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Living Well in Polarizing Times

socialmedia@cityrise.org September 13, 2021 sermons, cityrise, Good News, houston, Roger Patterson, romans, sermon, West U Baptist,

The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday September 12, at our West U Baptist Church campus. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTubpage.

Let me begin with a question today. Have you felt the IRE of others lately?

Maybe you feel free to not wear a mask. You are in the grocery store and as you go up and down the aisles, you get these looks from people that let’s you know, “I can’t believe you aren’t wearing a mask!”

Or maybe, you got vaccinated, and you are in a conversation with a family member who is against the vaccines, and you hear the language of the JAB.  You hear them say, “I’m not getting that JAB!”

It’s a derogatory statement about the vaccine. You decide its not worth your time, but you note, “Okay…don’t talk about the vaccine around that guy! Don’t let them know you got the vaccine.”

Or you are on Facebook, and you have a loved one who has gotten the virus. You post a prayer request for them, and the comments are questions of whether or not your loved one was vaccinated or not…then people begin to fight in the comments…Don’t take this medicine, take this one. YouTube links are thrown in there and an all-out war breaks out in your Facebook feed just because you were asking people to pray for your loved one.

You take down the post and you shake your head, and you think, “What is wrong with these people?”

And these are you church friends!

We live in a polarizing time, don’t we? And it’s a time, if we are not careful, where we might choose our opinions on the issues over relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. What does the word of God have to say to us about how we are to live with in such times?

Context: Now, let me set some context for you. Let me just remind you of the audience in Rome. Remember, these in the church in Rome are Jews and Gentiles. Jews, coming out of being devout keepers of the law, as they have embraced all of the regulations of what you can and cannot eat and Sabbath day regulations.

Then you have the Gentile audience, who didn’t observe the Sabbath day and who were used to eating food sacrificed to idols.

In essence, you had contrasting views and colliding cultures, and these were getting expressed in the church.

Now, let’s also remember, how Paul, in Romans chapter 6 challenges the Gentile to not walk in a spirit of License, where, now that you have your salvation, “anything goes.”

Remember, Romans 6:1 and 2.

Romans 6:1-2

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

We cannot walk in a spirit of license.

Then, in chapter 7, he challenges the Jewish members of his audience to not walk in a spirit of legalism.

Romans 7:6

 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

So, clearly, Paul is saying, let’s not walk in a spirit of legalism here.

Then, in chapter 8, he introduces to us the way of the Spirit.  It’s the way of Liberty.

It’s not license…it’s not legalism…it’s the way of liberty.

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Recall, in our study, that the Apostle Paul introduces us to a way of liberty, and that’s the way of walking in the Spirit. It’s the way of keeping in step with the Spirit. It’s the way of depending on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In light of all of this, let’s consider Romans 14:1-12.

Romans 14:1-12

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

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. 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. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we 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.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 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 will give an account of himself to God.

Transition: So, here is my driving question today, as we live in very polarizing times. As followers of Jesus, how are we to live in this day and time when things are so polarized?

  • Mask vs. No Mask
  • Trump vs. Biden
  • Republican vs. Democrat
  • To Vaccinate vs Anti-Vax
  • CNN vs. Fox News vs. New Max

Let’s just prepare now, as we are going to be challenged today.

In essence, we are asking, “How are we to live our lives with other Christians when there are one or many things on which we do not see eye to eye?”

Here is our outline today:

When Believers Don’t See Eye to Eye we are to:

  1. Accept One Another
  2. Live by Faith with a Clear Conscience
  3. Leave Judgment to God

Let’s look at the first of these three points.

When believers don’t see eye to eye, we are to…

I. Accept One Another

Look with me at Romans 14:1-4

Romans 14:1-4

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Definition: Welcome — Notice the word, welcome. This word means to: aggressively receive with strong personal interest, to accept the presence of a person with friendliness

And as we welcome someone and accept them, we aren’t to welcome them so that we can quarrel over our opinions.

You see, three things are significant here.

  1. First, we must recognize that not everyone sees things exactly as you do.

I know that’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

F.F. Bruce says,

What Paul means by those who are weak in faith here in verse 1 should be understood in this context as those who are, not yet mature enough to grasp that all kinds of food are equally kosher and all days are equally holy.[1]

Quote: Cranfield says,

“It is not a weakness of will or character, but of faith—“weakness in assurance that one’s faith permits one to do certain things.”[2]

In other words, what you may be certain that you are free to do, another may not be so certain that they are free to do.

  1. Second, don’t judge those who are different from you (especially on matters of gray area)

Notice Acts 15:1.

Acts 15:1

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 

Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch, in Syria, north of Palestine. These Jewish converts aggressively come to the church there and proclaim circumcision along with faith in Jesus for Salvation. In essence, they were adding to the grace of Jesus that regulation of keeping the law. Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement with them and decide that it would be best to take it back to Jerusalem to the Apostles there, as they wanted the Apostles to decide.

As you read Acts 15, you see:

  • Paul and Barnabas testify to the work of God in the lives of the Gentiles.
  • Peter also testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Gentiles and how they have been saved.
  • Ultimately, the Jerusalem Council rules that one does not have to observe the law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved.

They then wrote a letter, and it is detailed in Acts 15:28-29.

It says…

Acts 15:28-29

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

So, the council settled the matter! But that didn’t necessarily settle it in people’s hearts.

John Stott says…

This type of weak person is not necessarily easily overcome by temptation or weak in self-control, but someone who lacks liberty of conscience. These may have been Jewish Christians who wanted to maintain a conscientious commitment to Jewish regulations about diets and special days. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 took the same position Paul takes here, to give the Jewish Christians freedom to act in this way while asking the Gentile Christians to abstain from practices that would offend their consciences.[3]

We see this clearly in verse 3.

Romans 14:3

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 

Remember, We are to accept one another because not everyone sees things the same, and we aren’t to judge others who are different from us.

But also, we are to Accept One Another because:

  1. God accepts these people AND we should not reject who he accepts.

This is the THIRD thing I want you to see here.

Romans 14:4

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The reason that we must not despise or condemn a fellow Christian is because God has accepted them. How dare we reject a person whom God has accepted? “Indeed, the best way to determine what our attitude to other people should be is to determine what God’s attitude to them is.” This principle is even better than the golden rule, as it is a standard based on God’s perfection.[4]

So, we should not reject who he accepts.

Let’s see if we can illustrate this a bit, recognizing our need to walk with the Holy Spirit. One writer says:

“A twenty-year sober Christian can minister in tough spots where a twenty-day sober Christian may not need to go. A forty-year-old female may work with prostitutes in ways a twenty-year-old male should not. Social media may have a hold on you right now and God calls you to turn it all off but may be working through others on social media to reach the lost.

If Christianity were a one size fits all mentality, we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit. Instead, God instructs us individually on some points while setting certain boundaries for all believers. We get ourselves into trouble when we assume everyone needs to adhere to the instructions God has given to us alone.”

So, we are to accept one another.

The second thing I want you to see when we don’t see eye to eye is that we are to:

When Believers Don’t See Eye to Eye we are to:

  1. Accept One Another
  2. Live by Faith with a Clear Conscience
  3. Leave Judgment to God

II. Live By Faith with a Clear Conscience

Let’s study Romans 14:5-9 here.

Romans 14:5-9

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. 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. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we 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.

Let me give you two principles here in living with a clear conscience.

  1. First, know in your heart why you do what you do before the Lord.

If you are walking in freedom, praise God. But don’t do it in ignorance. Think through why you do what you do, as it says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

You see, our faith should guide our convictions and our freedoms.

  1. Second, live your life unto the Lord.

Here, we are instructed to do what we do with thanksgiving and we are to live our lives unto Him. He died that he might be Lord of all. So, whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God.

So, let’s ask, are you navigating this pandemic in light of the fact that Jesus is your Lord? And the actions you are taking you are taking in order to live with a right conscience before him?

You see, we need to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. As I have told you all in this season, there are no wins for leaders right now. I’m pretty confident that I’ve made everybody mad in one way or another through navigating this pandemic. I’m sorry if I have, but its part of leading right now. No matter what we do, someone is going to be upset, because it is so polarizing. That’s the environment we are in.

But, what I have tried to do to the best of my ability, is to deploy these principles:

  • Not of license – acting as if this virus doesn’t exist and everything is perfect
  • Not of legalism – mandating on everyone what they must do
  • But of liberty – trusting the Holy Spirit in you to lead you.

I’ve decided to trust the Holy Spirit in you to lead you! And I hope that you will trust the Holy Spirit in me to lead me. Now, I know through all of this that I’ve made mistakes. And if you can’t trust the Holy Spirit to lead me, I can appreciate that. But, if you can’t, I can’t really be your pastor. And that’s okay.

We are called to walk in liberty – with a right conscience before the Lord.

We need to know why we are doing what we are doing?

F.F. Bruce says…

“Paul enjoyed his Christian liberty to the full… So completely was he emancipated from spiritual bondage that he was not even in bondage to his emancipation. He conformed to the Jewish way of life when he was in Jewish society as cheerfully as he went along with Gentile ways when he was living with Gentiles. The interests of the gospel and the highest well-being of men and women were paramount considerations with him; to these he subordinated everything else. But he knew very well that many other Christians were not so completely emancipated as he was, and he insisted that these must be treated gently…”

This third principle is one where I need help. I speculate that you might as well, as it is really easy to judge another, isn’t it?

When Believers Don’t See Eye to Eye we are to:

  1. Accept One Another
  2. Live by Faith with a Clear Conscience
  3. Leave Judgment to God

III. Leave Judgment to God

Now, I know that this one is painful…so don’t judge me, as I’m just the messenger!

Did you see what I did there?

Look at verses 10-12.

Romans 14:10-12

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 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 will give an account of himself to God.

Now, we judge fellow believers for all sorts of reasons:

  • When someone is going through a hard time – “well, they must have brought it on themselves…if only they had more faith…if they had a better quiet time!”
    • We need to be Job’s friends during the first 7 days of his grief, not day 8 and beyond. They sat with him in his pain which was good. Then they opened their mouths and messed it all up.
  • Parenting Styles or number of children someone chooses to have – “I could have seen that one coming…That kid right there, they never disciplined him!”

But we must understand:

  1. This is God’s role, not ours
  2. He is the sovereign and righteous King over all
  3. And we will have to give an account of ourselves…not our neighbor…but of ourselves before God.

Notice that every tongue will give an account!

Friends, we are:

  1. Accountable for every word we speak

Matthew 12:36-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

  1. We will be accountable for the talents given to us and what we did with them.
  2. We will be accountable for how we use our time
  3. We will be accountable for how we use our money

 

And we are to judge not, lest we be judged.

Remember, last week we saw the call to love.

Romans 13:10

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

[1] F.F. Bruce, Romans, 244.

 

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans vol 2, 700.

[3] John Stott, Romans, 356-357.

[4] John Stott, Romans, 361.

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