is sometimes allowed to exercise that freedom in ways that are harmful to the weaker conscience. The difficult balance is one in which the stronger conscience protects the weaker conscience, while silencing the legalist.

Congratulations! You have slogged with me through the first part of the chapter. That was the liberating section. What follows is tough teaching on how to handle our liberty. Rather than look for key concepts as we did with verses 1-12, here, we will look at the entire section as one unit, and then comment.

Romans 14:13-23

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. - Romans 14:13-23, NASB

In the first twelve verses, the apostle Paul made strong proclamations regarding the freedom we have in Christ and how each of us should be convinced in our own mind. Given our freedom in Christ, in verses thirteen through twenty-three, Paul demonstrates how the mature believer can, and should, place voluntary restrictions on his or her own freedom. From a position of love, we choose not to put a stumbling block in the path of a brother or sister in Christ.

Paul declares that nothing is inherently unclean (v. 14). But notice, also, that there is a way in which a clean thing can become unclean. That occurs at the point at which the one who is weak in faith believes it to be unclean. Something that is perfectly innocent has just become sin for me because I believe it to be so.

Let's return to an earlier, personal example. My wife and I enjoy a glass of wine together in the evening. Imagine we have a guest in our home, a guest who is a new believer, and one who has come out of an abusive, fundamentalist tradition that teaches all consumption of fermented beverages is sinful. Though we know nothing is unclean in itself, for our guest, because she believes it to be unclean, to her it most certainly is unclean (v. 14).

Remember the second-greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. If I decide our guest’s understanding of a glass of wine is silly, and I choose to put that before her, I am no longer walking according to love (v. 15), and I have just callously violated the second-greatest commandment. I have behaved selfishly toward a sister in Christ.

Immediately on the heels of telling me I have behaved unlovingly, Paul makes a strong statement, "Do not destroy with your [wine] him for whom Christ died" (v. 15, insert mine). Do not undervalue the impact of what Paul is saying here. Jesus died for this soul, and I am potentially destroying that work of Christ by placing something in front of them that they believe to be sinful.

The effect is not singluar in direction. It is not only the weaker brother who is harmed with this. "All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense" (v. 20, emphasis mine). It was clean, but it became evil when I pressed the issue and gave offense to a weaker brother or sister. Now, note verse 22, "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves." I don't even have to do anything. I can condemn myself simply by what I approve.

There are activities I can engage, activities that are innocent, yet which can become evil and sinful, and that place of transformation is the point at which I push my freedoms off on a brother or sister in Christ who has sincere convictions about those matters. This is not a matter in which I can look down upon the weaker faith and say, "Oh, that is just silly. It is not wrong. They just think it is wrong." No! For them it is wrong, and now it is wrong for me as well, because I am pushing it into their face.

Paul said, "do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil," and by that he does not mean that we are to stubbornly stand up for our freedom to engage in activity A or B, and retort, "You can't tell me this is wrong." We disallow the good thing we enjoy being spoken of as evil by not putting it in front of someone to whom it is evil.

The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy spirit, and my selfish assertions of freedom and perceived rights do not promote attitudes of righteousness, peace, and joy. Any man or woman who lives in the body while selflessly promoting these values is both acceptable to God, and approved by men (v. 18).

This is the attitude of a living sacrifice from Romans 12:1, the man or woman who is dead to self, allowing our freedoms to be suspended for a time, for the sake of another’s conscience. Most everyone approves of such selflessness, and God applauds our loving attitude. We win in both arenas.

The key to the entire matter is verse 19. Take it to heart. "So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." I want to keep peace, and then I want to build up the weaker brother. I do that by gently, patiently educating, while showing tremendous sensitivity to his or her convictions as he or she grows through them.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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Last week I shared the details of one of the most unnerving experiences Alean and I have endured in almost a decade, that glorious moment when my old beater car broke down in the middle lane of the 405 South bypass around Seattle during rush hour. But the bad news turned upward and became good news as one person after another poured themselves into our circumstance, doing everything they could to calm us, cheer us up, and make our rather unpleasant afternoon at least bearable.

The Dilemma

How do we reconcile what Alean and I experienced with the common teaching that "nothing good dwells within man?" What we experienced was more than people simply doing their jobs. These people went well beyond what was required, seeing a couple in distress and denying their own best interests to alleviate our discomfort. We were prime targets, ripe for picking, easily taken advantage of, yet not one person did so. Every one of them put their own interests aside to serve us!

I have been taught since my youth that humanity is totally depraved, wicked, evil, incapable of doing anything good. Yet, when given a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the reality and depth of that depraved character, not one of these people did so.

The Puzzling Passages

The concept of humanity's fallen nature is found strewn throughout the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that man's heart is "deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul described us as "dead in our trespasses and sins," saying we followed the devil and the passions of our flesh (Ephesians 2:1-5). John teaches that humanity loves darkness rather than light, specifically because our deeds are evil (John 3:19), and later describes us as "slaves to sin" (John 8:34).

The apostle Paul, again, says none seek God, not one does what is good (Romans 3:10-12), and no one accepts or understands the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). We suppress the truth of God in our unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

All of that paints a depressingly gloomy picture, and presents humanity outside of Christ as the antithesis of godliness and holiness.

What Then of Doing Good?

Scripture is clear that humanity is sinful and capable of unspeakable evil. Even the most cursory read through human history confirms this. Yet scripture also teaches us that humanity can do good.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
- Psalm 37:3, ESV
... and later in that same Psalm ...
Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
- Psalm 37:27, ESV

If we are commanded by God to do good, then it must be possible for us to do so. The prophet Isaiah makes a similar call for good in the opening of his prophetic work.

learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
- Isaiah 1:17, ESV

Jesus calls us to do good, even when people behave badly toward us.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. - Luke 6:17, ESV
Elsewhere, Jesus says that the Father, "...makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45, ESV), unmistakably distinguishing between good and evil people, as well as just and unjust, thus demonstrating that it is possible for humanity to "do good" despite the sinful inclination of our flesh.

Again, Jesus teaches,

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. - Matthew 12:35, ESV (see also Luke 6:45)
If there is a good treasure within humanity, and Jesus says there is, then it must be possible to find those qualities of goodness, honesty, love, generosity, within each of us. We are created in the image of a God who self-identifies as Love, so love must be somewhere within each of us.

From the beginning, humanity was created with the capacity to choose, and in the realm of good and evil, that capacity has to include the ability to choose either option.

Consider this exhortation from John, "Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God" (3 John 1:11, ESV). And the apostle Peter taught us,

For
'Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it'
- 1 Peter 3:10-11, ESV

Reconciliation

As of this writing, the way I harmonize this puzzle is by distinguishing being good from doing good. My understanding of scripture grows and morphs over time, and that may hold true for this issue as well, but for now, this is where I land.

Our standard of goodness is none other than God Himself. Even Jesus responded to those who questioned him as "Good teacher..." by saying, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18).

In no context, can I look at myself apart from Christ and say that I am intrinsically good. But even in my sinfulness, I am created in the image of God and can do good works. These works do not improve or hinder my unrighteous/righteous standing before God, but they may prove beneficial to others, just as the good done toward Alean and me was "angelic" in our time of great need (and it may well be that we entertained angels unaware, Hebrews 13:2).

In our fallen state, the vastness of humanity is capable of profound acts of evil, just as we are capable of astonishing acts goodness. Alean and I were recipients of that goodness and we give glory to God for it.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid
YouTube Channel


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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν