Text: Romans 14:13-19
Main Point: God gives us strength to build others up.
Today we are going to consider the terrible tyranny of a big brother, or the terrible tyranny of a big sister. How many of you are like me, you have an older brother or sister? I love and appreciate my sister now, but when we were growing up I can’t say that I had a warm spot full of appreciation in my heart for my sister. We fought on occasion and I caused more of the problems than she did. What frustrated me when we fought was her strength. My sister is two and a half years older than I am and she is 5’10. For most of my childhood, when it came to strength she had the upper hand. She could easily use her strength to overpower me.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have a big brother who uses his strength in such a way that hurts you. Thinking biblically, God gives strength for the protection of the weak, not for the exploitation of the weak. God doesn’t give you strength so that you can steal candy from a baby. God gives you strength so that you can protect the baby. In our day we call this misuse of strength “being a bully”. God identifies bullying as sin and sin of a most dangerous kind.
Being a bully shows up in an awful number of ways. When an older sibling holds down a younger sibling that is sinful bullying. When a faster kid makes fun of a slower kid, that is sin. When a person has the influence of a group and uses that influence to hurt another by excluding that person that is bullying. When an older, taller, or stronger child takes pleasure out of beating younger, shorter, or weaker children in games that is sin. When a stronger church member uses his freedom in Christ in such a way that causes a weaker church member to sin, that is bullying. This misuse of strength is a serious matter. We need to think biblically about why God makes us strong. Romans 14:12-19
I. Strength is for construction not demolition
Fundamentally, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. Strength or freedom are not green lights for our desires. Here is what we must do with our ability, strength, and freedom
- Determine not to tear down your church (13)
In light of God’s perfect and promised judgment we are to stop judging one another. Let God do His job. Instead of judging our church we are to determine, or judge, not to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. You want to judge something? Judge how the use of strength and freedom effects your brothers and sisters. Are you doing things that are safe for you but dangerous for others? Are you setting traps with your use of freedom that will entangle and endanger your brothers and sisters? What you do with yourself and your free time has a radical effect on the church. Small things have great influence. So, the Christian has no grounds for saying, “It’s my life, I can do with it whatever I choose regardless of the impact on others.” God will judge you concerning the way your decisions helped or hurt the people around you. Therefore,
- Determine to build up your church (19)
Look with me at verse 19, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.” Devote yourself to making, sustaining, and cultivating peace in the church. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). Are you a peacemaker? Is your position concerning eating meat, drinking wine, or observing religious days encouraging peace or disrupting peace? Have you, strong Christians, become so petty that meat and wine bring you more joy than the good of your church? Set your eyes on increasing peace. Determine to do what builds up and strengthens others. God has made you strong in order to lend strength to the weak. God has made you strong in order to lay aside your freedoms for the cause of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider what is in our wakes. Look back behind you. Look back at your relationships, your work as a church member. What is there? Do you see brothers and sisters in your wake experiencing increasing joy in righteous living? Do you see brothers and sisters experiencing increasing joy because of peace with God and peace with others? Or, do you see brothers and sisters who are burned, frustrated, or in turmoil? God has given you strength for construction not demolition. Let’s dig a little deeper here so that we can put off the sin that causes destruction and embrace the righteous ways that cause growth.
II. Consider freedom, conscience, and one another
What is astounding in this passage is that the Holy Spirit looks at the strong and affirms their position, you guys are right. But at the same time the Holy Spirit puts freedom in its proper place. Christian freedom must always be subjected to love and love is defined as doing good to others. Loving and serving the weak is always better than loving and serving your own appetites. Here’s our basic theology
- Jesus declared all food clean (Mark 7:19; Luke 11:41)
We are told in Mark 7:19 that King Jesus declared all food clean. The apostle Paul understood the work and teaching of Christ so that he can state without hesitation, verse 14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Food has absolutely no power to make a person clean or unclean. Because of the new covenant, the food laws of the old covenant that marked out the people of God have given way to different markers. Food laws do not determine who is the true circumcision. Instead we are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3). We are made clean and set free through justification in Jesus Christ. It is his righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection that make us clean. So, in light of Christ, food has no power. Food has no power but
- Our consciences have great power
Keep going in verse 14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.” Skip down to verse 23, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Christianity is not some decision you made in the past that has no effect on how you live today. Instead, Christianity is union with Christ that effects every square inch of how you live every day. What Paul defines for us here is the reality that you do everything you do with Jesus. Union with Christ, marked at baptism, means you do everything you do with Jesus. If your conscience convicts you that you shouldn’t do something because you will do it with Jesus, then you shouldn’t do it. You ask, “What would Jesus do?” and determine that Jesus wouldn’t do that thing. You need to follow your conscience and not do it. If you think the food is unclean then to you it is unclean. This is the power of the conscience. As we’ll see in a moment, it is incredibly dangerous to sin against your conscience.
Before we get there, we need to note what RC Sproul calls Jiminy Cricket theology. Jiminy Cricket teaches “Always let your conscience be your guide.” Initially, this sounds right but according to Scripture, God’s Word should always be your guide. Our goal when caught between decisions is to let Scripture guide our consciences. We are ruled by Scripture and love.
- Love, not freedom, makes our decisions
Look again at verse 15, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”
Verse 15 is the ground, or reason, for verse 13. The reason we should determine not to trip up our fellow members is because if we trip up our fellow members then we are not walking in love. Remember, from Romans 12:9, that our command is to love genuinely and with brotherly affection. 13:8 tells us to owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Righteous living is faithful loving.
So, here’s this thing. It’s food or wine offered to an idol. It’s a religious day like a day of fasting or maybe the Saturday Sabbath. In Christ, we are free to eat, drink, or not observe the day. But our Christian brothers and sisters may believe that eating, drinking, or abstaining is to act like an idol worshipper and not as the people of God. Seeing you eat, drink or abstain may grieve your brother. Your brother becomes sad, sorrowful, or distressed over your choice. What should you do? Should you tell him to stop being dumb? We’re free in Christ. Get over it and get on with it. Should you invite him over and fill his glass with wine and his plate with steak? Should you welcome him into your home to quarrel over opinions? By no means! That would not be love.
The middle of verse 15 is intense, “By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Your decisions, about what you consider to be inconsequential matters, can have great consequences. Your decisions, about what you consider to be matters of indifference, can make a big difference. At minimum, your sister’s spiritual growth is completely demolished. To the extreme, this text teaches that your sister could be lost to a forever hell. What you do with yourself, outside of this gathering, has a massive influence on these people.
Christ died for the brother. Can you not put your steak knife down for one meal? Christ gave his life for this brother. Can you not give up wine for him? May God cause our love to abound more and more for one another so that the good of our brothers and sisters makes our decisions. May God cause our love to abound more and more for one another so that our appetites no longer make our decisions. May God make us loving and strong. And
III. Strength is for the kingdom
God didn’t make you strong so you can crush beer cans on your head. God has made you strong so that you can lay aside your desire for beer in order to build up your brothers and sisters. The infinitely glorious Son of God made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, in order to do good to your brothers and sisters. Here you are sitting at your table saying, “I’m going to have a glass of wine. I’m going to eat my steak. It’s my right and my freedom and no body is going to infringe on my rights! I’ll show them.” Is that why God made you strong; to flaunt your freedom? No,
- Don’t flaunt your freedom
Verse 16, “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” Don’t wag your freedom the face of your brothers and sisters. Look down at verse 22, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” Just because you are free to do something does not mean you are free to do it in front of everyone.
This is the call to know and love and seek the good of your brothers and sisters. Do you know the background of these people? Do you know what is in their pasts, the things that might trip them up? I do not mean that we should ask everyone what they used to do so that we can be sure not to do it. That’s a bit false and probably has more to do with loving myself and keeping myself out of trouble. No, we are called to love and keep away from potential stumbling blocks. Since church membership is the commitment to help one another make it safely to heaven, then church membership is the commitment to loving one another and avoiding those things that might trip others up on the way.
Ok, now verse 17 is another one of those big picture theological verses, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking (17)
Consider verse 17 from the perspective of the weak. Come on little brother, little sister, Jesus declared all food clean. An idol is nothing and food offered to an idol is nothing. The kingdom of God is not about what you put in your mouth. The kingdom of God is about living in union with Christ under the benevolent rule of God. Stop worrying about food.
Consider verse 17 from the perspective of the strong. Christian freedom was never intended to empower a believer to look at his brothers and sisters and say, “Forget you. Forget you, I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to do what Christ gives me the freedom to do and you can go cry about it if you want. I don’t care.” Are you that much of a slave to your palate? Do you need wine or steak in order to feel good? Have you become a slave to your freedom? Know this
- The kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, joy, and peace (17)
We must consider righteousness, joy, and peace in light of God and one another. Entrance into the people of God is dependent upon being made righteous through faith in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us and convicts us and enlivens us so that we reject our own attempts to be righteous and trust Christ’s work to make us righteous. Being righteous in Christ makes us acceptable to God. We experience joy through restoration. Through Christ we are at peace with God. The Holy Spirit works this joy and peace in us. Joy and peace are the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. We were once unrighteous, depressed, and in turmoil. We were once lawbreakers, angry, and constantly stirred up. Now, by the Spirit, we are righteous, joyous, and peaceful.
Reconciliation with God affects the way we live before God and others. We are a righteous people who pursue righteous living. Reconciled to God, we are a people who live life for God. The Spirit leads us to live pure and holy lives. With the taste of joy in our mouths we work for our brothers and sisters to taste the same joy. Forget meat and wine, we want these people to know Jesus. With the peace that passes understanding guarding our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus we strive for our others to know and enjoy that same peace.
So, the person who is all fired up about her freedom to eat this, drink that, go here, and wear that, but doesn’t care how it affects others, is so very far away from being a strong Christian. A strong Christian is one who serves Christ. What must we do?
- Serve Christ
Serve Christ and not your appetites. Verse 18, “the one serving Christ in this is pleasing to God and approved by men.” “In this” is singular and it makes righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit a package deal. The one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness will live a life pleasing to God and approved by men. Now it is true that not every non-believer will see the value of self-sacrifice for the good of others. But, in our day of social justice warriors, we Christians should be on the front lines actually doing something productive for the good of others. The kingdom of God is not a matter of facebook posts, twitter rants, scathing letters to the editor, or unfulfilled promises to pray. Talk is cheap. Being offended is easy. The one who serves Christ by taking up her cross and crucifying selfish appetites, in order to build up her brothers and sisters, is pleasing to God and approved by men.
So, what are you doing with the strength God gave you? Are you being a bully? Are you flaunting your freedom and demanding your rights? Do you care more about getting your way than getting righteousness, joy, and peace? Is your belly your god? Be afraid. Jesus said, “Woe to the one through whom temptation comes. It would be better for him that a millstone be tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea, than he make one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2). Church, in what ways are you using your strength to tear down others?
How are you doing with the strength God gave you? Are you building people up? Are you making peace? “We need to learn how to relate to people in a loving manner according to their background and particular scruples” (Moo, 882). We need to be passionate about experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And Christians are passionate about others experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
I’ll ask you what I ask my children, “Are you being a peace maker or a trouble maker?” God made you strong so that you can go and be a peacemaker. We serve Christ, not our selfish desires.